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Response to Professor Brazelton.

Memories fade--and sometimes fester--over a period of three decades, but Professor Brazelton has jogged mine into realizing that I did indeed do a disservice to him and to the institution that he has long served.

The storyline in my autobiographical article (Fall 2004) included an account of my exposure to macroeconomics in the masters program at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. The intended emphasis was on my abrupt transition from an electronics research lab in the Air Force to graduate studies in economics--followed in short order by an unexpected opportunity (which was created by Professor Brazelton himself) for me to present a term paper on Austrian macroeconomics at a professional meeting. Needless to say, I hardly felt up to the task--which is why I solicited help from Murray Rothbard, whose writings I had heavily relied upon in completing the term paper.

But my predicament could have been described without my suggesting--wrongly, I now believe--that I had received no helpful feedback from Professor Brazelton. In fact, I now have to wonder if there wasn't more insight in that feedback than I was then able to appreciate. I don't think I realized at the time that he too had studied E A. Hayek's business cycle theory (along with Keynes's and Hawtrey's) and had even written a term paper on the particulars of the cycle as envisioned by Hayek. (If Professor Brazelton is as big a pack rat as I am, maybe he can send me a copy of that term paper; I would cherish it!)

Pursuing graduate studies in UMKC's Haag Hall was both pleasant and rewarding. There was a good chemistry between student and faculty--with informal instruction adding significantly to the classroom experiences. And each student was put on a long leash, allowing for the fullest development of his or her own particular interests. Professor Brazelton's characterization of the department as inclusive and diverse is well justified. My remark that "it is a wonder I was admitted to the program" was based not so much on some perceived exclusiveness of the department but on the less-than-scholarly nature of some of the supporting material I submitted with my application.

At UMKC, Marx, Veblen, and Keynes got a lot of attention, as did John Dewey and Clarence Ayers. But Haag Hall was no monolith. The neoclassical theory of production and consumption was eloquently presented by Professor Ross Shepherd and was put through its paces in applied fields by several other able professors.

UMKC's economics department has always had a reputation for heterodoxy--a reputation that has only grown over the years. In 2003, UMKC hosted a conference organized by the International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics. The conference topic was "The Future of Heterodox Economics," and a session on "Knowledge and Welfare," focusing on the contributions of Hayek, Sen, and Schumacher, was included in the program.

But in the 1970s, students in the graduate macro course got a hefty close of orthodoxy in the form of Gardner Ackley and IS/LM analysis. I'd like to comment, then, on the judgments about IS/LM made by one of Professor Brazelton's more recent students. In her view, the time spent on those interlocking diagrams seemed to be too little (presumably in light of all the interconnections and implications that those diagrams entail) and then, on reflection, too much (presumably in light of the critical aspects of a decentralized economic system that are unavoidably eclipsed by the diagrammatical construction). These conflicted judgments are undoubtedly shared by many. I have to say, however, that I've never regretted the many hours I spent learning IS/LM. That framework has paid me good dividends. For all its faults, it has facilitated the learning of much else--including many of the extra-IS/LM features of the macroeconomy. For instance, knowing IS/LM is a prerequisite to appreciating a recent article by Roger E. Backhouse and David Laidler titled "What Was Lost with IS/LM" (History of Political Economy, vol. 36 Annual Supplement, 2004). This paper was one of a number of insightful papers presented at the 2003 HOPE Conference on the History of IS/LM.

David Colander's article in that same conference volume deals with "The Strange Persistence of IS/LM" Colander argues that, as a staple of macroeconomic pedagogy, the IS/LM model lost its dominance only with the emergence of models that feature optimizing agents, rational expectations, and continuous market clearing. Many of today's students learn these new classical models instead of IS/LM. There is reason to doubt, I think, that this shift in pedagogy represents progress. I suspect that Professor Brazelton and I would share the judgment that new classicism, in which disequilibrium is simply defined out of existence, is even less adequate than IS/LM in shedding light on the real-world macroeconomy.

Professor Brazelton's preferred macroeconomics is Post Keynesianism; mine is Austrianism. These two schools of macroeconomic thought, though at odds with one another in many ways, are widely recognized as having a common denominator-namely, the special attention to time and uncertainty in theorizing about the nature of macroeconomic problems and in identifying potentially helpful institutional reforms. To this extent, then, Professor Brazelton and I have been traveling--and continue to travel--the same road.

Finally, I'd like to express my appreciation for both the substance and the tone of Professor Brazelton's comment and to thank him for allowing me the opportunity to set the record straight about my experience at UMKC.

Roger W. Garrison, Professor of Economics, Aubern University, Aubem, Alabama 36849.
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Author:Garrison, Roger W.
Publication:American Economist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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