Mario Rizzo and Gerald O’Driscoll point to dueling letters to the editor from 1932 in The London Times by John Maynard Keynes and F. A. Hayek on whether government spending can help cure contemporary economic woes. The letters, unearthed by Richard Ebeling, show that today’s debates over economic policy are, in many respects, a rerun of the debates of the 1930s. O’Driscoll writes:
Prof. Ebeling’s rediscovery of these letters has unleashed a torrent of comments on blog sites. As New York University economist Mario Rizzo put it, “The great debate is still Keynes versus Hayek. All else is footnote.” Economists have clothed the debate with ever greater mathematical complexity, but the underlying issues remain the same.
Was Keynes correct that savings become idle money and depress economic activity? Or was the Hayek view, first articulated by Adam Smith in the “Wealth of Nations” in 1776, correct? (Smith: “What is annually saved is as regularly consumed as what is annually spent, and nearly in the same time too.”)
Is all spending equally productive, or should government policies aim to simulate private investment? If the latter, then Mr. Obama is following in FDR’s footsteps and impeding recovery. He does so by demonizing business and creating regime uncertainty through new regulations and costly programs. In this he follows neither Hayek nor Keynes, since creating a lack of confidence is considered destructive by both.
Finally, is creating new public debt in a weakened economy the path to recovery? Or is “economy” (austerity in today’s debate) and thrift the path to prosperity now, as it has usually been considered before?