Would the real anti-Keynesian economist please stand up

Classical Economic Theory and the Modern Economy

Here there are two anti-Keynesians in Australia and we both disagree with each other. The headline in the paper was kind of all right – It’s Keynes’s fault – again we go into debt to ‘stimulate’ the economy – but so incoherent was this as an anti-Keynesian rant that it has left me completely nonplussed (defined as: “so surprised and confused that one is unsure how to react”).

A Keynesian believes that economies are driven from the demand side and that recessions are due to a deficiency of demand. The cure for recessions are therefore increased public spending to increase the level of demand, raise the level of activity and return an economy to full employment. You know, from the equation Y=C+I+G etc, where more G leads to more Y and therefore more jobs. Introduced into economic theory in 1936, there has never been a single occasion when a Keynesian “stimulus” has led to a recovery. Not one, not ever.

I should also add that Keynes, in writing his General Theory, made a point about his rejecting this concept called “Say’s Law”. Mere detail to others who enter these discussions. And while I sort of agree with the conclusion, I am completely foxed by how it was arrived at:

Cutting government spending should take precedence over raising taxes. Reduced public spending, particularly on industry assistance and overlap in spending at federal-state levels, should be central to the recovery program.

This should be accompanied by tax reform (including to internationally uncompetitive company tax rates), business deregulation and industrial relations reform. Without this, our economy will remain in limp convalescence for decades.

That raising taxes is even an option is beyond me, but as for cutting public spending I am all in. But unless you understand the reasoning behind the pre-Keynesian position and Say’s Law, you won’t understand what needs to be done, and especially why it needs to be done. Everyone seems to be in for “infrastructure spending” but if we haven’t learned from the NBN, there is no hope for any of us.

Which reminds me that my latest book – Classical Economic Theory and the Modern Economy – is being released just this month.

Economic theory reached its zenith of analytical power and depth of understanding in the middle of the nineteenth century among John Stuart Mill and his contemporaries. This book explains what took place in the ensuing Marginal Revolution and Keynesian Revolution that left economists less able to understand how economies operate. It explores the false mythology that has obscured the arguments of classical economists, providing a pathway into the theory they developed.

I read other economists today and laugh since what else is there to do? Real wages have been falling across the world – other than in the US and then only until recently – since the stimulus programs that followed the GFC. If you want to know why, you could always buy the book, or at least get your library to order it in.

What would an historian of economics know about John Stuart Mill?

Classical Economic Theory and the Modern Economy

I posted the note below onto the Societies for the History of Economics website in regard to François Quesnay, an eighteenth century French economist, but it’s really about John Stuart Mill. No one has responded among the 1200 who are part of this website. Lots here that is scandalous to me, but the easy peasy way it is to demonstrate that at the very centre of the study of the history of economic thought, there is no one who has the slightest idea what Mill said about the theory of value which they nevertheless continue to ridicule. This is part of the reason I wrote my Classical Economic Theory and the Modern Economy.

I found this, from Spencer Banzhaf, the most astonishing sentence I may have seen in quite some time, and I could not agree more.

“One cannot possibly discuss what happened to the role of agriculture/nature in value between Quesnay and today without talking about what happened to the meaning of “value,” conceived of as a moving target.  Rival theories of surplus value from Quesnay to Jevons will have to come into play.”

I often go on about the disastrous effect on economic theory of the Keynesian Revolution, but almost equally disastrous was the Marginal Revolution which undermined the classical theory of value, which was outlined comprehensively by John Stuart Mill in Book III Chapter VI of his Principles. Before I state my conclusion, I will just mention this, which comes from the brief profile of Mill that is on the HET website:

“John Stuart Mill’s greater economic performance was his magnificent 1848 Principles of Political Economy, a two-volume extended restatement of the Classical Ricardian theory.  He believed  Ricardo’s labor theory of value to be so conclusive that, in the beginning of a discussion on the theory of value, Mill confidently notes that:

‘Happily, there is nothing in the laws of Value which remains for the present or any future writer to clear up; the theory of the subject is complete: the only difficulty to be overcome is that of so stating it as to solve by anticipation the chief perplexities which occur in applying it.’ (J.S. Mill, Principles, 1848: Book III, Ch. 1).

“Thus putting a stone on the matter, and burying supply-and-demand theory for another quarter-century.  When Jevons’s later grumbled at the ‘noxious influence of authority’ preventing the development of economics, there is little doubt he was referring to J.S. Mill.”

That is all we think we know about the classical theory of value and it could not be more completely wrong. Mill did not restate “Classical Ricardian theory”. He explicitly discussed supply and demand. If you go to Mill, the first two of the seventeen elements in his theory of value are firstly, that the issue is not price as such, but relative prices, and then secondly, that the “temporary or market value” of something can be determined by supply and demand. There is no labour theory of value to be found anywhere. This is what Mill wrote:

“I. Value is a relative term. The value of a thing means the quantity of some other thing, or of things in general, which it exchanges for. The values of all things can never, therefore, rise or fall simultaneously. There is no such thing as a general rise or a general fall of values. Every rise of value supposes a fall, and every fall a rise.

II. The temporary or Market Value of a thing, depends on the demand and supply; rising as the demand rises, and falling as the supply rises. The demand, however, varies with the value, being generally greater when the thing is cheap than when it is dear; and the value always adjusts itself in such a manner, that the demand is equal to the supply.

The shallow reasoning and lack of depth in a modern textbook is a scandal, but is kept from most of us because no one knows what the economic theory of the past actually consisted of. If Spencer Banzhaf intends to be stating that “rival theories of value from Quesnay to Jevons” will need to be examined, then that is absolutely the case. What astonishes me is that both macro (which has replaced the classical theory of the cycle) and micro were much more profound among the later classical economists than amongst the majority of the economics profession today. We have more diagrams, they had a deeper understanding.

John Stuart Mill at Econ Lib

This is the EconLib (The Economics of Liberty} online biography of John Stuart Mill. The greatest defender of freedom and liberty in history, this is what they come up with. They really have no idea about the economics of Mill or about the economics of freedom for that matter, but it is sadly par for the course in our day and age.

The eldest son of economist James Mill, John Stuart Mill was educated according to the rigorous expectations of his Benthamite father. He was taught Greek at age three and Latin at age eight. By the time he reached young adulthood John Stuart Mill was a formidable intellectual, albeit an emotionally depressed one. After recovering from a nervous breakdown, he departed from his Benthamite teachings to shape his own view of political economy. In Principlesof Political Economy, which became the leading economics textbook for forty years after it was written, Mill elaborated on the ideas of David Ricardo and Adam Smith. He helped develop the ideas of economies of scale, opportunity cost, and comparative advantage in trade.

Mill was a strong believer in freedom, especially of speech and of thought. He defended freedom on two grounds. First, he argued, society’s utility would be maximized if each person was free to make his or her own choices. Second, Mill believed that freedom was required for each person’s development as a whole person. In his famous essay On Liberty, Mill enunciated the principle that “the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.” He wrote that we should be “without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong.”

Surprisingly, though, Mill was not a consistent advocate of laissez-faire. His biographer, Alan Ryan, conjectures that Mill did not think of contract and property rights as being part of freedom. Mill favored inheritance taxation, trade protectionism, and regulation of employees’ hours of work. Interestingly, although Mill favored mandatory education, he did not advocate mandatory schooling. Instead, he advocated a voucher system for schools and a state system of exams to ensure that people had reached a minimum level of learning.
Although Mill advocated universal suffrage, he suggested that the better-educated voters be given more votes. He emphatically defended this proposal from the charge that it was intended to let the middle class dominate. He argued that it would protect against class legislation and that anyone who was educated, including poor people, would have more votes.

Mill spent most of his working life with the East India Company. He joined it at age sixteen and worked there for thirty-eight years. He had little effect on policy, but his experience did affect his views on self-government.

Let us in particular look at this: “Surprisingly, though, Mill was not a consistent advocate of laissez-faire.” Not only was he not a consistent advocate, he was no advocate of laissez-faire at all. No economist has ever been an advocate of laissez-faire, not Adam Smith, not David Ricardo, not anyone else. If you mean in all cases, leave it to the market, no one has ever advocated such a hands-off approach. Going further, Mill was an advocate of using government agency and regulation in a wide variety of instances. Yet his economics was the most hands-off approach to economic policy of any economist since the middle of the nineteenth century. This was from my own discussion of Mill that appeared on the EconLib website back in 2015: John Stuart Mill explaining what is wrong with Keynesian theory. My book on the economics of Mill will be published this year: Classical Economics and the Modern Economy.

This is overview of the book found on the Elgar website:

Economic theory reached its highest level of analytical power and depth in the middle of the nineteenth century among John Stuart Mill and his contemporaries. This book explains classical economics when it was at its height, followed by an analysis of what took place as a result of the ensuing Marginal and Keynesian Revolutions that have left economists less able to understand how economies operate.

Chapters explore the false mythology that has obscured the arguments of classical economists, clouding to the point of near invisibility the theories they had developed. Steven Kates offers a thorough understanding of the operation of an economy within a classical framework, providing a new perspective for viewing modern economic theory from the outside. This provocative book not only explains the meaning of Say’s Law in an accessible way, but also the origins of the Keynesian revolution and Keynes’s pathway in writing The General Theory. It provides a new look at the classical theory of value at its height that was not based, as so many now wrongly believe, on the labour theory of value.

A crucial read for economic policy-makers seeking to understand the operation of a market economy, this book should also be of keen interest to economists generally as well as scholars in the history of economic thought.

I never worry that anyone will be able to contradict me about Mill since the most certain statement I can make is that no one, but no one, has read Mill in the past fifty year to find out how an economy works, and virtually no one has read him sympathetically – other than myself and a handful of others – in over a century. But you do have to wonder about those who tell you about freedom and liberty who don’t read the author of On Liberty for some insights into how an economy works and his views on the role of government in making an economy work.


A book on economics for people who want to understand how an economy actually works

Part of a note I wrote to a friend about the completion of my manuscript on classical economic theory.

I will also just mention that I have finally, only yesterday, finished my manuscript on classical theory. I will send it off to the publisher on Monday. For your interest, this is the Table of Contents.

Chapter 1: The Purpose of this Book and Why Only I could Write It

Appendix 1: John Stuart Mill. “Of the Influence of Production on Consumption”
Appendix 2: The Dangerous Persistence of Keynesian Economics

Chapter 2: The Background
Chapter 3: The Keynesian Revolution and Classical Theory
Chapter 4: Understanding Classical Presuppositions, Terminology and Concepts
Chapter 5: The Classical Theory of Value and the Marginal Revolution
Chapter 6: Keynesian Theory Overruns the Classics
Chapter 7: The Basis for Keynes’s Success: Why Keynes was Able to Succeed
Chapter 8: Classical Theory and the Role of Government
Chapter 9: Austrian Economics and Classical
Chapter 10: An Overview of Classical Economic Theory

An accurate title still eludes me. It needs to say in concise form something like: “Economic Theory Reached its Peak with the Economics of John Stuart Mill and has since been Subverted Firstly by the Marginal Revolution and then by the Keynesian Revolution Leaving Behind a Useless Husk of Empty Nonsensical Theory that Provide Virtually Nothing of Value in Framing Policy”. If you know what I mean. It also strikes me, now that I have looked over at the Table of Contents, that I don’t there mention Say’s Law, but you need have no fear that the book leaves it out.

And this is a note to another friend telling him the same news.

I have finished off my manuscript on Classical Economics for Idiots which cannot be the final title, unfortunately. It is far and away the best thing I have written as I judge things. It will also be the last thing I ever write that will be as polished as this one is, since I found this such a grinding process. Here, at least every time I thought of some addition that needed to go into it, I still had the will and strength to do the work. On the printed out draft I handwrote the following which I think is true:

“There is no doubt that if you read the book you will be convinced there is something to what is said. The challenge for me is to get you to read the book.”

What gives the book its value is that I have classical economic theory as the frame against which modern theory can be judged. Other than Austrian or Marxist theory, there is no other frame of reference available. I have now thus added a third frame of reference into the mix and in my view, the most accurate frame of reference from which to see what’s wrong with modern theory since classical theory was the theory that existed when capitalism was new and fresh and where an understanding of how a market economy operates reached its peak. I can only say how happy I am to have finally finished the manuscript. Now I have to work out, as I wrote above, a way to get others to read it. Getting them to believe it will be a bridge or two too far.

The worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time

I have been working away at my next book which is on classical economics, which was the highpoint of economic theory, from whence economics has been in precipitous decline since falling into the hands of socialists and academics (did I just repeat myself there?). As it happens, I have just today been working on the chapter on the role of government according to the classics. Here’s the first para of the chapter:

It is almost impossible any longer to know what a modern economist believes about the economic judgements found among economists prior to the publication of The General Theory. Possibly the most incorrect judgement is the belief that classical economists were opposed to public spending and insisted on an extremely limited role for government regulation or expenditure.

There is a lot in the chapter but let me start with this quote from The Principles of Political Economy by J. Shields Nicholson published in 1901. Don’t know who he is? You’ll have to buy the book, but very respectable, a man of the establishment of his own time. He is here summarising the almost-two previous pages on how Adam Smith understood the role of government.

“Thus, according to the actual teaching of Adam Smith, if competition leads to injustice or oppression, the State ought to intervene, and if self-interest is inadequate to provide various institutions for the satisfaction of actual needs, the State ought to provide for their erection and maintenance.” (Nicholson 1901: 179-180)

This is the kind of statement that you will never find in an economics text today, which is not something I say in any kind of positive way. But what I really want to deal with is his view of the people who get elected to Parliament.

“The assumption that government is all-wise and all-powerful is so far removed from the truth as to be of little use even for the purposes of abstract reasoning. With the best intentions, governments may ruin their legislation by ignorance and their administration by feebleness. And very frequently the intentions are not the best, if by best we mean that the public interests, with the due regard to the future as well as the present, are always dominant. The government, even of the most democratic states, must be formed of persons who are themselves liable to errors of judgment and errors of passion. And to a considerable extent they are supposed to carry out the mandate of their electors. The electors are open to all kinds of persuasion, as well as to the persuasion of justice and reason…. In the most advanced democracies, laws are still made and unmade in the interests of powerful classes and sometimes against the interests of considerable minorities. Officials are still appointed for all sorts of reasons apart from merit and efficiency, and are removed, or not removed, on a similar diversity of excuses.” (Nicholson 1901: 249)

Then follows my own comment on what Nicholson has written:

One cannot quote the whole of Nicholson, but it is as engaging today as Mill’s Principles is now a formidable challenge to a modern reader. Yet they both speak from the same script, with Nicholson frequently referring to Mill’s Principles even with the first edition having been published more than half a century before his own book was published. And in his views on the role of government, he was doing no more than following Mill who did much to outline just how crucial government was in the management of an economy. And in this, he spoke for the entire classical tradition.

And so far as leaving things to the market, you will not find a single economic writer today who is as resolute in wishing to see the market succeed and who is as fulsome in their support for liberty and prosperity that only free markets and democratic governments can bring as were Mill and Nicholson, and indeed the whole of the classical tradition going right back to Adam Smith.

A thief walks into a store

Here is a question from Quora I have slightly changed which I leave for you to work out for yourself:

A thief walks into a store and steals $350. The thief then buys $350 worth of goods at the store. In the end, did the store lose any money and if so, how much?

To help you along, let me add in this quote from John Stuart Mill’s 1844 Essay, “Of the Influence of Production on Consumption”.

“The man who steals money out of a shop, provided he expends it all again at the same shop, is a benefactor to the tradesman whom he robs, and that the same operation, repeated sufficiently often, would make the tradesman’s fortune.”

I need hardly add that Mill thought he was being fantastically ironic. But there is then this, the third iteration.

A government who taxes you to the hilt but then spends the money it took from you on whatever the government chooses to buy, provides a benefit to you and everyone else since it adds to the level of demand and therefore helps maintain full employment.

This is modern economic theory and practice to the back teeth. In looking at this third iteration, bear in mind the money spent on all of the various unproductive forms of stimulus spending that occurred following the GFC.

[My thanks to Tony for bringing this Quora question to my attention.]

Classical economic theory and employment

At the very core of the classical arguments against public spending as a means to raise employment is John Stuart Mill’s 1848 Fourth Proposition on Capital: “Demand for commodities is not demand for labour”. There is no relationship between the level of employment and the level of aggregate demand. Everything that matters happens on the supply side, with the only role of demand being what gets produced, but not how much or how many people are employed. It’s always been difficult to understand, but with macro now specifically stating that demand for commodities does raise the demand for labour, there is virtually no one who any longer even knows what Mill and the classics had said, never mind actually being able to explain why that might be. So with this in mind, there is a quite interesting story that just appeared the other day at Zero Hedge: Finland Abandons ‘Helicopter Money’ Experiment: No New Jobs Created. He’s the whole thing:

With socialists rising to the calls of the ‘free shit army’ and the ever-more-left-leaning liberal intelligentsia imagining ever-more-creative ways to pretend to fund their massive government interventions (Modern Monetary Theory), the topic of “QE for the people” or “helicopter money” or the more academic-sounding “Universal Basic Income” is becoming ever-more-prevalent.

Well, we have some more results in on the impact of Universal Basic Income (UBI) experiments – handing out free money to citizens with no strings attached.

As part of its experiment, in Finland 2,000 unemployed people aged 25-58 were paid a tax-free €560 (£490) monthly income. This was independent of any other income they had and not conditional on looking for work.

As Valuewalk reports, UBI-expert from the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath (UK), Dr Luke Martinellicomments:

“Universal basic income has ascended policy debates in recent years, motivated by the shortcomings of existing welfare systems, and our rapidly changing – and increasingly dysfunctional – labour markets.

“Yet despite the idea’s widespread appeal, there remain substantial and unanswered questions about its economic viability and political feasibility. This is why all eyes will be on Finland this Friday and why the results of its UBI experiment will be so revealing.

“We expect these results will provide us with the first really robust evidence on how UBI could affect changes in employment and people’s overall finances, as well as wider measures of wellbeing.”

So what were the results?

Simple (and Dr Martinelli – and the left – won’t like it):

1) People were happier, and

2) No new jobs were created.

As Yahoo reports, this was the widest such study to be conducted in recent years in Europe

“The recipients of a basic income had less stress symptoms as well as less difficulties to concentrate and less health problems than the control group,” Minna Ylikanno, lead researcher at Finland’s welfare authority Kela, said in a statement.

“They were also more confident in their future and in their ability to influence societal issues,” she added.

Results at this stage are preliminary and relate only to the first year of the study, meaning Friday’s findings are far from conclusive. But a hoped-for stimulus to levels of employment has not yet materialized, the project’s researchers said.

“The recipients of a basic income were no better or worse than the control group at finding employment in the open labour market”, Ohto Kanninen, research coordinator at the Labour Institute for Economic Research, said in a statement.

Shocker!!  Who could have seen that coming?

Give people free money for doing nothing, with no conditions, and they will be happier to sit around all day in non-productive utopia.

Finally, we note that, based on these results, Finland’s social affairs minister, Pirkko Mattila, conceded on Friday that the government has no plans to roll out the scheme across the whole country.

And let there be no doubt that whoever might have received this helicopter money would have spent it, to the last Euro.

The difference between Keynesian and classical economics

Just posted on Quora in answer to the question: What is the difference between Keynesian and classical economics? There are 13 other replies which not much more than prove to me that no one without a truly specialist knowledge of classical theory would have the slightest idea what an economist between the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would have understood about anything in relation to the operation of an economy. Their ignorance of what classical economists believed is matched by their ignorance of how an economy actually works. Anyway, this is what I wrote.

The differences between classical and Keynesian economics are so vast that to accept one version of how an economy works means you must reject the other. Classical economic theory is the theory that was developed between let us say 1776 and the 1870s, almost entirely by philosophers and business people who were actually looking at the economy. Modern economic theory has almost entirely been developed within universities by people who have neither a philosophical training nor have ever run a business as their primary mode of earning a living.

Here’s the difference. Classical economic theory begins from the existence of a market economy in which, on one side of the equation, there is a mass of people who would like to buy goods and services, and on the other side there are people who would like to earn their living by producing and selling things to others. The producers continually try to work out what to produce that others will buy, and do it by trying to decide what buyers will pay enough for in total to cover their production costs. These producers hire employees and the combined incomes of producers and wage earners become the purchasing power of the community.

Classical economic theory is thus entirely supply-side driven. And what is particularly interesting about reading the classical literature is that government regulation was an important part of how the economic system worked. The very first Factory Act in Great Britain was introduced in 1802, and there were many others that came after. The notion that classical economics was simply leave everything to the market is 100% wrong. If you look at the greatest economics text of the era, John Stuart Mill’s 1848 Principles of Political Economy, the final 200 pages are devoted to discussing the role of government in ensuring that economic activity was carried out in a morally acceptable way to the benefit of the entire community.

But crucially, classical theory assumes the role of the independent entrepreneur as the linchpin in making an economy work. Try to find a modern economic text that starts from there. Other than my own – Free Market Economics, Third Edition – none of the major mainstream texts starts from the supply side and none – as in zero – feature the role of the entrepreneur.

Keynesian economics assumes economies are driven from the demand side. That is, it is buying goods and services that makes an economy grow and employ, not their production. It is based on the total confusion between the demand for a single product – the greater the demand for shoes the greater the production of shoes will be along with the greater the level of employment for shoemakers. Demand affects individual products; demand in aggregate does not affect the level of output in total. The more that is produced, the higher the level of demand, for the obvious reason that the more that is produced, the more there is that buyers are able to demand. But if you are a Keynesian, you will go on believing that the cause of higher output is higher demand, whereas the reason more can be demanded is that more output is being produced. Public spending may have many benefits, but increasing the level of income and speeding up the rate of economic growth is not one of them. If anything, higher levels of public spending slow things down and lower real incomes below levels that otherwise would have been reached.

Keynesian economics is based on the fallacious belief that buyers will not buy as much as an economy can produce, and therefore demand must be stimulated to ensure everything produced is bought and that everyone who wants to work is employed. A great theory if you are in government and need a justification for taking as much money as you can get away with from income-earning citizens and spending it yourself. But a pernicious theory if you are interested in raising living standards as rapidly as possible.


Only one book written in the twenty-first century will explain the classical economics of the nineteenth

At Quora, this question: What are 25 economics books that you would recommend (preferably classical and neoclassical)? My answer:

If you are seriously interested in understanding economics you need to understand classical economic theory, the economics of the period from the publication of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in 1776 until the marginal revolution began about a hundred years later in the 1870s. And if you are interested in understanding classical economic theory, you should read the third edition of my own Free Market Economics: an Introduction for the General Reader.

Modern economic theory has fallen into very hard times since its classical period, and is now incapable of explaining almost anything that matters. My FME third edition is entirely supply-side, explaining how classical economists understood the operation of an economy which is how an economy actually does work.

From the marginal revolution with its focus on marginal utility, through to the Keynesian Revolution of the 1930s with its introduction of aggregate demand, economic theory has looked at economies from the demand side. And while it has a superficial appeal, no economy is driven by demand. All economies are driven from its production side. People buy more where more is produced. If you want to understand what allows people to demand, you first have to understand what makes them capable of producing.

I will just add that if you try to read classical theory without some preparation for the changes in the terminology between economics today and economics then, you will miss the point. This is a paper you can find at SSRN which will help you get past what is a quite formidable barrier.

Classical Economics Explained: Understanding Economic Theory Before Keynes

Steven Kates


Since the publication of The General Theory, pre-Keynesian economics has been labelled “classical,” but what that classical economics actually consisted of is now virtually an unknown. There is, instead, a straw-man caricature most economists absorb through a form of academic osmosis but which is never specifically taught, not even as part of a course in the history of economics. The paper outlines the crucial features that differentiate modern macroeconomics from classical theory, with the emphasis on what an economist would have understood as The General Theory was being published. Based on the differences outlined, a model of classical economic theory is presented which explains how pre-Keynesian economists understood the operation of the economy, the causes of recession and why a public-spending stimulus was universally rejected by mainstream economists before 1936. The classical model presented is an amalgam of the final edition of John Stuart Mill’s 1848 Principles of Political Economy published in his lifetime and Henry Clay’s influential 1916 Economics: an Introduction for the General Reader, a text which was itself built from the economics of Mill.

Here’s the link to the paper.

Classical Economics Explained: Understanding Economic Theory Before Keynes

Not just about Say’s Law but also why almost the whole of modern economic theory is useless

You may think such a thing is impossible, and certainly impossible to prove, and even more certainly impossible for me to prove, but before you say that first you have to watch the presentation yourself. The venue is Los Angeles.

I also replied to the fellow who had invited me and sent the video because he wrote that “I suggest the phrase Supply Creates the Means to Demand” which is his own way of explaining Say’s Law to himself. And this is the way someone brought up in a Keynesian environment will understand these issues because it has become second nature to think in relation to demand. But unless you can break the habit that thinking an economy is driven by demand and not supply, it becomes impossible to understand classical theory, and in my view impossible to understand how a market economy works. So I wrote back with this:

Your note does remind me how difficult it is to understand since the issue of spending never seems to go away, which a supply-side economist, like Mill and myself, see as about as irrelevant to aggregate economic outcomes as it is possible to be. If you tell me that in a recession there is some kind of panic and credit freezes up and business ventures are not commenced at the same rate as in good times, I will say of course, but so too did JSM.

Thinking in money flows and in relation to spending will stop you from understanding Mill and thus, in my view, from understanding how an economy adjusts. Once you are thinking about whether people will spend their money and not whether entrepreneurs will try to open new businesses and expand old ones, you fall into the Keynesian trap from which economic theory has been unable to emerge for more than eighty years. A financial crisis stops the flow of credit but does not stop the desire of business people to set up new firms or expand the ones they already run, nor does it stop wage earners from trying to find jobs. A really bad downturn can take 2-3 years to get back to normal but things do re-arrange themselves. Having a government stimulus on top of all of the other disruptions in the flow of capital and labour into their most productive forms of contribution can extend the recession outwards for a much longer period of time, and like the situation right now everywhere round the world, it can prevent a serious recovery from ever gathering pace. The Japanese lost decade of the 1990s is now 25 years long! The notion that buyers will stop buying for years on end and businesses will stop trying to find ways to earn profits because there has been a downturn is not just incoherent but contrary to every historical situation in which a downturn has ever occurred. It might be what an academic would do – just give up and wait for a government subsidy – but it is not the kind thing people who make a living by running businesses are apt to do. A stimulus can kill off a recovery but it can never cause one. All this is perfectly obvious to me, but very difficult to explain. This is my own variant on demand for commodities is not demand for labour: employment varies directly with productivity and inversely with the real wage. I developed the theory as an employer advocate in our national wage cases in the 1980s and then when I found the same thing in Mill, which is his explanation for his fourth proposition on capital*, I had found the parent stem for everything which I now believe, and see demonstrated everywhere I go.

Mill noted that even in his own time how difficult it was to keep these things straight, and every economist of his time had read his text. Much more difficult now because of the Keynesian presuppositions and terminology that infuse modern theory with virtually no supply-side economics to be found anywhere at all.

* Mill’s fourth proposition on capital – the Fermat’s Last Theorem of economics – states that “demand for commodities is not demand for labour”. Universally accepted by mainstream economics in Mill’s lifetime, even described in 1876 as “the best test of a sound economist”, which it is. You can read my entire paper on it if you are interested: MILL’S FOURTH FUNDAMENTAL PROPOSITION ON CAPITAL: A PARADOX EXPLAINED.