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Most early macroeconomic models, including early Keynesian models, were based on hypotheses about relationships between aggregate quantities, such as aggregate production, employment, consumption, and investment. Critics and proponents of these models disagreed as to whether these aggregate relationships were consistent with the principles of microeconomics. Therefore, during recent decades macroeconomists have attempted to combine microeconomic models of household and business behavior to derive the relationships between macroeconomic variables. Presently, many macroeconomic models, representing different theories, are derived by aggregating microeconomic models allowing economists to test them with both macroeconomic and microeconomic data.
Critics of the Keynesian doctrine of macroeconomics soon argued that some of Keynes' assumptions were inconsistent with standard microeconomics. For example, Milton Friedman's microeconomic theory of consumption over time (the 'permanent income hypothesis') suggested that the marginal propensity to consume (the increase of consumer spending with increased income) due to temporary income, which is crucial for the Keynesian multiplier, was likely to be much smaller than Keynesians assumed. For this reason, many empirical studies have attempted to measure the marginal propensity to consume, and macroeconomists have also studied alternative microeconomic models (such as models of credit market imperfections and precautionary saving) that might imply a greater marginal propensity to consume.
One particularly influential endorsement of the study of microfoundations was Robert Lucas, Jr.'s critique of traditional macroeconometric forecasting models. After the apparent shift of the Phillips curve relationship during the 1970s, Lucas argued that the correlations between aggregate variables observed in macroeconomic data would tend to change whenever macroeconomic policy changed. This implied that microfounded models are more appropriate for predicting the effect of policy changes, using the assumption that changes of macroeconomic policy do not alter the microeconomics of the macroeconomy.
Jackson and Leelat (2017) show that representative agents do not exist for most commonly used demand functions. As a consequence, welfare implications based on representative agent models need not hold for individuals in an economy.
This further implies that current macroeconomic models based on representative agents are not factually micro-founded. Much of the contemporary macroeconomic research, therefore, is not based on simple representative agents, but they often allow for rich heterogeneity of agents' behavior.
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- Maarten Janssen (2008), 'Microfoundations', in The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd ed.
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- 'The Smets-Wouters model': ECB webpage with discussion of advantages of microfounded macroeconomic models Archived 2009-02-26 at the Wayback Machine
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- Jackson, Matthew O.; Yariv, Leeat (2015). "The Non-Existence of Representative Agents". SSRN Working Paper Series. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2684776. ISSN 1556-5068.