I received a note from “Rob” in response to a recent post of mine on the useless of modern economics. So he wrote:
But at least it has advanced enough to tell us that for more growth, we need …. more broken windows:
Tyler Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University
I mean, what would a dead white male like Frederic Bastiat know anyway?
Tyler Cowen is, of course, a live white male, but given there are such things as negative knowledge – things that if you believe them make you dumber than if you knew nothing at all – it is possible for him to know less than Frederic Bastiat, dead though he may be. Let me quote from the opening of that column:
The continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies has prompted soul-searching among economists. They have looked to weak demand, rising inequality, Chinese competition, over-regulation, inadequate infrastructure and an exhaustion of new technological ideas as possible culprits.
An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention, however. It is the persistence and expectation of peace.
Let me put it this way. There is bad economics, there is unbelievably stupid economics, and there is the belief that growth has slowed because there are no wars.
It is neither here nor there that there’s not all that much peace around anyway. But let me remind you of the greatest disproof of Keynesian economic policy in history. Everyone always points out that one Keynesian data point which is the so-called boom that came at the start of World War II. Not a boom at all since what most people remember about the home front was rationing and controls of every kind, and if you are thinking about the labour shortages, merely recall that around half the labour force under thirty was drafted into the army. But that’s not that point either, although it should put quite a dent into such Keynesian thought.
It is the coming of peace in 1945 that is the grand refutation of Keynesian economics. At the end of the war, within a year millions who had been overseas fighting, or had been part of the war effort at home, were suddenly in the labour market looking for work. Many women who had taken jobs while the men were overseas also remained in the workforce. The Keynesians were continually badgering Truman to maintain war-time deficits since, they said, if he did not the US would go straight back into the depression. Truman, however, having had a business background, hated deficits and the US virtually balanced its budget in a single year. No deficits, no stimulus, no nothing. The US slashed its expenditures and in so doing set off the greatest economic boom in world history, a boom that lasted straight through until ground into the dust by the war on poverty, and dare I say it, the unfunded, deficit-financed war in Vietnam.
Thinking about economic issues from the demand side is the single biggest mistake anyone can make in economics. In fact, if you do think that way, you aren’t even an economist since Say’s Law was once considered the best test of a sound economist. Not many of them around any more, I fear.
Here is the message. An economy is driven only by real value adding supply. Nothing else. This is the message of Say’s Law, supposedly discredited by Keynes but as accurate a statement of economic principle as there has ever been.