Robert Lucas Jr.

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Robert Emerson Lucas, Jr. (born 15 September, 1937) is an American economist at the University of Chicago, who received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1995. He is widely regarded as the central figure in the development of the new classical approach to macroeconomics.


  • The main development I want to discuss has already occurred: Keynesian economics is dead [maybe ‘disappeared’ is a better term]. I don’t know exactly when this happened but it is true today and it wasn’t true two years ago. This is a sociological not an economic observation, so the evidence for it is sociological. For example, you cannot find a good, under 40 economist who identifies himself and his work as ‘Keynesian’. Indeed, people even take offense if referred to in this way. At research seminars, people don’t take Keynesian theorizing seriously any more—the audience starts to whisper and giggle to one another. Leading journals aren’t getting Keynesian papers submitted any more.
    • Robert E. Lucas, "The Death of Keynesian Economics", in Issues and Ideas (Winter 1980).
  • I do not see how one can look at figures like these without seeing them representing possibilities. Is there some action a government of India could take that would lead the Indian economy to grow like Indonesia's or Egypt's? If so, what exactly? If not, what is it about the "nature of India" that makes it so? The consequences for human welfare involved in questions like these are simply staggering: once one starts to think about them, it is hard to think about anything else.
    • Robert E. Lucas, "On the Mechanics of Economic Development." Journal of Monetary Economics. 22 July, 1988, pp. 5: On economic growth
  • So I am skeptical about the argument that the subprime mortgage problem will contaminate the whole mortgage market, that housing construction will come to a halt, and that the economy will slip into a recession. Every step in this chain is questionable and none has been quantified. If we have learned anything from the past 20 years it is that there is a lot of stability built into the real economy.
    • Robert E. Lucas, "Mortgages and Monetary Policy", The Wall Street Journal WEDNESDAY, September 19, 2007

"After Keynesian macroeconomics" 1978[edit]

Robert E. Lucas and Thomas J. Sargent, "After Keynesian macroeconomics", in: After the Phillips Curve: Persistence of High Inflation and High Unemployment (1978); reprinted from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Quarterly Review, Spring 1979

  • For policy, the central fact is that Keynesian policy recommendations have no sounder basis, in a scientific sense, than recommendations of non-Keynesian economists or, for that matter, non-economists.
  • In the present decade, the U.S. economy has undergone its first major depression since the 1930’s, to the accompaniment of inflation rates in excess of 10 percent per annum. These events have been transmitted [...] to other advanced countries and in many cases have been amplified. These events did not arise from a reactionary reversion to outmoded, 'classical' principles of tight money and balanced budgets. On the contrary, they were accompanied by massive government budget deficits and high rates of monetary expansion, policies which, although bearing an admitted risk of inflation, promised according to modern Keynesian doctrine rapid real growth and low rates of unemployment. That these predictions were wildly incorrect and that the doctrine on which they were fundamentally flawed are now simple matters of fact, involving no novelties of economic theory. The task now [...] is to sort through the wreckage, determining which features of that remarkable intellectual event called the Keynesian Revolution can be salvaged and put to use and which others must be discarded.”
  • The Keynesian Revolution was, in the form in which it succeeded in the United States, a revolution in method. This was not Keynes’s intent, nor is it the view of all of his most eminent followers. Yet if one does not view the revolution in this way, it is impossible to account for some of its most important features.
  • A key element in all Keynesian models is a ‘trade-off between inflation and real output: the higher is the inflation rate; the higher is output (or equivalently, the lower is the rate of unemployment).
  • For policy, the central fact is that Keynesian policy recommendations have no sounder basis, in a scientific sense, than recommendations of non-Keynesian economists or, for that matter, non-economists.

Quotes about Robert Lucas Jr.[edit]

  • When I was on the economics faculty in Chicago, I had a sign in my office that said, “No smoking, except for Bob Lucas.” It was worth enduring the smoke to talk to Bob but not to any other economist-smoker. This behavior accorded with my view that his selection for a Nobel Prize was a great idea, one that had been anticipated by most economists for several years.
    • Robert Barro, Nothing Is Sacred (2002), Ch. 1 : Thoughts on Friends and Other Noteworthy Persons
  • The Keynesian econometric methodology developed by Klein and associates was criticized by Lucas in his 1976 “Critique of Econometric Policy Evaluation” on the grounds that microfounded structural equations should contain expectations of future variables. Since the parameters of these expectations should depend on the parameters of the rules followed by the policy authorities, Lucas argued that the rational expectations assumption would invalidate the practice of using fixed parameter models as policy guides.
    The profession responded to the Lucas critique in two different ways. The first, introduced to economists in the book Rational Expectations and Econometric Practice, was to develop appropriate econometric methods to estimate parameters in rational expectations environments. The second, explained most clearly in Kydland and Prescott’s (1996) article, “The Computational Experiment,” was to develop a new methodology,calibration, that lowered the standards of what it means for a model to be successful by requiring that a good model should explain only a limited set of empirical moments.
    • Roger Farmer, Expectations, Employment and Prices, Ch. 5 A New Way to Understand Business Cycle Facts
  • Where Friedman used his academic notoriety as a stepping stone to a wider public role, Lucas has in recent years seemed to retreat to safe, increasingly technical issues of theoretical economics. And yet for most of the 1970s there was little question that Robert Lucas was having more impact on economic thought, both through his own writings and through the extraordinary devotion of his intellectual disciples, than any other working economist. Above all, he became identified with a much stronger form of Friedman's argument against active monetary policy. Where Friedman argued that such policy would in practice do more harm than good, Lucas argued that in principle it could do nothing but harm.
    • Paul Krugman, Peddling Prosperity (1994), Ch. 1 : The Attack on Keynes
  • How could such a difficult, technical intellectual structure acquire the force first of a crusade, then of a dogma? [...] First, Lucas's approach to macroeconomics seemed to offer a way to heal a deep wound in the heart of economic theory. [...] When Lucas seemed to be able to do was derive business cycles from microeconomic model. [...] Second, the technicality and difficulty of Lucas's theory [...] was, in the world of academic economic, an asset rather than a liability. [...] Finally, we cannot ignore the role of political bias in making rational expectations macroeconomics attractive.
    • Paul Krugman, Peddling Prosperity (1994), Ch. 1 : The Attack on Keynes
  • In the 1970s, Lucas and disciples take it up a notch, arguing that we should assume rational expectations: people make the best predictions possible given the available information. But in that case, how can we explain the observed stickiness of wages and prices? Lucas argued for a “signal processing” approach, in which individuals can’t immediately distinguish between changes in their wage or price relative to others — changes to which they should respond by altering supply — and overall changes in the price level. [...] In the 1980s, the Lucas project failed — pure and simple. It became obvious that recessions last too long, and there are too many sources of information, for rational confusion to explain business cycles. Nice try, with a lot of clever modeling, but it just didn’t work.
  • I think Lucas is an extremely capable man, and an undisputed intellectual leader of the school. On top of that, I think he's a very interesting and impressive human being. But I disagree with him, and I think I also disagree with his interpretation of his results. I have many, many objections.
  • Suppose someone sits down where you are sitting right now and announces to me that he is Napoleon Bonaparte. The last thing I want to do with him is to get involved in a technical discussion of cavalry tactics at the Battle of Austerlitz. If I do that, I'm getting tacitly drawn into the game that he is Napoleon Bonaparte. Now, Bob Lucas and Tom Sargent like nothing better than to get drawn into technical discussions, because then you have tacitly gone along with their fundamental assumptions; your attention is attracted away from the basic weakness of the whole story. Since I find that fundamental framework ludicrous, I respond by treating it as ludicrous – that is, by laughing at it – so as not to fall into the trap of taking it seriously and passing on to matters of technique.
  • He didn't really discuss my interpretations and criticisms of new classical economics. Instead he took the opportunity of the review to say that Keynesian economics was discredited by the stagflation of the '70s, as he and Sargent had already argued in their polemical piece "After Keynesian Economics" at the Nantucket conference in 1978. The idea seems to be that we were very wrong about the 1970s and therefore had no standing to criticize the new classical macroeconomics. Of course, I do not agree with that interpretation of the events of the last 15 years. In that review article Lucas didn't explain anything new. He just restated his point of view.
  • Lucas says: "You don't know anything," and in his more humble moments: "I don't know anything either, and therefore the government shouldn't do anything." Well, there is no well-defined criterion of the government's not doing anything. What he says the government should do and calls doing nothing is doing something very different from what the government has been doing for the last 40 years. Why is making a radical change of regime suddenly doing nothing? You see, we have had a regime that can be associated with the most successful period of capitalism in recorded history. Suddenly, he calls for a constant money growth rule. How, possibly, can one conclude that? I say, if he doesn't want "to do anything", then we should keep doing what we have been doing, for we haven't been doing that badly. To make a radical change in regime all of a sudden, gives us what we have now; a new depression. Right? We have a new regime now, or maybe we have if it is not overturned, partly because these guys come along saying that compensatory policy, that is Keynesian policy, got us in all kinds of trouble. But it didn't get us in all kinds of trouble. In effect, they say that if you don't know what you are doing, you should do something entirely different from what you have been doing. I don't understand why that is a conservative or risk-avoiding policy.
  • Lucas’s “Mechanics” Lectures caught the profession by surprise. His argument enraged some economists and startled or puzzled others. It was his first word on the subject of growth. It seemed to have come completely out of the blue. And even though his interest in the possibility of market failure seemed curiously in tune with fifty years of the Keynesian tradition, it was unfamiliar enough when expressed in the vernacular of Freshwater economics that the lectures at first caused more consternation than anything else, and in most quarters they were studiously ignored. A few young researchers, however, were galvanized into immediate action.
    The notion that trade and migration must be strongly linked to economic growth was hardly new. Nor was the insight that cities must be central to economic progress. Perhaps the real news from Lucas’s lectures was his identification of lock-in as a potentially serious puzzle.
    • David Warsh, Knowledge and The Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery (2006), Ch. 19 : Recombinations

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