The ontological status of shocks and trends in macroeconomics

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© 2014, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.Modern empirical macroeconomic models, known as structural autoregressions (SVARs) are dynamic models that typically claim to represent a causal order among contemporaneously valued variables and to merely represent non-structural (reduced-form) co-occurence between lagged variables and contemporaneous variables. The strategy is held to meet the minimal requirements for identifying the residual errors in particular equations in the model with independent, though otherwise not directly observable, exogenous causes (“shocks”) that ultimately account for change in the model. In nonstationary models, such shocks accumulate so that variables have discernible trends. Econometricians have conceived of variables that trend in sympathy with each other (so-called “cointegrated variables”) as sharing one or more of these unobserved trends as a common cause. It is possible for estimates of the values of both the otherwise unobservable individual shocks and the otherwise unobservable common trends to be backed-out of cointegrated systems of equations. The issue addressed in this paper is whether and in what circumstances these values can be regarded as observations of real entities rather than merely artifacts of the representation of variables in the model. The issue is related, on the one hand, to practical methodological problems in the use of SVARs for policy analysis—e.g., does it make sense to estimate of shocks or trends in one model and then use them as measures of variables in a conceptually distinct model? The issue is also related to debates in the philosophical analysis of causation—particularly, whether we are entitled, as assumed by the developers of Bayes-net approaches, to rely on the causal Markov condition (a generalization of Reichenbach’s common-cause condition) or whether cointegration generates a practical example of Nancy Cartwright’s “byproducts” objection to the causal Markov condition.






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Hoover, KD (2015). The ontological status of shocks and trends in macroeconomics. Synthese, 192(11). pp. 3509–3532. 10.1007/s11229-014-0503-5 Retrieved from

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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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