Keynes will be remembered as “a man with a great many ideas that knew very little economics,” Friedrich Hayek notes in this brief interview and when challenged on his ‘parochial’ knowledge of economic history he was “not sheepish in the least… he was much too self-assured.” Hayek’s perspective casts Keynes in a very different light than his fan’s apostolic adoration might suggest, “he was utterly contemptuous of anything that had been done before.” While Hayek describes Keynes as one of the most intelligent people he had known, he perhaps sums up the man’s work in this brief phrase – “economics was just a side-line for him.” As we note below, many describe Keynesian policy as ‘dumb’, however a more appropriate word would be ‘foolish’.
Hayek On Keynes
Keynesian Policies: Not Dumb, Just Foolish (via the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada)
A lot of my Austrian friends refer to Keynesian policies as “idiotic,” “stupid,” etc., but that’s not really accurate. Indeed, the Keynesian policy prescriptions are so counterintuitive–they so defy common sense–that only very intelligent people with plenty of schooling could have the confidence to utter them with a straight face.
Rather than describing Keynesian policies as “dumb,” I think a more appropriate word is foolish, because the technical analyses of IS/LM curves, talk of the “liquidity trap” and so on, utterly ignore political realities. A great example of this is Matt Yglesias and his handling of Argentina. Back in May 2012–not that long ago, by any stretch–Yglesias held up Argentina as a model for the eurozone countries. He wrote:
Spain is in a complete economic crisis…But perhaps there is a way out, one suggested by the recent experience of Argentina, a nation that’s currently enjoying full employment.
…[W]hen the world economy hit a snag in 2001, trouble emerged for Argentina. Unrelated hidden risks were revealed elsewhere in the global investment landscape and everywhere people got nervous. The foreign capital began to abandon Argentina, reducing investment, employment, and incomes. This in turn sharply reduced the Argentine government’s tax revenues and led to calls for sharp budgetary consolidation…Protesters and rioters took to the streets. President Fernando de la Rua’s party took a beating at the polls. Argentina defaulted on its external debt, broke the rigid linkage between the peso and the dollar, and went back to pursuing an independent monetary policy….
Default and devaluation were hardly a party. They destroyed the country’s banking system and wiped out many Argentines’ savings. But it did work. Argentina has grown rapidly in subsequent years and its unemployment rate has fallen steadily…
So Yglesias was recommending that Spain and other troubled countries ditch the euro and default on their sovereign debts, so they could free their printing press from the shackles of Brussels. The obvious Austrian (and generally free-market) response would be to warn that debasing the currency is hardly the path to prosperity, and that “solving” a crisis in this way would merely sow the seeds of a greater problem down the road. The prosperity coming from the printing press was an illusion.
Well, the economy in Argentina is now “melting down”–Yglesias’ own term. But our fearless Keynesian pundit has nothing for which to apologize. He explains in a January 2014 post:
With Argentina’s economy melting down, I’ve gotten various queries from people asking whether I regret having praised the country’s successful 2002 devaluation and default back in 2012 as an example for Spain and Greece to emulate.
The answer is: absolutely not!
Argentina is a country that has not, historically speaking, been well-governed. In fact one reason that the 2002 default was necessary was that Argentina previously embarked on a deeply misguided currency board scheme. To say that Argentina’s 2002 default and devaluation was the right thing to do and that there are important lessons to be learned from it is not to say that all countries should always emulate Argentina in all respects.
So there you have it, folks: Countries that historically have been ill-governed should follow Argentina’s lead by defaulting on their debts and debasing their currencies, but they should stop right before the bad consequences of these actions come home to roost. Simple as pie. Sort of like giving a bottle of Jack Daniels to some frat guys and sending them to the library to study–what could possibly go wrong?