The Flimsy Foundations of Neoliberal Macroeconomics: David Gordon on Saving, Investment, and the Natural Rate of Unemployment

Abstract

David Gordon was, at once, a highly creative economist with an enormous range of interests, while also uncompromising in maintaining rigorous research standards. He was focused equally on hard-core academic research and pressing policy issues. He was also openly committed to the political left, with this commitment animating all his work. One distinctive feature of Gordon’s work was his keenness to dive into the most important topics engaging mainstream economists and to inject explicitly left political economy perspectives into these mainstream debates. This paper focuses on two important examples of Gordon’s contributions that examine front-and-center mainstream macroeconomics questions. The first is the relationship between aggregate saving and investment. The second is the development of the concept of the ‘natural rate of unemployment.’ The evolution of mainstream research on these two questions played a critical role in overturning what had been, over the first two post-World War II decades, a prevailing Keynesian/social democratic consensus, at both the levels of analytic economics as well as economic policy. As the paper reviews, Gordon challenges the analytic findings and policy implications of these perspectives at their core. Gordon’s own basic premises and results are straightforward. He argues that, in fact, investment decisions, not saving rates, are the main driver of economic activity in capitalist economies and that operating capitalist economies at something akin to genuine full employment—i.e. in the range of 2 – 3 percent official unemployment—is a realistic goal. As such, these papers by Gordon contribute significantly toward envisioning a post-neoliberal social structure of accumulation that is committed to the egalitarian principles that were central to Gordon’s life work.

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