(Originally published in GoldMoney Research, 18th July 2012)
“A plea for good economics: Pedro Schwartz vs Paul Krugman”
“The trouble with some Nobel Prize-winners is that they are tempted to pontificate on matters outside the speciality in which they have excelled. When Professor Krugman expatiates on macroeconomics, he tends to oversimplify complicated questions of theory and policy, and to misrepresent crucial periods of the past, all to suit his political pre-conceptions”.
These were part of Professor Pedro Schwartz’s opening words in his critical comment on Paul Krugman’s presentation of his new book in Madrid (End This Depression Now!, Norton ed. 2012). As Krugman’s book title suggests, we are going through one of the worst economic crises since the 1930s Great Depression. But does this mean, as Krugman argues, that more government intervention in the economy is the solution?
Following his own rationale (see video, minutes 10-30), it is as if we are faced with an easy choice: do we want to overcome the crisis with expansionary demand policies at the cost of a little more inflation? Or do we prefer instead painful austerity measures that condemn us to a long recessive and stagnated economy, but not much inflation? Well, the answer is easy then. Let’s have some inflation!
During the so-called Keynesian years of the 1950s and 1960s, we were told that there was a trade-off between inflation and unemployment, that is, easy money promotes employment while hard money does the opposite. Yes, those were the years of the traditional Phillips Curve. But the recession and inflation that accompanied the oil crises in the 1970s and the stagflation of that decade – the dreaded combination of high unemployment and high inflation – showed that inflation is, after all, a monetary phenomenon; in other words the result of excessive money creation. Regardless of past evidence, Krugman keeps on saying that fiscal and monetary expansion is the only way to fill the gap left by the bursting of the housing bubbles in countries like Spain. In addition, he supports this inflationary policy mix as it would result in an improvement of the economy’s competitiveness, as it would be a feasible way to cut real wages and prices. Throw in a call for increased financial regulation, and et voila: the neo-Keynesian brew is complete.
Professor Schwartz’s intervention (see video here, minutes 35-48) was a blessing. He refuted Krugman’s recipes and rejected the expansion of aggregate demand as an effective way to address the current recession. As he remarked, were not expansionary fiscal and monetary expansionary policies large contributors to the present crisis? How then are they going to be the solution now? As Menger pointed out many years ago, economics must deal with the unintended consequences of human decisions; so a good economist must not be tempted to just please the public with popular solutions. He must be prepared to stick his neck out in favour of difficult decisions. I fully share Professor Schwartz’s views and think that more spending would be myopic and counterproductive in the long term. We have learnt painfully in the past that increased public deficits financed by a loose monetary policy is neither an effective nor a sustainable long-term solution to such crises.