Paul Lachine

Consolidators versus Stimulators

The classical view of the economy, which Keynes set out to demolish, is not only alive, but in recent years has been dominant, feeding the belief that competitive markets can regulate themselves, will always provide as much employment as is wanted, and are immune to large-scale collapse. Now the believers are clamoring for fiscal consolidation worldwide.

LONDON – All intellectual systems rely on assumptions that do not need to be spelled out because all members of that particular intellectual community accept them. These “deep” axioms are implicit in economics as well, but, if left unscrutinized, they can steer policymakers into a blind alley. That is what is happening in today’s effort, in country after country, to slash spending and bring down budget deficits.

The chief task that John Maynard Keynes set himself in writing his General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money was to uncover the deep axioms underlying the economic orthodoxy of his day, which assumed away the possibility of persistent mass unemployment. The question he asked of his opponents was: “What must they believe in order to claim that persistent mass unemployment is impossible, so that government ‘stimulus’ to raise the employment level could do no good?” In answering this question, Keynes reconstructed the orthodox theory – and then proceeded to demolish it.

Today, despite the Keynesian revolution, the same question demands an answer. What do people who demand rapid “fiscal consolidation” amid heavy unemployment need to believe about the economy to make their policy coherent?

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