enLa vision économique de Phelps

Le 10 décembre, Edmund Phelps, mon collègue de l’université de Columbia, recevra le prix Nobel de sciences économiques 2006, une distinction qui n’a que trop tardé. Bien que le comité Nobel souligne avant tout sa contribution à la macroéconomie, Phelps s’est distingué dans de nombreux autres domaines, avec notamment sa théorie sur la croissance et le progrès technologique, ou la taxation optimale et la justice sociale.

La principale contribution de Phelps à la macroéconomie a été de démontrer que la relation entre l’inflation et le chômage est influencée par des anticipations. Celles-ci étant endogènes – elles varient dans le temps – la relation entre l’inflation et le chômage varie aussi. Si un gouvernement cherche à faire trop baisser le taux de chômage, l’inflation augmentera et par là même les anticipations inflationnistes.

Ce concept induit deux implications politiques possibles. Certains décideurs ont conclu de l’analyse de Phelps que le taux de chômage ne peut être réduit de manière durable sans un niveau d’inflation toujours croissant. Ainsi les autorités monétaires devraient simplement s’attacher à maintenir une stabilité des prix en recherchant le taux de chômage correspondant à une inflation stable, un rapport connu sous l’acronyme de NAIRU (« non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment » ou le taux d’inflation n’accélérant pas le chômage).

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