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Lest we forget

Written By: - Date published: 1:45 pm, January 31st, 2009 - 49 comments
Categories: economy, Keynes - Tags:

The New Republic has a good article on Keynes that points out the tendency for governments (specifically in the US) to flock toward Keynesianism during the bad times and ignore it when things pick up and to implement the facets of Keynesianism that suited their own agenda rather than the nation as a whole:

If you look at America’s periodic experimentation with Keynesian policy, it has been guided from the beginning by a determination to avoid any measures that might be described as socialist. It began with what was later called “military Keynesianism”–defense spending being one kind of public investment that was politically safe. But it has increasingly centered on tax cuts.

Sound familiar? I lost count of the number of right wing politicians, business journalists and economists who called for tax cuts back in 2005 when the economy was running hot and we were already at the limit of our productive capacity due to underinvestment in skills and capital. In short they were calling for higher inflation and depletion of the government’s capacity to deal with a potential bust.

Well that bust is here now. And thanks to the Keynesian policies of the last government (excepting their failure to alter the reserve bank act) we’re in a better state to deal with it than most of our trading partners. Now rather than say “I told you so” (and I and other left commentators did) I’m going to offer some more advice to the numbskull pundits and to the people who believed them:

When we get out of this recession, and we will, remember exactly how we did it, remember the failings of business and don’t complain when the government increases taxes, focuses on redistributing wealth and pours money into debt repayment and government savings.

If they have any spine the next boom-time government will also regulate the hell out of speculative capitalism and the finance industry. With luck voters will cast their minds back to these days and applaud. I suspect however that faced with the irresponsible political howlings of business and the right that they will forget.

49 comments on “Lest we forget”

  1. Redbaiter 1

    What a load of crap. This whole thing is down to socialists doing what socialists do- ie interfering in markets. The tipping point was a result of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977 and the brainless actions of Democrat toadies running Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. When we get out of this recession, by means of individual effort and no other means, the challenge wil be to sift through all of the usual left wing propaganda promoted by the same left wing media who elected the bat eared fool Obama, and remember the real reasons, and say.. Socialism- NEVER AGAIN. No mixed economies. No big governments. No wealth redistribution. Its time to return to the sanctity of property rights and individual liberty.

  2. Redbaiter 2

    Well fuck it, nobody else was saying anything..!!!

  3. TghtyRighty 3

    Focusing on redistributing wealth? when you’ve just said that we have reached our productive limit due to underinvestment in skills and capital? what a stupid thing to focus on. If the governments focus had been on investing in skills and capital rather than redistributing wealth, we could possibly be doing even better.

  4. IrishBill 4

    TR, publicly funded education and skills training are part of the redistribution of wealth. The lack of investment in productive capital is more to do with the short-sightedness of Kiwi business than anything the last government did.

  5. Redbaiter 5

    Irish- here’s some news for you. Almost every business today is suffering under massive cost structures that are largely the fault of government interference. It is a situation that is always in the end going to be unsustainable, and it is my personal belief that it is this, coupled with unwise lending practices, that has led to the recession and will probably bring on a full depression.

  6. Daveski 6

    In fairness IB the lack of investment in productive capital is much more complicated than that. The relatively small size of our business plus the costs associated with the tyranny of distance are a good start.

    For these reasons, the Govt has a major responsibility in NZ to ensure that there is a productive infrastructure and an environment conducive to doing business. I agree education and training should be seen as core government services although some channelling of training should also be seen as essential – there’s no point in having half of school leavers believing they can make a career in entertainment when we need more productive careers.

  7. TghtyRighty 7

    IB, publicly funded education and skills are a path to creating wealth as they tend to increase the productivity of a nation as a whole. which is much better than blindly seeking to tax the rich to help out the poor. creating more wealth and improving access to it are important, not this short-sighted fixation on bashing high earners, businesses and wealthy individuals by treating wealth as fixed and seeking to redistribute it. socialism doesn’t work as somebody has to pay for it.

    The lack of investment is not attributable to short-sighted kiwi business, and can be attributed to the last government. It’s not what the last government did, it’s what they didn’t do. what is needed is a cohesive 20 year infrastructure plan like south Queenslands, to get this country heading in the right direction. an innovation that could only be spearheaded by government. This path to wealth creation could have been formulated, but in nine years no one got around to it. yet they managed to have all sorts of things banned and redistributed.

  8. IrishBill 8

    RB, this is the second easiest place to do business in the world.

    Daveski, I agree completely about channeling training. Under National tertiary education was left to the market. Labour was too slow on changing that. There are things the government can do to encourage capital investment but, as I pointed out to redbaiter, this is a remarkably easy place to do business. Much of the capital investment in the last boom was on property rather than on r&d or retooling for productivity. THat may need to be regulated before the next boom.

    TR, I agree with you on governement leading the way and Labour tried but there is a lot of resistance to such “socialist” notions within New Zealand business and the NZ right. As I say in my post I hope the latest crisis will put paid to that attitude.

  9. TghtyRighty 9

    Ahh, IB, I don’t think anyone would mind to much if there was a government-led drive to improve the infrastructure and the productivity of this nation. wasn’t Lloyd Morrison talking about this late last year, that all sectors need to be involved under the governments direction? I doubt anyone would label it socialism.

    I do however label socialist your desire to see wealth redistributed. it strikes me as stupid and ill-thought out. as i said earlier, better to create more wealth and improve the means of access to it. Then at least society would have some incentive to work and produce, as against either working hard and having it all taken off you, or sitting there on the couch waiting for someone to distribute your unearned wealth.

  10. Bevanj 10

    The labour government didn’t so much redistribute wealth as soak it up.

    There’s a rediculous amount of large salaries in Wellington with zero acountability residing in expensive office space…. if axed they’d pay for a lot of doctors, operations, R & D, training programs i.e. jobs and outcomes for productive people.

    NZ has been less effected by the crunch because our lending institutions weren’t near as crazy as some of the mind blowing behaviour essentially facilitated by the US systems.

  11. IrishBill 11

    TR, no. What is stupid and ill thought-out is the idea that a nation can be governed as a bunch of disparate economic individuals. It is the proper redistribution of wealth that helps create more wealth.

    Bevanj, your comment on Wellington is both wrong and provincial and our lending institutions have not been responsible. We have massive private debt issues which have been driven by the profits made available through our absurdly high interests rates. The small buffer we have at the moment is due to the last government massively reducing our debt.

  12. TghtyRighty 12

    What’s the proper method then? I am thinking back to my economics days and every thing i recall to do with “redistribution” involved leakages, and didn’t actually create significantly more wealth as the money was just being shunted around.

  13. Draco T Bastard 13

    I do however label socialist your desire to see wealth redistributed. it strikes me as stupid and ill-thought out. as i said earlier, better to create more wealth and improve the means of access to it.

    Translation: Don’t do redistribution but do redistribution.

  14. IrishBill 14

    Redistribution isn’t some liberal paternalistic notion the left thought up because it would be a nice idea. It’s fundamental to sustained economic growth in a market economy. Left to itself the market tends to distribute wealth upward. If you take a short-term individualistic view of this situation you will say that there is no need to redistribute because there is growth and annexing of resources by a top fraction of the population is a natural outcome of a functioning market (one could argue that the random notion of what constitutes merit in such a meritocratic model is a flaw in itself but I don;’t intend to complicate the matter so I will just pretend that meritocracy is a valid short-term argument).

    After a generation of top-level wealth accumulation and its flipside, majority dispossession, growth starts to slow. Why? Because one of the primary engine rooms of economic growth, the work force, lacks skills due to the inability to afford training/education and it is unproductive due to poor health and poor nutrition and a whole host of social issues including a lack of the sense of economic inclusion. Often there is also a debt-dependence.

    When the left argues for increasing benefits or redistributing wealth it is not for humanitarian reasons but for broad economic reasons. A failure to recognise the social aspect of market growth leads to exactly the kind of cock-up the US has dragged us into. There is a moral argument to be made about income disparity but I’ll leave that to my more woolly liberal peers to make.

    I’d also add that in my opinion the reason the right get it so wrong so often is they focus on the individual story to the detriment of a solid long-term and holistic view.

  15. RedLogix 15

    All social structures of whatever size or complexity, from the family upward, all engage in redistribution in some form or another.

    In fact it is almost their defining feature.

    And IB, thanks for the link to the original NR article. Most interesting.

  16. Bill 16

    So let me get this right. Market imperatives (the profit motive) fuck things up. Taken as read. One response is to try and modify the effects of the market (Keynesianism or whatever).

    Doesn’t make sense….in fact, it seems a bit like convincing a bastard to replace their metal base ball bat with a wooden one in the hope that your legs won’t get broken to quite the same extent.

    Fuck the wooden base ball bat. No base ball bat = no broken legs. In the same vein, no market = no market driven disasters.

    And before anybody tries to peddle the usual b/s argument about trade being impossible without the market? Not so. The market distorts trade, production and consumption.

    Bit like a baseball bat might distort those old leg bones and your ability to walk.

  17. TghtyRighty 17

    hold on IB. Education is available to all, all the way up to post-grad tertiary level, at nil cost when you factor in the interest free component. so i do not think that the underlying assumptions of the populace being unable to upskill you put forward to rationalize redistribution (i’ve been assuming via taxes this whole time) are really supported in New Zealand. And please don’t forget that the roots of this economic crises can be traced back to social engineering interfering with market forces.

    so if the means to improve skills and productivity exist and are freely available, why aren’t we seeing a growth in productivity and an increase in skills? my theory is there isn’t the incentives for the individual to contribute to growth. so what are the disincentives? the list is long, but the redistribution of wealth by the government is an underlying component of many of the factors.

  18. Lew 18

    TR: at nil cost when you factor in the interest free component

    Since when is a 0% loan `nil cost’? It’s interest free, but you still have to pay it back.

    L

  19. Lew 19

    Bill: no market = no market driven disasters.

    I presume there would be trade in your imaginary world, of a similar scale and nature to what we have now. How would you suggest the value of goods be determined in the absence of a market?

    L

  20. Bill 20

    “I presume there would be trade..” (of course), ..”of a similar scale and nature to what we have now.” (No. Speculation…gambling, is part and parcel of the market.)

    I’d suggest that value be determined by factors such as social worth, environmental cost etc.

    In our current situation where monetary profit, or expected monetary profit determines what will be produced, what will be developed and what will be done, we lose.

    eg We could make HIV treatment available to everyone. But we drop like flies throughout Africa because there is no ( or far less) monetary profit in having it any other way. And cheaper treatments cannot be developed because major pharmaceuticals defend their monetary profits with the proverbial nail and tooth.

    Depending on the world view we adopt or develop, and our location within the scheme of things, HIV drugs are either incredibly valuable or basically worthless.

    There are 1001 other similar examples and in all the scenarios it is the market that dictates. We suffer and lose out. The abstraction takes precedence.

    And with everything in free-fall, what is to be saved?

  21. Ag 21

    What a load of crap. This whole thing is down to socialists doing what socialists do- ie interfering in markets.

    Socialists don’t interfere in markets; they abolish them. The people you are attempting to rave and froth about are “Social Democrats”.

    Socialism- NEVER AGAIN. No mixed economies. No big governments. No wealth redistribution. Its time to return to the sanctity of property rights and individual liberty.

    You’re just saying this because you and your pals would end up in the gulag. Come to think of it, given our current troubles and their perceived origins, that might be a popular electoral platform.

    If Labour really were communists, you’d be too scared to say the stuff you do.

  22. Bill 22

    Ag
    I suspect that if state communism ever gained traction again, then a goodly number of the anti-socialists would do a remarkable flip-flop, embrace the party, perpetuate market relations, get ahead, and put those with authentic socialist and communist leanings in the gulag.

    On that same front, if the Labour Party was communist, ie a Communist Party, and if it was in power, I’d be scared to say the stuff I do….on second thoughts, no I wouldn’t. I’d be in the gulag or dead already.

  23. Lew 23

    Bill: I’d suggest that value be determined by factors such as social worth, environmental cost etc.

    Ok. But what mechanism, or what agency would set these values? A government? An intergovernmental panel? An NGO? Which one? Led by whom? Working with which assumptions?

    L

  24. Bill 24

    Lew
    one idea I am aware of that has been quite extensively developed on a theoretical level of course, and being put into practice as far as is possible under our present circumstances, is here as an article http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/18882

    An entire on line book regarding the topic “The Political Economy of Participatory Economics” is here http://www.zcommunications.org/zparecon/pepe.htm, or “Life After Capitalism”, available here http://www.zcommunications.org/zparecon/pareconlac.htm

    It’s a lot of reading Lew, but if you are serious about investigating alternatives, I highly recommend taking the time to read it. Most, if not all of your objections/ questions will be addressed far better than I could manage.

  25. Bill 25

    My last comment just disappeared! Posting this just to see whether the system is glitched.

    Tried to repost and got a ‘duplicate’ message. Hmm. And another has been sitting in moderation for ages….

    [lprent: For some strange reason we don’t spend as much time as usual moderating during the weekends]

  26. Draco T Bastard 26

    Ok. But what mechanism, or what agency would set these values?

    Unlike Bill, I’m a proponent of the market. As I say, if the capitalists want a free-market then lets give them one. To do that then we’re going to need to have regulations – lots of them to ensure that all costs are appropriately accounted for and they’re all going to have to apply everywhere in the world equally (ie, environmental protections would be the same everywhere). The final coupe de grace would be the setting of the prices. The price wouldn’t be set at an absolute value but at a simple formula – cost plus reinvestment in that business.

    Something that most people don’t seem to realise – there is no profit in a perfectly free-market.

  27. In the hots down here.. tho slowly acclimatizing(I hope) – it’s thirty already.

    I have a question for all of the “redistribution” commenters. Would you kindly tell us what would happen to the velocity of money without redistribution.

    Plain forthright answers and on the face of it responses welcome

  28. Lew 28

    Bill: Sigh, yet more reading : )

    DTB: This is reasonably close to my instinct, as well. The role of governments is to ensure that the market serves the polity, rather than the reverse.

    L

  29. Quoth the Raven 29

    Draco – Capitalists dont want a free market. Capitalism and a free market are contradictory terms. Laissez-faire, with the terms correctly defined with regards to history, is anti-capitalist.

  30. burt 30

    northpaw

    I also have a question for all the “redistribution” commenters. If rampant redistribution were such a fine thing then why has NZ been in recession for longer than all our trading partners, where are the fruits of the redistribution policies now and furthermore now that we are in the economic shit how do we plan to redistribute from a revenue base that is fast becoming 3/5’s of 5/8’s of fuck all?

  31. burt,

    I gather from — why has NZ been in recession for longer than all our trading partners, — that you aint talking technical recession. So I have to ask you just what you are talking and from whence did your conclusion come.. [link, author, researcher etc..]

    of interest perhaps was/is how I lunched between thirtythree and thirtyfive and an hour later my verandah thermometer bumped to thirtyeight. And boy, is it getting sticky.. someone said how those deep voiced radio vox – “apologists for continuing affluence” – wow, what company I keep ;-) – would quit calling the hots in case the Melburn mojo moves in and everyone else moves out… or they have to do a… now let’s look good.. pro-global warming programme..

  32. burt 32

    northpaw

    Yes technical recession, you know when technically the redistribution policies technically started to shrink the technical economy. Technically of course because it wasn’t a “real” recession till it had been happening for two quarters, technically speaking.

    What the “F” are you talking about your veranda thermostat? My oven got to 180 last night – should I make a movie about it? I’m struggling to understand the connection between the reading of your veranda thermostat and global worming and more confused how that relates to recession, perhaps you could explain?

  33. ak 33

    global worming burt? Is that when we all get drenched?

  34. NickC 34

    “When we get out of this recession, and we will, remember exactly how we did it, remember the failings of business and don’t complain when the government increases taxes, focuses on redistributing wealth and pours money into debt repayment and government savings.”

    Yup, centrally planned economys are so effective at avoiding recession. Lets look at the evidence:

    -Soviet Union: Collapsed due to faltering economy.
    -USA in 70’s under Carter/Ford: Stagflation caused by high tax rates and government spending.
    -USA in 1930’s (Roosevelt and Hoover): New deal made problems worse, unemployment was around 20% until WW2.
    -Even Bush was a strong supporter of government spending, both his stimulus plans in 2001 and 2008 failed.
    Japan: Several stimulus plans and other Keynesian measures during 1990’s fail to create growth.

    http://nz.youtube.com/watch?v=VoxDyC7y7PM

  35. Quoth the Raven 35

    burt – As opposed to the state redistributing wealth to the wealthy through corporate welfare, public private partnerships, anti-labour legislation, taxpayer funding of private schools and hospitals….

  36. Draco T Bastard 36

    Draco – Capitalists dont want a free market.

    I’m quite aware of that. Give them the free-market which they keep asking for and you will hear them screaming all the way to the bank :D
    What they’re really after is state subsidised bullying that protects their monopoly so that they can keep doing what ever they want while everybody else suffers in poverty*. This is usually called a dictatorship.

    * Poverty is needed else no one would be dependent upon the capitalists. This is why they complain about welfare and “state dependence” because it removes people from the compulsion necessary for them to slave away to make some one else far richer for less than the resources needed to operate in the market.

  37. burt 37

    NickC

    Great link, thanks. I don’t expect supporters of big govt here in NZ will agree with the facts about historic redistribution experiments. The reality shoots down everything that Labour has done for the last 9 years.

  38. burt,

    there was a problem with your response.. actually a string of problems related to my request in the first place. Was it plain – (your response)..? Was it forthright..? Was it dealing with the issue ‘on the face of it’ (ie per my words).. So was it welcome..?

    A lot of noes came up; and I reworked thinking about it to well, since I didna deserve a lot of noes maybe you hadna intended respond directly to my request.. but in point of fact attempt some distraction. Fair enough if you weren’t up to it, or the weather was too hot (like for me) or something else.

    Now it turns out your response was plain, forthright and on the face as well as unwelcome.

    The second paragraph was, of course, a different subject. An explanation which serves notice that our wouldbe audience is greater than we two.

  39. Chris G 39

    “There’s a rediculous amount of large salaries in Wellington with zero acountability residing in expensive office space”

    Why hasnt Johnny friendly gotten rid of them then? You’d have thought such a travesty would have been in the 65 Day (in)action plan

  40. NickC,

    thanks for the insights. Am I correct in presuming from them that growth is all (that matters)..?

    Further, you may care to explain how your definition of growth can be 24/7 for all for all time..

  41. Draco T Bastard 41

    http://nz.youtube.com/watch?v=VoxDyC7y7PM

    He’s right in one way – the Keynesian stimulus doesn’t work if the money is borrowed. He’s wrong in saying that the government printing money wouldn’t work. All that has to be done is that any money the government prints is balanced by the tax take.

    “…governments just like to spend other peoples money”

    This is just a dog whistle considering that the other peoples money that the government will be spending under present systems is that of the people who hold government bonds. Holding government bonds means that you have an income and you’re money is guaranteed to be safe. Decent return for absolutely no risk – I’m pretty sure that capitalists love it. And I’m also pretty sure that’s why, when Keynesian stimulus is used, it’s by borrowing money rather than the logical method of the government printing money.

    It’s also interesting how he stressed that tax cuts don’t work – something the left have been saying for nearly 100 years.

  42. Draco T Bastard 42

    In the spam trap?

  43. Bevanj 43

    Chris G
    “Why hasnt Johnny friendly gotten rid of them then? You’d have thought such a travesty would have been in the 65 Day (in)action plan”
    I’d hope and suggest because it has to be done sensibly following research.

    IrishBill
    “Bevanj, your comment on Wellington is both wrong and provincial and our lending institutions have not been responsible. We have massive private debt issues which have been driven by the profits made available through our absurdly high interests rates. The small buffer we have at the moment is due to the last government massively reducing our debt.”

    Living and working in Wellington that has given me insight into a couple of government departments and there is significant waste with no justification and little focus on font line results. Back when I lived and worked in the provinces I’d not have believed such levels of waste possible by educated individuals. It’s simple poor management.

    I’d disagree that we’re in a better position because of some specific Keynesian policy enacted by labour. It seems to me that their plans for redistribution remained largely plans after nine years. I can’t think of a single example of labour government spending that seemed innovative. If they did it was probably Anderton’s idea and he was probably right.

    Certainly I agree our lending institutions have been irresponsible but don’t take the individual’s choice out of that equation. Families have in many instances chosen to take on larger mortgages than they perhaps should have. Many did this bouyed by the greedy thought that the now fictional capital gain would see them better off for doing so.

    For some insight into the greed and systemic failure in the US around Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae that caused much of the crunch have a look at this:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/28/business/28wamu.html?pagewanted=1&ref=business

    It’s a few pages long but every page had my eyes bulging further.

    I simply don’t see that mortgaging our kids to spend now can work in the long run, we’re simply taxing their endeavours longer and harder to pay the interest overseas … much like many have been doing with our houses recently.

    And sorry if I’ve missed the detail but how can printing money help in a tiny economy like NZ? What kind of unnatural law does that thinking subscribe to?

  44. keith 44

    Prisoner’s Dilemma

    The master’s of the universe at the top of the giant pyramid scheme have grown accustomed to the delicious flavour of the frustrum’s florets of fractal broccoli.

    this is why we speak of keynesianism.

  45. Pascal's bookie 45

    Bevanj, Thanks for that NYT link. Pretty bad huh? But nothing as far as I can see to do with mae and mac.

    Most of the really bad stuff, like in that article, were in the sector of the market that mae and mac wouldn’t (couldn’t) underwrite. It really had f.all to do with them. They were followers in the subprime market, not leaders, and only ever had a small exposure market share wise.

  46. Bevanj 46

    Sorry Pascal’s bookie (and all) you’re right I’ve confused my reading. In this example they were selling on as investment product not to the institutions.
    “Because WaMu was selling many of its loans to investors, it did not worry about defaults: by the time loans went bad, they were often in other hands.”

  47. Pascal's bookie 47

    Not to worry. I’m a bit primed on this one, the whole ‘It’s all Mac and Mae’s fault’ idea is one that I’m watching travel around with interest, as it were.

  48. Bevanj 48

    The system in the US took too much responsibility from those selling/writing of the initial lending. Loans were packaged up and sold to investors or the “better” loans sold to Freddie Mac for example. Over time standards dropped significantly. The mortgages were tied to the property not the individual.

    It’s not hard to see how we’ve fared a little better over here. It wasn’t quite so open to abuse and collapse.

    Has government borrowing to fund consumer spending and jobs ever been demonstrated to work/outstrip the debt it aquires? Surely it gets repeatedly used because seeing our govt sitting on its hands isn’t likely to get it re-elected.

  49. Draco T Bastard 49

    And sorry if I’ve missed the detail but how can printing money help in a tiny economy like NZ?

    It allows more money into the market so that normal market operations can continue.

    What kind of unnatural law does that thinking subscribe to?

    What makes you think it’s unnatural? If there isn’t enough money in the market then the market will slow down and, eventually, stop. We’re in a recession because the amount of money in the market is drying up. To try and stop this the government puts more money in the market (Keynesian counter cyclical) but the normal way is to borrow that money which, as the video said, really only moves money from one part of the market to another, charges interest on it but doesn’t actually achieve anything except higher debt levels for the country which they can never pay off due to the interest.

    Printing money is dangerous – no doubt about that but if it’s done properly you don’t get hyper-inflation. An example would be Britain and France after WW1. Britain tried to go back on the Gold Standard and had double digit unemployment and mild deflation. France, on the other hand, printed money and had full employment and mild inflation. They did go too far and that’s the danger of printing money but our present troubles can also be partially laid at the feet of the money printers (otherwise known as banks).

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