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BPEA Article

Fifty years of Brookings Papers’ contributions to macroeconomics and policy

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Editor's Note:

The papers summarized here are part of the spring 2021 edition of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, the leading conference series and journal in economics for timely, cutting-edge research about real-world policy issues. Research findings are presented in a clear and accessible style to maximize their impact on economic understanding and policymaking. The editors are Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow and Northwestern University Professor of Economics Janice Eberly and Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow and Harvard University Professor of Economics James Stock. See the spring 2021 BPEA event page to watch paper presentations and read summaries of all the papers from this edition.

Papers by three long-time contributors to the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (BPEA) celebrate the journal’s 50th anniversary by highlighting its seminal research over the years in areas at the heart of macroeconomic policymaking: labor markets, productivity and growth, and monetary policy.

Robert E. Hall

Robert and Carole McNeil Joint Hoover Senior Fellow and Professor of Economics - Stanford University

Robert J. Gordon

Stanley G. Harris Professor of the Social Sciences - Northwestern University

Alan Blinder

Gordon S. Rentschler Memorial Professor of Economics - Princeton University

Former Brookings Expert

The papers—by Robert E. Hall of Stanford University, Robert J. Gordon of Northwestern University, and Alan S. Blinder of Princeton University—were presented at a BPEA conference on March 25. The journal marked its 50th anniversary in 2020. (Hall and Gordon participated in the first BPEA conference in April1 1970, and Blinder in the fall 1972 conference. All three had fresh MIT PhDs when their service on the panel began.) The 50th anniversary papers had been scheduled for presentation at the March 2020 conference but were postponed to allow time for discussion of the then-emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

In The Brookings Panel’s contributions to research on labor markets, Hall reviews the BPEA papers’ insights into unemployment—“the quintessential cyclical measure.” Collectively, the papers paint a nuanced picture of a dynamic labor market that goes beyond the traditional macroeconomic view that unemployment is simply the difference between labor supply and labor demand. Papers examined flows into and out of unemployment and the difficulties of matching the right people to the right jobs by using such metrics as vacancy and job-finding rates and hiring and firing rates. Other influential papers looked at labor dynamics across states, the effects of rising immigration and international trade on wages, the decline in labor’s share of national income, and rising volatility of individual earnings.

Gordon, in Productivity and growth over the years at BPEA, reviews BPEA’s long and deep history of exploring two topics: Why did U.S. productivity slow in the early 1970s and revive in the late 1990s? Why are some countries so rich and other countries so poor, and why do growth rates differ so much across nations? On U.S. productivity, papers examined factors such as the changing age and gender composition of the workforce, the industrial composition of output, measurement errors, and information technology advances. On international wealth and growth disparities, papers looked at capital accumulation, demography, and geography as sources of growth, as well as the role of measurement issues.

In BPEA and monetary policy over 50 Years, Blinder, surveys numerous papers—many presented by Federal Reserve policymakers and staff economists. Early BPEA papers highlighted the differences between the monetarist approach (which advised central banks to foster economic stability by aiming for steady growth in the money supply) and the Keynesian approach (which emphasized the ability of activist policy to control inflation and support employment). A related and more-recent topic is the extent to which central bankers should be guided by mathematical rules when setting monetary policy. And both early and recent papers focused on the Phillips curve relationship between the unemployment rate and inflation. The coexistence of low unemployment and low inflation in recent years as revived the search for a Phillips curve. The topic is particularly relevant as central banks confront the constraint imposed by low interest rates on their ability to respond to economic downturns.

Citations

Hall, Robert E. 2021. “The Brookings Panel’s Contributions to Research on Labor Markets.” BPEA Conference Draft, Spring.

Gordon, Robert J. 2021. “Productivity and Growth over the Years at BPEA.” BPEA Conference Draft, Spring.

Blinder, Alan S. 2021. “BPEA and Monetary Policy Over 50 Years.” BPEA Conference Draft, Spring.

Conflict of Interest Disclosure

The authors did not receive financial support from any firm or person for this article or from any firm or person with a financial or political interest in this paper. They are currently not an officer, director, or board member of any organization with an interest in this paper.

Acknowledgments:

David Skidmore authored the summary language for this paper.

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