EMERGENCE OF MACROECONOMICS



Macroeconomics, as a separate branch of economics, emerged after the British economist John Maynard Keynes published his celebrated book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in 1936. The dominant thinking in economics before Keynes was that all the labourers who are ready to work will find employment and all the factories will be working at their full capacity. This school of thought is known as the classical tradition. However, the Great Depression of 1929 and the subsequent years saw the output and employment levels in the countries of Europe and North America fall by huge amounts. It affected other countries of the world as well. Demand for goods in the market was low, many factories were lying idle, workers were thrown out of jobs. In USA, from 1929 to 1933, unemployment rate rose from 3 per cent to 25 per cent (unemployment rate may be defined as the number of people who are not working and are looking for jobs divided by the total number of people who are working or looking for jobs). Over the same period aggregate output in USA fell by about 33 per cent. These events made economists think about the functioning of the economy in a new way. The fact that the economy may have long lasting unemployment had to be theorised about and explained. Keynes’ book was an attempt in this direction. Unlike his predecessors, his approach was to examine the working of the economy in its entirety and examine the interdependence of the different sectors. The subject of macroeconomics was born.


We must remember that the subject under study has a particular historical context. We shall examine the working of the economy of a capitalist country in this book. In a capitalist country production activities are mainly carried out by capitalist enterprises. A typical capitalist enterprise has one or several entrepreneurs (people who exercise control over major decisions and bear a large part of the risk associated with the firm/enterprise). They may themselves supply the capital needed to run the enterprise, or they may borrow the capital. To carry out production they also need natural resources – a part consumed in the process of production (e.g. raw materials) and a part fixed (e.g. plots of land). And they need the most important element of human labour to carry out production. This we shall refer to as labour. After producing output with the help of these three factors of production, namely capital, land and labour, the entrepreneur sells the product in the market. The money that is earned is called revenue. Part of the revenue is paid out as rent for the service rendered by land, part of it is paid to capital as interest and part of it goes to labour as wages. The rest of the revenue is the earning of the entrepreneurs and it is called profit. Profits are often used by the producers in the next period to buy new machinery or to build new factories, so that production can be expanded. These expenses which raise productive capacity are examples of investment expenditure. In short, a capitalist economy can be defined as an economy in which most of the economic activities have the following characteristics,
  • (a) there is private ownership of means of production
  • (b) production takes place for selling the output in the market
  • (c) there is sale and purchase of labour services at a price which is called the wage rate (the labour which is sold and purchased against wages is referred to as wage labour).

If we apply the above mentioned three criteria to the countries of the world we would find that capitalist countries have come into being only during the last three to four hundred years. Moreover, strictly speaking, even at present, a handful of countries in North America, Europe and Asia will qualify as capitalist countries. In many underdeveloped countries production (in agriculture especially) is carried out by peasant families. Wage labour is seldom used and most of the labour is performed by the family members themselves. Production is not solely for the market; a great part of it is consumed by the family. Neither do many peasant farms experience significant rise in capital stock over time. In many tribal societies the ownership of land does not exist; the land may belong to the whole tribe. In such societies the analysis that we shall present in this book will not be applicable. It is, however, true that many developing countries have a significant presence of production units which are organised according to capitalist principles. The production units will be called firms in this blog. In a firm the entrepreneur (or entrepreneurs) is at the helm of affairs. She hires wage labour from the market, she employs the services of capital and land as well. After hiring these inputs she undertakes the task of production. Her motive for producing goods and services (referred to as output) is to sell them in the market and earn profits. In the process she undertakes risks and uncertainties. For example, she may not get a high enough price for the goods she is producing; this may lead to fall in the profits that she earns. It is to be noted that in a capitalist country the factors of production earn their incomes through the process of production and sale of the resultant output in the market. In both the developed and developing countries, apart from the private capitalist sector, there is the institution of State. The role of the state include framing laws, enforcing them and delivering justice. The state, in many instances, undertakes production – apart from imposing taxes and spending money on building public infrastructure, running schools, colleges, providing health services etc. These economic functions of the state have to be taken into account when we want to describe the economy of the country. For convenience we shall use the term government to denote state.

Apart from the firms and the government, there is another major sector in an economy which is called the household sector. By a household we mean a single individual who takes decisions relating to her own consumption, or a group of individuals for whom decisions relating to consumption are jointly determined.
Households also save and pay taxes. How do they get the money for these activities? We must remember that the households consist of people. These people work in firms as workers and earn wages. They are the ones who work in the government departments and earn salaries, or they are the owners of firms and earn profits. Indeed the market in which the firms sell their products could not have been functioning without the demand coming from the households. So far we have described the major players in the domestic economy. But all the countries of the world are also engaged in external trade. The external sector is the fourth important sector in our study. Trade with the external sector can be of two kinds,

  1. The domestic country may sell goods to the rest of the world. These are called exports.
  2. The economy may also buy goods from the rest of the world. These are called imports.

Besides exports and imports, the rest of the world affects the domestic economy in other ways as well. Capital from foreign countries may flow into the domestic country, or the domestic country may be exporting capital to foreign countries.

Macroeconomics deals with the aggregate economic variables of an economy. It also takes into account various interlinkages which may exist between the different sectors of an economy. This is what distinguishes it from microeconomics; which mostly examines the functioning of the particular sectors of the economy, assuming that the rest of the economy remains the same. Macroeconomics emerged as a separate subject in the 1930s due to Keynes. The Great Depression, which dealt a blow to the economies of developed countries, had provided Keynes with the inspiration for his writings. In this book we shall mostly deal with the working of a capitalist economy. Hence it may not be entirely able to capture the functioning of a developing country. Macroeconomics sees an economy as a combination of four sectors, namely households, firms, government and external sector
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