NAIRU - Origins

Origins

An early form of NAIRU is found in the work of Abba P. Lerner (Lerner 1951, Chapter 14), who referred to it as "low full employment" attained via the expansion of aggregate demand, in contrast with the "high full employment" which adds incomes policies (wage and price controls) to demand stimulation.

The concept arose in the wake of the popularity of the Phillips curve which summarized the observed negative correlation between the rate of unemployment and the rate of inflation (measured as annual nominal wage growth of employees) for a number of industrialised countries with more or less mixed economies. This correlation (previously seen for the U.S. by Irving Fisher) persuaded some analysts that it was impossible for governments simultaneously to target both arbitrarily low unemployment and price stability, and that, therefore, it was government's role to seek a point on the trade-off between unemployment and inflation which matched a domestic social consensus.

During the 1970s in the United States and several other industrialized countries, Phillips curve analysis became less popular, because inflation rose at the same time that unemployment rose (see stagflation).

Worse as far as many economists were concerned, the Phillips curve had little or no theoretical basis. Critics of this analysis (such as Milton Friedman and Edmund Phelps) argued that the Phillips curve could not be a fundamental characteristic of economic general equilibrium because it showed a correlation between a real economic variable (the unemployment rate) and a nominal economic variable (the inflation rate). Their counter-analysis was that government macroeconomic policy (primarily monetary policy) was being driven by a low unemployment target and that this caused expectations of inflation to change, so that steadily accelerating inflation rather than reduced unemployment was the result. The resulting prescription was that government economic policy (or at least monetary policy) should not be influenced by any level of unemployment below a critical level - the "natural rate" or NAIRU.

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