Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Krugman's Intro to Keynes's General Theory

by Bill McBride on 3/07/2006 09:33:00 PM

Dr. DeLong excerpts Krugman's Intro to Keynes's General Theory

"... Keynes was no socialist - he came to save capitalism, not to bury it. And there’s a sense in which The General Theory was... a conservative book.... Keynes wrote during a time of mass unemployment, of waste and suffering on an incredible scale. A reasonable man might well have concluded that capitalism had failed, and that only... the nationalization of the means of production - could restore economic sanity.... Keynes argued that these failures had surprisingly narrow, technical causes... because Keynes saw the causes of mass unemployment as narrow and technical, he argued that the problem’s solution could also be narrow and technical: the system needed a new alternator, but there was no need to replace the whole car. In particular, “no obvious case is made out for a system of State Socialism which would embrace most of the economic life of the community.”... Keynes argued that much less intrusive government policies could ensure adequate effective demand, allowing the market economy to go on as before.

Still, there is a sense in which free-market fundamentalists are right to hate Keynes. If your doctrine says that free markets, left to their own devices, produce the best of all possible worlds, and that government intervention in the economy always makes things worse, Keynes is your enemy. And he is an especially dangerous enemy because his ideas have been vindicated so thoroughly by experience.

Stripped down, the conclusions of The General Theory might be expressed as four bullet points:

1) Economies can and often do suffer from an overall lack of demand, which leads to involuntary unemployment

2) The economy’s automatic tendency to correct shortfalls in demand, if it exists at all, operates slowly and painfully

3) Government policies to increase demand, by contrast, can reduce unemployment quickly

4) Sometimes increasing the money supply won’t be enough to persuade the private sector to spend more, and government spending must step into the breach

To a modern practitioner of economic policy, none of this - except, possibly, the last point - sounds startling or even especially controversial. But these ideas weren’t just radical when Keynes proposed them; they were very nearly unthinkable. And the great achievement of The General Theory was precisely to make them thinkable....
There is much more at Dr. DeLong's blog.

I've read Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money twice. It is a tough read, but well worth the effort.