I read this on an economics blog (http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2014/02/in_the_1930s_it.html) and tried to google it, but the results seem to just be people using it, no one explaining it.

Thanks for any help!

  • In my opinion, out means city people. – abhi Feb 19 '14 at 20:25

The steppe is a large prairie region that is mostly located in Russia and central Asia. "Concrete steppes" appears to be a pun mixing steppe with concrete steps. From context, I would guess that it's a derogatory reference to Marxist-Leninist economic thinkers in academia or in large cities, both of which are places where one might expect to encounter concrete steps.

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    This answer is partially correct. The steps are not stairs, though. They are steps toward improvement. See this here – David M Feb 17 '14 at 17:29

I invented the term. Kenneth Duda and Thomas Lumley have it right (though phenry and GenericJam gave good guesses).

It's a play on words. The "people from the concrete steppes" think of the economy (and the effects of monetary policy in particular) like a mechanism, where the central bank moves one lever, which causes another lever to move, and so on. They forget the economy is composed of people, whose actions depend on their expectations of other people's (future) actions, including expectations about counterfactual conditional actions (what you would do if I did something that I won't do, because I expect you would do something if I did do it).

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    My goodness, this might actually be authentic! +1 either for being you or for giving that impression. :) – tchrist Jul 28 '15 at 22:59

No no, this has nothing to do with Marxism. "People from the concrete steppes" means people who focus exclusively on actions and consequences, what people are actually doing and what happens as a result. In doing so, "people from the concrete steppes" neglect counterfactuals and expectations and their impact on dynamics and what actually happens.

A beautiful example comes from Nick Rowe. People from the concrete steppes look at the Federal Reserve quintupling the monetary base plus the lack of actual inflation, and conclude that money printing either does not cause inflation at all, or causes it after a significant time lag. They are neglecting the expectations channel, the way the expectation that the Fed will tighten money as soon as spending picks up causes people to not spend the money. We are in this amazing situation where people's expectation about what would happen if something that won't happen did happen (an expectation of a counterfactual!) is what gives rise to credit deadlock, the ballooning of bank reserves, and the utter failure of money printing to cause inflation or move the economy. "People from the concrete steppes" find this hard to understand, because they are only looking at what is actually happening, rather than reasoning through the impact of people's expectations of what would happen if something that's not happening were to happen.

Boy. Hope that was clear.

Kenneth Duda Menlo Park, CA


I believe the original example was this one by Nick Rowe, in http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2011/10/engdp-level-path-targeting-for-the-people-of-the-concrete-steppes-/comments

"But what concrete steps will the Fed actually take to raise Nominal GDP? Can anyone tell me that?"

I must have heard that question a hundred times over the last couple of years. And a dozen more times in the last day, ever since Paul Krugman endorsed the proposal to target NGDP. I always imagine it being asked in a gruff Yorkshire accent, by some middle-aged no-nonsense practical man of business with a background in mechanical engineering.

So this is written for the people of the concrete steppes.

The use of "steppes" isn't a metaphor for anything, it's just a play on words. The people of he concrete steppes are those who believe economic interventions must involve concrete steps (eg, printing money) and that just announcing targets couldn't have any impact.


I just briefly skimmed those articles, but it seems to me, especially in reference to the 1930s it is talking about a sense of stagnation. The 'steppe' is a plain and is therefore flat. The pun is replacing step (growth) with steppe (flatline). I suppose you could extend the metaphor to include the 'concrete' policies being put in place which are intended for long term growth are actually solidifying stagnation.

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