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The Triumphant Return of John Maynard Keynes

NEW YORK – We are all Keynesians now. Even the right in the United States has joined the Keynesian camp with unbridled enthusiasm and on a scale that at one time would have been truly unimaginable.

For those of us who claimed some connection to the Keynesian tradition, this is a moment of triumph, after having been left in the wilderness, almost shunned, for more than three decades. At one level, what is happening now is a triumph of reason and evidence over ideology and interests.

Economic theory had long explained why unfettered markets were not self-correcting, why regulation was needed, why there was an important role for government to play in the economy. But many, especially people working in the financial markets, pushed a type of “market fundamentalism.” The misguided policies that resulted – pushed by, among others, some members of US President-elect Barack Obama’s economic team – had earlier inflicted enormous costs on developing countries. The moment of enlightenment came only when those policies also began inflicting costs on the US and other advanced industrial countries.

Keynes argued not only that markets are not self-correcting, but that in a severe downturn, monetary policy was likely to be ineffective. Fiscal policy was required. But not all fiscal policies are equivalent. In America today, with an overhang of household debt and high uncertainty, tax cuts are likely to be ineffective (as they were in Japan in the 1990’s).  Much, if not most, of last February’s US tax cut went into savings.