Godley’s Seven Unsustainable Processes

Michael Stephens | April 26, 2012

Over at his Concerted Action blog, Ramanan has a post featuring some of Wynne Godley’s Levy Institute publications with special attention paid to Godley’s prescient “Seven Unsustainable Processes,” which appeared in 1999 as part of the Levy Institute’s continuing Strategic Analysis series.¬† Ramanan (whose blog derives its name from Godley’s last Strategic Analysis [2008]) quotes this passage from “Seven Unsustainable Processes” in which Godley, in the context of the budget surpluses of the ’90s, contrasted his approach to macro modeling (and its policy upshots) with what he regarded as the “consensus view” at the time:

The difference between the consensus view and that put forward here could not exist without a profound difference in the view of how the economy works. So far as the author can observe, the underlying theoretical perspective of the optimists, whether they realize it or not, sees all agents, including the government, as participants in a gigantic market process in which commodities, labor, and financial assets are supplied and demanded. If this market works properly, prices (e.g., for labor and commodities) get established that clear all markets, including the labor market, so that there can be no long-term unemployment and no depression. The only way in which unemployment can be reduced permanently, according to this view, is by making markets work better, say, by removing “rigidities” or improving flows of information. The government is a market participant like any other, its main distinguishing feature being that it can print money. Because the government cannot alter the market-clearing price of labor, there is no way in which fiscal or monetary policy can change aggregate employment and output, except temporarily (by creating false expectations) and perversely (because any interference will cause inflation).

No parody is intended. No other story would make sense of the assumption now commonly made that the balance between tax receipts and public spending has no permanent effect on the evolution of the aggregate demand. And nothing else would make sense of the debate now in full swing about how to “spend” the federal surplus as though this were a nest egg that can be preserved, spent, or squandered without any need to consider the macroeconomic consequences.


3 Responses to “Godley’s Seven Unsustainable Processes”

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  1. Comment by TylerApril 27, 2012 at 1:35 pm   Reply

    … and we’ve been in a recession ever since the Clinton surplus bubble popped.

  2. Comment by Alfred Cellier — July 9, 2014 at 2:42 pm   Reply

    We observe that another web site
    has noted a typo in the original pdf of the paper:
    Seven Unsustainable Processes, Godley, 1999
    found on your site at:

    The error has to do with
    interchanging the final 2 columns of Table 1, and
    incorrect value of -5.8 replaced with -6.8

  3. Comment by Alfred Cellier — July 9, 2014 at 2:47 pm   Reply

    correction to the correction:
    The error has to do with
    interchanging the data of the final 2 columns of Table 1, and
    incorrect value of -4.8 replaced with -6.8

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