Keynes vs the classics

A reminder that there will be a debate – more I suspect sequential talking points – between Alan Oster, the NAB’s Chief Economist, and myself on “Stimulus versus Austerity”. This is taking place on Wednesday August 19 @ 5:30 pm at the Imperial Hotel on the corner of Spring and Bourke Streets in Melbourne. If you are interested in coming, email joe.dimasi@monash.edu to let him know.

Of course, the reason I’m coming along is because I cannot actually think of how to defend the stimulus at this late stage. Back in 2008-09, even though a Keynesian stimulus had never worked anywhere else, not ever, we might have ended up lucky this time. It’s in all the texts, everyone learns Y=C+I+G, so how could every single economics text in the world have been wrong? But that was then. So I have been tossing around various thoughts on what Alan might say, what I might try to argue if I were defending the stimulus. This is kind of a Paul Krugman/Ken Henry version of all the lame things that might be part of such an argument. And I emphasise, the bailing out of financial institutions is not on the table. The financial crisis was over by May 2009. I am only interested in the public spending side of it. Here are my thoughts:

1) The stimulus worked a treat – we would have been back in the Great Depression if nothing had been done. As dismal as things seem, it is a better outcome than the alternative would have been had nothing at all been done.

2) The imperative was to use up those unused savings. No one was investing. The bottom was falling out of our economies. Savings were going to waste. This is still a problem as can be seen from all those unused bank accounts. People still aren’t spending so the government must do it for us.*

3) The theory was all right but the execution was badly done. A stimulus could have worked but the money was poured into the wrong kinds of activities.

4) We didn’t spend enough. A half-hearted stimulus would not only fail to solve the problem but would discredit the very idea of a stimulus.

5) The problems run even deeper than we originally thought. We are into a secular stagnation, not just a temporary fall off in demand.

6) Let me show you the stats to prove how fantastic things turned out relative to our forecasts at the time.

7) Fiscal policy might have been relatively weak but monetary policy has made a major difference by keeping rates low and encouraging investment.

Have I left anything out? Anyway, come along on Wednesday. For my part, I am going to present a short version of my Liberty Fund postings on “Reassessing the Political Economy of John Stuart Mill”, that is, real classical economics versus Keynesian inanities. We each get twenty minutes and then it is thrown open to the floor. And being Policy in the Pub, there is alcohol as well if that’s your sort of thing.

* Just today, in the AFR, Saul Eslake was arguing more spending is needed to put “idle” capital and labour back to work.

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