Paul Davidson (economist)

Post Keynesian economist

Paul Davidson (born October 23, 1930) is an American macroeconomist who has been one of the leading spokesmen of the American branch of the Post Keynesian school in economics. He is a prolific writer and has actively intervened in important debates on economic policy (natural resources, international monetary system, developing countries' debt) from a position that is very critical of mainstream economics.


  • I quote somewhere a correspondence with Ken Arrow, after he wrote Arrow and Hahn. I wrote to him and I said that the trouble is that neoclassical economists confuse risk with uncertainty. Uncertainty means non-probabilistic. And he said, 'Quite true, you're quite correct that Keynes is much more fruitful, but the trouble with the General Theory is, those things that were fruitful couldn't be developed into a nice precise analytical statement, and those things that could were retrogressions from Keynes but could be developed into a nice precise analytical statement.' That's why mainstream economics went that route. And my answer is, I would hope that even Nobel Prize winners didn't believe that regression is growth, which it clearly isn't. But that's right. The fear that everybody has, you see, is nihilism: you won't be able to say what's going to happen . Well, evolutionists don't worry about being unable to predict. You ask the evolutionists, who tell you what happened in the past, just what next species is going to appear, and the answer is, anything could. Right? Does that bother people? Explanation is the first thing in science. If you can't explain, you don't have anything. But you needn't necessarily predict. Now, if you know the future's uncertain, what does that mean? It means basically, the way Hicks put it in his later years, that humans have free will. The human system isn't deterministic or stochastic, which is deterministic with a random error. Humans can do thins to change the world.
    • quoted in Conversations with Post Keynesians (1995) by J. E. King
  • Then what you find out is, what humans then do is, they create institutions - that's where institutionalism has a tie with Post Keynesianism - they create institutions which limit outcomes, which permit you to control outcomes as long as the society agrees to live by the rules of the game, which are the rules of the institutions. Now, if society rejects those rules, then society breaks down. What are the rules of the game? Well, money is a rule of the economic game. There are lots of human economic arrangements which don't use money. The family unit solves its economic problems, of what and how to produce within the family, without the use of money and without the use of markets. All the 24 hours of the day are either employed or leisure. There's no involuntary unemployment in the family. So you can solve the problem, but it's a different economy. We are talking about a money-using economy, and money is a human institution. You have to ask yourself, why was it created? Why is it so strange? You see, in Lerner, in neoclassical economics, money is a commodity. It's peanuts, with a very high elasticity of production. If people want more money, that creates just as many jobs as if people want goods. Then you have to say to yourself - and this was the question that Milton Friedman asked me in the debate - he says, 'That's nonsense; Davidson says money is not producible. Why are there historical cases where Indians used beads as money? Aren't beads easily producible?' But not in the Indian economy. They didn't know how to produce them.
    • quoted in Conversations with Post Keynesians (1995) by J. E. King

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