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Posts Tagged ‘Keynesian Economics’

If everyone has a cross to bear in life, mine is the perplexing durability of Keynesian economics.

I thought the idea was dead when Keynesians incorrectly said you couldn’t have simultaneously rising inflation and unemployment like we saw in the 1970s.

Then I thought the idea was buried even deeper when the Keynesians were wrong about simultaneously falling inflation and unemployment like we saw in the 1980s.

I also believed that the idea was discredited because Keynesian stimulus schemes didn’t work for Hoover and Roosevelt in the 1930s. They didn’t work for Japan in the 1990s. And they didn’t work for Bush or Obama in recent years.

Last but not least, I figured Keynesian economics no longer would pass the laugh test because of some very silly statements by Paul Krugman.

He stated a couple of years ago that it would be good for growth if everyone thought the world was going to be attacked by aliens because that would trigger massive military outlays.

He also asserted more recently that a war would be very beneficial to the economy.

Equally bizarre, he really said that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center would “do some economic good” because of the subsequent money spent on rebuilding.

Wow. I guess the moral of the story is that we should destroy lots of wealth because it’s good for prosperity. Just like we should eat more cheeseburgers to lose weight.

So you can see why I’m frustrated. It seems that evidence and logic don’t matter in this debate.

But maybe this latest example of Keynesian malpractice will finally open some eyes. The International Monetary Fund recently published a study asserting that higher spending on refugees would be good for European economies.

I’m not joking. Here are some excerpts from that report.

In the short term, the macroeconomic effect from the refugee surge is likely to be a modest increase in GDP growth, reflecting the fiscal expansion associated with support to the asylum seekers… In the short term, additional public spending for the provision of first reception and support services to asylum seekers, such as housing, food, health and education, will increase aggregate demand. …Relative to the baseline, the level of GDP is lifted by about 0.05, 0.09, and 0.13 percent for 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively (solid line in the chart below, representing the response of EU GDP as a whole). For the first year, the output impact is entirely due to the aggregate demand impact of the additional fiscal spending.

To understand the implications of what the IMF is claiming, let’s review some basic facts, all of which presumably are uncontroversial.

First, we know that economic output is the result of capital and labor being mixed together to produce goods and services.

Second, we know that growth occurs when the amount of output increases, which implies increases in the quantity and/or quality of labor and capital.

Third, we know that the influx of migrants to Europe will lead governments to divert additional resources from the private sector to finance various programs.

Now let’s think about the IMF’s assertion. The bureaucrats are basically arguing that letting governments take a bigger slice of the pie somehow is going to increase the size of the pie.

If you’re wondering how this makes sense, welcome to the club.

The only way this analysis possibly could be true is if governments finance the additional spending by borrowing from foreigners. But even that’s not really right because all that’s increasing is domestic consumption, not domestic output.

In other words, it’s like running up your credit card to live beyond your means when the real goal should be increasing your income.

But maybe you don’t want to believe me, so let’s look at some other voices.

The top economist of Germany’s Finance Ministry, Ludger Schuknecht, writes in the Financial Times about the perils of never-ending Keynesianism.

…after decades of attempts to fine-tune the economic cycle by running fiscal deficits and cutting interest rates at times of weak demand, many economies are fragile. …Government deficits and private-sector debt are at high levels in emerging markets, and many western ones too. Ageing populations are weighing on public finances. …Traders gamble on continued bailouts. …Yet this lesson goes largely unheeded; policymakers are urged to pile more debt on the existing mountain. …The work of repairing public sector balance sheets has ground to a halt almost everywhere. …Public debt in many countries is now well above 100 per cent of gross domestic product. …nations lacking resilience increasingly rely on support from others… This creates a new form of moral hazard: since countries that behave recklessly will be bailed out, they have little incentive to reform. …talk of global safety nets is futile, and focusing…on stimulus is outright frivolous.

I’m not a huge fan of German fiscal policy. Tax rates are too high and the burden of government spending is excessive. Heck, they’ve even figured out how to use parking meters to tax prostitutes!

But at least the Germans aren’t big believers in Keynesian pixie dust (and you won’t be surprised to learn Krugman goofed when trying to claim Germany was a Keynesian success story).

In any event, Schuknecht realizes that there’s a point beyond which more spending and more so-called stimulus is simply impractical.

Which is basically the main point in a column by Daniel Finkelstein in the U.K.-based Times. He’s writing about the attacks on “austerity” and is unimpressed by the financial literacy (or lack thereof) on the part of critics.

If I went to…buy a new sweater and decided not to get one because it was too expensive, would I be making an ideological statement about shopping? …Or would I just be, like, putting up with my old sweater for the time being while I saved up a bit of money? …Apparently my innocent view that it is a good idea to be able to pay for the goods you purchase makes me a small-state neo-liberal Tory free market fundamentalist. Which seems quite a complicated description for just wanting things to add up. …Between 2000 and 2006, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair engaged in a structural increase in public spending without a matching increase in taxation. You cannot do this for ever. …one thing is clear. Two plus two has to equal four. However unpopular that is.

By the way, if you read the entire piece, it’s rather obvious that Mr. Finkelstein is not a “small-state…free market fundamentalist.”

He simply understands that an ever-expanding public sector simply doesn’t work.

Which reminds me of a very wise observation by Tyler Cowen.

…at the popular level, there is a confusion between “austerity is bad” and “the consequences of running out of money are bad.”

In other words, this issue is partly about the putative value of Keynesian economics and partly about whether nations get to the point where Keynesian policy simply isn’t practical.

To cite an example, Switzerland or Hong Kong have what’s called “fiscal space” to engage in Keynesianism, while Greece and Italy don’t.

Of course, one of the reasons that Greece and Italy don’t have any flexibility is that politicians in those nations have rationalized ever-larger public sectors. And now, they’ve finally reach the point Margaret Thatcher warned about: They’ve run out of other people’s money (both in terms of what they can tax and what they can borrow).

Meanwhile, Hong Kong and Switzerland are in good shape because they generally have avoided Keynesian stimulus schemes and definitely have policies to constrain the overall size of the public sector.

For further information, here’s my video on Keynesian economics.

P.S. But if you want more cartoons about Keynesian economics, click here, here, here, and here.

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I wrote yesterday that governments want to eliminate cash in order to make it easier to squeeze more money from taxpayers.

But that’s not the only reason why politicians are interested in banning paper money and coins.

They also are worried that paper money inhibits the government’s ability to “stimulate” the economy with artificially low interest rates. Simply stated, they’ve already pushed interest rates close to zero and haven’t gotten the desired effect of more growth, so the thinking in official circles is that if you could implement negative interest rates, people could be pushed to be good little Keynesians because any money they have in their accounts would be losing value.

I’m not joking.

Here’s some of what Kenneth Rogoff, a professor at Harvard and a former economist at the International Monetary Fund, wrote for the U.K.-based Financial Times.

Getting rid of physical currency and replacing it with electronic money would…eliminate the zero bound on policy interest rates that has handcuffed central banks since the financial crisis. At present, if central banks try setting rates too far below zero, people will start bailing out into cash.

And here are some passages from an editorial that also was published in the FT.

…authorities would do well to consider the arguments for phasing out their use as another “barbarous relic”…even a little physical currency can cause a lot of distortion to the economic system. The existence of cash — a bearer instrument with a zero interest rate — limits central banks’ ability to stimulate a depressed economy.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the Willem Buiter of Citi (the same guy who endorsed military attacks on low-tax jurisdictions) supports the elimination of cash.

Citi’s Willem Buiter looks at this problem, which is known as the effective lower bound (ELB) on nominal interest rates. …the ELB only exists at all due to the existence of cash, which is a bearer instrument that pays zero nominal rates. Why have your money on deposit at a negative rate that reduces your wealth when you can have it in cash and suffer no reduction? Cash therefore gives people an easy and effective way of avoiding negative nominal rates. …Buiter’s solution to cash’s ability to allow people to avoid negative deposit rates is to abolish cash altogether.

So are they right? Should cash be abolished so central bankers and governments have more power to manipulate the economy?

There’s a lot of opposition from very sensible people, particularly in the United Kingdom where the idea of banning cash is viewed as a more serious threat.

Allister Heath of the U.K.-based Telegraph worries that governments would engage in more mischief if a nation got rid of cash.

Many of our leading figures are preparing to give up on sound money. The intervention I’m most concerned about is Bank of England chief economist Andrew Haldane’s call for a 4pc inflation target, as well as his desire to abolish cash, embrace a purely electronic currency and thus make it easier for the Bank to impose substantially negative interest rates… Imagine that banks imposed -4pc interest rates on savings today: everybody would pull cash out and stuff it under their mattresses. But if all cash were digital, they would be trapped and forced to hand over their money. …all spending would become subject to the surveillance state, dramatically eroding individual liberty. …Money is already too loose – turning on the taps would merely further fuel bubbles at home and abroad.

Also writing for the Telegraph, Matthew Lynn expresses reservations about this trend.

As for negative interest rates, do we really want those? Or have we concluded that central bankers are doing more harm than good with their attempts to manipulate the economy? …a banknote is an incredibly efficient way to handle small transactions. It is costless, immediate, flexible, no one ever needs a password, it can’t be hacked, and the system doesn’t ever crash. More importantly, cash is about freedom. There are surely limits to the control over society we wish to hand over to governments and central banks? You don’t need to be a fully paid-up libertarian to question whether…we really want the banks and the state to know every single detail of what we are spending our money on and where. It is easy to surrender that freedom – but it will be a lot harder to get back.

Merryn Somerset Webb, a business writer from the U.K., is properly concerned about the economic implications of a society with no cash.

…at the beginning of the financial crisis, there was much talk about financial repression — the ways in which policymakers would seek to control the use of our money to deal with out-of-control public debt. …We’ve seen capital controls in the periphery of the eurozone… Interest rates everywhere have been at or below inflation for seven years — and negative interest rates are now snaking their nasty way around Europe… This makes debt interest cheap for governments…and it and forces once-prudent savers to move their money into the kind of risky assets that are supposed to drive growth (and tax receipts).

Amen. She’s right that low interest rates are good news for governments and not very good news for people in the productive sector.

Last but not least, Chris Giles wrote a column for the FT and made one final point that is very much worth sharing.

Mr Haldane’s proposal to ban cash has all the hallmarks of a public official confusing what is convenient for the central bank with what is in the public interest.

Especially since the central bankers are probably undermining long-run economic prosperity with short-run tinkering.

Moreover, the option to engage in Keynesian monetary policy also gives politicians an excuse to avoid the reforms that actually would boost economic performance. Indeed, it’s quite likely that an easy-money policy exacerbates the problems caused by bad fiscal and regulatory policy.

Let’s conclude by noting that maybe the right approach isn’t to give politicians and central bankers more control over money, but rather to reduce government’s control over money. That’s one of the arguments I made in this video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

P.S. By the way, Ryan McKaken at the Mises Institute identifies a third reason why politicians would prefer a cash-free society.

…the elimination of physical cash makes it easier for the state to keep track of private persons, and it assists central banks in efforts to punish saving and expand the money supply by implementing negative interest rate schemes. A third advantage of the elimination of physical cash would be to more easily control people and potential dissidents through the freezing of their bank accounts.

Excellent point. We’ve already seen how asset forfeiture allows governments to steal people’s bank accounts without any conviction of wrongdoing. Imagine the damage politicians and bureaucrats could do if they had even more control over our money.

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I never watched That ’70s Show, but according to Wikipedia, the comedy program “addressed social issues of the 1970s.”

Assuming that’s true, they need a sequel that addresses economic issues of the 1970s. And the star of the program could be the Congressional Budget Office, a Capitol Hill bureaucracy that apparently still believes – notwithstanding all the evidence of recent decades – in the primitive Keynesian view that a larger burden of government spending is somehow good for economic growth and job creation.

I’ve previously written about CBO’s fairy-tale views on fiscal policy, but wondered whether a new GOP-appointed Director would make a difference. And I thought there were signs of progress in CBO’s recent analysis of the economic impact of Obamacare.

But the bureaucracy just released its estimates of what would happen if the spending caps in the Budget Control Act (BCA) were eviscerated to enable more federal spending. And CBO’s analysis was such a throwback to the 1970s that it should have been released by a guy in a leisure suit driving a Ford Pinto blaring disco music.

Here’s what the bureaucrats said would happen to spending if the BCA spending caps for 2016 and 2017 were eliminated.

According to CBO’s estimates, such an increase would raise total outlays above what is projected under current law by $53 billion in fiscal year 2016, $76 billion in fiscal year 2017, $30 billion in fiscal year 2018, and a cumulative $19 billion in later years.

And here’s CBO’s estimate of the economic impact of more Washington spending.

Over the course of calendar year 2016,…the spending changes would make real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) 0.4 percent larger than projected under current law. They would also increase full-time-equivalent employment by 0.5 million. …the increase in federal spending would lead to more aggregate demand than under current law. …Over the course of calendar year 2017…CBO estimates that the spending changes would make real GDP 0.2 percent larger than projected under current law. They would also increase full-time-equivalent employment by 0.3 million.

Huh?

If Keynesian spending is so powerful and effective in theory, then why does it never work in reality? It didn’t work for Hoover and Roosevelt in the 1930s. It didn’t work for Nixon, Ford, and Carter in the 1970s. It didn’t work for Japan in the 1990s. And it hasn’t worked this century for either Bush or Obama. Or Russia and China.

And if Keynesianism is right, then why did the economy do better after the sequester when the Obama Administration said that automatic spending cuts would dampen growth?

To be fair, maybe CBO wasn’t actually embracing Keynesian primitivism. Perhaps the bureaucrats were simply making the point that there might be an adjustment period in the economy as labor and capital get reallocated to more productive uses.

I’m open to this type of analysis, as I wrote back in 2012.

…there are cases where the economy does hit a short-run speed bump when the public sector is pruned. Simply stated, there will be transitional costs when the burden of public spending is reduced. Only in economics textbooks is it possible to seamlessly and immediately reallocate resources.

But CBO doesn’t base its estimates on short-run readjustment costs. The references to “aggregate demand” show the bureaucracy’s work is based on unalloyed Keynesianism.

But only in the short run.

CBO’s anti-empirical faith in the magical powers of Keynesianism in the short run is matched by a knee-jerk belief that government borrowing is the main threat to the economy’s long-run performance.

…the resulting increases in federal deficits would, in the longer term, make the nation’s output and income lower than they would be otherwise.

Sigh. Red ink isn’t a good thing, but CBO is very misguided about the importance of deficits compared to other variables.

After all, if deficits really drive the economy, that implies we could maximize growth with 100 percent tax rates (or, if the Joint Committee on Taxation has learned from its mistakes, by setting tax rates at the revenue-maximizing level).

This obviously isn’t true. What really matters for long-run prosperity is limiting the size and scope of government. Once the growth-maximizing size of government is determined, then lawmakers should seek to finance that public sector with a tax system that minimizes penalties on work, saving, investment, risk-taking, and entrepreneurship.

Remarkably, even international bureaucracies such as the World Bank and European Central Bank seem to understand that big government stifles prosperity. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for the 1970s-oriented CBO to catch up with 21st-century research.

P.S. Here’s some humor about Keynesian economics.

P.P.S. If you want to be informed and entertained, here’s the famous video showing the Keynes v. Hayek rap contest, followed by the equally clever sequel, which features a boxing match between Keynes and Hayek. And even though it’s not the right time of year, here’s the satirical commercial for Keynesian Christmas carols.

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Back in 2010, I described the “Butterfield Effect,” which is a term used to mock clueless journalists for being blind to the real story.

A former reporter for the New York Times, Fox Butterfield, became a bit of a laughingstock in the 1990s for publishing a series of articles addressing the supposed quandary of how crime rates could be falling during periods when prison populations were expanding. A number of critics sarcastically explained that crimes rates were falling because bad guys were behind bars and invented the term “Butterfield Effect” to describe the failure of leftists to put 2 + 2 together.

Here are some of my favorite examples, all of which presumably are caused by some combination of media bias and economic ignorance.

  • A newspaper article that was so blind to the Laffer Curve that it actually included a passage saying, “receipts are falling dramatically short of targets, even though taxes have increased.”
  • Another article was entitled, “Few Places to Hide as Taxes Trend Higher Worldwide,” because the reporter apparently was clueless that tax havens were attacked precisely so governments could raise tax burdens.
  • In another example of laughable Laffer Curve ignorance, the Washington Post had a story about tax revenues dropping in Detroit “despite some of the highest tax rates in the state.”
  • Likewise, another news report had a surprised tone when reporting on the fully predictable news that rich people reported more taxable income when their tax rates were lower.

Now we have a new example for our collection.

Here are some passages from a very strange economics report in the New York Times.

There are some problems that not even $10 trillion can solve. That gargantuan sum of money is what central banks around the world have spent in recent years as they have tried to stimulate their economies and fight financial crises. …But it has not been able to do away with days like Monday, when fear again coursed through global financial markets.

I’m tempted to immediately ask why the reporter assumed any problem might be solved by having governments spend $10 trillion, but let’s instead ask a more specific question. Why is there unease in financial markets?

The story actually provides the answer, but the reporter apparently isn’t aware that debt is part of the problem instead of the solution.

Stifling debt loads, for instance, continue to weigh on governments around the world. …high borrowing…by…governments…is also bogging down the globally significant economies of Brazil, Turkey, Italy and China.

So if borrowing and spending doesn’t solve anything, is an easy-money policy the right approach?

…central banks like the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank have printed trillions of dollars and euros… Central banks can make debt less expensive by pushing down interest rates.

The story once again sort of provides the answer about the efficacy of monetary easing and artificially low interest rates.

…they cannot slash debt levels… In fact, lower interest rates can persuade some borrowers to take on more debt. “Rather than just reflecting the current weakness, low rates may in part have contributed to it by fueling costly financial booms and busts,” the Bank for International Settlements, an organization whose members are the world’s central banks, wrote in a recent analysis of the global economy.

This is remarkable. The reporter seems puzzled that deficit spending and easy money don’t help produce growth, even though the story includes information on how such policies retard growth. It must take willful blindness not to make this connection.

Indeed, the story in the New York Times originally was entitled, “Trillions Spent, but Crises like Greece’s Persist.”

Wow, what an example of upside-down analysis. A better title would have been “Crises like Greece’s Persist Because Trillions Spent.”

The reporter/editor/headline writer definitely deserve the Fox Butterfield prize.

Here’s another example from the story that reveals this intellectual inconsistency.

Debt in China has soared since the financial crisis of 2008, in part the result of government stimulus efforts. Yet the Chinese economy is growing much more slowly than it was, say, 10 years ago.

Hmmm…, maybe the Chinese economy is growing slower because of the so-called stimulus schemes.

At some point one might think people would make the connection between economic stagnation and bad policy. But journalists seem remarkably impervious to insight.

The Economist has a story that also starts with the assumption that Keynesian policies are good. It doesn’t explicitly acknowledge the downsides of debt and easy money, but it implicitly shows the shortcomings of that approach because the story focuses on how governments have less “fiscal space” to engage in another 2008-style orgy of Keynesian monetary and fiscal policy

The analysis is misguided, but the accompanying chart is useful since it shows which nations are probably most vulnerable to a fiscal crisis.

If you’re at the top of the chart, because you have oil like Norway, or because you’re semi-sensible like South Korea, Australia, and Switzerland, that’s a good sign. But if you’re a nation like Japan, Italy, Greece, and Portugal, it’s probably just a matter of time before the chickens of excessive spending come home to roost.

P.S. Related to the Fox Butterfield effect, I’ve also suggested that there should be “some sort of “Wrong Way Corrigan” Award for people like Drum who inadvertently help the cause of economic liberty.”

P.P.S. And in the same spirit, I’ve proposed an “own-goal effect” for “accidentally helping the other side.”

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Keynesian economics is a perpetual-motion machine for statists. The way to boost growth, they argue, is to have governments borrow lots of money from the economy’s productive sector and then spend it on anything and everything.

Even if the money is squandered on global defense against a make-believe alien attack, according to Keynesians like Paul Krugman!

Krugman also has argued that a real war is good would be good for growth since the goal is simply more spending.

Heck, Krugman even asserted the 9-11 attacks were good for the economy because governments then spent more money.

And Nancy Pelosi actually argued that paying people not to work was a great way of creating jobs. I’m not joking.

Amazing. It’s almost as if these people are secret libertarians and they’re saying crazy things to discredit Keynesianism.

But they’re actually serious. This makes it difficult to tell the difference between satire and reality (though this collage is a good example of the latter).

I’ve explained (over and over again) why the Keynesian theory is misguided, and even narrated a video on the topic.

But I suspect most people are more convinced by real-world evidence, which is why I’ve used data from nations such as Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States to show that bigger government generally hampers prosperity.

Now let’s add to this wealth of evidence, but this time focus on developing economies.

Ruchir Sharma, head of emerging markets for Morgan Stanley Investment Management, has a column in the Wall Street Journal that reviews the track record of so-called stimulus in developing nations.

He starts by noting that some of the usual suspects are pushing for more Keynesianism.

…expect more big names to join the chorus calling for increased government spending to enliven the flailing global recovery. President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew are among the voices urging European leaders to spend more. The International Monetary Fund and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers —who wrote in the Financial Times in October that “there is for once a free lunch”—have even been arguing that government borrowing to build roads or airports would more than pay for itself. If only governments in the developed world would start spending more, this refrain goes, the global economy’s future would be brighter.

But Mr. Sharma explains that many countries in the developing world just had a very bad experience with Keynesian economics.

…it is worth noting that the big emerging nations—China, Russia and Brazil—have just tried a full-throttle experiment in stimulus spending, and it failed….Their experiment began in late 2008. …the leaders of these nations turned to the ideas of John Maynard Keynes… The emerging economies embarked on a spending campaign that dwarfed its counterparts in the U.S. and Europe….The emerging ones spent more than half again as much, 6.9% of GDP. And that figure does not include the money that many big emerging nations continued to pump into their economies by ordering state banks to ramp up lending. These directives vastly boosted the scale of the stimulus, particularly in China… Keynesians everywhere let out a cheer.

Here’s some of the data.

Since 2010, the growth rate in China has fallen by a third and is headed below 7%. Brazil is in recession. Russia, which spent a staggering 10% of GDP on stimulus, is now contracting sharply. What happened? Emerging nations borrowed from the future to produce that flash of growth in 2010, and now they face the bills. Their government budgets have fallen into the red…public debt has risen significantly, throwing the books out of balance. …the IMF and others are lowering forecasts for emerging-world GDP growth for the rest of this decade to 4% or less—a return to the pace of the crisis-ridden 1990s.  …The message: When the state spends in haste, it will repent at leisure.

But there is some good news.

Many leaders in emerging nations now recognize that bigger government is not a recipe for prosperity.

…emerging-world leaders admit that their own stimulus experiments backfired. In May, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang warned that using stimulus to generate growth is “not sustainable” and “creates new problems.” …Agustín Carstens, the president of Mexico’s central bank, recently told me that in the long run “fiscal and monetary policy cannot create growth.” And former Indian finance minister P. Chidambaram admitted that his government “lost control of the economy” because of a stimulus campaign that led to higher deficits and inflation.

I guess we can add these officials to the list that already includes leaders from Portugal and Finland, who also have acknowledged that economic growth is undermined when the burden of government spending is increased.

Unfortunately, the lesson isn’t being learned in America, at least not in the rudimentary reading class that is otherwise known as the Obama Administration.

P.S. You can enjoy some good anti-Keynesian humor by clicking here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. There are some Republican Keynesians, so this is a bipartisan problem.

P.P.P.S. Happy Birthday to the Princess of the Levant. We’re celebrating in the Cayman Islands, where there’s warm sunshine, clear ocean, and zero income tax.

P.P.P.P.S. Returning to the unpleasant topic of Keynesian economics, it’s very discouraging that Obama Administration officials seem so intent on pushing bad policy in other nations.

P.P.P.P.P.S. The New York Times publishes a lot of Krugman’s diatribes, but they also make room for other fact-challenged Keynesians.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. For those of us who try to educate policy makers, Keynesian economics is like a Freddy Krueger movie.

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I wrote earlier this year about the “perplexing durability” of Keynesian economics. And I didn’t mince words.

Keynesian economics is a failure. It didn’t work for Hoover and Roosevelt in the 1930s. It didn’t work for Japan in the 1990s. And it didn’t work for Bush or Obama in recent years. No matter where’s it’s been tried, it’s been a flop. So why, whenever there’s a downturn, do politicians resuscitate the idea that bigger government will “stimulate” the economy?

And I specifically challenged Keynesians in 2013 to explain why automatic budget cuts were supposedly a bad idea given that the American economy expanded when the burden of government spending shrank during the Reagan and Clinton years.

I also issued that same challenge one day earlier, asking Keynesians to justify their opposition to sequestration given that Canada’s economy prospered in the 1990s when government spending was curtailed.

It seems that the evidence against Keynesianism is so strong that only a fool, a politician, or a college professor could still cling to the notion that bigger government leads to more growth.

Fortunately, it does appear that there’s a growing consensus against this free-lunch theory.

Professor John Cochrane of the University of Chicago (and also an Adjunct Scholar at Cato) has a superb column about the retreat of Keynesianism in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The tide also changed in economic ideas. The brief resurgence of traditional Keynesian ideas is washing away from the world of economic policy. …Why? In part, because even in economics, you can’t be wrong too many times in a row. …Our first big stimulus fell flat, leaving Keynesians to argue that the recession would have been worse otherwise. George Washington’s doctors probably argued that if they hadn’t bled him, he would have died faster. With the 2013 sequester, Keynesians warned that reduced spending and the end of 99-week unemployment benefits would drive the economy back to recession. Instead, unemployment came down faster than expected, and growth returned, albeit modestly. The story is similar in the U.K.

All of this is spot on. Once the stimulus was replaced by spending restraint, the economy did better. And job creation picked up when subsidies for unemployment were limited, just as more sensible economists predicted.

Cochrane is also correct about the spending restraint in the United Kingdom. I didn’t expect Cameron and Osbourne to deliver some good fiscal policy, but it’s happening and the British economy is the envy of most other European nations.

The column also looks at past Keynesian failures.

These are only the latest failures. Keynesians forecast depression with the end of World War II spending. The U.S. got a boom. The Phillips curve failed to understand inflation in the 1970s and its quick end in the 1980s, and disappeared in our recession as unemployment soared with steady inflation.

But this isn’t just about empirical evidence.

I’ve used humor to debunk Keynesianism. Professor Cochrane takes a more high-brow approach to show why the theory doesn’t make sense.

Hurricanes are good, rising oil prices are good, and ATMs are bad, we were advised: Destroying capital, lower productivity and costly oil will raise inflation and occasion government spending, which will stimulate output. Though Japan’s tsunami and oil shock gave it neither inflation nor stimulus, worriers are warning that the current oil price decline, a boon in the past, will kick off the dreaded deflationary spiral this time. I suspect policy makers heard this, and said to themselves “That’s how you think the world works? Really?” And stopped listening to such policy advice. …in Keynesian models, government spending stimulates even if totally wasted. Pay people to dig ditches and fill them up again. By Keynesian logic, fraud is good; thieves have notoriously high marginal propensities to consume.

By the way, just in case you think he’s exaggerating, keep in mind that Paul Krugman actually argued that a fake invasion from outer space would “stimulate” growth because the world would waste money building defenses against E.T.

And Krugman also argued that the 9-11 terrorist attacks were pro-growth!

Cochrane closes with some optimistic thoughts.

…no government in the foreseeable future is going to enact punitive wealth taxes. Europe’s first stab at “austerity” tried big taxes on the wealthy, meaning on those likely to invest, start businesses or hire people. Burned once, Europe is moving in the opposite direction. Magical thinking—that, contrary to centuries of experience, massive taxation and government control of incomes will lead to growth, prosperity and social peace—is moving back to the salons. …the policy world has abandoned the notion that we can solve our problems with blowout borrowing, wasted spending, inflation, default and high taxes. The policy world is facing the tough tradeoffs that centuries of experience have taught us, not wishing them away.

I wish I was equally optimistic about the death of Keynesianism. As I glumly stated a few years ago, Keynesian economics is like a Freddy Krueger move, inevitably rising from the dead when politicians want to rationalize wasting money on favored interest groups.

But I hope Cochrane is right and I’m wrong.

For further information, here’s my video on Keynesian economics.

P.S. Since it’s the holiday season and I’m sharing videos, here’s a very clever and funny video about Keynesian Christmas carols.

The songs in the second half of the video are the ones that make sense, of course, and I particularly like the point that consumer spending is a reflection of growth, not a driver of growth.

P.P.S. If you want even more visual content, here’s the famous video showing the Keynes v. Hayek rap contest, followed by the equally entertaining sequel, which features a boxing match between Keynes and Hayek.

P.P.P.S. But if you want more humor about Keynesian economics, click here, here, here, and here.

P.P.P.P.S. Let’s end on a serious note. It’s encouraging that leaders from nations at opposite ends of Europe are acknowledging the shortcomings of Keynesianism.

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You’re probably surprised by the title of this post. You may even be wondering if President Obama had an epiphany on the road to Greece?

I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but the leader we’re talking about isn’t the President of the United States.

Instead, we’re talking about the Prime Minister of Finland and he deserves praise and recognition for providing one of the most insightful and profound statements ever uttered by a politician.

He explained that the emperor of Keynesian economics has no clothes.

As reported by Le Monde (and translated by Open Europe), here’s what Alexander Stubb said when asked whether European governments should try to “stimulate” their economies with more spending.

We need to put an end to illusions: it’s not the public sector that creates jobs. To believe that injecting billions of euros [into the economy] is the key to growth is an idea of the past.

Amen.

You don’t make a nation richer by taking money from one pocket and putting it in another pocket.

Particularly when the net effect is to redistribute funds from the productive sector to the government.

I’m glad Mr. Stubb has figured this out. I just with some American politicians would look at the evidence and reach similarly wise conclusions.

The Obama Administration, for instance, still wants us to believe the faux stimulus was a success.

And speaking of our President’s views, this Gary Varvel cartoon isn’t new, but it’s right on the mark.

Any “job” created by government spending necessarily comes at the expense of the private sector.

And since I’m sharing old cartoons, here’s one that also is a nice summary of what happens when government gets bigger.

This cartoon definitely belongs in my collection (here, herehereherehere, here, herehereherehere, here, and here) of government as a blundering, often-malicious, overweight nitwit.

P.S. Other European policy makers have admitted that Keynesian economics is a farce.

P.P.S. Finland has the world’s 7th-freest economy, significantly better than the United States.

P.P.P.S. If you want some humor about Keynesian economics, click here.

P.P.P.P.S. If you prefer tragedy instead of humor, here are some horrifying quotes by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

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