Brief History of Macroeconomic Thought and Policy

Read this chapter to examine macroeconomic attitudes towards economic policies of the three main schools of economic thought: Classical, Keynesian, and Monetarist. Also, learn about modern day interpretations of the main ideas.

2. Keynesian Economics in the 1960s and 1970s

Correcting a Recessionary Gap

President Kennedy took office in 1961 with the economy in a recessionary gap. He had appointed a team of economic advisers who believed in Keynesian economics, and they advocated an activist approach to fiscal policy. The new president was quick to act on their advice.

Expansionary policy served the administration's foreign-policy purposes. Kennedy argued that the United States had fallen behind the Soviet Union, its avowed enemy, in military preparedness. He won approval from Congress for sharp increases in defense spending in 1961.

The Kennedy administration also added accelerated depreciation to the tax code. Under the measure, firms could deduct depreciation expenses more quickly, reducing their taxable profits ­– and thus their taxes ­– early in the life of a capital asset. The measure encouraged investment. The administration also introduced an investment tax credit, which allowed corporations to reduce their income taxes by 10% of their investment in any one year. The combination of increased defense spending and tax measures to stimulate investment provided a quick boost to aggregate demand.

The Fed followed the administration's lead. It, too, shifted to an expansionary policy in 1961. The Fed purchased government bonds to increase the money supply and reduce interest rates.

As shown in Panel (a) of Figure 17.4 "The Two Faces of Expansionary Policy in the 1960s", the expansionary fiscal and monetary policies of the early 1960s had pushed real GDP to its potential by 1963. But the concept of potential output had not been developed in 1963; Kennedy administration economists had defined full employment to be an unemployment rate of 4%. The actual unemployment rate in 1963 was 5.7%; the perception of the time was that the economy needed further stimulus.

Figure 17.4 The Two Faces of Expansionary Policy in the 1960s

Expansionary fiscal and monetary policy early in the 1960s (Panel [a]) closed a recessionary gap, but continued expansionary policy created an inflationary gap by the end of the decade (Panel [b]). The short-run aggregate supply curve began shifting to the left, but expansionary policy continued to shift aggregate demand to the right and kept the economy in an inflationary gap.