Lew Rockwell on Keynesian “Inception”

One thing I like about Lew Rockwell is that he has an uncanny way of explaining things in ways that anyone (except, perhaps, a Ph.D. economist) can understand. There is no wonkishness, no equivocating, and certainly no appeal to the God of the State.

His latest article, “The State’s ‘Inception’ Fails,” is an excellent case in point, and I urge readers to find out for yourselves why I believe this commentary is on the mark. Lew writes:

Two years ago, the economy was seriously dragged down amidst an amazing banking crisis that spread throughout the world. The illusion created by loose credit – that housing could go up in price forever and we could enjoy permanent prosperity due to monetary expansion – was shattered by events. Reality had dawned. We found ourselves in the midst of an economic depression.

At that point in policy, we were at a fork in the road. The wise direction was to let the depression happen. Let the bad investments wash out of the system. Let housing prices fall. Let banks go broke. Let wages fall and permit the market to reallocate all resources from bubble projects to projects that make economic sense. That was the direction chosen by the Reagan administration in 1981, and by the Harding administration in 1921. The result in both cases was a short downturn followed by recovery.

The Bush administration, in a policy later followed by the Obama administration, instead attempted a tactic of dream incubation as portrayed in the recent film Inception. The idea was to inject artificial stimulus into the macroeconomic environment. There were random spending programs, massive buyouts of bad debt using phony money, gargantuan tax tricks, incentive programs for throwing good money after bad, and hiring strategies to weave illusions about how all is well.

His reference to “Inception” is quite accurate, and his explanation clearly explains his analogy:

In the movie, the goal of the dream incubation was to implant an idea into an unsuspecting subject’s head that would cause him to act differently than he otherwise would have. In the real life version of inception, the state tried to implant in all our heads the idea that there was no depression, no economic collapse, no housing crisis, no push back on real estate prices, and really no serious problem at all that the state cannot fix provided we are obedient subjects and do what we are told.

In the movie version, the attempted inception is on a time clock. The dream weavers can only keep the subject in a state of slumber so long. In the real life version, things are much messier. The headlines have spoken about the impending recovery every day for all this time, and yet the evidence has never really been there. All the stimulus really did was forestall events a bit longer, but it hasn’t prevented them.

Now, with the stock markets melting and the near-universal consensus that we are back in recession, everyone is awake. It is pretty clear that the inception did not take. The unemployment data look absolutely terrible. As the Wall Street Journal points out, only 59% of men age 20 and over have a full-time job (in the 1950s, that figure was 85%). Only 61% of all people over 20 have any kind of job now.

Unfortunately, the “educated” people like Paul Krugman and Ben Bernanke, while disagreeing on some of the details of what government policies should be, nonetheless share the same general view: Only government spending can bring back the economy through artificial “stimulus.” Unfortunately, these people have misunderstood what an economy really is and how it works. Like other academic economists, they see an economy through mathematical equations in which there really is no purposeful human action.

Instead, the automons produce goods on one end and then “buy back” what they have produced, which makes no sense from the larger point of view. It creates a view of people who simply go through the same motions day after day, and if they do it enough times, the economy gains what Krugman likes to call “traction,” which then permits this process to go on somewhat rhythmically. If the individual does not spend in the patterns that the academic economists declare are necessary for this “traction” to continue, then the consumer somehow is “falling down on the job.”

With the “Ruling Class” economists and politicians, there always is someone else to blame. The “stimulus” was too small; consumers are greedily saving their money instead of dishing it out at the stores and in auto showrooms; businesses refuse to engage in long-term spending and investment; banks are sitting on reserves; or Republicans (though is a huge minority in Congress) are keeping President Obama from carrying out his proper duties just as Goldstein constantly thwarted the aims of Big Brother.

Unfortunately, this administration — like the one that preceded it — is refusing to face reality and continues to believe in its “inceptionist” tactics. However, an economy is not an imaginary construct; it is a real entity and its success depends upon the ability of entrepreneurs and producers to make those goods that people need, something that always will escape the understanding of the supposedly “best and brightest” among us.

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About William L. Anderson 48 Articles

Affiliation: Frostburg State University

William L. Anderson is an author and an associate professor of economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland. He is also an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy as well as for the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Alabama.

Anderson was formerly a professor of economics at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina.

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