Aggregate Demand and Modern Macro

Start with a point on language.

People often talk about aggregate demand as if it were a quantity. But this is not exactly right. There’s no number or set of numbers in the national accounts labeled “aggregate demand”. Rather, aggregate demand is a way of interpreting the numbers in the national accounts. (Admittedly, it’s the way of interpreting them that guided their creation in the first place). It’s a statement about a relationship between economic quantities. Specifically, it’s a statement that we should think about current income and current expenditure as mutually determining each other.

This way of thinking is logically incompatible with the way macroeconomics is taught in (almost) all graduate programs today, which is in terms of optimization under an intertemporal budget constraint. I’ll avoid semi-pejorative terms like mainstream and neoclassical, and instead follow Robert Gordon and call this approach modern macro.

In the Keynesian income-expenditure vision — which today survives only, as Leijonhufvud put it, “in the Hades of undergraduate instruction” — we think of economic actors as making decisions about current spending in terms of current receipts. If I earn $X, I will spend $Y; if I earn one dollar more, I’ll spend so many additional cents. We can add detail by breaking these income and expenditure flows in various ways — income from dividends vs. incomes from wages, income to someone at the top decile vs someone at the bottom, income to urban households vs income to rural ones; and expenditures on services, durable goods, taxes, etc., which generate income in their turn. This is the way macro forecasting models used by business and government were traditionally constructed, and may still be for all I know.

Again, these are relationships; they tell us that for any given level of aggregate money income, there is a corresponding level of aggregate expenditure. The level of income that is actually realized, is the one for which desired expenditure just equals income. And if someone for whatever reason adjusts their desired level of expenditure at that income, the realized level of income will change in the same direction, by a greater or lesser extent. (This is the multiplier.)

I should stress that while this way of thinking may imply or suggest concrete predictions, these are not themselves empirical claims, but logical relationships.

The intertemporal optimization approach followed in modern macro is based on a different set of logical relationships. In this framework, agents know their endowments and tastes (and everyone else’s, though usually in these models agents are assumed to be identical) and the available production technology in all future periods. So they know all possible mixes of consumption and leisure available to them over the entire future and the utility each provides. Based on this knowledge they pick, for all periods simultaneously (“on the 8th day of creation” — that’s Leijonhufvud again) the optimal path of labor, output and consumption.

I realize that to non-economists this looks very strange. I want to stress, I’m not giving a dismissive or hostile summary. To anyone who’s done economics graduate work in the last 15 or 20 years (a few heterodox enclaves excepted) constructing models like this is just what “doing macroeconomics” means.

(For a concrete example, a first-year grad textbook offers as one of its first exercises in thinking like an economist the question of why countries often run current account deficits in wartime. The answer is entirely in terms of why countries would choose to allocate a greater share of consumption to periods when there is war, and how interest rates adjust to make this happen. The possibility that war leads to higher incomes and expenditure, some of which inevitably falls on imported goods — the natural answer in the income-expenditure framework — is not even mentioned. Incidentally, as this example suggests, thinking in terms of intertemporal allocation is not always necessarily wrong.)

In these models, there is no special relationship between income and expenditure flows just because they happen to take place at the same time or in any particular order. The choice between jam today and jam tomorrow is no different from the choice between blackberry and lingonberry jam, and the checks you get from your current job and from the job you’ll hold ten years from now are no more different than the checks from two different jobs that you hold right now are. Over one year or 50, the problem is simply the best allocation of your total income over your possible consumption baskets — subject, of course, to various constraints which may make the optimal allocation unachievable.

My point here is not that modern models are unrealistic. I am perfectly happy to stipulate that the realism of assumptions doesn’t matter. Models are tools for logical analysis, not toy train sets — they don’t have to look like real economies to be useful.

(Although I do have to point out that modern macroeconomics models are often defended precisely on the grounds of microfoundations — i.e. more realistic assumptions. But it is simply not true that modern models are more “microfounded” than income-expenditure ones in any normal English sense. Microfoundations does not mean, as you might imagine, that a model has an explicit story about the individual agents in the economy and how they make choices — the old Keynesian models do at least as well as the modern ones by that standard. Rather, microfoundations means that the agents’ choices consist of optimizing some quantity under true — i.e. model consistent — expectations.)

But again, I come not to bury or dispraise modern models. My point is just that they are logically incompatible with the concept of aggregate demand. It’s not that modern macroeconomists believe that aggregate demand is unimportant, it’s that within their framework those words don’t mean anything. Carefully written macro papers don’t even footnote it as a minor factor that can be ignored. Even something anodyne like “demand might also play a role” would come across like the guy in that comic who asks the engineers if they’ve “considered logarithms” to help with cooling.

The atomic units of one vision are flows — that is, money per time period — between economic units. The atomic units of the other are prices and quantities of different goods. Any particular empirical question can be addressed within either vision. But they generate very different intuitions, and ideas of what questions are most important. 

Still, it is true that the same concrete phenomena can be described in either language. The IS curve is the obvious example. In the Hades of the undergraduate classroom we get the old Keynesian story of changes in interest rate changing desired aggregate expenditure at each given income. While in the sunlit Arcadia of graduate classes, the same relationship between interest rates and current expenditure is derived explicitly from intertemporal optimization.

So what’s the problem, you say. If either language can be used to describe the same phenomena, why not use the same language as the vast majority of other economists?

This is a serious question, and those of us who want to do macro without DSGE models need a real answer for it. My answer is that default assumptions matter. Yes, with the right tweaks the two models can be brought to a middle ground, with roughly the same mix of effects from the current state and expected future states of the world. But even if you can get agreement on certain concrete predictions, you won’t agree on what parts of them depend on the hard core of your theory and what on more or less ad hoc auxiliary assumptions. So Occam’s Razor will cut in opposite directions — a change that simplifies the story from one perspective, is adding complexity from the other.

For example, from the income-expenditure perspective, saying that future interest rates will have a similar effect on current activity as current interest rates do, is a strong additional assumption. Whereas from the modern perspective, it’s saying that they don’t have similar effects that is the additional assumption that needs to be explained. Or again, taking an example with concrete applications to teaching, the most natural way to think about interest rates and exchange rates in the income-expenditure vision is in terms of how the the flow of foreign investment responds to interest rates differentials. Whereas in the modern perspective — which is now infiltrating even the underworld — the most natural way is in terms of rational agents’ optimal asset mix, taking into account the true expected values of future exchange rates and interest rates.

Or, what got me thinking about this in the first place. I’ve been reading a lot of empirical work on credit constraints and business investment in the Great Recession — I might do a post on it in the next week or so, though an academic style literature review seems a bit dull even for this blog — and three things have become clear.

First, the commitment to intertemporal optimization means that New Keynesians really need financial frictions. In a world where current output is an important factor in investment, where investment spending is linked to profit income, and where expectations are an independently adjusting variable, it’s no problem to have a slowdown in investment triggered by fall in demand in some other sector, by a fall in the profit share, or by beliefs about the future becoming more pessimistic. But in the modern consensus, the optimal capital stock is determined by the fundamental parameters of the model and known to all agents, so you need a more or less permanent fall in the return on investment, due presumably to some negative technological shock or bad government policy. Liberal economists hate this stuff, but in an important sense it’s just a logical application of the models they all teach. If in all your graduate classes you talk about investment and growth in terms of the technologically-determined marginal product of capital, you can hardly blame people when, faced with a slowdown in investment and growth, they figure that’s the first place to look. The alternative is some constraint that prevents firms from moving toward their desired capital stock, which really has to be a financial friction of some kind. For the older Keynesian perspective credit constraints are one possible reason among others for a non-supply-side determined fall in investment; for the modern perspective they’re the only game in town.

Second, the persistence of slumps is a problem for them in a way that it’s not in the income-expenditure approach. Like the previous point, this follows from the fundamental fact that in the modern approach, while there can be constraints that prevent desired expenditure from being achieved, there’s never causation from actual expenditure to desired expenditure. Businesses know, based on fundamentals, their optimal capital stock, and choose an investment path that gets them there while minimizing adjustment costs. Similarly, households know their lifetime income and utility-maximizing consumption path. Credit constraints may hold down investment or consumption in one period, but once they’re relaxed, desired expenditure will be as high or higher than before. So you need persistent constraints to explain persistently depressed spending. Whereas in the income-expenditure model there is no puzzle. Depressed investment in one period directly reduces investment demand in the next period, both by reducing capacity utilization and by reducing the flow of profit income. If your core vision of the economy is a market, optimizing the allocation of scare resources, then if that optimal allocation isn’t being achieved there must be some ongoing obstacle to trade. Whereas if you think of the economy in terms of income and expenditure flows, it seems perfectly natural that an interruption to some flow will will disrupt the pattern, and once the obstacle is removed the pattern will return to its only form only slowly if at all.

And third: Only conservative economists acknowledge this theoretical divide. You can find John Cochrane writing very clearly about alternative perspectives in macro. But saltwater economists — and the best ones are often the worst in this respect — are scrupulously atheoretical. I suspect this is because they know that if they wanted to describe their material in a more general way, they’d have to use the language of intertemporal optimization, and they are smart enough to know what a tar baby that is. So they become pure empiricists.

In Leon Fink’s wonderful history of the New York health care workers’ union 1199, Upheaval in the Quiet Zone, he talks about how the union’s early leaders and activists were disproportionately drawn from Communist Party members and sympathizers, and other leftists. Like other communist-led unions, 1199 was kicked out of the CIO in the 1940s, but unlike most of the others, it didn’t fade into obscurity. Originally a drugstore-employees union, it led the new wave of organizing of health care and public employees in the 1960s. Fink attributes a large part of its unusual commitment to organizing non-white and female workers, in an explicitly civil-rights framework, and its unusual lack of corruption and venality, to the continued solidarity of the generation of the 1930s. Their shared political commitments were a powerful source of coordination and discipline. But, says Fink, it was impossible for them to pass these commitments on to the next generation. Yes, in 1199, unlike most other unions, individual leftists were not purged; but there was still no organized left, either within the union or in connection to a broader movement. So there was no way for the first generation to reproduce themselves, and as they retired 1199 became exposed to the same pressures that produced conservative, self-serving leadership in so many other unions.

I feel there’s something similar going on in economics. There are plenty of people at mainstream departments with a basically Keynesian vision of the economy. But they write and, especially, teach in a language that is basically alien to that vision. They’re not reproducing the capacity for their own thought. They’re running a kind of intellectual extractive industry, mining older traditions for insights but doing nothing to maintain them.

I had this conversation with a friend at a top department the other day:

  what do you think? is this kind of critique valid/useful?
11:17 AM him: its totally true
11:18 AM and you wouldn’t know what was getting baked into the cake unless you were trained in the literature
  I only started understanding the New Keynsian models a little while ago
  and just had the lazy “they are too complicated” criticism
11:19 AM now I understand that they are stupidly too complicated (as Noah’s post points out)
11:20 AM me: so what is one supposed to do?
  if this is the state of macro
 him: i dunno. I think participating in this literature is a fucking horror show
 me: but you don’t like heterodox people either, so….?
11:21 AM him: maybe become a historian
  or figure out some simple variant of the DSGEmodels that you can make your point and publish empirical stuff

This is where so many smart people I know end up. You have to use mainstream models — you can’t move the profession or help shape policy (or get a good job) otherwise. But on many questions, using those models means, at best, contorting your argument into a forced and unnatural framework, with arbitrary-seeming assumptions doing a lot of the work; at worst it means wading head-deep into an intellectual swamp. So you do some mix of what my friend suggests here: find a version of the modern framework that is loose enough to cram your ideas into without too much buckling; or give up on telling a coherent story about the world and become a pure empiricist. (Or give up on economics.) But either way, your insights about the world have to come from somewhere else. And that’s the problem, because insight isn’t cheap. The line I hear so often — let’s master mainstream methods so we can better promote our ideas — assumes you’ve already got all your ideas, so the only work left is publicity.

If we want to take questions of aggregate demand and everything that goes with it — booms, crises, slumps — seriously, then we need a theoretical framework in which those questions arise naturally.

[*] Keynes’ original term was “effective demand.” The two are interchangeable today. But it’s interesting to read the original passages in the GT. While they are confusingly written, there’s no question that Keynes’ meant “effective” in the sense of “being in effect.” That is, of many possible levels of demand possible in an economy, which do we actually see? This is different from the way the term is usually understood, as “having effect,” that is, backed with money. Demand backed with money is, of course, simply demand.  

UPDATE: The Cochrane post linked above is really good, very worth reading. It gives more of the specific flavor of these models than I do. He writes: In Old Keynesian models,

consumption depends on today’s income through the “marginal propensity to consume” mpc. 

Modern new-Keynesian models are utterly different from this traditional view. Lots of people, especially in policy, commentary, and blogging circles, like to wave their hands over the equations of new Keynesian models and claim they provide formal cover for traditional old-Keynesian intuition, with all the optimization, budget constraints, and market clearing conditions that the old-Keynesian analysis never really got right taken care of. A quick look at our equations and the underlying logic shows that this is absolutely not the case.  

Consider how lowering interest rates is supposed to help. In the old Keynesian model, investment I = I(r) responds to lower interest rates, output and income Y = C + I + G, so rising investment raises income, which raises consumption in (4), which raises income some more, and so on. By contrast, the simple new-Keynesian model needs no investment, and interest rates simply rearrange consumption demand over time. 

Similarly, consider how raising government spending is supposed to help. In the old Keynesian model,  raising G in Y = C + I + G raises Y, which raises consumption C by (4), which raises Y some more, and so on. In the new-Keynesian model, the big multiplier comes because raising government spending raises inflation, which lowers interest rates, and once again brings consumption forward in time.

Note, for example, that in a standard New Keynesian model, expected future interest rates enter into current consumption exactly as the present interest rate does. This will obviously shape people’s intuitions about things like the effectiveness of forward guidance by the Fed.

UPDATE 2: As usual, this blog is just an updated, but otherwise much inferior, version of What Leijonhufvud Said. From his 2006 essay The Uses of the Past:

We should expect to find an ahistorical attitude among a group of scientists busily soling puzzles within an agreed-upon paradigm… Preoccupation with the past is then a diversion or a luxury. When things are going well it is full steam ahead! …. As long as “normal” progress continues to be made in the established directions, there is no need to reexamine the past… 

Things begin to look different if and when the workable vein runs out or, to change the metaphor, when the road that took you to the “frontier of the field” ends in a swamp or in a blind alley. A lot of them do. Our fads run out and we get stuck. Reactions to finding yourself in a cul-de-sac differ. Tenured professors might be content to accommodate themselves to it, spend their time tidying up the place, putting in modern conveniences… Braver souls will want out and see a tremendous leap of the creative imagination as the only way out — a prescription, however, that will leave ordinary mortals just climbing the walls. Another way to go is to backtrack. Back there, in the past, there were forks in the road and it is possible, even probable, that some roads were more promising than the one that looked most promising at the time…

This is exactly the spirit in which I’m trying to rehabilitate postwar income-expenditure Keynesianism. The whole essay is very worth reading, if you’re interest at all in the history of economic thought.

Reviving the Knife-Edge: Aggregate Demand in the Long Run

The second issue of the new Review of Keynesian Economics is out, this one focused on growth. [1] There’s a bunch of interesting contributions, but I especially like the piece by Steve Fazzari, Pietro Ferri, Edward Greenberg and Anna Maria Variato, on growth and aggregate demand.

The starting point is the familiar puzzle that we have a clear short-run story in which changes in output  [2] on the scale of the business cycle are determined by aggregate demand — that is, by changes in desired expenditure relative to income. But we don’t have a story about what role, if any, aggregate demand plays in the longer run.
The dominant answer — unquestioned in the mainstream [3], but also widespread among heterodox writers — is, it doesn’t. Economic growth is supposed to depend on a different set of factors — technological change, population growth and capital accumulation — than those that influence demand in the short run. But it’s not obvious how you get from the short-run to the long — what mechanism, if any, that ensures that the various demand-driven fluctuations will converge to the long-run path dictated by these “fundamentals”?
This is the question posed by Fazzari et al., building on Roy Harrod’s famous 1939 article. As Harrod noted, there are two relations between investment and output: investment influences output as a source of demand in the short run, and in the longer run higher output induces investment in order to maintain a stable capital-output ratio. More investment boosts growth, for the first channel, the multiplier; growth induces investment, through the second, the accelerator. With appropriate assumptions you can figure out what combinations of growth and investment satisfy both conditions. Harrod called the corresponding growth paths the “warranted” rate of growth. The problem is, as Harrod discovered, these combinations are dynamically unstable — if growth strays just a bit above the warranted level, it will accelerate without limit; if falls a little below the warranted rate, it will keep falling til output is zero. 
This is Harrod’s famous “knife-edge.” It’s been almost entirely displaced from the mainstream by Solow type growth models. Solow argued that the dynamic instability of Harrod’s model was due to the assumption of a fixed target capital-output ratio, and that the instability goes away if capital and labor are smoothly substitutible. In fact, Harrod makes no such assumption — his 1939 article explicitly considers the possibility that capitalists might target different capital-output ratios based on factors like interest rates. More generally, Solow didn’t resolve the problem of how short-run demand dynamics converge to the long-run supply-determined growth path, he just assumed it away. 
The old textbook solution was price flexibility. Demand constraints are supposed to only exist because prices are slow to adjust, so given enough time for prices to reach market-clearing levels, aggregate demand should cease to exist. The obvious problem with this, as Keynes already observed, is that while flexible prices may help to restore equilibrium in individual markets, they operate in the wrong direction for output as a whole. A severe demand shortfall tends to produce deflation, which further reduces demand for goods and services; similarly, excessive demand leads to inflation, which tends — though less certainly — to further increase demand. As Leijonhufvud notes, it’s a weird irony that sticky wages and/or prices are held to be the condition of effective demand failures, when the biggest demand failure of them all, the Depression, saw the sharpest falls in both wages and prices on record. 
The idea that if it just runs its course, deflation — via the real balance effect or some such — will eventually restore full employment is too much even for most economists to swallow. So the new consensus replaces price level adjustment with central bank following a policy rule. In textbooks, this is glossed as just hastening an adjustment that would have happened on its own via the price level, but that’s obviously backward. When an economy actually does develop high inflation or deflation, central banks consider their jobs more urgent, not less so. It’s worth pausing a moment to think about this. While the central bank policy rule is blandly presented as just another equation in a macroeconomic model, the implications are actually quite radical. Making monetary policy the sole mechanism by which the economy converges to full employment (or the NAIRU) implicitly concedes that on its own, the capitalist economy is fundamentally unstable. 
While the question of how, or whether, aggregate demand dynamics converge to a long-run growth path has been ignored or papered over by the mainstream, it gets plenty of attention from heterodox macro. Even in this one issue of ROKE, there are several articles that engage with it in one way or another. The usual answer, among those who do at least ask the question, is that the knife-edge result must be wrong, and indicates some flaw in the way Harrod posed the problem. After all, in real-world capitalist economies, output appears only moderately unstable. Many different adjustments have been proposed to his model to make demand converge to a stable path.
Fazzari et al.’s answer to the puzzle, which I personally find persuasive, is that demand dynamics really are that unstable — that taken on their own the positive feedbacks between income, expenditure and investment would cause output to spiral toward infinity or fall to zero. The reasons this doesn’t happen is because of the ceiling imposed by supply constraints and the the floor set by autonomous expenditure (government spending, long-term investment, exports, etc.). But in general, the level of output is set by expenditure, and there is no reason to expect desired expenditure to converge to exactly full utilization of the economy’s resources. When rising demand hits supply constraints, it can’t settle at full employment, since in general full employment is only reached on the (unfulfillable) expectation of more-than-full employment. 

Upward demand instability can drive demand to a level that fully employs labor resources. But the full employment path is not stable. … The system bounces off the ceiling onto an unstable declining growth path.

I won’t go through the math, which in any case isn’t complicated — is trivial, even, by the standards of “real” economics papers. The key assumptions are just a sufficiently strong link between income and consumption, and a target capital output ratio, which investment is set to maintain. These two assumptions together define the multiplier-accelerator model; because Fazzari et al explicitly incorporate short-term expectations, they need a third assumption, that unexpected changes in output growth cause expectations of future growth to adjust in the same direction — in other words, if growth is higher than expected this period, people adjust their estimates of next period’s growth upward. These three assumptions, regardless of specific parameter values, are enough to yield dynamic instability, where any deviation from the unique stable growth path tends to amplify over time.
The formal model here is not new. What’s more unusual is Fazzari et al.’s suggestion that this really is how capitalist economies behave. The great majority of the time, output is governed only by aggregate demand, and demand is either accelerating or decelerating. Only the existence of expenditure not linked to market income prevents output from falling to zero in recessions; supply constraints — the productive capacity of the economy — matters only occasionally, at the peaks of businesses cycles.
Still, one might say that if business-cycle peaks are growing along a supply-determined path, then isn’t the New Consensus right to say that the long run trajectory of the economy is governed only by the supply side, technology and all that? Well, maybe — but even if so,this would still be a useful contribution in giving a more realistic account of how short-term fluctuations add up to long-run path. It’s important here that the vision is not of fluctuations around the full-employment level of output, as in the mainstream, but at levels more or less below it, as in the older Keynesian vision. (DeLong at least has expressed doubts about whether the old Keynsians might not have been right on this point.) Moreover, there’s no guarantee that actual output will spend a fixed proportion of time at potential, or reach it at all. It’s perfectly possible for the inherent instability of the demand process to produce a downturn before supply constraints are ever reached. Financial instability can also lead to a recession before supply constraints are reached (altho more often, I think, the role of financial instability is to amplify a downturn that is triggered by something else.)
So: why do I like this paper so much?
First, most obviously, because I think it’s right. I think the vision of cycles and crises as endogenous to the growth process, indeed constitutive of it, is a better, more productive way to think about the evolution of output than a stable equilibrium growth path occasionally disturbed by exogenous shocks. The idea of accelerating demand growth that sooner or later hits supply constraints in a more or less violent crisis, is just how the macroeconomy looks. Consider the most obvious example, unemployment:
What we don’t see here, is a stable path with normally distributed disturbances around it. Rather, we see  unemployment falling steadily in expansions and then abruptly reversing to large rises in recessions. To monetarists, the fact that short-run output changes are distributed bimodally, with the economy almost always in a clear expansion or clear recession with nothing in between, is a sign that the business cycle must be the Fed’s fault. To me, it’s more natural to think that the nonexistence of “mini-recessions” is telling us something about the dynamics of the economic process itself — that capitalist growth, like love

is a growing, or full constant light,
And his first minute, after noon, is night.

Second, I like the argument that output is demand-constrained at almost all times. There is no equilibrium between “aggregate supply” and “aggregate demand”; rather, under normal conditions the supply side doesn’t play any role at all. Except for World War II, basically, supply constraints only come into play momentarily at the top of expansions, and not in the form of some kind of equilibration via prices, but as a more or less violent external interruption in the dynamics of aggregate demand. It is more or less always true, that if you ask why is output higher than it was last period, the answer is that someone decided to increase their expenditure. 
Third, I like that the article is picking up the conversation from the postwar Keynesians like Harrod, Kaldor and Hicks, and more recent structural-Keynesian approaches. The fundamental units of the argument are the aggregate behavior of firms and households, without the usual crippling insistence on reducing everything to a problem of intertemporal optimization. (The question of microfoundations gets a one-sentence footnote, which is about what it deserves.) Without getting into these methodological debates here, I think this kind of structuralist approach is one of the most productive ways forward for positive macroeconomic theory. Admittedly, almost all the other papers in this issue of ROKE are coming from more or less the same place, but I single out Fazzari for praise here because he’s a legitimate big-name economist — his best known work was coauthored with Glenn Hubbard. (Yes, that Glenn Hubbard.)
Fourth, I like the paper’s notion of economies having different regimes, some of persistently excess demand, some persistent demand shortfalls. When I was talking about this paper with Arjun the other day he asked, very sensibly, what’s the relevance to our current situation. My first response was not much, it’s more theoretical. But it occurs to me now that the mainstream model (often implicit) of fluctuations around a supply-determined growth path is actually quite important to liberal ideas about fiscal policy. The idea that a deep recession now will be balanced by a big boom sometime in the future underwrites the idea that short-run stimulus should be combined with a commitment to long-run austerity. If, on the other hand, you think that the fundamental parameters of an economy can lead to demand either falling persistently behind, or running persistently ahead, of supply constraints, then you are more likely to think that a deep recession is a sign that fiscal policy is secularly too tight (or investment secularly too low, etc.) So the current relevance of the Fazzari paper is that if you prefer their vision to the mainstream’s, you are more likely to see the need for bigger deficits today as evidence of a need for bigger deficits forever.
Finally, on a more meta level, I share the implicit vision of capitalism not as a single system in (or perhaps out of) equilibrium, but involving a number of independent processes which sometimes happen to behave consistently with each other and sometimes don’t. In the Harrod story, it’s demand-driven output and the productive capacity of the economy, and population growth in particular; one could tell the same story about trade flows and financial flows, or about fixed costs and the degree of monopoly (as Bruce Wilder and I were discussing in comments). Or perhaps borrowing and interest rates. In all cases these are two distinct causal systems, which interact in various ways but are not automatically balanced by any kind of price or equivalent mechanism. The different systems may happen to move together in a way that facilitates smooth growth; or they may move inconsistently, which will bring various buffers into play and, when these are exhausted, lead to some kind of crisis whose resolution lies outside the model.
A few points, not so much of criticism, as suggestions for further development.
First, a minor point — the assumption that expectations adjust in the same direction as errors is a bit trickier than they acknowledge. I think it’s entirely reasonable here, but it’s clearly not always valid and the domain over which it applies isn’t obvious. If for instance the evolution of output is believed to follow a process like yt = c + alpha t + et, then unusually high growth in one period would lead to expectations of lower growth in the next period, not higher as Fazzari et al assume. And of course to the extent that such expectations would tend to stabilize the path of output, they would be self-fulfilling. (In other words, widespread belief in the mainstream view of growth will actually make the mainstream view more true — though evidently not true enough.) As I say, I don’t think it’s a problem here, but the existence of both kinds of expectations is important. The classic historical example is the gold standard: Before WWI, when there was a strong expectation that the gold link would be maintained, a fall in a country’s currency would lead to expectations of subsequent appreciation, which produced a capital inflow that in fact led to the appreciation;  whereas after the war, when devaluations seemed more likely, speculative capital flows tended to be destabilizing.
Two more substantive points concern supply constraints. I think it’s a strength, not a weakness of the paper that it doesn’t try to represent supply constraints in any systematic way, but just leaves them exogenous. Models are tools for logical argument, not toy train sets; the goal is to clarify a particular set of causal relationships, not to construct a miniature replica of the whole economy. Still, there are a couple issues around the relationship between rising demand and supply constraints that one would like to develop further.
First, what concretely happens when aggregate expenditure exceeds supply? It’s not enough to just say “it can’t,” in part because expenditure is in dollar terms while supply constraints represent real physical or sociological limits. As Fazzari et al. acknowledge, we need some Marx with our Keynes here — we need to bring in falling profits as a key channel by which supply constraints bind. [4] As potential output is approached, there’s an increase in the share claimed by inelastically-supplied factors, especially labor, and a fall in the share going to capital. This is the classic Marxian cyclical profit squeeze, though in recent cycles it may be the rents claimed by suppliers of oil and “land” in general, as opposed to wages, that is doing much of the squeezing. But in any case, a natural next step for this work would be to give a more concrete account of the mechanisms by which supply constraints bind. This will also help clarify why the transitions from expansion to recession are so much more abrupt than the transitions the other way. (Just as there are no mini-recessions, neither are there anti-crises.) The pure demand story explains why output cannot rise stably on the full employment trajectory, but must either rise faster or else fall; but on its own it’s essentially symmetrical and can’t explain why recessions are so much steeper and shorter than expansions. Minsky-type dynamics, where a fall in output means financial commitments cannot be met, must also play a role here.
Second, how does demand-driven evolution of output affect growth of supply? They write, 

while in our simple model the supply-side path is assumed exogenous, it is easy to posit realistic economic channels through which the actual demand-determined performance of the economy away from full employment affects conditions of supply. The quantity and productivity of labor and capital at occasional business-cycle peaks will likely depend on the demand-determined performance of the economy in the normal case in which the system is below full employment.

I think this is right, and a very important point to develop. There is increasing recognition in the mainstream of the importance of hysteresis — the negative effects on economic potential of prolonged unemployment. There’s little or no discussion of anti-hysteresis — the possibility that inflationary booms have long-term positive effects on aggregate supply. But I think it would be easy to defend the argument that a disproportionate share of innovation, new investment and laborforce broadening happens in periods when demand is persistently pushing against potential. In either case, the conventional relationship between demand and supply is reversed — in a world where (anti-)hysteresis is important, “excessive” demand may lead to only temporarily higher inflation but permanently higher employment and output, and conversely.
Finally, obsessive that I am, I’d like to link this argument to Leijonhufvud’s notion of a “corridor of stability” in capitalist economies, which — though Leijonhufvud isn’t cited — this article could be seen as a natural development of. His corridor is different from this one, though — it refers to the relative stability of growth between crises. The key factor in maintaining that stability is the weakness of the link between income and expenditure as long as changes in income remain small. Within some limits, changes in the income of households and firms do not cause them to revise their beliefs about future income (expectations are normally fairly inelastic), and can be buffered by stocks of liquid assets and the credit system. Only when income diverges too far from its prior trajectory do expectations change — often discontinuously — and, if the divergence is downward, do credit constraints being to bind. If it weren’t for these stabilizing factors, capitalist growth would always, and not just occasionally, take the form of explosive bubbles. 
Combining Leijonhufvud and Fazzari et al., we could envision the capitalist growth path passing through concentric bands of stability and instability. The innermost band is Leijonhufvud’s corridor, where the income-expenditure link is weak. Outside of that is the band of Harrodian instability, where expectations are adjusting and credit constraints bind. That normal limits of that band are set, at least over most of the postwar era, by active stabilization measures by the state, meaning in recent decades monetary policy. (The signature of this is that recoveries from recessions are very rapid.) Beyond this is the broader zone of instability described by the Fazzari paper — though keeping the 1930s in mind, we might emphasize the zero lower bound on gross investment a bit more, and autonomous spending less, in setting the floor of this band. And beyond that must be a final zone of instability where the system blows itself to pieces.
Bottom line: If heterodox macroeconomic theory is going to move away from pure critique (and it really needs to) and focus on developing a positive alternative to the mainstream, articles like this are a very good start.
[1] It’s unfortunate that no effort has been made to make ROKE content available online. Since neither of the universities I’m affiliated with has a subscription yet, it’s literally impossible for me — and presumably you — to see most of the articles. I imagine this is a common problem for new journals. When I raised this issue with one of the editors, and asked if they’d considered an open-access model, he dismissed the idea and suggested I buy a subscription — hey, it’s only $80 for students. I admit this annoyed me some. Isn’t it self-defeating to go to the effort of starting a new journal and solicit lots of great work for it, and then shrug off responsibility for ensuring that people can actually read it?
[2] It’s not a straightforward question what exactly is growing in economic growth. When I talk about demand dynamics, I prefer to use the generic term “activity,” as proxied by a variety of measures like GDP, employment, capacity utilization, etc. (This is also how NBER business-cycle dating works.) But here I’ll follow Fazzari et al. and talk about output, presumably the stuff measured by GDP.
[3] See for instance this post from David Altig at the Atlanta Fed, from just yesterday: 

Forecasters, no matter where they think that potential GDP line might be, all believe actual GDP will eventually move back to it. “Output gaps”—the shaded area representing the cumulative miss of actual GDP relative to its potential—simply won’t last forever. And if that means GDP growth has to accelerate in the future (as it does when GDP today is below its potential)—well, that’s just the way it is.

Here we have the consensus with no hedging. Everyone knows that long-run growth is independent of aggregate demand, so slower growth today means faster growth tomorrow. That’s “nature,” that’s just the way it is.
[4] This fits with the story in Capitalism Since 1945, still perhaps the first book I would recommend to anyone trying to understand the evolution of modern economies. From the book:

The basic idea of overaccumulation is that capitalism sometimes generates a higher rate of accumulation than can be sustained, and thus the rate of accumulation has eventually to fall. Towards the end of the postwar boom, an imbalance between accumulation and the labor supply led to increasingly severe labor shortage. … Real wages were pulled up and older machines rendered unprofitable, allowing a faster transfer of workers to new machines. This could in principle have occurred smoothly: as profitability slid down, accumulation could have declined gently to a sustainable rate. but the capitalist system has no mechanism guaranteeing a smooth transition in such circumstances. In the late sixties the initial effect of overaccumulation was a period of feverish growth with rapidly rising wages and prices and an enthusiasm for get-rich-quick schemes. These temporarily masked, but could not suppress, the deterioration in profitability. Confidence was undermined, investment collapsed and a spectacular crash occurred. Overaccumulation gave rise, not to a mild decline in the profit rate, but to a classic capitalist crisis.

I think the Marxist framework here, with its focus on profit rates, complements rather than contradicts the Keynesian frame of Fazzari et al. and its focus on demand. In particular, the concrete mechanisms by which supply constraints operate are much clearer here.