My economics, so far as macro goes, is pure classical and I do personally believe that economics reached a high point with John Stuart Mill before the coming of the marginal revolution which made some sense is many ways but lost quite a bit as well. This is a continuation of the post on The errors of Keynes’ critics on hoarding and demand deficiency.
What is the question we wish to answer? We would like to know (1) what will cause more people to be employed and (2) what will cause the economy to increase its level of production?
So the answer on both counts is that employment and growth will increase if production increases, if there is more capital in existence that can be used to produce with and if the productiveness of capital can be improved. These are all 100% entrepreneurial decisions. At the back of every entrepreneur’s mind there is, of course, the question whether what they produce will find a buyer so there is always some degree of uncertainty and doubt associated with every entrepreneurial decision. And it goes without saying that no one will produce unless they believe that there will be enough demand for the product or service. But demand here is purely notional and exists entirely in the mind of the entrepreneur as he tries to work out what others will do if the product is supplied to the market.
The second part is that there is no level of output that will not find a market. An economy cannot produce so much that it will exhaust the willingness of a population to buy the lot. Demand deficiency will never be the nature of the problem when an economy goes into recession.
But trying to work out what people will buy in the future is fantastically difficult. Some part of that is determined by the level of demand in the past but all production decisions are forward looking so past and present demand is merely one piece of information to go along with the rest.
So there are two possibilities for demand deficiency as it is thought of by Keynes and the Keynesian model. Firstly, for a variety of reasons, the population in aggregate will not wish to buy everything that the economy at full employment could produce. They have the income but are just not willing to spend, or businesses have the lines of credit but there are not enough ventures for them to pursue for the moment so that the level of investment sags and savings run to waste.
Well, the fact of the matter is that no such economy has ever existed anywhere nor is likely to. Pick any recession you like and you will never find even a glimmer of an explanation in some kind of fall off in demand just as things were going so well. The recession in 2009 was not caused by decisions to save or businesses not wanting to invest. Identify your own explanation as you will, no one has argued that recession began because of demand deficiency, not even Krugman.
So the second part is to ask whether once recession begins there is then some kind of independent fall in demand that makes things worse. The downturn would have only gone one notch but because of this uncertainty it has gone down three notches. But again that’s not right. As the economy goes over the cliff, everyone is working as furiously as they can to keep their own boat upright. They are doing everything they can humanly hope to do to maintain their own businesses or if they are employees, to keep the businesses which employ them from sinking.
But recessions are due because a portion of the economy was non value adding. This is the meaning of a misdirected structure of production. Some of the economy could not maintain profitability and down they go and they pull suppliers down with them and there is a large increase in unemployment that coexists with the fall off in the level of activity.
And every such downturn in the real economy has an inevitable effect on the financial system. Loans are not being repaid and money becomes really tight. This is the situation described by Mill wherein everyone is trying to get their hands on cash. This is not hoarding. This is a financial crisis. To think of this as hoarding cash, as if everyone just went out and decided one day that they wanted to hold more money. This is what you saw in 2008-09. There was a drive to cash up in an economy where the financial system was in the process of losing immense amounts of money through the unravelling of the leveraging that had been rampant. It was musical chairs with money. Eight people but only seven chairs and so some ended up without the finance to keep their businesses going.
And that’s where we were in 2009. The economy was in recession and finance was tight. No one was hoarding cash. There was no demand deficiency. There was a breakdown in the structure of production which lasted for about half a year.
So the question then was what to do. The Keynesian interpreted these events as a fall in demand when the reality was that there was a rotting in one part of the structure of production. The Keynesians therefore said we had to boost demand but they really meant we must boost supply by employing people to create goods and services that would not repay their production costs. So we had the stimulus and the result has been deficits and debt as far as the eye can see without even a hint of recovery.
I, being completely classical, said that the problem was not a deficiency of demand but structural imbalance. There are things to do, such as bringing the level of business taxes down or lowering interest rates (which happens anyway so doesn’t have to be done). Governments can also do some small additional expenditure on various value adding forms of activity but it is a palliative so little can be depended on it.
Recovery will take about a year, as businesses climb out of their shell holes and suss out where profitable areas of activity might now be. It takes a while but is hardly an unconscionable length of time, especially when we have so many forms of income protection around (which stimulate no demand and are purely a form of welfare but so what). And then, if my approach had been adopted, by around 2010 we would have been well into recovery and unemployment would have been falling and the economy’s momentum gathering steam.
But at no moment during the recession would it ever have been sensible to say that the problem was too little demand, too much saving or that hoarding was postponing recovery. That is pure Keynesian junk and has rotted plenty of minds already and it isn’t finished yet, as that review I read this morning clearly showed.
At the aggregate level an economy has no demand side, only supply. Demand is constituted by the supply of goods being placed on the market. If the notion of demand even darkens your thoughts for a moment, just try to see what the supply issue is that is the real issue of any moment. Not being immediately able to guess after a recessionary explosion has gone off where to increase production is not to be classified as a failure of demand.