The greatness of Keynes …

Conscience of a Liberal: November 30, 2008, 1:05 pm

… is illustrated by the trouble people who consider themselves well informed have, to this day, in understanding the basic principles of how a depressed economy works.

The key to Keynes’s contribution was his realization that liquidity preference — the desire of individuals to hold liquid monetary assets — can lead to situations in which effective demand isn’t enough to employ all the economy’s resources. When you don’t understand that principle, you end up writing stuff like this:

Obama’s “rescue plan for the middle class” includes a tax credit for businesses “for each new employee they hire” in America over the next two years. The assumption is that businesses will create jobs that would not have been created without the subsidy. If so, the subsidy will suffuse the economy with inefficiencies — labor costs not justified by value added.

That is, if the private sector wouldn’t have created a job on its own, that job shouldn’t have been created — whereas the real choice is between having workers doing something and being uselessly, destructively unemployed.

From the same article, we have this:

In a forthcoming paper, Ohanian argues that “much of the depth of the Depression” is explained by Hoover’s policy — a precursor of the New Deal mentality — of pressuring businesses to keep nominal wages fixed.

I’ve already pointed out how Keynes disposed of the money-wage argument, way back in 1936.

Why do people still fail to get Keynes, after all these years? Keynes might have said that it’s the inherent difficulty of the concepts:

For—though no one will believe it—economics is a technical and difficult subject.

But there’s also the Upton Sinclair theorem:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

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