According to economist Gerald P. O’Driscoll, Jr., today’s debate about stimulus spending mirrors the debate in the Great Depression between John Maynard Keynes and Hayek. Republished letters from October, 1932, Times of London, are eerily up-to-date.
The letter from Keynes and his allies, arguing that spending — any spending whatsoever — would spring the economy out of depression strikes me as a tad bizarre. All spending is equal? Make that several tads bizarre.
Can you say déjà vu?
The Hayekian response seems at once more sophisticated as well as commonsensical. For instance, Hayek recommended an immediate repeal of the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff. He recognized a major factor for the Depression’s low expectations and business doldrums: The trade-killing legislation that hit the New York Times’s front page the day before Black Tuesday, 1929.
O’Driscoll and other economists have been making much of the enduring significance of the Hayek-Keynes debate. But there are differences between the Depression and now, aren’t there?
Back then, the loss part of the profit-and-loss system hadn’t been so completely undermined by recovery policy. Today we have bailouts, and these only increase risk-taking, likely to make the next bust even bigger — and today’s Keynesianism perhaps worse than the disease itself.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.