Monday, May 2, 2011

The Collapse and Failure of Modern "Economics"

Here is a bit from an article in Foreign Affairs magazine which is reprinted in the blog Crooked Timber. The article looks at how monetary and economic policy in Europe is failing as that continent falls under the sway of "austerity" and the incompetence of "modern" economics:
The EU is now drifting toward a thinly disguised version of the gold standard, which wreaked economic havoc in the 1920s and led to a toxic political fallout. Under that system, European states had fixed exchange rates. During economic crises, they refused to increase government spending because of a failure to either understand or care that monetary disturbances and shocks to demand could lead to joblessness. The result was generalized misery. Governments responded to economic crises by allowing unemployment to go up and cutting back wages, leaving workers to bear the pain of adjustment. As Golden Fetters, Barry Eichengreen’s classic history of the period, shows, the gold standard began to collapse when workers in Europe gained the power to vote out of office the parties that supported austerity.


This approach cannot be sustained for long. The EU has never had much popular legitimacy: many voters have gone along with it so far only out of the belief that their politicians knew best. Today, they are more suspicious. And if they come to think that further European integration is causing more economic hardship, their suspicion could harden into bitterness and perhaps even xenophobia. Ireland’s new finance minister, Michael Noonan, has told voters that the EU is a game rigged in Germany’s favor; editorials in major Irish newspapers warn of Germany’s return to racist imperialism. As economic shocks hit other EU countries, politicians in those states will also look for someone to blame.

If the EU is to survive, it will have to craft a solution to the eurozone crisis that is politically as well as economically sustainable. It will need to create long-term institutions that both minimize the risk of future economic crises and refrain from adopting politically unsustainable forms of austerity when crises do hit. They must offer the EU countries that are the worst hit a viable path to economic stability while reassuring Germany, the state currently driving economic debates within the union, that it will not be asked to bail out weaker states indefinitely.


Contrary to the beliefs of nearly all anti-Keynesians—and, regrettably, some Keynesians, too—Keynesianism demands more, not less, fiscal rectitude in normal times than does the orthodox theory of balanced budgets that underpins the EU. John Maynard Keynes argued that surpluses should be accumulated during good years so that they could be spent to stimulate demand during bad ones. This lesson was well understood during the golden age of Keynesian social democracy, after World War II, when, aided by moderate inflation, the governments of the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development greatly reduced their ratios of public debt to GDP. This approach should not be confused with the opportunistic support for large budget deficits evident, for example, among advocates of supply-side economics. If anything, “hard” Keynesianism suggests that the problem with the macroeconomic rules governing the euro is not that they are too tough and too detailed but that they are not tough or detailed enough. States in the eurozone should not be allowed to run moderate budget deficits in boom years, the Keynesian argument goes; instead, they should be compelled to run budget surpluses. The surpluses could then be saved in rainy-day funds or used to pay down government debt or, if the country had reached a satisfactory debt-to-GDP ratio, spent as a fiscal stimulus in the event of a crisis. Unlike the kind of budget management advocated by the German government, this approach does not seek to eliminate or minimize governments’ leeway to conduct fiscal policy. It gives governments up-front the means to manage demand whenever they might need to.
The call for "hard Keynesianism" is the right call. It is the call that points out that the last 80 years of "economics" has been a disaster and a mistake built around lovely mathematics but an idiotic understanding of markets and humans.

I think it is funny. The call for "hard Keynesianism" is the call to go back to Joseph in Egypt in 1000 BC when during the 7 fat years the Pharaoh stored up surpluses from the land to feed the people during the 7 lean years. That "modern" economics doesn't understand this need to lean against the wind says volumes about the incompetence of "modern economics".

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