Archive for the 'Classical economics' Category

Nov 06 2012

To continue stimulus or to pursue austerity, that is the question

Note: This post was originally published in August of 2010. It is being reposted today to support a lesson on fiscal policy in my year 2 IB Economics class.

In the seemingly endless and currently ongoing debate over the role of the government in the macroeconomy, there are two main camps: Those who think the governments of the developed economies have not done enough to get their economies out of recession, and those who think they have already done too much, and therefore need to start rolling back stimulus and reducing deficits.

At the heart of this debate are the two macroeconomic schools of thought, the  Keynesian demand-side theories and the classical, supply-side theories. Two intellectuals have emerged in the last several years representing the two sides of the macroeconomic debate. On the demand-side, representing the Keynesian school of thought, is 2008 Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. Representing the classical, supply-side school of thought is Harvard economic historian Niall Ferguson. These two have squared off in many forums over the last three years, Krugman arguing for more and continued fiscal stimulus to prop up and increase demand in the economy, Ferguson arguing for smaller deficits, lower taxes and less government spending to increase private sector confidence and thereby supply in the economy.

During our long summer break the two squared off once again in the aftermath of a G20 meeting in which the governments of several major economies from Europe and North America announced plans to begin rolling back the stimulus spending they embarked on throughout 2008 and 2009. The reason for increased “austerity measures” (policies that reduce the budget deficit and slow the growth of national debt), argue global leaders, is to reduce the chances of more countries experiencing debt crises like that experienced in Greece this spring.

International investors realized earlier this year that Greece’s budget deficits were a much larger percentage of its GDP than previously thought, and very quickly decided that Greek government bonds were an unsafe investment. Almost overnight the cost of borrowing in Greece shot up above 20%, bringing investment in the economy to a halt and forcing the government to cut its budget, leading to higher unemployment and reduced social benefits for the people of Greece.  If investors were to look at the growing budget deficits in other developed countries and  then suddenly lose faith in other government’s ability to pay back their debts, then a similar crisis could occur in much larger economies, including the UK, Germany and the United States. Hence these country’s apparent desire to begin reducing deficits and rolling back stimulus spending; measures that may just plunge these economies into an even deeper recession than that which they have experienced over the last two years.

The videos below show the leading intellectuals on both sides of the stimulus/austerity debate presenting their arguments. Below each video are discussion questions to help guide your understanding of their views. Watch the videos and respond to the discussion questions in the comment section below.

Video 1 - Krugman argues for continued stimulus:

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Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the two “profoundly different views of economics” that are being tested as governments begin rolling back the fiscal stimulus packages of the last two years?
  2. What are three characteristics of an economy in a “depression” according to Krugman?
  3. What is “budget austerity” and why does Krugman think this should not be the first priority of policymakers in the G20 nations?
  4. Why is deflation dangerous according to Krugman?
  5. What is the additional annual cost to the US government of borrowing and spending an additional trillion dollars now? What is the potential additional benefit of more stimulus?

Video 2 - Ferguson argues for austerity and “fiscal regime change”:

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Discussion Questions:

  1. Why might the US have to pass spending cuts and tax increases to maintain its “credibility in international bond markets”?
  2. Why would fiscal tightening “choke off the recovery”?
  3. How is the financial crisis in Europe a warning to the US?
  4. How could the “costs” exceed the “benefits” of deficit financed expansionary fiscal policy.
  5. Ferguson proposes a new type of policy that “boosts confidence”. Why will expansionary fiscal and monetary policies fail if private sector confidence remains depressed?

6 responses so far

Sep 27 2012

Deflation: why lower prices spell doom for any economy!

The Fed should focus on deflation | The greater of two evils | The Economist

Deflation: a decrease in the general price level of goods and services of an economy. Sounds great, right? Lower prices mean the purchasing power of our income increases, making the “average” person richer! On the surface, it could be concluded that deflation may actually be a good thing. And in some cases, it is!

If prices of goods are falling because of major technological advances (think of the price of cell phones and laptop computers over the last 20 years) or because of massive improvements in the productivity of labor and capital (think of the price of manufactured consumer goods during the Industrial Revolution), then deflation could be considered a sign of healthy economic growth. Put in terms an IB or AP Economics student should understand, a fall in prices caused by an increase in a nation’s aggregate supply is good, since it is accompanied by greater levels of employment and higher real incomes. But if the fall in prices is caused by a decline in spending in the economy (in other words, by a decrease in aggregate demand), the consequences can be catastrophic.

It just so happens that the United States, Great Britain, and my own home of Switzerland are all faced with demand-deficient deflation at this very moment. I’ll allow the Economist to elaborate:

…With unemployment nearing 9% (in the United States), economic output is further below the economy’s potential than at any time since 1982. This gap is likely to widen. House prices are not part of America’s inflation index but their decline is forcing households to reduce debt , which could subdue economic growth for years. As workers compete for scarce jobs and firms underbid each other for sales, wages and prices will come under pressure.

So far, expectations of inflation remain stable: that sentiment is itself a welcome bulwark against deflation. But pay freezes and wage cuts may soon change people’s minds. In one poll, more than a third of respondents said they or someone in their household had suffered a cut in pay or hours…

Does this matter? If prices are falling because of advancing productivity, as at the end of the 19th century, it is a sign of progress, not economic collapse. Today, though, deflation is more likely to resemble the malign 1930s sort than that earlier benign variety, because demand is weak and households and firms are burdened by debt. In deflation the nominal value of debts remains fixed even as nominal wages, prices and profits fall. Real debt burdens therefore rise, causing borrowers to cut spending to service their debts or to default. That undermines the financial system and deepens the recession.

From 1929 to 1933 prices fell by 27%. This time central banks are on the case. In America, Britain, Japan and Switzerland they have pushed short-term interest rates to, or close to, zero…

inflation is easier to put right than deflation. A central bank can raise interest rates as high as it wants to suppress inflation, but it cannot cut nominal rates below zero… In the worst case, rising debts and defaults depress growth, poisoning the economy by deepening deflation and pressing real interest rates higher….Given the choice, erring on the side of inflation would be less catastrophic than erring on the side of deflation.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Deflation poses several threats to an economy that is otherwise fundamentally healthy, such as the United States’. What are some the threats posed by deflation?
  2. The expectation of future deflation can have as equally devastating effect. Why is this?
  3. What evidence does the article put forth that an economy experiencing deflation may eventually “self-correct”, meaning return to the full employment level of output in the long-run?
  4. Why don’t governments and central banks just sit back and let the economy self-correct? In other words, why are fiscal and monetary policies being used so aggressively by the US, Great Britain and Switzerland during this economic crisis?

Deflation or Inflation:Watch the video below, see if gives you any clues as to the causes and effects of deflation. What do you think John Maynard Keynes would say in response to the deflationary fears expressed in the Economist article?

60 responses so far

Apr 08 2011

The battle of ideas: Hayek versus Keynes on Aggregate Supply

Introduction: The two models below represent two very different views of a nation’s aggregate supply curve. The theories behind the two models represent the ideas about the macroeconomy of two economists, John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich von Hayek.

Instructions: The videos introducing Keynes’ and Hayek’s theories can be found here: “Commanding Heights: the Battle for Ideas”. We will watch them in class, but if you need to review them you may watch them again from home. Once you’ve watched the videos and read chapter 17 from your Course Companion, answer the questions that follow each of the two models below.
Figure 1: the Classical AD/AS model

  1. Why does Hayek’s “classical” aggregate supply curve always lead to an equilibrium level of national output equal to the full-employment level of

    real GDP?

  2. The vertical AS curve above is sometimes referred to as the “flexible-wage and flexible-price” model of the macroeconomy. Why must wages and prices be perfectly flexible for this model to be an accurate representation of a nation’s economy.
  3. Hayek was an advocate for free markets, he felt that government intervention in a nation’s economy would only interfere and disrupt the efficient allocation of resources. How does the model above reflect his belief that governments cannot improve a nation’s level of output beyond what the free market is able to achieve?
  4. Do you believe that the classical model of aggregate supply is representative of the real world? Why or why not? What evidence is there from recent history that the model is or is not accurate?

Figure 2: The Keynesian AD/AS model

  1. Based on the model above, which level of aggregate demand corresponds with the macroeconomic goals of “full-employment and stable


  2. Changes in which factors could cause aggregate demand to shift from AD2 to AD3? If AD falls to AD3, what happens to the price level in the economy? What happens to the level of output of goods and services? What happens to employment and unemployment?
  3. Sometimes the Keynesian AS model is known as the “sticky-wage and sticky-price model”. How does the model reflect the idea that wages are downwardly inflexible, in other words, will not fall even if demand for goods and services fall? For what reasons might wages in an economy be downwardly inflexible (in other words, not fall even as total demand in the economy falls)?
  4. How realistic is the Keynsian model of aggregate supply in the real world?
    1. Can you point to any evidence from the last few years that it might be correct (in other words, that a fall in AD will lead to decrease in national output?) Find data on the GDP’s of two Western European countries from 2008 and 2009 to support your findings.
    2. Can you point to any evidence from the last few years that the model might be flawed (in other words, that a fall in AD actually does lead to a fall in the price level)? Find data on inflation in the same two Western European countries to examine whether or not wages and prices are completely inflexible downwards as the model suggests.


Figure 3: Our IB Economics AD/AS model

The diagram above represents a compromise between the classical AD/AS model and the Keynesian AD/AS model. This graph is the one we will use throughout the IB and AP Economics course when illustrating a nation’s macroeconomy. Answer the questions that follow about the diagram.
  1. How does the above model represent a compromise between Keynes’ and Hayek’s view of aggregate supply?
  2. Why are there two aggregate supply curves? What is the difference between the two?
  3. What happens in the SHORT-RUN when AD falls from AD2 to AD3 to the price level and output? What will happen in the long-run? In macroeconomics, the short-run is known as the “fixed-wage period” and the long-run the “flexible-wage period”. The main factor that can shift the SRAS curve is the level of wages in the economy (in other words, a change in wages will shift the SRAS). How does this help explain the adjustment from the short-run equilibrium and the long-run equilibrium following a fall in AD?
  4. What happens in the SHORT-RUN when AD increases from AD2 to AD1? What will happen in the long-run? How does the long-run flexibility of wages explain why output always seems to return to its full employment level of output in the long-run?
  5. What does the model above indicate about the possible need for government intervention to help an economy achieve its macroeconomic goals of full-employment and price level stability in the short-run?

260 responses so far

Jan 28 2010

The best Econ rap… EVER!! – A new resource for Econ teachers and students, from Russ Roberts and John Papola

The long awaited rap video from George Mason University’s Russ Roberts featuring the theories of John Maynard Keynes and F. A. Hayek has been released at last!

We’ve heard some decent Econ raps before (remember “Demand, Supply” by Rhythm, Rhyme, Results?) But this song covers all bases in the predominant macroeconomic schools of thought. Keynes and Hayek are brought back to life and their theories pitted against one another in an all out liquor fueled debate on the streets of New York City.

The video was just released this week. It is packed full of theory from the Classical, supply-side school of macroeconomics (represented by Hayek) and the demand-side school (represented, of course, by Keynes). The video includes cameos from Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, whose role as bartenders filling Keynes glass reflects their role in the real economy at keeping the money supply and government spending at high levels, fueling economic booms and the eventual busts that result.

Stay tuned to this blog for more feedback on the video, including some graphical analysis and discussion questions for Macro teachers to use in class!

2 responses so far

Dec 28 2009

Keynesian/Classical debate enters the realm of hip hop

Keynes vs. Hayek: Late Economists Hip-Hop Legacy | PBS NewsHour | Dec. 16, 2009 | PBS.

A major theme of both the AP and IB Economics courses is the long-running debate between the Keynesian, demand-side theories of macroeconomic policy and those of the Classical, supply-side school. Today’s “Great Recession” has revived this debate, which itself dates back to the Great Depression of the 1930′s, when an Englishman and an Austrian could be found at the ideological centers of two different philosophies of the role government should play in the macroeconomy.

John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek were close friends whose views on government’s role differed greatly. Hayek was a classical, laissez faire libertarian who believed that any intervention by government in a nation’s economy disrupted the efficient functioning of the free market and threatened to stifle private enterprise. Keynes, the father, of course, of modern Keynesian economics, believed that free markets left unchecked were vulnerable to the volotile animal spirits of investors and speculators whose often irrational behaviors could create externalities such as unemployment and credit crunches, thereby harming society as a whole.

Paul Solman of PBS (who I recently met at an Economics teachers conference in Washington DC) interviews a modern Keynesian, Robert Skidelsky (Keynes’ biographer) and a neo-classical economist, Russ Roberts (who I also recently met in Richmond, VA).

2 responses so far

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