Monday, June 25, 2012

Broken Models, Bad Faith

The upshot of the Great Recession, according to Robert Samuelson, is that the economic models are broken.  In the case of the US, the broken model is "consumer-led growth."
From the early 1980s until the mid-2000s, what propelled the economy was rising wealth - stocks, bonds, real estate - that encouraged households to spend and borrow more. Feeling richer, people traded up for better cars, homes and vacations. Everyone could afford or aspire to "luxury." Businesses responded by investing in more malls, restaurants, hotels, factories and start-ups.
Hmm.  I'd say that the story of the last 30 years has been two duelling models: the supply-side model of sound money and low marginal tax rates, and the demand-side Keynesian model of cheap money and big government stimulus.

Then there's the European Euro model, writes Samuelson.  It rested on two assumptions.
First, the success of the euro - the single currency used by 17 countries - would continue. The euro had delivered low interest rates in the countries that used it, causing housing and consumption booms in Ireland, Greece, Spain and elsewhere. These in turn fed the demand for exports from Germany and other countries. Everyone benefited.

Second, slow but steady economic growth sufficed to support generous welfare states. Tax revenue kept budget deficits at manageable levels.
So much for that model.

But I think that Samuelson is missing the point.  The economic models he is talking about are not really attempts to understand the economic system.  They are attempts to game the system.

The Keynesian demand-side model originated as an attempt to cut short the process of the liquidation of the malinvestments of the 1920s boom.  A little bit of inflation and a little bit of debt from excess government spending would be enough to re-prime the economic system.  It didn't work in the 1930s, probably because in addition to the inflationism, governments were anti-business, actively wrecking the economy.

The Euro model was an attempt by the European ruling class to nudge their individual governments into one central, sensible economic policy without going through the trouble of educating each electorate and reforming each big-government patronage system.  It didn't work.

It is only the supply-side model that doesn't try to game the system.  That is why is was such a success in 1981.  It assumes that the economy is a self-regulating system that will deliver growth, employment, and wealth if it is left to itself.

But people do not go into politics to leave things alone.  So they bend economics to their political will.  They get economists to gin up complicated ways of exploiting the economic system for political ends.

So we get the subsidy for mortgage credit in the US, to which the politicians added a twist, forcing bankers to lend to people without proper credit or equity.  We get the single currency in Europe, which would work fine if nobody cheated.

Half a century ago and more, Ludwig von Mises taught that cheap money always led to the crack-up boom.  F.A. Hayek taught that the government couldn't run the economy because it couldn't have enough information.  It was a "Fatal Conceit" to think that it could.

But liberals refused to listen.  Now they have wrecked the western welfare state economic model and it serves them right.

Unfortunately it is not liberals that will suffer most.  The people that will suffer most are the people that have built their lives on welfare-state benefits.  Because those benefits are going down in the future.  In some places they will go down a little; in other places they will go down a lot.

What we need is reform.  We need reform that will change the welfare state model to a welfare society model.  Instead of being passive recipients of welfare state benefits, counting only what they receive, citizens should become active participants in the creation of social capital, counting what they give.

State welfare is not social welfare.  State welfare is the government handout taken from taxpayers.  Social welfare is the freely given and freely received action of humans acting in social cooperation and assistance.

Is America ready for a social welfare society?

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