I realise I haven’t been haranguing you about the menace of Keynesian economics for a while so thought I’d remind you of its enduring horrors as there is unanimous agreement that Australia has to get its fiscal house in order. The origins of that disorder are, of course, in the Keynesian policies put in place during the GFC. Just hearing about Kevin Rudd’s 48-hour decision process for the pink batt adventure is a reminder of just how useless, in terms of productivity and real growth, almost all government spending is. A perfect paradigm example. Past the first ten percent, government spending is unproductive whatever other benefits there may or may not be.
As for a recantation from the economics community, not so much as a word. You do have to wonder if they are ever going to get it right. And if they don’t get it right, how policy is ever going to get it right. The latest episode of wrongheaded analysis shows up on the ABC with this story not about Australia but about China. Apparently the problem with the Chinese economy is debt:
In recent times, the boom has been sustained by an explosion in lending by banks and so-called “shadow banks”. If the current scale of lending proves to be unsustainable, could that end the boom and result in China becoming the next country to succumb to the impact of unproductive debt? [my bolding]
Ah, “unproductive debt”! What, pray tell, is that? It is, in fact, exactly what every pre-Keynesian classical economist warned against. It’s spending on non-value-adding forms of production, the usual object of government spending in virtually every one of its forms. There it is, the problem right before their eyes but invisible all the same. Whether one thinks of it in money terms, so that debt is taken on for forms of production which ultimately do not earn sufficient revenue to repay what is owed, or it is thought of it as using up productive resources in ways which do not replace the capital that has gone into that particular form of production, one way or the other the economy is going backwards and not ahead. Keynesian economics is poison but who’s to know? This is what the Chinese did:
The program clearly lays out how the Chinese leadership responded to the prospect of a global financial crisis and possibility of a world-wide depression. The response focused on a spending and investment program carried out on a scale never seen before in human history. Over the past five years, a new skyscraper has been built every five days in China – along with 30 new airports and 26,000 miles of motorways.
Well there was certainly an enormous quantum of resources used up which, incidentally, also happens in highly productive investments. In this case, however, there are the office building, there are the roads, there are the airports, but none of them will generate the revenue to repay their costs. A Keynesian program to the back teeth with predictable results, or at least predictable if you start with Say’s Law. Starting from Keynes it is all a mystery with no explanation. And where do they think it will end up:
Interviewing key players including former American Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, former Chairman of the Financial Services Authority Lord Adair Turner and Charlene Chu, a leading Chinese banking analyst, reporter Robert Peston reveals how China’s extraordinary spending has left the country with levels of debt that many believe can only result in an economic crash with untold consequences for the world – particularly resource-driven economies like Australia.
If you thought the last five years were bad, apparently the next five will be even worse. Meantime, ending the reign of Keynes and return to classical economic theory would be a start in even understanding what’s going on never mind actually getting our economies untracked.