Excessive savings[!] and Keynesian economics

There was a comment on my previous post, Krugman’s Keynesian cluelessness reaches new heights, that got me to thinking. Here is the comment, for which I am very grateful:

I was looking up the “broken window fallacy” in comments at the link that Steve Kates provided about Skousen’s Gross Output… the words that were a howler to me was the concept of “excessive savings.”

Excessive savings!

Insane, right? Who could believe such idiocy that our central economic problem is too much saving? Completely ridiculous and beyond bizarre. Utter nonsense! How stupid would you have to be to believe such stuff!

And yet, I’m afraid, that this is indeed the very central point of Keynesian economics. There is demand deficiency because there is too much saving. There is no one who has studied economic theory that has not heard this, and absorbed it from their first days of study. You may think this is an obvious blunder, but it is a blunder shared by 95% of the economists in the world. Don’t believe it? Let me take you back to the General Theory itself, from whence it all began. In the following passage I have substituted the words “return on investment”, in place of Keynes’s own terminology, “marginal efficiency of capital”, since Keynesian terminology is part of the problem that people have in seeing through what a threadbare patchwork of stupidity the General Theory actually is.

I do hate to be technical. But with Rich raising the point, I can do no other than try to show that what he finds absurd beyond reason is in fact the single most central idea of Keynesian theory and policy, taught in every text to every student of economics. The following is from page 217-19. Keynes is pointing out that the central problem for economies is that there can be too much capital relative to its willingness to spend. If there is too much capital, an economy will produce more than it is willing to buy. If interest rates cannot be brought low enough, there won’t be enough investment to soak up all of these excess savings. Capital has to be kept scarce; it is not naturally so since the problem he is discussing is an excess of saving. So Keynes writes:

We have seen that capital has to be kept scarce enough in the long-period to have a return on investment which is at least equal to the rate of interest for a period equal to the life of the capital.

What then happens, if the community nevertheless keeps producing more capital, is that it will eventually find that spending is insufficient to absorb all of the savings. A poor community can maintain growth and full employment longer than a rich community, but eventually, as Keynes writes, the propensity to save will overwhelm the propensity to spend, and even the richest of communities will fall into recessions that have been caused by too much saving.

It follows that of two equal communities, having the same technique but different stocks of capital, the community with the smaller stocks of capital may be able for the time being to enjoy a higher standard of life than the community with the larger stock; though when the poorer community has caught up the rich ⎯ as, presumably, it eventually will ⎯ then both alike will suffer the fate of Midas. [GT: 219]

“The fate of Midas”: the more productive your economy becomes, the more it will be driven into recession and high unemployment. And if you should think that this is some far off prospect, given that we are dealing with the 1930s, that is not the case at all. Here is Keynes again, in the passage that actually precedes the passage above, saying that the high unemployment of the Great Depression has been literally because there has been such a large prior increase in capital accumulation, that the two richest economies in the world have fallen into depression.

The post-war experiences of Great Britain and the United States are, indeed, actual examples of how an accumulation of wealth . . . can interfere, in conditions mainly of laissez-faire, with a reasonable level of employment and with the standard of life which the technical conditions of production are capable of furnishing. [GT: 219 – my bolding]

Keynesian economics is stupid. Its assumptions have never been validated by any actual experience of the world, but its logic is even worse. It is the dumbest economic theory every peddled to the world. But as noted in the comment that began this post, you put excessive saving in the company of ‘the list of weasel words, including: “inequality”, “fairness” and “social justice” to justify wealth redistribution and big government taking a cut’ and you can see its allure to governments and public servants, who in spite of having no idea how to get a positive return on the money spent, nevertheless get to spend more money than the largest corporations in the land.

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