Streetwise Professor

January 10, 2010

Deja Vu?

Filed under: Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 9:03 am

Writing near to the event, in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Schumpeter argued that policy shocks, and policy uncertainty generally, lengthened the Great Depression:

The subnormal recovery to 1935, the subnormal prosperity to 1937 and the slump after that are easily accounted for by the difficulties incident to a new fiscal policy, the new labor legislation and a general change in the attitude of government to private enterprise all of which can, in a sense to be defined later, be distinguished from the working of the productive apparatus as such.

Since misunderstandings at this point would be especially undesirable, I wish to emphasize that the last sentence does not in itself imply either an adverse criticism of the New Deal policies or the proposition–which I do believe to be true but which I do not need right now–that policies of that type are in the long run incompatible with the effective working of the system of private enterprise.  All I mean to imply is that so extensive and rapid a change in the socially scene naturally affects productive performance for a time, and so much the most ardent New Dealer must and also can admit.  I for one do not see how it would otherwise be possible for the fact that this country which had the best chance of recovering quickly was precisely the one to experience the most unsatisfactory recovery. [Emphasis in original.]

Some of the specifics are different (e.g., health care legislation vs. labor legislation) but the overall thrust of Schumpeter’s analysis of the 1930s is quite applicable today.  An “extensive and rapid change in the social scene” is currently in progress, and like Schumpeter, I believe that “policies of [the] type [being considered] are in the long run incompatible with the effective working of the system of private enterprise.”  And even if you don’t buy into that, as Schumpeter notes, just the massive rise in uncertainty associated with this policy ferment is sufficient to impede measured economic performance because it is rational for businesses and individuals to delay investment and hiring decisions until the uncertainty is resolved.

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