If the SHOE fits

There has been a kind of hammer and tongs discussion at the Societies for the History of Economics (SHOE) website that began when I posted that the President of France had stated in support of a more “austerity”-oriented economic policy that, L’offre crée même la demande. Or in English, that supply actually does create demand, a principle known in English as Say’s Law. Every economist is taught from the first day of macro that Say’s Law is wrong and that a Keynesian stimulus is the answer to recession. Sounded better five years ago but today, who would suggest more public spending even though our economies remain as dismally placed as they are? But part of what I found so charming is that the suggestion is made that I am near enough the only economist in the world who thinks “the strong version” of Say’s Law is true. How weird is that! But that, of course, doesn’t mean I think I’m wrong, specially since all the evidence is so one way.

The SHOE website is filled with interesting discussion over a vast range of economic issues. You definitely do not have to be an economist either to join or to listen in on the discussion. You can register here. Meantime, this is my latest post on how I see the role of the history of economic thought.

I am rather charmed by Barkley Rosser’s comment, to wit:

So, my final comment will be directed very directly at Steve Kates and James Ahiakpor. Can you guys not figure out that you have totally and utterly lost this debate? Nobody here agrees with you, nobody. You have lost, period. Sure, you can get the occasional Per Berglund to sort of attempt to help you out by questioning details of the critiques of your arguments, but even those folks in the end do not come down on agreeing with your defense of a strong version of Say’s Law. Deal with it, please. We have all had more than enough.

I am more than aware that so far as numbers go, we are on the wrong side of the ledger. When I began to argue in public against the stimulus back in 2009, there were attempts made by that solid mainstream to have me sacked from my university appointment. There are risks in taking such positions. What protects me now from such attacks is the unbelievably dismal outcomes from the stimulus. You may not understand what I’m saying. But there is no doubt that, so far as the way our economies have performed, I have little reason to think anything other than that Mill was right, that the “strong version of Say’s Law” is valid, and classical economists knew what they were talking about. The modern Keynesian fashion, on the other hand, has little to show for it. Does evidence count for nothing?

But I come onto this thread firstly to thank our moderator for his willingness to let the previous thread on L’offre crée même la demande continue to its end. But there is more to it than that. I wrote my book on Defending the History of Economic Thought, not just to explain why making the effort to understand the economic theory of the past is an extremely good way to deepen an economist’s understanding of economic theory, but also to argue that HET is the place where economic theory goes to regenerate itself. This is the one and only place that economists from every one of the traditions in economic theory come to look in on what is being said by others.

There are mainstream journals, but also Austrian, Neo-Keynesian, Post-Keynesian, Institutionalist, Marxist and others, and if you are not part of whatever tradition that journal represents, it is unbelievably difficult to get published. HET has broken this tradition down, at least to some extent. It may well be that no one can follow what I or James or Per are trying to say, although we can follow each other with near perfect clarity. But where else are you going to even hear it at all?

The History of Economic Thought is by all accounts dying yet it is the most intellectually alive area in the whole of economic theory. It teems with ideas and there are economists from every tradition who are willing to fight it out before an audience of upwards of a thousand of their peers who can follow these discussions as they like. There is seldom a thread I don’t learn from and I typically read them through.

And there is no doubt that HET is under threat of extinction. There are people at the top of our hierarchies, and I am talking about our hierarchies within HET, who would willingly take this study into the History and Philosophy of Science and leave economics behind. There are also mainstream theorists who would be glad to see the end of us and our constant criticisms of established textbook economics.

But there are also people, like myself and others who come to this site, who just find it fascinating to listen in on alternative ways of thinking about economic issues. That is what HET is for. Rather than restrict this area to burrowing into particular issues related to economists who are no longer mentioned in our textbooks, it should also be a place where ancient economists are resurrected and their ideas discussed. And I don’t just mean on this site but across the entire expanse of the history of economic thought.

The journal, History of Economics and Policy, is a paradigm of just what is needed. Perhaps not for all of us, but certainly for some of us. This is not the end of HET but in my view is its salvation. Here is a link to its archive.

It is what every HET journal should become more like. Some traditional material but also some which see the relevance of past theory to our present problems.

And in furtherance of this post, I might just mention this news item, Canada charts comfortable course to 2015 budget surplus. If you are a Keynesian, your reaction would be, how terrible, what a tragedy! If, however, you have been following the news for the past five years, you can see what a triumph it is. The strong version of Say’s Law remains in my view an absolute necessity if you are to understand how an economy works and why wasteful public spending accompanied by large deficits are the disasters they have so obviously proven to be.

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7 Responses to If the SHOE fits

  1. Stateless, free and happy

    “there were attempts made by that solid mainstream to have me sacked from my university appointment”.

    This is absolutely outrageous if true. But seems hard to believe.

  2. I am the Walrus, koo koo k'choo

    I am near enough the only economist in the world who thinks “the strong version” of Say’s Law is true. How weird is that!

    Not weird at all Steven. You should draw the obvious conclusion.

    This is not to say that I endorse Keynesian thinking and policy. I don’t.

    And I am 110% behind your support for HET.

    ‘À bas’ the villains who tried to get you sacked for speaking your mind! Names please!

  3. Mantaray

    Forget what “professional” economists say, and just look at what every other lefty says is bad about capitalism. It turns us into mindless consumers!

    Every lefty knows that the average citizen is at the mercy of the capitalists and their advertizing industry flunkies. The capitalists are creating demand by producing stuff which they then try to convince the average citizen to buy. The average citizen does not demand that extra stuff; he is conned into “wanting” it.

    The real question is; why are lefty economists afraid to admit what the other 99.99% of their comrades freely do?

  4. Tel

    The real question is; why are lefty economists afraid to admit what the other 99.99% of their comrades freely do?

    Because power means something different when it’s you that’s got it.

  5. ooz

    Not much point in me commenting cos I’m ‘on moderation’. I’m sorry to hear of your troubles. Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.

  6. Lee Waaks

    Steve,
    If you are not already aware, you may be interested to know that the economist George Reisman supports and ably defends a strong version of Say’s Law. He rejects out of hand aggregate demand failure in the absence of state interference. His book Capitalismis available free online. I highly recommend pp. 654ff.

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