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The tiny little problem with Chicago economics

The tiny little problem with Chicago economics – Lars Syll

The following is the opinion of the U.S. economist John Cochrane:

” Every dollar of increased government spending must correspond to one less dollar of private spending. Jobs created by stimulus spending are offset by jobs lost from the decline in private spending. We can build roads instead of factories, but fiscal stimulus can’t help us to build more of both. This form of “crowding out” is just accounting, and doesn’t rest on any perceptions or behavioral assumptions. ”

And the tiny little problem? It’s utterly and completely wrong!

What Cochrane is reiterating here is nothing but Say’s law, basically saying that savings are equal to investments, and that if the state increases invest- ments, then private investments have to come down (‘crowding out’). As an accounting identity there is of course nothing to say about the law, but as such it is also totally uninteresting from an economic point of view.

My Swedish forerunners – Erik Lindahl and Gunnar Myrdal – stressed more than 80 years ago that it’s really a question of ex ante and ex post adjustments. And as further stressed by a famous English economist about the same time, what happens when ex ante savings and investments differ, is that we basically get output adjustments. GDP changes and so makes saving and investments equal ex post. And this, nota bene, says nothing at all about the success or failure of fiscal policies!

William Vickrey’s view

 

The following extract is from Fifteen Fatal Fallacies of Financial Fundamentalism, by William Vickrey: “[According to conventional economics ] government borrowing is supposed to “crowd out” private investment.

“However the current reality is that on the contrary, the expenditure of the borrowed funds (unlike the expenditure of tax revenues) will generate added disposable income, will enhance the demand for the products of private industry, and will make private investment more profitable. As long as there are plenty of idle resources lying around, and monetary authorities behave sensibly (instead of trying to counter the supposedly inflationary effect of the deficit), those with a prospect for profitable investment can be enabled to obtain financing

“Under these circumstances, each additional dollar of deficit will in the medium long run induce two or more additional dollars of private investment. The capital created is an increment to someone’s wealth and ipso facto someone’s saving. ‘Supply creates its own demand’ fails as soon as some of the income generated by the supply is saved, but investment does create its own saving, and more. Any crowding out that may occur is the result, not of underlying economic reality, but of inappropriate restrictive reactions on the part of a monetary authority in response to the deficit. ”

In a lecture about the U.S. recession, Robert Lucas gave an outline of what the new classical school of macro- economics today thinks on the latest downturns in the US economy and its future prospects.

Lucas starts by showing that real U.S. GDP has grown at an average yearly rate of 3 per cent since 1870, with one big dip during the Depression of the 1930s and a big – but smaller – dip in the recent recession.

After stating his view that the U.S. recession that started in 2008 was basically caused by a run for liquidity, Lucas then goes on to discuss the prospect of recovery from where the U.S. economy is today, maintaining that past experience would suggest an “automatic” recovery, if the free market system is left to repair itself to equilibrium unimpeded by social welfare activities of the government.

As could be expected there is no room for any Keynesian type considerations on eventual shortages of aggregate demand discouraging the recovery of the economy. No, as usual in the new classical macroeconomic school’s explanations and prescriptions, the blame game points to the government and its lack of supply side policies.

Lucas is convinced that what might arrest the recovery are higher taxes on the rich, greater government involvement in the medical sector and tougher regulations of the financial sector. But – if left to run its course unimpeded by European type welfare state activities – the free market will [he says] fix it all.

In a rather cavalier manner – without a hint of argument or presentation of empirical facts – Lucas dismisses even the possibility of a shortfall of demand. For someone who already 30 years ago proclaimed Keynesianism dead – “people don’t take Keynesian theorizing seriously anymore; the audience starts to whisper and giggle to one another” – this is of course only what could be expected. Demand considerations are simply ruled out on whimsical theoretical and ideological grounds, much like we have seen other neo-liberal economists do over and over again in their attempts to explain away the fact that the latest economic crises shows how the markets have failed to deliver. If there is a problem with the economy, the true cause [they say] has to be government.

Chicago economics is a dangerous pseudo-scientific zombie ideology that ultimately relies on the poor having to pay for the mistakes of the rich.

Trying to explain business cycles in terms of rational expectations has failed blatantly. Maybe it would be asking to much of freshwater economists like Lucas and Cochrane to concede that, but it’s still a fact that ought to be embarrassing. My rational expectation is that 30 years from now, no one will know who John Cochrane or Robert Lucas was. John Maynard Keynes, on the other hand, will still be known as one of the masters of economics.

Source: RW Econ Rev, 2 June 2016 https://rwer.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/the-tiny-little-problem-with-chicago-economics/

Prof Lars Syll is attached to the Malmo University College in Sweden

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