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Coexistence and complementarity Microeconomics based on models

Bridging the micro/macro divide

Like physical scientists, economists develop theory to organize and simplify knowledge about a field and to develop a conceptual framework for adding new knowledge. Science begins with the accretion of informal insights, particularly with observed regular relationships between variables that are so stable they can be codified into “laws.” Theory is developed by pinning down those invariant relationships through both experimentation and formal logical deductions—called models.

Since the Keynesian revolution, the economics profession has had essentially two theoretical systems, one to explain the small picture, the other to explain the big picture (micro and macro are the Greek words, respectively, for “small” and “big”). Following the approach of physics, for the past quarter century or so, a number of economists have made sustained efforts to merge microeconomics and macroeconomics. They have tried to develop microeconomic foundations for macroeconomic models on the grounds that valid economic analysis must begin with the behavior of the elements of microeconomic analysis: individual households and firms that seek to optimize their conditions.

There have also been attempts to use very fast computers to simulate the behavior of economic aggregates by summing the behavior of large numbers of households and firms. It is too early to say anything about the likely outcome of this effort. But within the field of macroeconomics there is continuing progress in improving models, whose deficiencies were exposed by the instabilities that occurred in world markets during the global financial crisis that began in 2008.