How to Make a Super-model: Professional Incentives and the Birth of Contemporary Macroeconomics

Oddný Helgadóttir*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Reinterpreting the rise of contemporary macroeconomics, this article argues that what mattered most in the shift away from postwar Keynesianism was a new form of modeling called Real Business Cycles (RBC) – variations of which still dominate mainstream macroeconomics. But how could this form of modeling, championed by a handful of junior economists, affect a disciplinary coup in the face of strong opposition from Keynesian disciplinary powerbrokers? Content analysis, network mapping and deep reading of 197 articles by 331 authors suggest that RBC had a competitive edge as a tool of individual professional advancement, allowing it to rewire pre-existing networks of expertise in the face of strong opposition. Elaborating on the interdependence between individual professional appeal and the rise of new forms of formalized expertise, this article identifies three facets of RBC that made it a ‘super-model’, enabling its improbable takeover of macroeconomics: the ability to bond together a set of disparate ideas into a simple and workable whole (‘glue’), deflect known criticism (‘rubber’), and incorporate modified assumptions (‘putty’).
Original languageEnglish
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)252-280
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Published online: 3. November 2021.


  • Economic ideas
  • Economists
  • Models
  • Formalization
  • Keynesianism
  • Professions

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