Thursday, May 6, 2010

Blog of the Moment: Krugman-in-Wonderland

From William L. Anderson, who teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Frostburg, Maryland.


This week, I will be covering Say's Law in my principles of macroeconomic classes, which would be anathema to Krugman. Say demonstrated in his 1803 book on political economy that all of our "spending" must have a source: our production.

It makes sense. Economies that produce a lot of goods that people want also are economies with lots of consumer spending. Think about it; all of use work to produce a good or service that others want, and by being paid with money, we then can find a way to "trade" what we have produced so that we can gain goods and services that others have made.

Krugman and Keynesians, on the other hand, see no meaningful connection between production and consumption, and this dichotomy not only is central to Keynesianism, but also to Marxism, socialism, and Institutionalism (of the old variety as developed by Thorstein Veblen more than a century ago). To a Keynesian, we produce goods and then hope that the producers have enough money and the will to spend so they can "buy back the product" they created when they become consumers.

Sometimes, this really becomes ridiculous, as shown by this example. Around 1908, Henry Ford doubled the pay of the workers at his Dearborn, Michigan, plant from $2.50 a day to $5. According to the Keynesians and others, by doing so, Ford "turned his workers into consumers and created the American middle class."

Why is this notion ridiculous? Think about it. If all Ford did was to double the pay of his workers, doing so would have doubled his labor costs, which would have meant that in order to make a profit, he would have to sell his cars at much higher prices than he already was doing.

However, we know that Ford cut the price of the Model T to under $300 after a while, which fulfilled his goal of making the automobile available to nearly anyone. So, this notion that he raised wages to give his workers more money so they could "buy back" the cars they made simply makes no sense. None.

What happened was this: the assembly-line work was monotonous, and Ford had huge, costly turnover problems. By doubling wages, which then were the highest industrial wages in the world, he solved the turnover issue and those cost savings more than made up for the higher labor costs. Furthermore, by ensuring that his workers would be available and anxious to keep their high-paying jobs, Ford could turn his attention to the quality issues that had been plaguing the production of the Model T.

In the end, Ford said that what he did was a "cost-saving" measure, as he took into consideration ALL of his opportunity costs of production, not just the simple wages. Now, most people can understand this explanation, but because Keynesians are so stuck on the "buy back the product" mentality, this bit of logic escapes them.

As for our current "recovery," I am sorry, but there is no meaningful recovery out there. The Obama administration is forcing up business costs, but does nothing to encourage new investments in those product lines that can lead us out of the recession.-Is Krugman's Economy Stupid?

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