Great Depression, FDR, New Deal, John Maynard Keynes, Labor Unions, Collusion, Unemployment, Lend-Lease and Stages of Production

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 11th, 2012

History 101

FDR increased the Power of Labor Unions and allowed Big Corporations to Collude with Each Other

Those in mainstream economics (i.e., Keynesian economics) studied the Great Depression and determined that the problem was a lack of spending.  Which is why they cheer FDR and his New Deal programs.  Because the New Deal spent enormous amounts of money.  And according to prevailing Keynesian thought that was all that was needed to end the Great Depression.  Spending.  And if the private sector wasn’t going to spend money then the government could.  And the government’s spending could replace all that economic activity that disappeared when the private sector stopped spending.  So the government spent.  But in those 10 to 15 years they failed to pull the nation out of the Great Depression.

According to Keynesian thought, and John Maynard Keynes himself who visited FDR in the White House, the government needed to spend money.  Even money they didn’t have.  Keynes urged the president to deficit spend.  To run huge deficits in the short term to kick-start the economy.  Keynes showed that it was the only way with a lot of figures and math.  FDR later said Keynes was more a mathematician than an economist.  Still, FDR spent.  But he did even more.  Believing part of the reason for the lack of spending was the evils of capitalism.  There was just too much competition keeping prices low.  And businesses selling at low prices couldn’t pay high wages.  Ergo to stimulate economic activity FDR wanted to increase the cost of doing business.

FDR increased the power of labor unions to help them negotiate higher wage packages.  And he allowed big corporations to collude with each other so they could raise their prices so they could afford to pay those higher union wages.  These two things really helped workers get better pay.  Some 25% higher they otherwise would have had.  This was a big win for labor.  And for the socialists and communists in America who hated capitalism.  (The 1930s were a time of nationalist, socialist, fascist and communist movements sweeping the world.  And strong elements in the U.S. wanted to join these movements.  The Soviet Union even had agents working inside the Roosevelt administration.)  In fact, they were angry that FDR didn’t take this chance to deliver the deathblow to capitalism once and for all by nationalizing some big industries.  Something FDR wasn’t willing to do.

FDR did Everything in his Power to Increase Wages & Prices because of the Massive Deflation of the Great Depression

Then came the alphabet soup of make-work agencies.  Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) paid young unemployed men to do landscaping and other outdoor activities.  Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) paid young men to build dams and other water related activities.  Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) raised food prices by paying farmers not to grow crops and to kill off some of their livestock herds instead of bringing them to market.  National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) reduced unfair competition by letting big corporations collude with each other to keep their prices high.  Public Works Administration (PWA) was a whole new agency that built roads and bridges.  Works Progress Administration (WPA) paid for more construction work for men, sewing work for women and arts projects for the creatively inclined.  National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gave more power to unions to keep their wages (and the prices of the things they made) high.  And many other alphabet agencies.

Most of these programs passed between 1933 and 1935.  So FDR put a lot of money into workers’ pockets during the 1930s.  And according to Keynesian economics all that money would cause an explosion in consumer spending.  Thanks to the Keynesian multiplier.  For every dollar a consumer received from the government it would generate up to $5 of new GDP.  Which was probably one of the mathematical equations Keynes discussed that so underwhelmed FDR.  And that formula is 1/(1-MPC).  Where MPC stands for the marginal propensity to consume (and if it’s 0.80 you get a multiplier of 5).  If a person receives $100 and spends $80 then their MPC is 0.80 or 80%.  This is basically trickle-down economics Keynesian style.  If the person above spends that $80 those receiving it will spend $64.  Those who receive $64 will spend $51.20.  And so on until these other people create an additional $400 of economic activity in addition to that original $100.

And FDR couldn’t ask for a better time to spend that money.  During the Great Depression.  He was doing everything in his power to increase wages and prices because of the massive deflation of the Great Depression.  So even though he was trying to raise prices they were still low throughout much of the economy.  Which meant a little bit of money bought a lot of stuff.  Because deflation strengthened the dollar.  Giving it more purchasing power.  Allowing buyers to get a lot of bang for the buck.  Especially those union workers making 25% more than they normally would have been making.  Talk about kick-starting an economy.  It was so easy.  They even had mathematical formulas saying this would end the Great Depression.  The Great Depression was as good as over.

Had President Obama not been Elected the Great Recession would have Ended some time in 2010

The unemployment rate topped out at around 25% in 1933.  Excluding the government make-work, the true unemployment rate didn’t fall below 20% until 1936.  And never got below 14% until 1941.  When America began tooling up to build the instruments of war.  To become the Arsenal of Democracy.  A few things happened during this time to greatly reduce the unemployment rate following 1941.  The war removed a lot of men from the workforce to serve in the military.  The Supreme Court found parts of the New Deal unconstitutional.  And there was a split in organized labor that helped conservatives (Republicans and Democrats) gain power in Congress.  And they shut down some of those liberal New Deal programs.  So while one war began (World War II) another ended (the war on business).

And how did things progress after they ended their war on business?  Pretty well.  The unemployment rate fell.  To 14.6% in 1940.  To 9.9% in 1942.  To 1.9% in 1943.  To 1.2% in 1944.  Then it soared back up to 1.9% in 1945.  With the war over the unemployment rate rose again.  But nowhere near where it was during FDR’s New Deal 1930s.  From 1948 to 1968 it averaged 4.7%.  Not too bad considering full employment is 5%.  So for the 30 years or so following the end of New Deal policies the economy returned to full employment.  And stayed at full employment.  The conservatives in Congress needed but 4 years to do what FDR couldn’t do in 10 years with his Keynesian, New Deal policies.

Yes, the war helped.  A lot.  It pulled a lot of men out of the workforce.  And American industry ramped up to provide the war material for war.  However, we financed that buildup with deficit spending and American war bonds.  As most of that war material went to our allies via Lend-Lease.  Which means we gave most of it away to allow others to fight the war.  So it was little different than Keynesian spending.  So why did the war spending work when all those alphabet soup make-work agencies didn’t?  Because of the stages of production.  Putting more money into consumers’ hands only helped the retail and wholesale stages.  It did not do anything to stimulate the manufacturing or raw commodities stages.  Especially with those high union wages and lack of competition thanks to the collusion to keep prices high.  All that did was pay the very few who actually had jobs very well.  While making it economically foolish to hire any new workers because of the exceptionally high cost of labor (25% higher than it would have been without the New Deal programs).  That high cost of business just slammed the brakes on economic activity.  Economic activity picked back up only after conservatives in Congress undid some of the damage of the New Deal.  In fact, had it not been for FDR’s New Deal the Great Depression would have ended some 7 years earlier.  Extrapolating this to the Great Recession today one could estimate that the Great Recession would have ended 7 years earlier had it not been for the Keynesian policies of President Obama.  So if the current recession lasts as long as the Great Depression and President Obama wins a second term and continues his anti-business policies the recession will last 7 years longer than it need be.  Or, had President Obama not been elected it would have ended some time in 2010.  Giving us full employment today instead of 14.7% U-6 unemployment.

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Keynesian Multiplier

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 3rd, 2012

Economics 101

At the Heart of Keynesian Stimulus Spending is the Keynesian Multiplier

Key to Keynesian economics is spending.  That’s the reason why governments everywhere embrace it.  Because Keynesian economics say government MUST spend money.  And that’s the kind of economics politicians like.  “I must spend?  Well, okay.  If you say so.  Forgive me, my constituents, for spending money I don’t have.  But it’s not me.  It’s our Keynesian economists saying we must spend.  And they’re smart.  Real smart.  They even have Ivy League degrees.  So who are we to question them?”

And it’s not just any kind of spending.  Well, actually, it is.  There’s nothing special about it.  You could pass a trillion dollar stimulus bill to pay people to dig holes with a shovel.  Fill them back in with the dirt they just shoveled out.  And then repeat.  Again and again.  Accomplishing nothing beneficial with these efforts.  But a Keynesian economist will approve of this spending and call it a good thing.  Why?  Because of trickle-down economics.  But of the Keynesian kind.

At the heart of Keynesian stimulus spending is the Keynesian multiplier.  That’s the ‘trickle down’ part.  But before we get to that we must discuss one other thing.  Savings.  Keynesians hate it.  They call money that leaks out of the economy into savings accounts wasted money.  Just as if you flushed it down the toilet.  This brings up another Keynesian concept.  The marginal propensity to consume (MPC).  Note the word ‘consume’.  This is what all that government spending is about.  Consumption.  Consumer spending.  Which is why Keynesians hate savings.  Because if people save their money they’re not spending it.  And not creating economic activity.

Politicians prefer Government Spending over Tax Cuts because People may Save Part of a Tax Cut

Now back to the multiplier.  When people receive money they do two things.  They save some of it.  And spend what they don’t save.  This is where the MPC comes in.  An MPC 0f 80% means that people will spend 80% of an amount of money they receive (paycheck, government benefit, etc.) and save 20% of it.  So they use 80% of that money to generate economic activity.  By spending it.  But it doesn’t end there.  Because what they spend other people receive as money.  And these people then save some of it.  And spend what they don’t save.  And so on.  At a MPC of 80% if a person receives $100 they will spend $80 and save $20.  Those who receive that $80 will spend $64 and save $16.  Those who receive $64 will spend $51.20 and save $12.80.  And on and on until people are only spending pennies.  In the end that original $100 will create a total of $500 in new economic activity.  Or five times the original amount.  So the Keynesian multiplier is five.  Or, mathematically, 1/(1-MPC) where MPC = 0.80.

Think of the multiplier as a pyramid of champagne glasses at a wedding.  As you pour champagne in the top glass it overflows into the next layer of glasses down.  When these glasses fill they overflow into the next layer of glasses below them.  The multiplier is kind of like that.  Starting by pouring into one glass.  By the time the champagne bottle is empty champagne fills many glasses.  And spilt champagne represents savings.  Or leakage.  That’s how the multiplier works.  Trickle down.  And the less champagne spilled the more champagne fills glasses.  As shown by the multiplier formula.  The larger the MPC is (as in the more people spend) the larger the multiplier.  In fact if they spent all of their money (an MPC = 1) the formula reduces to 1/0.  And what happens when you divide by zero?  You get infinity.  That’s right, according to the Keynesian multiplier equation if everybody spent all of their money and saved none there would be an infinite amount of economic activity.

In the Keynesian world it doesn’t matter what the money is spent on as long as it’s spent.  Even digging worthless holes is good enough to make this miracle of economic activity out of nothing work.  That’s why their advice is always for the government to tax, borrow or print money to spend.  Because spending is good.  And they prefer government spending over tax cuts to stimulate private spending.  Why?  When the government spends money that top champagne glass will have an MPC of 1.  The government will spend it all.  Less the administrative costs, of course.  Whereas an equivalent amount of money given to the people via a tax cut (letting them keep more of their earnings to spend) will not have an MPC of 1.  Because these people may do something foolish like save their money.  Or pay down debt.  Which is leakage.  Leakage reduces the multiplier.  And a lower multiplier reduces economic activity.

Governments Embrace Keynesian economics because it tells them to Always Spend More Money

It all seems too good to be true.  And there’s a reason for that.  Because it IS too good to be true.  And the proof is in the pudding.  The Seventies was the decade of unrestrained Keynesian economics.  And it didn’t work.  They spent like there was no tomorrow in the Seventies.  But all that Keynesian spending failed to pull the economy out of recession.  All it did was create high inflation.  So there was high unemployment AND high inflation.  Something that was impossible in the Keynesian universe.  But it happened.  Why?  Because they make a lot of assumptions to make their formulas work.  Like that MPC.  And their war on savings.  Their thinking is flawed.  Because savings ARE spending.  Someone’s savings is someone else’s investment.  And investments are spending.  Ever see It’s a Wonderful Life when the people were asking for their deposits back?  The savings and loans had some money.  But they didn’t have everyone’s money.  Then George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) told his depositors where their money was.  And he ran down a list of all the new houses their savings built.  Thanks to their loans to those new homeowners.  Building those houses generated a lot of economic activity.  So savings are good.  They’re not leakage.  They cause real economic activity.

Let’s return to that pyramid of champagne glasses.  Let’s say it takes 3 bottles of champagne to fill all the glasses in the pyramid.  If you pour the champagne back from the glasses into the bottles you will not have three full bottles of champagne.  Because of all that spillage.  Or leakage.  This is the same with Keynesian stimulus spending.  Stimulus money has to come from somewhere.  Whether government raises it with taxes, borrows it or prints it.  And like that champagne it just moves from one place in the economy to another.  With no net change in economic activity.  Higher taxes mean we have less money to spend.  If they borrow money they reduce private investment.  Because investors are buying government bonds instead if investing in businesses or entrepreneurs.  If they print money they cause inflation.  Which makes our money worth less and prices higher.  Which buys us less after the inflation than before it.  So whatever government spends there is a corresponding reduction in economic activity elsewhere in the economy.  Worse, when the government redistributes this money there is leakage.  Like the spillage of champagne.  For administrative costs.  Because politicians and government bureaucrats don’t work for free.

Printing money is especially harmful to the economy.  For it can cause a short-term boom in economic activity.  But by the time that new money works its way through the economy prices begin to rise.  Raising the cost of businesses.  Who have to raise their prices.  As they do their sales fall.  And they have to lay people off.  So the Keynesian stimulus spending to end a recession results in a new recession.  Which tends to be more painful than the first one.  So eventually a recessionary bust follows the artificial boom in economic activity.  Which brings those artificially high prices back down to normal market prices.  The greater the stimulus spending the higher those prices go.  The farther they have to fall.  And the more painful the recession.  Making the multiplier nothing but smoke and mirrors.  But governments still embrace Keynesian economics.  Because it is the only economic system that tells them to spend more money.  And they are always looking for something to justify more spending.

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