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Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Purpose of Macroeconomic Policy?

Chris Dillow is trying to figure out why the UK won't admit it's error in pursuing austerity. Perhaps the answer is that for some it wasn't an error:

Macro amateurs, micro geniuses?, by Chris Dillow: Simon Wren-Lewis says the coalition’s austerity is a “major macroeconomic policy error.”
It’s difficult to imagine the government ever acknowledging this. On Wednesday, Cameron resorted to immunizing strategies such as blaming the euro crisis (without noting that exports to the euro area have risen by 11.3% in the last 12 months), or celebrating the “lowest interest rates for a hundred years“, oblivious to the fact that these are a sign of economic weakness. I suspect that even if the GDP numbers had been much worse, he’d have used similar arguments.
Macroeconomic policy, then, is not only made by rank amateurs - not one of the five Treasury ministers in the Commons has a postgraduate qualification in economics and only one has significant experience in financial work. It is made by amateurs who seem immune to feedback. Errors are only to be expected.
Which raises a paradox. The job of running the economy is entrusted to anyone.  But the job of running companies requires people of such rare and delicate talent that only multi-million salaries will attract and motivate them.
Why the inconsistency? I suppose you could argue - Robert Lucas style (pdf) - that the benefits of good macroeconomic stabilization policy are small, as are the costs of bad policy, so it doesn‘t matter much who runs macro policy. But ... the benefits of “good management” are also small. Even if Stephen Hester could raise RBS’s value by 50%, the annuity value of this to tax-payers would be only 0.03% of GDP.
An alternative argument is that fiscal policy is not meant to be competent, but is instead meant to reflect the preferences of voters, and democracy is an intrinsic good, not an instrumental one.
There is, though, a third possibility. The purpose of macroeconomic policy is not to stabilize the economy or to raise growth, but is instead merely an ideological cover for shrinking the state. And that justification for multi-million salaries is merely ideological cover for kleptocracy. It’s just class war.

There clearly is a class of people willing to sacrifice the livelihood and well-being of others in pursuit of their ideological goal of a smaller government (so long as their own future remains secure). The notion of "expansionary austerity" was the cover, but so long as government shrinks as a result of the policy, the expansionary part is secondary. If reducing the size of government slows the recovery, that's a small price to pay for such a worthy goal -- for them anyway, the power behind this is in no danger of becoming unemployed. The main thing is to impose the small government ideology whenever there is a chance, and to use whatever argument is needed to serve that purpose, austerity is expansionary, tax cuts pay for themselves -- whatever works -- the ideologues will even embrace Keynesian economics if it allows them to argue for tax cuts that might further "starve the beast" (e.g. see Bush's argument for the first round of his tax cuts). But in the end the goal is a simple one, reduce the size and influence of government, and everything else is just a means of getting there.

    Posted by on Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 09:39 AM Permalink  Comments (23)


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