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Keynesian economists believe that recessions occur because of a weakening in aggregate demand, so boosting demand will end the downturn. Whenever an economy shows signs of weakness, most experts believe that increasing aggregate demand will prevent the economy from sliding into a recession. Since private spending is declining, Keynesians say the government should counterbalance this decline by increasing government spending on goods and services.
Demand is constrained by the ability to produce goods. The more goods that an individual can produce, the more goods he can acquire. The same can be said for the economy at large because what drives an economy is not demand but rather the production of goods and services.
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Producers, not consumers, are the engine of economic growth. Obviously, a producer must produce goods and services in line with what other producers require.
According to James Mill,
When goods are carried to market what is wanted is somebody to buy. But to buy, one must have the wherewithal to pay. It is obviously therefore the collective means of payment which exist in the whole nation that constitute the entire market of the nation. But wherein consist the collective means of payment of the whole nation? Do they not consist in its annual produce, in the annual revenue of the general mass of inhabitants? But if a nation’s power of purchasing is exactly measured by its annual produce, as it undoubtedly is; the more you increase the annual produce, the more by that very act you extend the national market, the power of purchasing and the actual purchases of the nation. . . . Thus it appears that the demand of a nation is always equal to the produce of a nation. This indeed must be so; for what is the demand of a nation? The demand of a nation is exactly its power of purchasing. But what is its power of purchasing? The extent undoubtedly of its annual produce. The extent of its demand therefore and the extent of its supply are always exactly commensurate.
Can Government Really Grow an Economy?
The idea that the government grows the economy originates from the belief that increases in government outlays expand the economy’s output by a multiple of the initial government increase.
John Maynard Keynes, who popularized this idea, wrote,
If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is.
Given Keynes’s influence, it is not surprising that most economists today believe that it is possible via government spending to prevent a recession. Countering that notion requires that we examine the effect of an increase in the government’s demand on an economy’s wealth formation.
Take an economy comprised of a baker, a shoemaker, and a farmer, and assume a government enforcer enters the scene who demands goods by means of force. The baker, the shoemaker, and the farmer are forced to part with their products in exchange for nothing, weakening the flow of production of final consumer goods. The increases in government outlays do not raise overall output by a positive multiple; on the contrary, they undermine the process of wealth generation.
Through taxation, the government forces producers to part with their products for government services that are likely a low priority. According to Ludwig von Mises, “There is need to emphasize the truism that a government can spend or invest only what it takes away from its citizens and that its additional spending and investment curtails the citizens’ spending and investment to the full extent of its quantity.”
Monetary pumping and government spending cannot remove the dependence of demand on the production of goods. On the contrary, loose fiscal and monetary policies impoverish real wealth generators and reduce their ability to produce goods and services, thus weakening effective demand for other goods.
Therefore, curbing government spending is required to revive the economy, not increasing spending and monetary creation to boost aggregate demand. Limiting government spending enables wealth generators to revive the economy. Hence, by strengthening the economy’s ability to produce goods and services, we also strengthen overall demand.
What Causes Recessions?
Keynesians believe that recessions are the result of unexpected events that push the economy away from a trajectory of stable economic growth. Shocks weaken the economy and cause lower economic growth.
In contrast, we suggest that recessions occur because of the central bank’s monetary policies in which monetary authorities first inflate the currency, then pull back on money growth. Loose monetary policies lead to a strong money growth rate which ultimately leads to inflation, prompting the central bank to reverse course.
These activities cannot support themselves; they survive because the increased money supply provides support for them. The increased supply diverts money from wealth-generating activities to unproductive ones, weakening the wealth-generating process. From there, the tight-money stance ends the malinvestment of resources, leading to the recession.
Thus, nonproductive and unprofitable activities cannot support themselves once the growth rate of money supply declines. Aggressive fiscal policies, which are enacted to support nonproductive activities, continue to undermine the wealth-generation process, thereby damaging the prospects for an economic recovery.
During an economic crisis, the government should not intervene. When there is no monetary or fiscal tampering, wealth generators can retain their wealth, allowing them to expand the pool.
A larger pool of wealth makes it much easier to absorb various unemployed resources and eliminate the crisis. Aggressive fiscal policies, however, damage the process of wealth generation and make things even worse.
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Article cross-posted from Mises.