Why Models Matter: The Making and Unmaking of Governability in Macroeconomic Discourse
In Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies, Issue 7
Like other branches of economic theory, macroeconomics has the potential not only to represent but also to perform the economy. This performative potential is greatest when a ‘governability paradigm’ is established within macroeconomic discourse – that is, when theory has produced both a sense of understanding and practical control over the economy. In such periods, macroeconomic models become embedded in the ideational infrastructure of the economy, making possible both the interpretation of past data and the formation of expectations regarding the future. Viewing macroeconomics as a quest for governability, this article traces the formation of two distinct governability paradigms: the neoclassical synthesis paradigm of the post-war era, and the new neoclassical synthesis paradigm of the 1990s and 2000s. It shows how in both cases macroeconomic discourse went through three phases: first, the formulation of a basic vision of the economy; second, the formalisation and operationalisation of this vision; and third, the development of methods to measure, estimate, and predict associated variables. These shifts in macroeconomics and its models matter because the establishment of a governability paradigm tends to produce overconfidence not only among economists and policymakers, but also among market actors. Macroeconomic discourse itself therefore contributes to the cycles of boom and bust in modern capitalist economies.
This project receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 722826.