Do economists understand what’s happening to the American economy?

The answer is, of course, no, they don’t. A couple of examples from the very highest reaches of economic theory. First this from The Institute of International Monetary Research:

The accompanying video therefore looks at a different topic. In an article in the current issue of The Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Professor Paul Krugman claims that economic theory and analysis have worked well over the last decade. He is a champion of the well-known Keynesian prescription, that an increase in the structural (i.e., cyclically-adjusted) budget deficit boosts aggregate demand and makes above-trend growth (with falling unemployment) more likely. According to Krugman, cheered on by Keynes’ biographer, Lord Skidelsky, in the Project Syndicate blog, these textbook ideas were translated into policy in the USA and went far to check the Great Recession. Krugman and Skidelsky believe that, in this sense, economics worked.

That is, it worked in the sense that the ridiculously exaggerated forecasts of doom never eventuated. But the recovery never occurred either, a recovery that is occurring now based on principles absolutely and completely antithetical to the policies adopted by those who applied a Keynesian stimulus.

And while we’re at it, I might also mention this, Should We Reject the Natural Rate Hypothesis?, from the latest issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives. This is the interim conclusion:

To summarize: I read the macroeconomic evidence as suggestive of persistent effects of monetary policy on the natural unemployment rate and potential output. But the evidence is not overwhelming. Moreover, looking just at recessions has its limits: It cannot answer whether there are symmetrical effects of booms and recessions, which is a crucial issue for the design of policy. In this context, a closer look at potential channels of persistence and more microeconomic evidence may help to assess potential nonlinearities or asymmetries between recessions and booms.

And this is the conclusion at the end:

Where does this leave us? . . . The general advice must be that central banks should keep the natural rate hypothesis as their baseline, but keep an open mind and put some weight on the alternatives. For example, given the evidence on labor force participation and on the stickiness of inflation expectations presented earlier, I believe that there is a strong case, although not an overwhelming case, to allow US output to exceed potential for some time, so as to reintegrate some of the workers who left the labor force during the last ten years.

That is, we should keep the theory intact but ignore the theory when it suits us because something else would be preferable. Indeed, if we are looking at the US economy and trying to explain its astonishing reversal over the past year, there is not a theory found in any modern text [except mine] that will help you understand what is going on or why it’s happening.

Say’s Law makes it to the AFR

afr - steve kates on says law

says law and the keynesian revolution

Is it possible that economic theory has regressed over the past hundred years. Well if you ask me, it’s a certainty. (For further confirmation, see Alan’s post on Larry Summers below.) An economist in 1914 knew more about how an economy worked than an economist in 2014. Less detail, fewer stats but a greater grasp of how it all fit together. How odd is that!

What’s the difference. Economics is now infused, both in it theory and in its practitioners, with socialists who simply refuse to believe that markets left to themselves will generally speaking produce the optimal economic outcome. The idea is now so outré that economics texts – aside from one or two that I am aware of – are no longer designed to explain how the market works. They instead start from the premise that markets will go wrong and that governments must take action at every turn to set things right.

Anyway, I have an article in the Financial Review today which is titled, “What Say’s Law has to say about the financial crisis” which really is, what pre-Keynesian classical theory has to say about the crisis.

There you have the core of the classical theory of the cycle which may be broken down into the following components.

• Misconceived production decisions are what starts the rot.

• These misconceived decisions lead to a greater output of particular goods and services than there is a market for them at prices that will repay all of the previous costs of production.

• The economy must therefore backtrack to remove those parts of economic activity in which production is greater than demand.

• And thus we have recessions.

Recessions are thus structural. Instead our textbooks teach Y=C+I+G and explain recessions as a result of too much saving and too little demand, the fallacious notions that Say’s Law was specifically designed to expose.

Macroeconomic theory is not just nonsense but dangerous nonsense. Using it to manage an economy will leave wreckage in its wake as it has consistently done everywhere and every time it has been used to solve some economic problem.

Economies are built up by genuinely value adding activities which most government forms of spending most definitely are not. That doesn’t say governments shouldn’t do them. It merely says they should not deceive themselves into believing that public spending is the road to rapid rates of non-inflationary growth. Public spending draws down on our productivity rather than building it up. If the last five years have taught us anything, hopefully at least it has taught us that.