I’ve had several emails regarding unemployment rates during the Roosevelt administration. These readers were confused by some Keynesian sites asserting that the unemployment figures were inflated. One reader wrote that “the unemployment figures must have been greatly exaggerated because they excluded people on relief. If these people had been included then unemployment in 1938 would have been 12.5 percent and not be 19 percent.” I immediately recognised the figures as coming from Michael R. Darby’s 1975 paper1.
There is a sound reason why it is Keynesian votaries that tend to use Darby’s figures while the vast majority of economists and historians stick with the conventional figures. Putting the unemployed on relief and giving them a pay check is called working for the dole. It is an attempt to hide unemployment, not eliminate it. The old statisticians and economists understood that and were scrupulously honest in their estimates. It was called relief because it was understood that this ‘employment’ was a government-funded substitute for real employment. Better to be paid for doing something rather than be paid for doing nothing. Therefore, if these had been real jobs they would not, by definition, have been called relief. Taken to its logical conclusion all a government would have to do to eliminate unemployment is assign the jobless to various activities, no matter how pointless, and classify their dole payments as wages. Continue reading Australia’s recovery from the Great Depression compared with Roosevelt’s sorry unemployment record
This is another response to a Keynesian critic.
My Keynesian critic says I “cannot compare the USA in 1938 and Australia in 1938 apart from both having stimulatory policy”. Well, I can and I did and justifiably so. It’s ludicrous to argue that comparisons are not justified. You also stated that in 1937 America “had the greatest change in fiscal policy under Roosevelt”. Complete baloney – and I have spent considerable time examining the data from official sources. I made my case in my post on the 1937-1938 crash. Prove me wrong and I will cheerfully (well, perhaps not cheerfully) publish it and graciously admit my error.
After that you returned to your GDP mantra even though GDP does not measure growth. In heavens name, how can an economy enjoy economic growth while at the same time consuming its capital? This is akin to a community getting rich by eating its seed corn. I pointed out in my post that it was estimated that net capital consumption dropped by minus 15.2 per cent1. Your response was to completely ignore that fact and keep on stressing Roosevelt’s grossly misleading super-duper GDP record. Continue reading The Great Depression: Australia’s record humiliates Roosevelt and refutes Keynesianism
It looks like Steve Kates will never get it right on the Great Depression. Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian wrote a paper blaming Roosevelt’s economic policies for keeping America in depression. Any genuinely informed and honest person would have to agree with them, at least in principle. Now Kates quoted from an article on the work of these two economists that ended with the following quote from Cole:
The fact that the Depression dragged on for years convinced generations of economists and policy-makers that capitalism could not be trusted to recover from depressions and that significant government intervention was required to achieve good outcomes… Ironically, our work shows that the recovery would have been very rapid had the government not intervened.
Steve Kates took immediate umbrage with this view, asserting that “what it doesn’t do is put the blame on public spending which is where the blame truly belongs.” Now there is a fundamental error in Ohanian and Cole’s work but it has nothing to do with public spending, an issue about which Steve Kates is utterly wrong. We get the same nonsense from Sinclair Davidson and Julie Novak who argue that Australia’s recovery from the Great Depression was due to cuts in public spending plus interest rate reductions and devaluation. Continue reading Steve Kates gets it badly wrong on Roosevelt, the Great Depression and government spending
Some readers, still swayed by the current orthodoxy, are a little puzzled by the argument that government policies that bring about increased consumption come at the expense of economic growth (capital accumulation). The classical economists fully understood that economic growth was forgone consumption, meaning that investment, spending on capital goods, can only take place by directing resources away from consumption. It follows that the reverse must be true. Promoting consumption at the expense of savings results in resources being redirected from investment.
Unfortunately, policy-makers, not to mention a huge number of economists, genuinely believe that increasing the demand for consumer goods, by whatever means, will raise profits and thereby raise the demand for more capital goods which in turn would lead to an increased demand for labour. This Alice-in-Wonderland thinking (meaning the Keynesian multiplier) leads to the absurd conclusion that massively raising the spending power of the unemployed would generate enormous growth. Continue reading Why economic policies promoting consumer spending are bad for an economy
Stephen Koukoulas was expressing a fallacious view shared by the vast majority of economists when he wrote that
if wage levels remains too low for too long. It holds back or even oppresses growth in consumer spending. The household sector needs steady real income growth if it is to maintain a solid growth rate in consumption spending. While borrowing and a run-down in savings can temporarily underpin higher spending, more fundamentally sound and sustainable increases in spending rely heavily on household income growth.
This is the sort of plausible nonsense that leaves one in despair as to whether sound economics will ever gain ground in Australia, or anywhere else for that matter. Continue reading How government spending levels hurt real wages and the standard of living
I think this article about Australia and the Great Depression might open up another chapter on that economic tragedy. It reveals that contrary to the standard view Australia in fact suffered a near monetary collapse and it was this massive deflation that sent the Australian economy into depression. It is a known fact that manufacturing led the recovery. What is revealed here is that though real wages (nominal wages divided by the price level) remained stable during the depression the real factory wage in terms of output fell by 43 per cent! It comes to the remarkable conclusion that Australia recovered not because of the Premiers’ Plan but because the Plan did so little while allowing prices to do their work.
Continue reading Australia and the Great Depression: What you don’t know but should