After Keynes and Sraffa, heterodox political economy has taken several
different lines of development. Some, especially American Post Keynesians
such as Davidson and Minsky and their followers, have elaborated Keynes's
emphasis on the role of money and finance and the uncertainty of investor
expectations and its implications for aggregate effective demand and the
determination of aggregate employment. The relative inattention of the
American Post Keynesians to issues of structural and technological change and
the implications of the theory of value and distribution for the theory of
output and employment in the economy as a whole reflects The General
Theory, where Keynes ignored technology and perhaps himself never 'fully
escaped' the marginalist approach to value and distribution.
Other heterodox economists have focused on one or the other of Sraffa's
'negative' and 'positive' contributions. The former regards the critique of
the neoclassical (or marginalist) theory of value and distribution, the latter
the revival of Classical and Marxian approaches to the same topic. Both of
these projects have been the focus of Neo-Ricardian (or Sraffian) political
economists. For the most part, Sraffians have paid relatively little
attention to money and uncertainty on the one hand, and technical change on
the other, while considerable focus has been paid to effective demand, in
particular the attempt to reconcile the principle with Sraffian price theory
and extend its application to the long run. A third line of development in
addition to the American Post Keynesians and the Sraffians has been that
heterodox political economy that has concerned itself primarily with
structural and technological change. Some of this work in fact preceded
The General Theory, for example the work of the Kiel School, of which
Leontief was a participant, as well as that of Schumpeter. Just as the Post
Keynesians have paid little attention to technology and the Sraffians have
paid little attention to uncertainty, effective demand and money are pushed to
the background in much of the work on structural change.
Of course, these are broad-brush claims, and there are exceptions in each
case. But even with the exceptions considered, the conclusion is still
largely valid: little work has been done that considers at once money,
effective demand, and structural and technological change, while thoroughly
rejecting the neoclassical theory of value and distribution and replacing it
with a logically consistent revived Classical/Marxian approach. If we then
add to this Schumpeterian-inspired evolutionary concerns, alternative
conceptions of rationality and emphasis on learning, consideration of uneven
development and the open economy, and a commitment to social justice in the
sphere of economic policy, we will have put forward a tall, tall order,
One name would rise to the fore were such an order placed, however: Luigi
Pasinetti. For over four decades, Luigi Pasinetti has made seminal
contributions in virtually every important debate and discussion concerning
economic theory and policy, resulting in a framework that does in fact
consider value and distribution, money and effective demand, and structural
and technological change in a dynamic, evolutionary context. In this way,
Pasinetti has elaborated and synthesized the work and spirit of his teachers
and mentors: Kahn, Kaldor, Robinson, Sraffa, Goodwin, and Leontief. In doing
so, Pasinetti has done more than accomplish a great intellectual achievement.
While this he has certainly accomplished, Pasinetti first and foremost has
developed a framework for understanding the economic society in which we
actually live, one which is characterized by ongoing structural and technical
change, deficiencies in aggregate effective demand, and persistent
unemployment. Such understanding is necessary if policies are to be devised
that can eliminate unemployment, reduce poverty, and generate the economic
security necessary for a more prosperous society.
Considerable attention has been paid lately to Pasinetti's contributions.
Festschriften and symposia, entries in dictionaries and encyclopedias,
and articles by students and colleagues analyzing and developing his
contributions may be added to the Professor's own writings to form a body of
work summarizing Pasinetti's theories and analyses, and it is not the purpose
of the present paper to duplicate those efforts. This paper instead focuses on
the importance of the goal of full employment in Pasinetti's political
economy, and the prime point of Pasinetti's approach to eliminating
unemployment: full employment policies must consider both effective demand and
structural and technological change. After defining full employment and
considering full employment as a societal goal, the paper turns to the
methodology of full employment analysis. The two broad categories of
unemployment at the heart of Pasinetti's analysis are identified, and a full
employment policy that can address both the effective demand concern and the
structural change concern is proposed.
DEFINING FULL EMPLOYMENT
The term 'full employment' has come to mean different things to different
people, and it should therefore not be taken for granted that it is clear what
the term means. The first issue concerns the resources referred to by the
term. Does the term refer to full employment of all resources, or only the
full employment of labor? While there is obviously some relation
between the employment of labor and the employment of other resources, full
employment will be used here to refer only to labor. Full employment of plant
and equipment as well as labor will be referred to as 'full capacity
utilization' or 'full employment of resources.' As we will see, it is
important to maintain a distinction between the two. First, while Pasinetti
often includes both full employment of labor and full capacity utilization as
part of his analytical framework and set of policy goals, the two are
determined by different (though related) processes. Second, while it will be
suggested that full employment of labor may be brought about through economic
policy, it is less clear that full (as opposed to high levels of) capacity
utilization is an attainable goal (in a capitalist system). Third, we will
also see that for a number of reasons, it is not clear that full (again, as
distinct from high levels of) capacity utilization, is desirable, even if it
were possible. It may be that some degree of reserve capacity (which can
translate into excess capacity at the industry and economy-wide levels) may
perform an important function in a capitalist economy that might be retained
even while eliminating unemployment of labor.
The second definitional issue regards the level of employment referred to by
the term "full employment." Contrary to the intuitive, common-sense meaning
of the term, most economists and policy makers do not equate "full employment"
with "zero unemployment." Looked at through the lens of concepts such as the
"natural rate of unemployment" and the "non-accelerating inflation rate of
unemployment" (NAIRU), "full employment" has come to indicate that level of
employment that is associated with price stability, even if that means
millions of individuals ready and willing to work are unemployed. Such a
usage obviously places fighting inflation above combating unemployment in the
list of macroeconomic priorities. However, even in many cases where full
employment is considered a higher priority than fighting inflation, a
trade-off between unemployment and inflation is taken as given. Such an
assumption is not made here.
Full employment for Pasinetti refers to zero involuntary unemployment. He
therefore rejects any notion of a "natural" rate that includes
If we were to talk at all of a 'natural' level of employment, this could not
but be the level of full employment. In the present context, a natural rate of
unemployment would make no sense; or, if we like, it couldn't but be equal to
zero." (Pasinetti, 1993, p. 24)
Thus full employment means that no one who is ready and willing to work for an
appropriate wage is without a job. This also means zero involuntary part-time
employment. Involuntary part time workers, counted in conventional measures
of employment statistics as fully employed, are those who want to be working
full-time but can only find part-time employment. There might be included in
this definition some very small amount of frictional unemployment, but only
voluntary frictional unemployment (some individuals may choose to
forego employment in order to devote full time to job search). Thus we are
concerned with true full employment of labor, where every person ready and
willing to work full-time has full-time employment, and those ready and
willing to work part-time have as many hours of part-time employment as they
WHY FULL EMPLOYMENT?
Throughout his writings, Pasinetti speaks of "a permanent, and challenging,
task of pursuing the macro-economic goal of adequate global effective demand
and full employment" (1993, p. 59). "The aim," Pasinetti writes, "is clear:
achieving the full utilization of available labour, i.e. full employment"
(1993, p. 128).
a magnitude of national relevance [is] the physical quantity of labour that is
available in the whole economic system. And it is clearly a matter of general
concern that it should entirely be employed—i.e., that there should be full
employment. (1993, p. 23)
Pasinetti often points to this emphasis on the goal of full employment as one
of the most important contributions of Keynes, a point to which we will have
occasion to return:
But full employment is too important for an economic system as a whole.
Keynes was therefore right in advocating, at the institutional level, the
inclusion of full employment into the objectives of overall economic policy,
in the sense that the community as a whole takes charge of it as a goal to be
pursued with whatever measures of economic policy may be appropriate, whenever
the spontaneous forces of interaction between employers and workers fail to
bring it about. (1993, p. 132)
While it will be our position that Pasinetti does not—contra some
authors (see, e.g., Shapiro, 1984-85)—assume full employment, what
might be said is that he does assume full employment as a goal. This
is because, with some exceptions, Pasinetti has not dedicated much space to
justifying his placing of full employment as a -- perhaps
the -- goal. One of the exceptions was in a 1984-85 issue of the
Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, the title of which, "The
Difficulty, and Yet the Necessity, of Aiming at Full Employment" serves as a
good summary of Pasinetti's position. In that article, Pasinetti states that:
It is the desirability of the full employment path, and the misery and social
injustice of unemployment, that makes it a necessity for industrial societies
to put the full employment path among the basic aims of economic policy.
(1984-85, p. 248)
There was a time when it could be assumed that full employment was an
agreed-upon goal of national governments, central banks, and supranational
organizations, and Pasinetti often used this as an additional partial
justification for his own taking of full employment as a goal of economic
policy. In 1974, he could write that:
full employment is the situation that matters, and that, indeed, now-a-days
forms one of the agreed goals of any economic system. (1974, pp.
Halevi (1998, pp. 185-86) has pointed out that "twenty years later, there is
enough evidence to doubt the contemporary validity" of the latter part of that
statement, but the fact that the goal of full employment has been abandoned by
central banks, national governments, and international organizations, has not
stopped Pasinetti from maintaining it as a most important target, and the
arguments for full employment remain as strong, or even stronger, than ever.
It might do us well to briefly review these arguments.
The first argument for full employment is that the economic and social costs
of unemployment—direct and indirect—are staggering. Unemployment causes
permanent losses in potential output of goods and services; economic, social,
psychological and other problems resulting in crime, ill health (physical and
mental), divorce, suicide, etc.; deterioration of labor skills and
productivity; and more. The argument that full employment is key to social
stability may also be included here. Quite simply, a compelling argument can
be made that the benefits of full employment outweigh the costs of its
achievement, and that unemployment, rather than inflation, ought to be viewed
as 'Public Enemy Number One'.
The second argument for full employment is based on the idea that, just as
there are human, political, and civil rights that may be considered
"inalienable," so too are there economic and social "rights," of which the
right to employment is one of the most important. This view was expressed by
Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1944 State of the Union Address, and may also
be found in a number of UN documents, including the "Universal Declaration of
Human Rights." Similar proclamations can be found in many other countries as
well. If individuals are ready, willing, and able to work and have no
employment opportunities, it is government's responsibility to guarantee
employment. Therefore, even if it was argued or could be shown that the costs
of eliminating unemployment were greater than the monetary benefits,
government would still be responsible for guaranteeing full
The third argument is that the promotion and maintenance of full employment is
required in many countries by law. In the U.S., this is due to legislation
such as the Employment Act of 1946 and the Full Employment and Balanced Growth
Act of 1978 (Humphrey-Hawkins bill). The former corresponds roughly to the
1944 British White Paper on Employment Policy. Similar legislation exists in
many other industrialized nations as well. Thus, even if it was argued that
the costs are prohibitive and that employment is not an "inalienable" right,
it may be argued that under current law many governments are obligated to
guarantee full employment.
The fourth argument is that full employment is an ethical imperative in a
capitalist economy. In a society in which unemployment is systemic, public
inaction constitutes social assignment of workers and their families to
poverty and/or various forms of assistance. Therefore, even if the costs are
prohibitive, employment is not considered an inalienable right, and current
legislation is not interpreted as legally requiring government to take action
to promote and maintain full employment, it would nevertheless be wrong for
government not to do so.
Doubtless there are many other arguments, and these categories overlap and
should be treated as provisional. Clearly, however, the arguments for full
employment -- both individually, and taken together -- are
compelling. The crucial point is that unemployment is endemic to capitalism.
Of course, even if unemployment were not inherent in capitalism, the arguments
for government policies to promote full employment would still be strong, but
the existence of involuntary unemployment provides a strong justification for
the priority of full employment initiatives.
Full Employment is the foremost goal in Pasinetti's Political Economy. But
this goal is not merely a policy conclusion of Pasinetti's analytical
work, it plays a role in that analytical work itself. This is part of what
might be called Pasinetti's 'full employment methodology,' to which we shall
THE METHOD OF FULL EMPLOYMENT ANALYSIS
There is a methodological issue that should be addressed, and that concerns
the place of "full employment" in economic models or economic theory. Here we
must distinguish between: 1) full employment as assumption; 2) full employment
as logical or theoretical tendency; and 3) full employment as postulated goal.
Models that assume full employment are certainly of little value in
analyzing unemployment, if they are of any value at all. To assume full
employment is, as Keynes remarked, "to assume our difficulties away" (1936, p.
Traditional Neoclassical theory puts forward a theory of how, under certain
conditions, a market economy will tend to full employment of resources. The
price mechanism -- perfectly flexible wages, prices, and interest
rates -- constitutes the self-adjusting mechanism that endows the system
with an inherent tendency to full employment of all resources. This is not,
strictly speaking, assuming the state of full employment, though the
conditions under which the self-adjusting mechanism smoothly operates are
being assumed. The assumption that all markets are perfectly competitive
includes even more than perfectly flexible prices. A trailer-load of
assumptions are hauled in behind the cab of 'perfect competition': assumptions
regarding the knowledge and response-time of economic agents, factor mobility,
factor substitutability and divisibility, factor homogeneity, the number and
size of firms, and so on. Nevertheless, there is a
theory -- however unrealistic -- of how full employment is
supposed to be established.
Faced with persistent unemployment, then, there are two possible responses: 1)
the theory is wrong; or 2) there are market imperfections and rigidities that
prevent the smooth workings of the self-adjusting mechanism. Which view is
taken has serious implications for economic and public policy. If the theory
is wrong, we can work on formulating alternative theories of employment
determination. Such was the approach of Keynes (and the Post Keynesians), who
demonstrated that even with flexible wages the economy has a tendency to a
state of persistent unemployment due to insufficient aggregate demand. State
intervention is thus necessary to promote full employment and economic
Such is also the conclusion of Pasinetti. According to Pasinetti,
the traditional economic analysis…depicting a market for labour,
with an overall demand function and an overall supply function for labour,
where a flexible wage rate is supposed to act as a price that clears the
market and thus always ensures full employment, or rather ensures the absence
of voluntary unemployment, does not seem to make sense. To put it in other
words, the market-price mechanism, if applied to the labour market, cannot
ensure the clearing of such market. It cannot ensure full employment, simply
because a labour market does not satisfy the basic conditions of a
traditionally intended market, in which there is a market determined price
that settles at a point where a downward sloping demand curve crosses an
upward sloping supply curve, thus equating demand and supply. A market
determined wage simply cannot do that. (1993, pp. 131-32)
The conclusion is clear: neoclassical theory is flawed, and the conclusions it
reaches are therefore not justified. In addition, it is not just the
neoclassical theory that is flawed; its policy conclusions are not justified
elsewhere. Within Pasinetti's own, alternative framework, as we shall see,
unfettered markets do not result in an inherent tendency to full employment.
Thus, again invoking the name of Keynes, Pasinetti provides the following
response to the question, "Can the free market institutional system do the
This is the question Keynes explicitly posited to us. And he gave us his
answer…[in his scheme the system is] not necessarily one of full employment…
[and his] scheme also suggests what ought to be done to improve the market
results, if not actually achieve full employment. It was a very simple
scheme, valid within restrictive conditions (that were, however, relevant for
the capitalist economies of the 1930s). It is astonishing how slow we have
been—and still are—to learn the lesson that Keynes's simple scheme teaches us.
(1997a, p. 103)
We should note, however, that Pasinetti's rejection of neoclassical theory and
its policy conclusions, and his conclusion that free markets do not guarantee
full employment, or even a tendency to full employment, do not mean that
Pasinetti sees no role for markets or the price mechanism at all. Rather,
since "the market-price mechanism, when applied to the actual determination of
the economic variables, cannot work equally well for all of them," the lesson
is that "it cannot be applied uncritically; it cannot be thought of as the
only institutional mechanism to be used for a satisfactory determination of
all economic variables" (1993, p. 145). Thus, while "we cannot expect the
market-price mechanism to solve for us the macro-economic problems of…
ensuring full employment" it may be useful for other purposes, in particular,
for Pasinetti, "it leads the actual commodity prices toward the corresponding
costs of production, and induces the producers to look for ever better
technical methods" and "it may be judiciously used to promote an efficient
mobility of labour among the production sectors" (1993, p. 146). We shall
have occasion to return to this last point. For now what is important is that
Pasinetti rejects the neoclassical theory and its conclusions, and also does
not find support for those conclusions using his alternative analysis, yet he
does see some role for markets and the price mechanism elsewhere.
Of course, as noted above, within neoclassical theory there is another
explanation for unemployment, with important implications. If it is concluded
that unemployment is due to "imperfections" then the policy implications are
that the State should try to eliminate these rigidities -- often
attributed to government intervention such as regulation or minimum wage laws,
or the existence of unions -- and promote the conditions for the smooth
workings of the price mechanism. Promoters of the neoclassical synthesis
('Bastard Keynesians') were successful for some time in balancing acceptance
of neoclassical micro theory with a 'pragmatic' approach to public policy
('fine-tuning' with 'Keynesian' fiscal and monetary policy), but their policy
stance did not follow from their underlying theoretical model, and they
eventually lost their position of influence within the discipline to
supply-siders, monetarists, and adherents of rational expectations and 'new
classical' approaches. Pasinetti, a sharp critic of the neoclassical
synthesis, has also rejected this view (see, e.g., 1974).
Already it appears that we have slipped in the assumption that full employment
is an economic goal. Mainstream methodology is not comfortable with such
proclamations at the level of analysis, however, for it blurs the
distinction between 'positive' and 'normative' economics. The third method of
full employment analysis listed above, however, takes full employment as a
postulated goal as the analytical point of departure. In such an
"instrumental" approach (Lowe, 1965), the purpose of economic theory is to
'work backward' from the stipulated end-state (e.g., full employment, price
stability, economic growth, more equitable distribution of income) to discover
the suitable paths -- including policies -- by which the goal(s) may
be achieved (Forstater, 1999a). Such an approach is at once strange and
familiar. Strange, because it is so at odds with the traditional approach of
beginning with data and then employing the deductive method to explain or
predict outcomes, whatever they might be. Familiar, because it has an
intuitive, common-sense appeal to it that in fact that is how economic policy
is or should be conducted.
This approach is that of both Pasinetti and Lowe. While Lowe made the method
the subject of several books and articles (e.g., 1965; 1987) in Pasinetti,
while its application is present throughout his work (1981, 1993 and
passim), actual discussion of the method is more infrequent. In the
aforementioned article from the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics,
Pasinetti responded to Shapiro's claim that his model assumes full employment:
"But in fact I do not make any such assumption. I simply state the conditions
that full employment would require" (1984-85, p. 247). As Lowe,
quoting J. S. Mill in another context, pointed out, such a model, while
"insufficient for prediction" is "most valuable for guidance" (1965, p.
Pasinetti asked the question: "if the full employment path is never to be
reached, why then should we keep it as our reference point?" (1984-85, p.
248). The answer, he suggests, and as we are emphasizing here, regards
methodological issues. His answer also again invokes the name of John Maynard
It is the really crucial merit of Keynes to have set out to demonstrate that,
at any given point of time, the market forces are inadequate to perform the
same task [of ensuring an inherent tendency toward]… the position of full
employment, and I hope to have shown the difficulties that the structural
dynamics of technology and demand interpose to the same task through time.
But it is equally a great merit of Keynes to have singled out the full
employment position, and by implication the full employment path through time,
as the natural point of reference for economic policy. The failure of market
forces to reach efficient positions does not justify our failure to pursue
them by other means. (1984-85, p. 248)
Another way of posing the problem has been put forward by Halevi:
Reference to the difference between potential and actual output in aggregate
terms can be useful to identify the degree of unused capacity. However, it
becomes worthless for the purpose of discussing the condition of
accumulation…once the system has been brought to operate at full capacity by
means of short-run "Keynesian" policies. (1983, p. 347)
In other words, as we will see below, it is necessary to separate out the
question of how full employment is attained from the question of how it
might be maintained in the face of on-going structural and
While structural and technological change has also to do with the attainment
of full employment, even if we have eliminated unemployment, problems still
remain. And those problems can never be addressed by reference to the actual
state of capitalist economic systems, since they all exhibit unemployment and
excess capacity. We therefore need to address the problem by investigating
the operational tendencies of full employment systems. To do this, we do not
assume the economy is at full employment, nor that it exhibits an
inherent tendency to full employment, nor that full employment is necessarily
an actual goal of present governments. We investigate what are the conditions
that must be met if full employment is to be attained and maintained, given
the operational tendencies of capitalism at and below full employment and full
capacity. Such a framework can then guide us in our attempts to formulate and
implement effective practical policies.
Lowe referred to this methodological approach of discovering the necessary
conditions that must be met to attain a given economic goal or goals as
"instrumentalism," a term also referred to by Pasinetti. Like Lowe, Pasinetti
insisted on the distinction between such a goal or goals and the tools and
policies for their attainment. The tools and policies are:
means, and not ends in themselves. Once their instrumental role is properly
understood and recognised, it becomes much easier also to operate on them in
as detached a way as is possible; to treat them as instruments susceptible to
being continually improved and changed, in relation to their suitability (or
unsuitability) to ensure tendencies, or near-tendencies, towards agreed ends.
(1981, p. 155)
Students and colleagues of Pasinetti promoting and elaborating his approach
have explicitly referred to Lowe's instrumental method as well. Scazzieri, for
example, has argued that "the task of dynamic theory is not to suggest a
realistic interpretation of actual processes" (1996, p. 183). Instead,
shifts economic theory away from the theoretical reconstruction of actual
processes and turns it into an experiment in instrumental inference, which is,
using Adolph Lowe's words, an attempt 'to discover the particular set of
causes that are suitable for the realization of some postulated effect'"
(Scazzieri, 1996, pp. 183-84; see also, Baranzini and Scazzieri, 1990)
In addition to their common methodology, the works of Pasinetti and Lowe,
while differing in some important ways, also share a common focus on
structural and technological change. This focus is different, though
complementary (and related), to the Post Keynesian focus on aggregate balance,
i.e., the aggregate demand-constrained nature of capitalism. These two
concerns -- the effective demand concern and the structural dynamics
concern -- correspond to two different questions (or sets of questions)
and two different theories of unemployment as the normal outcome of unfettered
market activity. It is to these questions and theories to which we must now
ATTAINING AND MAINTAINING FULL EMPLOYMENT
The two analytically separable but related questions concerning unemployment
may be posed as follows:
As we have seen, and as is well-known, neoclassical theory answers 'yes' to
the first question, and the mechanism that assures the tendency to full
employment is the price mechanism, under the condition of perfectly flexible
prices (including factor prices) and perfectly competitive markets. Keynes and
the Post Keynesians answer 'no' to the same question, based on an alternative
theory of the savings-investment relationship that refutes Say's Law, and the
analysis of capitalism as a monetary production system. Thus, for Keynes,
involuntary unemployment is normal, with full employment to be expected
"only by accident or design"(1936: 28). 'Design' refers first and foremost to
demand management policies conducted by the State.
- If there is unemployment in the economy, is there a self-adjusting
mechanism inherent in the market system that will tend to push the economy
back to the full employment level of output? If not, why not, and what
policies follow from the analysis? If so, what is the nature of that
- Under what conditions can full employment and full capacity utilization be
maintained in the face of ongoing structural and technological change,
such as labor- or capital-displacing technical change, changes in the supply
of labor or natural resources, or changes in the composition of final demand?
Are these conditions likely to be met by the market system? If not, what
types of policies might be implemented that can satisfy the
Pasinetti applauds Keynes's contributions. But Pasinetti also warns that to
stop with The General Theory would be unwise:
We cannot expect from Keynesian theories and policies what they cannot give.
We have gained from them the avoidance of large-scale unemployment and this
has been a notable acheivement. But the resumption of growth is another
matter. The economic system still has to solve the much deeper problems… the
structural problems of learning the appropriate ways to expand. (1981, p.
In particular, we need to address the issues that follow from the second
question, as well as the first.
As to the second set of questions concerning the maintenance of full
employment, in the neoclassical view, the same features that provide the
system with the tendency to full employment, also endow the system with an
amazing degree of flexibility. Prices (including factor prices) are fully
flexible, and prices correctly convey information that economic agents with
full knowledge instantaneously respond to in pre-determined ways. Factors of
production are perfectly mobile, perfectly divisible, perfectly substitutable,
homogeneous. The principle of substitution likewise dominates the analysis of
consumer behavior. There is no historical time, uncertainty, or money. Thus,
not only is there an inherent tendency to full employment and full capacity
utilization, but the system in such a state instantaneously and easily adjusts
to changes in technology, the supplies of labor and natural resources, and the
composition of final demand. The production system, even at full employment
of all resources, is fully flexible. As Basu has remarked, "in standard
neoclassical models, flexibility is unimportant because it is total"(1995, p.
64). At the same time, the primary source of rigidity in the standard view is
Analyses of structural dynamics that reject most or all of the neoclassical
assumptions are based on a very different vision of the economic system that
is more compatible with the Post Keynesian view, and is reflected in their
conclusions. Key to these analyses is that economic processes take place in
historical time. There are no instantaneous adjustments:
Instantaneous adjustments are not always possible, particularly in
those cases in which it is necessary for each product to use 'specialized'
productive resources (such as machinery of a specific type, or workers of a
particular skill). (Pasinetti and Scazzieri, 1987, p. 528)
Capital goods are highly specific and in no way necessarily shiftable between
different lines of production. Means of production are not highly divisible
or substitutable, if at all. There is a significant amount of uncertainty
regarding the future, and the past is unchangeable.
Modern economies are interindustry systems, with complex sectoral
interdependencies such as are described in input-output analyses. Even
analyses that are not as disaggregated as input-output models highlight the
sectoral interdependence and interindustry linkages and their implications
(see, e.g., the three sector models in Lowe, 1976). There are thus timelags,
distortions, bottlenecks, and rigidities that reflect the physical and
technical nature of the system.
There are two general approaches to the formal analysis of structural change,
the 'vertically-integrated' approach and the 'horizontally-integrated'
approach. The former is represented by Pasinetti (1981; 1993), the latter by
Lowe (1976). Both of these approaches are non-neoclassical, despite the fact
that they analyze systems operating at full employment and full capacity
utilization. They do not assume full employment, or an inherent tendency to
full employment. Rather, they take full employment as a stipulated goal and
then analyze the conditions under which an economy operating at full
employment and full capacity utilization might maintain that state in the face
of ongoing structural and technological change.
Pasinetti's framework recognizes that the economy is a multi-sectoral
industrial system with ongoing technical change, and ongoing changes in final
demand. Growth is not proportional—it is highly disproportional and
disruptive. This means that the second question—the conditions that have to
be met for an economy to maintain full employment and full capacity
utilization through time—have to be addressed.
The conditions that must be met for such a modern industrial economy to
maintain full employment—even if it could be attained—are neatly reduced by
Pasinetti into two conditions: an effective demand condition and a structural
change or capital accumulation condition. These two concerns—the effective
demand concern and the structural change concern—correspond to two types of
unemployment: technological unemployment or Marxian unemployment and Keynesian
We will not reproduce these analyses here; there is a sizable literature on
each of these approaches, as well as a number of excellent surveys comparing
and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of vertical and horizontal
approaches (see, e.g., the papers in Baranzini and Scazzieri, 1990; Halevi,
1994). In fact, the two approaches may be seen as highly
complementary. For present purposes, what is important is that both
approaches highlight how difficult it would be for a full employment/full
capacity system to maintain itself, even if it could be
The conclusion is clear: the structual dynamics of employment mean that left
to their own devices, capitalist economies will not run at full employment and
full capacity: "This means that it becomes the specific task of
institutions—that is, of the way society organises itself" to ensure full
employment (1997a, p. 102):
A confirmation thereby emerges of the necessity of setting up some major
coordinating institutions, at the level of the economic system as a whole—a
necessity that emerges in the field of fiscal policy and in the field of
monetary policy. (1993, p. 146)
Pasinetti does not propose completely doing away with markets, however. The
task, as Keynes pointed out, is finding those spheres where markets are
appropriate, and those where public institutions are required, and the way the
In fact, one of the great challenges for economists in the near future appears
precisely that of finding ways to reconcile and render complementary the
automatic stimuli coming from the competitive market-price mechanism with the
necessary requirements for overall policies concerning the economic system as
a whole. (1993, p. 146)
A full employment policy must thus address both involuntary unemployment of
the Keynesian variety, that is, unemployment due to the inherent demand
constrained tendency of capitalist economies, and 'technological
unemployment,' here used as something of a catch-all phrase for unemployment
due to structural and technological change. Of course, these types of
unemployment are related, as technological change can affect the level and not
only the composition of aggregate demand. For example, labor-displacing
technical change may result in income redistribution between sectors of the
population with different saving propensities, which can set off—or
exacerbate—an effective demand crisis. In addition, focus on technological
and structural change highlights not only issues related to
unemployment, but issues related to the operation of an economy at
full employment, when aggregate balance is no longer an issue, but
sectoral balance very much is. These issues—sectoral proportionalities and
imbalances—are key to the bottlenecks and rigidities that are associated with
higher employment and capacity utilization rates. System flexibility is
fundamentally an issue of economic and technological structure. Until a full
employment plan can demonstrate the possibility of a flexible and stable full
employment, the central banks, national governments, and supranational
organizations of the world will continue to fulfill Kalecki's (1943) vision of
politically-enforced unemployment and excess capacity.
REAL LIFE FLEXIBILITY: UNEMPLOYMENT AND EXCESS CAPACITY
Standard neoclassical theory puts forward an idealized economy where methods
of production and factor supplies instantly respond to demand that changes
when relative prices change. Structural analysis highlights the impediments
to rapid adjustment, the structural disequilibria, the disproportionalities,
and the physical-technical consistency conditions for system viability
(reproduction) that especially confront an economy brought to full employment
by, e.g., Keynesian demand management. In neoclassical theory there is a
trade-off between flexibility and reality; in structural analysis there is a
trade-off between flexibility and full employment of resources. The only way
to have flexibility in reality seems to be with unemployment and excess
capacity. Thus the primary 'real life' factor endowing the system with
flexibility seems to confirm the 'Central Bank' view. Capitalist systems gain
flexibility by sacrificing full employment. As Scazzieri, with reference to
the Pasinetti model, has pointed out: "Short run difficulties (unemployment,
spare productive capacity, the stagnation of once important industries) have
to be considered as the necessary conditions for long-run expansion"
(Scazzieri, 1983, p. 73).
Lowe refered to this as the paradox of capacity utilization: "recurrent,
long-lasting stretches of underutilization" while a "periodic drag on output
and income" and thus welfare generally, "from the viewpoint of growth" has had
the "paradoxical effect" of providing the "large, pool of idle resources that
greatly facilitated the system's adjustment to changes in aggregate demand and
technology," i.e., "frictions and bottlenecks that impede inter-sectoral
shifts of resources" were avoided: "Thus growth became a by-product of the
cycle and hardly distinguishable from the latter's phase of recovery" (1976,
But demand management policies, where successful, by reducing "the degree of
underutilization of resources and the duration of their idleness," can amount
to a "reverse paradox" in which "the greater the success of this policy of
stabilization, the smaller the flexibility of the system, and the greater the
difficulties of achieving a smooth expansion path" (Lowe, 1976, p. 9).
Aggregate demand management, which refers to the attempt to push the private
sector to full employment and full capacity, will create a system that is
fraught with rigidities. Bottlenecks in key industries, such as the
machine-tools industries, can cause economy-wide disruptions and prevent
smooth expansion. Viscous system structure can result in sluggish growth and
inflation. The system requires flexibility.
It is not clear what policies would ensure full capacity utilization. Given
the desire for flexibility at the plant or firm level, the system would likely
still reproduce some excess capacity even absent Central Bank enforcement
policies (the system would not tend to full capacity utilization just because
Central Banks suddenly stopped promoting slack). It is not even clear that,
despite the potentially negative consequences, true full capacity utilization
would even be desirable.
Full employment of labor, however, is both possible and desirable. The
problem has been how to maintain the system flexibility and stability that
unemployment helps to ensure, without the social and economic costs of
unemployment. Lowe (1988), from the perspective of structural analysis,
supported what he called "planned domestic colonization," which is better
known as government as employer of last resort (Wray, 1998) or the buffer
stock employment model (Mitchell, 1998), and we will simply call Public
Service Employment. Such a policy approach is consistent with Pasinetti's
commitment to true full employment, his analytical concerns with both
effective demand and structural and technological change, and his instrumental
approach to economic policy.
FLEXIBLE FULL EMPLOYMENT: THE PUBLIC SERVICE EMPLOYMENT
The Public Service Employment approach acknowledges the unlikelihood of
attaining or maintaining full employment through indirect means such as
stimulating private sector demand, while identifying a number of clear
advantages to public employment programs:
Unlike private investors, public investors are not hampered by uncertainties
about future demand, because they themselves determine the purpose that
investment and its final output is to serve, for instance the items that make
up the infrastructure. (Lowe, 1988, p. 107)
In public works there is a degree of variability and flexibility not possible
in the private sector, where competitive pressures legislate methods of
production, the composition of output and the types of capital equipment and
natural resources utilized, and where private decisions governed by narrow
economic motives may not be consistent with what is best for society as a
whole (Forstater, 1999b).
Some of the major obstacles to full employment are rooted in the technological
conditions of production. Employing workers available as a result of
labor-displacing technical change or increases in labor supply depends on the
prior construction of real capital. But the public sector has the ability to
vary the labor intensity of productive activity in ways that the private
sector cannot. The public sector may choose a more labor intensive method of
production that would be 'inefficient' for a private firm, but which is quite
reasonable from the perspective of social well-being. The public sector may
also vary public employment between different tasks, for the purpose of
altering overall capital-labor ratios or easing the utilization of certain
types of capital equipment or increasing the utilization of yet other types.
The spectrum of choices open include activities which approach the level of
"pure services in the fields of health, education, and general welfare"
as well as activities that do not use or make more limited use of precious
natural resources and that do not pollute (Lowe, 1988, p. 107).
The Public Service Employment approach can address both the effective demand
concern and the structural change concern. This is why it is not surprising
that it has been supported by many whose own work is mainly focused on the
effective demand concern. When there is unemployment, this is an indication
that aggregate demand is too low. Government then hires anyone ready, willing,
and able to work. This generates income and eliminates unemployment. But
unlike the aggregate demand approach, public employment can also address
sectoral issues. As demand increases in a sector, the private sector hires
out of the public employment pool. Public works can be designed with an eye
to sectoral and technological developments. Again, public employees can use
those types of capital equipment that are not in short supply, more labor
intensive methods may be used in the public sector to ease capital shortages,
because the government can use different criteria—criteria based on larger
social and macroeconomic concerns—rather than the cost minimization or private
efficiency criteria (Forstater, 1998b).
Pasinetti's observation that the wage mechanism, while incapable of
equilibrating a so-called 'labor market', does have the ability to induce
labor mobility between sectors, is pertinent here:
appropriate advantage may be taken of the incentive-generating characteristics
of the market-price mechanism in dealing with the problem that always arises
inducing labourers to move across sectors. In this case, some market
determined wage differentials may perform the function of inducing and
favouring the labour mobility required by the structural dynamics that is due
to take place (as we have seen earlier)…In other words, useful wage
negotiations, with due regard to labour requirements and labour
availabilities, at the sectoral and even at the individual level, may be
allowed to take place to suit intervened sectoral scarcities and
redundancies….They serve the purpose of giving incentives to the mobility of
labour out of declining sectors and into expanding sectors." (1993, pp.
The buffer stock aspect of the Public Service Employment approach employs the
wage mechanism in just such a way. As demand increases in certain sectors,
employers will have to offer workers in the public employment sector a mark-up
over the public sector wage-benefits package. As employment declines in other
sectors, workers will move out of those sectors and into public
CONCLUSION: PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT AND THE PRIME POINT OF PASINETTI'S
For four decades, Luigi Pasinetti has demonstrated that full employment
policies must consider both effective demand and structural and technological
change. He has asked Post Keynesians—and heterodox economists of all
stripes—to please take all the components of Keynes's description of modern
industrial systems as monetary production economies seriously. We must
consider monetary and financial factors and aggregate proportionality and
balance. But we must also consider technological and structural
change—including changes in the composition of final demand—and sectoral
proportionality and balance as well. As a result of Pasinetti's
A vast programme of research is thereby opening up. But there also emerges a
wide programme for action. Not only is there an 'institutional problem' to be
solved; there is also a challenge for 'institutional action' to be met. (1993,
Government investment policy enters the scene: not to replace
(or "crowd out") private investments but to complement them because of their
insufficiency, if the task to be pursued is that of achieving, and
maintaining, full employment. (1997b, p. 218)
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