This is “End-of-Chapter Material”, section 15.5 from the book Theory and Applications of Macroeconomics (v. 1.0).
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license. See the license for more details, but that basically means you can share this book as long as you credit the author (but see below), don't make money from it, and do make it available to everyone else under the same terms.
This content was accessible as of December 29, 2012, and it was downloaded then by Andy Schmitz in an effort to preserve the availability of this book.
Normally, the author and publisher would be credited here. However, the publisher has asked for the customary Creative Commons attribution to the original publisher, authors, title, and book URI to be removed. Additionally, per the publisher's request, their name has been removed in some passages. More information is available on this project's attribution page.
For more information on the source of this book, or why it is available for free, please see the project's home page. You can browse or download additional books there. You may also download a PDF copy of this book (29 MB) or just this chapter (715 KB), suitable for printing or most e-readers, or a .zip file containing this book's HTML files (for use in a web browser offline).
Five or six years ago, economists studied a period that they named “the Great Moderation.” In the period after World War II, and even more specifically from the mid 1980s to the mid 2000s, economic performance in the United States, Europe, and many countries had been relatively placid. These countries enjoyed respectable levels of long-run growth, experienced only mild recessions, and enjoyed low and stable inflation. Many observers felt that this performance was in large measure due to the fact that economists and policymakers had learned how to conduct effective monetary and fiscal policies. We learned from the mistakes of the Great Depression and knew how to prevent serious economic downturns. We also learned from the mistakes made in the 1970s and knew how to avoid inflationary policies.
To be sure, other countries still experienced their share of economic problems. Many countries in Latin America experienced currency crises and debt crises in the 1980s. Many countries in Southeast Asia suffered through painful exchange rate crises in the 1990s. Japan suffered a protracted period of low growth. Some countries saw hyperinflation, while others experienced economic decline. Still, for the most part, mature and developed economies experienced very good economic performance. Macroeconomics was becoming less about diagnosing failure and more about explaining success.
The last few years shook that worldview. The crisis of 2008 showed that a major economic catastrophe was not as unthinkable as economists and others hoped. The world experienced the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, and there was a period where it seemed possible that the crisis could even be on the same scale as the Great Depression. Countries like the United States and the United Kingdom faced protracted recessions. Countries such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Iceland found themselves mired in debt crises. Spillovers and interconnections—real, financial, and psychological—meant that events like the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers reverberated throughout the economies of the world.
Because it resurrected old problems, the crisis of 2008 also resurrected old areas of study in macroeconomics. The events in Europe have prompted economists to review the debate over common currencies and the conduct of monetary policy. There has been increased investigation of the size of fiscal policy multipliers. At the same time, macroeconomists are devoting much attention to topics such as the connection between financial markets and the real economy. But this difficult period for the world economy has also been an exciting time for macroeconomists. The study of macroeconomics has become more vital than ever—more alive and more essential.