Quote of the Day: November 22, 2011
Liveblogging World War II: November 22, 1941

Robert Skidelsky: "The Wages of Economic Ignorance"

Robert Skidelsky:

The Wages of Economic Ignorance: Three years after the global economy’s near-collapse, the feeble recovery has already petered out in most developed countries…. Pundits decry a “double-dip” recession, but in some countries the first dip never ended: Greek GDP has been dipping for three years. When we ask politicians to explain these deplorable results, they reply in unison: “It’s not our fault.” Recovery, goes the refrain, has been “derailed” by the eurozone crisis. But this is to turn the matter on its head. The eurozone crisis did not derail recovery; it is the result of a lack of recovery. It is the natural, predictable, and (by many) predicted result of the main European countries’ deliberate policy of repressing aggregate demand. That policy was destined to produce a financial crisis, because it was bound to leave governments and banks with depleted assets and larger debts….

Depressions, recessions, contractions – call them what you will – occur because the private-sector spends less than it did previously. This means that its income falls, because spending by one firm or household is income for another. In this situation, government deficits rise naturally…. But if the government starts reducing its own deficit before private-sector spending recovers, the net result will be a further decline in total spending, and hence in total income, causing the government’s deficit to widen, rather than narrow….

That is the crazy logic of current economic policy in much of Europe (and elsewhere). Of course, it will not be carried through to the bitter end….

The best option of all is for the government to spend the money itself. Governments can do this consistently with a medium-term deficit-reduction plan by making a crucial distinction between their budgets’ current and capital accounts….

If nothing works, it will be time to sprinkle the country with what Milton Friedman called “helicopter money” – that is, put purchasing power directly into people’s pockets, by giving every household a spending voucher with an expiration date….

It would be better if such schemes could be agreed upon by all by G-20 countries, as was briefly the case in the coordinated stimulus of April 2009. If not, groups of countries should pursue them on their own…

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