Debating Keynesian economics with a Keynesian

We are slowly but ever so surely finding our standard of living slipping away. In spite of all that public spending and the deficits and mounting debt – well actually because of all these things – we are slowing going under. Most of us find we are doing without some things we took for granted not that long ago. Whether you look to the US, the UK, Europe, Japan or Australia, a return to rising real incomes and full employment continues to look ever more remote.

And it’s not for lack of public sector “stimulus”. Those deficits continue and even so the money market geniuses keep worrying about deflation. What are we to do? More QE? More debt? More government subsidies for projects that cannot be funded through the revenues they are expected to earn? These are the textbook answers from the textbooks provided to every economic student in the world.

It is all the same Keynesian rot that has not only never worked on any occasion that it has been tried, it has always with no exception made economic conditions worse. If you know of some example where public spending led to recovery, please let me know. For myself, I can give you chapter and verse on all of the failures, and yet nothing seems to be more everlasting than a textbook theory that is simple, plausible and wrong.

I am now in the midst of an online debate with Louis-Philippe Rochon, an Associate Professor of economics, founding co-editor of the Review of Keynesian Economics and co-editor of New Directions in Post-Keynesian Economics. It has been organised by Edward Elgar between two of its authors, and I have just had my first go in an exchange of letters. I have also discussed this debate at Quadrant Online.

The problem remains for me remains as it always was:

What I can tell you from personal experience is that the notion of aggregate demand as a driver of economic activity is now so universally believed that it is nearly impossible to get anyone even to see that it might possibly be wrong, that there is another way of thinking about things. But before Keynes came on the scene, no economist, other than a handful of cranks, ever thought that economies were driven from the demand side.

To deny the independent existence of aggregate demand is so conceptually disorienting to an economist educated any time over the past half century that it is near impossible to get them even to see what you mean. But I have had my go and I expect Louis-Phillipe to answer in the next day or so. I am pleased that he has taken this on, but I remain curious how he will respond. I can only say that no one has ever been brave enough to take this on before. I have had plenty of slanging and ignorant comment. But if it is possible to show that aggregate demand for anything however wasteful can ever promote economic growth and higher employment – NBN, mothballed desal plants, bridges to nowhere – I hope to hear it now.

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