Will Keynes Be Buried Once and for All?

The impact of fiscal stimulus packages is very limited in the short-run and positively damaging in the long-run. That was the argument put by Professor Robert Barro at the IEA’s twentieth Annual Hayek Memorial Lecture on Tuesday night.

Barro’s argument is that there should be greater emphasis on reducing marginal tax rates. This, he claims, was a key contributor to the impressive economic growth figures achieved under both Reagan and Clinton.

Here in the UK, Barro’s analysis has immediate implications for the policy of the coalition government. There’s not much point, as a worker in Britain, trying to get a salary increase from £100,000 to £120,000. You’d lose nearly two thirds of it in tax. Those earning around the £100K mark may not be high on the list of human beings you’re most concerned about, but to place such an anti-aspirational block in the way of the successful becoming yet more so seems to be guided by envy rather than common sense.

Read the rest of the article on the HuffingtonPost UK site.

Director General, IEA

Mark Littlewood was the IEA's Director General from 2009 to 2023, when he made a significant contribution to growing the institute's outreach and profile.

Mark also sits on the Board of Big Brother Watch, a non-profit organisation fighting for the protection of privacy and civil liberties in the UK.  Mark is recognised as a powerful, engaging and articulate spokesman for free markets. He is a much sought-after speaker at a range of events including university debates, industry conferences and public policy events.He also features as a regular guest on flagship political programmes such as BBC Question Time, Newsnight, Sky News and the Today Programme. He writes a regular column for The Times and features in many other print and broadcast media.

9 thoughts on “Will Keynes Be Buried Once and for All?”

  1. Posted 11/07/2011 at 16:05 | Permalink

    Instead of burying Keynes, why not explore the question of whether a Keynesian analysis of how economies work can be established on a foundation of the Austrian theory of human action.

    It would make an interesting research project.

  2. Posted 11/07/2011 at 17:47 | Permalink

    Sadly Keynes will rise repeatedly zombie-like from the dead however many times he is put to rest, because the modern interpretation of his theory is so attractive to governments and vested interests who have spent more than their income and have created budget deficits. If you have two options – cut your spending to fit your income, or borrow more to fund your current spending, Keynes provides a suitable fig leaf of intellectual respectability for the latter easy option.

    Of course such people conveniently forget the other half of Keynes’ theory – the bit about running budget surpluses in the good times. He only gets dragged out of his crypt when the money runs out.

  3. Posted 12/07/2011 at 17:29 | Permalink

    Reducing marginal tax rates is fine, and there’s plenty of scope. I would also emphasise the urgent need to overhaul our employment laws which constitute an enormous practical and psychological barrier to employment. We are, of course, now in the ‘long run’ that Keynes, in his more flippant moments, seemed to imagine we could ignore with impunity.

  4. Posted 13/07/2011 at 05:12 | Permalink

    These last two postings express what most exasperates me about this debate. Keynes is said to be nothing but budget deficits. Please increase the quality of this debate by addressing the point I raised in my posting above.

  5. Posted 17/07/2011 at 14:10 | Permalink

    Michael – this is a good question. The problem is that Keynes is often very confusing in much of his analysis. There are some similarities between Keynesian and Austrian economics in terms of their underlying assumptions (eg the existence of rigidities and in terms of the way individuals process information). For Austrians, herd behaviour might be quite rational (economises on information) – the question is what sort of political economy structures are best able to ensure that the market best uses the available information. One gets the impression that Keynes believes that politicians can correct herd-like behaviour and improve the allocation of resources whereas Austrians would not believe that. With regard to the events of 1929, Keynes would regard the behaviour of investors as endogenous and not caused by monetary excesses. A key Austrian insight is that if the economy is pulled out of shape by monetary policy, it will be pulled further out of shape by government spending to raise demand – indeed, the very rigidities will make it even more difficult for the economy to re-adjust. You certainly have a point but I just don’t feel that Keynes approach helps the development of the sort of synthesis that you are hinting at. I don’t think that DRM’s post should exasperate you – quite the contrary. One thing that proper Keynesians and Austrians would agree about is that reduced marginal tax rates and employment regulations would help remove the rigidities that both schools feel cause such difficulties in recession.

  6. Posted 18/07/2011 at 06:37 | Permalink

    Now we’re on the right lines, Philip. I would say that the matter is not that politicians correct herd behaviour, it’s that they manage expectations, not as to the allocation of resources, but as to the general level of economic activity.

  7. Posted 04/08/2011 at 21:22 | Permalink

    I am a historian. I have therefore only read the Economic Consequences of the Peace and Keynes’s plea for Germany to be given a smaller war reparations bill to pay under the new Young PLan agreement of 1929.
    However Wikepedia tells me that Keynes’s General Theory asserts that a market economy tends naturally to restore itself to full employment after temporary shocks.
    I suppose that Keynes is referring to an open market economy in his General Theory. In the Great Depression strong Germany had a manipulated economy. In 1930 Chancellor Bruening stated his intention to increase taxes and lower wages in a bid to rid Germany of war reparations and debt. As Germany was so strong all its neighbours were subjected to deflation too, which was only abandoned after reparations bills were abandoned and Hitler came to power ( defrauding all Germany’s former trading partners in his rush to full employment.) .
    No-one seems to know about Germany’s deliberate policy of deflation in the Great Depression. This is worrying as Germany’s new aim is to balance its budget by 2015. No-one has suggested that Germany has any political motives for its present zeal for saving but as Germany has used deflation for political ends before we are justified in asking:
    ‘Why now?’

  8. Posted 05/08/2011 at 11:19 | Permalink

    I looked at the Wikipedia entry myself a couple of days ago, and I don’t remember that comment. What I do remember is that, according to the General Theory, the level of employment depends on effective demand (or, more correctly, expected effective demand) and not on the level of wages. This makes good sense given that capital and labour are complements to one another. They are substitutable only within narrow limits. For example, if you run a bus service you can have one driver per bus, no more and no fewer. Don’t be too hard on the Germans, though – thrift is as much a national characteristic as the disposition to hard work.

  9. Posted 08/08/2011 at 11:34 | Permalink

    On the contrary, I feel every sympathy for the German lower middle classes, whose income has till recently been squeezed.
    In the Great Depression German wages were reduced and taxes hiked while the German Reichsbank was sitting on 40% cover for every bank note in circulation. Outsiders had no means of knowing how rich the Reichsbank’s was so Germany was able to use its citizens misery in its propaganda campaign against paying its dues.
    There is no modern equivalence for such drastic deflation. However, according to data from destatis.de, Germany had over 12% unemployment in January 2005 and again in April 2006. Many Germans are, therefore, still poor and have scant sympathy with over-borrowed Southern Europe. But that does not mean that Germany as a country is poor. In today’s more open society outsiders may have more of an inkling as to whether the German Bundesbank has enough money to tide over Southern European countries, such as Greece and Portugal – and even Spain and Italy – until they get their spending under control. However, whether it has enough money to bail out the whole of Southern Europe or not, it is still using its deluded citizens in its campaign against payments until Southern Europe meets its requirements. After all if its recalcitrance leads to a another economic crisis (as it did in 1931) the hedge funds, the ratings agencies and the bankers will take the blame!

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