Solow's Harrod: Transforming Cyclical Dynamics into a Model of Long-Run Growth

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Modern growth theory derives mostly from Robert Solow’s “A Contribution to the Theory of Economic Growth” (1956). Solow’s own interpretation locates the origins of his “Contribution” in his view that the growth model of Roy Harrod implied a tendency toward progressive collapse of the economy. He formulates his view in terms of Harrod’s invoking a fixed-coefficients production function. We challenge Solow’s reading of Harrod’s “Essay in Dynamic Theory,” arguing that Harrod’s object in providing a “dynamic” theory had little to do with the problem of long-run growth as Solow understood it, but instead addressed medium-run fluctuations, the “inherent instability” of economies. It was an attempt to isolate conditions under which the economy might tend to run below potential. In making this argument, Harrod does not appeal to a fixed-coefficients production function – or to any production function at all, as that term is understood by Solow. Solow interpreted Harrod’s “Essay” in the light of a particular culture of understanding grounded in the practice of formal modeling that emerged in economics in the post-World War II period. The fate of Harrod’s analysis is a case study in the difficulties in communicating across distinct interpretive communities and of the potential for losing content and insights in the process. From Harrod’s English Keynesian point of view, Solow’s interpretation arose out of a culture of misunderstanding, and his objects – particularly, of trying to account for a tendency.







Kevin Douglas Hoover

Professor of Economics

Professor Hoover's research interests include macroeconomics, monetary economics, the history of economics, and the philosophy and methodology of empirical economics. His recent work in economics has focused on the application of causal search methodologies for structural vector autoregression, the history of microfoundational programs in macroeconomics, and Roy Harrod's early work on dynamic macroeconomics. In philosophy, he has concentrated on issues related to causality, especially in economics, and on reductionism -- the philosophical counterpart to microfoundations. Recent publications include:

  • "Trygve Haavelmo's Experimental Methodology and Scenario Analysis in a Cointegrated Vector Autoregression" (Econometric Theory, 2015), 
  • "Reductionism in Economics:  Intentionality and Eschatological Justification in the Microfoundations of Macroeconomics" (Philosophy of Science 2015), 
  • "Mathematical Economics Comes to America:  Charles S. Peirce’s Engagement with Cournot’s Recherches sur les Principes Mathematiques de la Théorie des Richesses" (Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 2015), 
  • "The Genesis of Samuelson and Solow’s Price-Inflation Phillips Curve" (History of Economics Review, 2015), 
  • "Solow's Harrod: Transforming Cyclical Dynamics into a Model of Long-run Growth" (European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 2015), 
  • "In the Kingdom of Solovia:  The Rise of Growth Economics at MIT, 1956-1970" (History of Political Economy 2014), 
  • “Still Puzzling: Evaluating the Price Puzzle in an Empirically Identified Structural Vector Autoregression” (Empirical Economics, 2014),
  • "On the Reception of Haavelmo's Econometric Thought" (Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 2014) – winner of the History of Economics Society Best Paper Award in 2015.  

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