The Keynesian Cure

J. Bradford DeLong calls for “more aggregate demand.”  Some of the responses:

“More debt!  Let’s party!”  “Maybe we should stop looking for ways to keep moving at locomotive speeds.  Take a walk for a while.”  “So, the levees have failed and flooding has ensued.  Your plan is to pump like mad then rebuild in the same place.”  “But what is really appalling and scary is that the best answer you and others can come up with is ‘go out and spend’ until we find the next locomotive.”  “The commodities price run up is far more than the effect of speculation, but rather an indication that the world economy is straining against fundamental physical limits.”  “New times ahead, not more of the same with variations.”

Can you say “paradigm shift”?  But wait.  There is a Keynesian cure available.  The ultimate solution put forward by Keynes and identified by him explicitly as one of three essential “ingredients of a cure.”  Why do our self-styled Keynesians insist on restricting their policy tool kit to only two of those three ingredients and eschewing the third and ultimate ingredient?

In a letter to the poet, T.S. Eliot, dated April 5, 1945, John Maynard Keynes identified shorter hours of work as one of three “ingredients of a cure” for unemployment.  The other two ingredients were investment and more consumption.  Keynes regarded investment as “first aid,” while he called working less the “ultimate solution.”  A more thorough and formal presentation of his view appeared in a note Keynes prepared in May 1943 on “The Long-Term Problem of Full Employment.”  In that note, Keynes projected three phases of post-war economic performance.  During the third phase, estimated to commence some ten to fifteen years after the end of the war, “It becomes necessary to encourage wise consumption and discourage saving, — and to absorb some part of the unwanted surplus by increased leisure, more holidays (which are a wonderfully good way of getting rid of money) and shorter hours.”

Tom Walker, aka the Sandwichman, is an advocate for shorter work hours.  This article was first published in EconoSpeak on 8 April 2008; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.

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