A few years ago, when Ben Bernanke’s appointment was ushered through the US Senate with hardly a murmur, Michael Evans—author of a once widely-used textbook called Macroeconomic Activity—quipped, ‘Macroeconomics, unless it messes up, doesn’t matter very much any more’. Macro is no longer passé, however, so TCD’s Antoin Murphy is lucky in the timing of his The Genesis of Macroeconomics (just out, Oxford University Press).
As Antoin points out the term ‘macroeconomics’ was coined by Ragnar Frisch in 1933. Frisch also invented ‘microeconomics’ and ‘econometrics’, as well as some other terms that never caught on. But ‘macroeconomics’ was still unfamiliar enough in 1945 for an article in the American Economic Review to use it with the ‘macro’ bit in inverted commas. It might never have caught on but for the Great Depression and Keynes’s General Theory. Ironically, though, Keynes himself does not seem to have keen on the term. Who was the first Irish economist to use it?
If JSTOR is to be trusted, the first use of the term in an academic journal was by Jan Tinbergen in 1936 (in ‘Sur la determination statistique de la position de l’équilibre cyclique’, Review of the International Statistical Institute, 4(2) (1936): 173-188). Tinbergen, by the way, shared the Nobel Prize with Frisch in 1969. The term was slow to catch on: one JSTOR ‘hit’ before 1940, three in 1940-44, and forty-four in 1945-49. The story thereafter, as reflected in JSTOR, is summarized in the accompanying table. Will these ‘interesting times’ reverse the apparent downturn in usage?