The Guardian view on a four-day week: policies needed to make it a reality

After the first world war, workers wanted a peace dividend for their sacrifices. Within three years they got it. Almost every industrialised nation – with the exception of Japan – accepted the newly established International Labour Organization’s call to limit working hours to eight a day and 48 a week. While most developed countries enacted legislation to achieve these aims, Britain, along with the United States and Italy, did so through collective agreements.

Today, the triple crises of Covid, Russia’s war in Ukraine and Brexit will create job-altering shocks. Employers are already implementing remote working. Some workers, perhaps those with comfortable homes, prefer online messaging to water cooler chats and web conference calls to in-person ones. Others, meanwhile, are opting out of work altogether. From Monday, thousands of workers in 70 UK companies will be paid the same wages for a four-day working week as a five-day one. Like an eight-hour day in 1919, workers are demanding changes once regarded as fringe, eccentric ideas.

There are good arguments for a four-day week. Studies suggest improvements in workers’ happiness and improvements in productivity. The UK has for too long fostered a working culture that encourages long hours and employee exhaustion. About 10 million people – almost one in three people in work – would work fewer hours if they could. Remarkably, 3 million of them would take fewer hours even with a loss in pay.

Having to work less hard for a desired income is obviously welcome. But such a desirable outcome is complicated by factors such as the pressure to consume, security of employment and inequalities of power and income. Given the prevalence of in-work poverty, and with inflation hitting those on lowest incomes the hardest, many British workers cannot afford to cut their hours.

In 2019, the economist Lord Skidelsky considered the problem in detail for the Labour party. His report compared how European countries had managed to make employment more compatible with wellbeing. He noted, with approval, how collective bargaining in Germany had seen workers receive real wage increases and reductions in working hours in return for improved productivity. He rejected a French-style legislated national limit, noting that it broke down within a few years.

The peer’s insight was that the economic security and rights of UK workers had to be improved so that they were in “a position to decrease their working hours voluntarily should they wish to”. In the modern age, it is clear that the market cannot provide continuous full employment. That is why Lord Skidelsky advocated for a new role for the government as an “employer of last resort”, by guaranteeing jobs paying the living wage to the unemployed who cannot find work in the private sector.

By providing an alternative to the market, argued the peer, the state would gain a powerful lever to push down the average number of hours worked. Lord Skidelsky thought that a 35-hour working week in the public sector over 10 years was achievable with the right policies. Britain’s experience a century ago is worth recalling. The loss in output from cutting working time was largely offset by increased hourly productivity. The shorter day led to the growth of leisure and consumer industries. Currently, the financial logic that governs the rules of employment is inimical to reducing workloads. What is needed are countervailing institutions to push society in the technologically possible direction desired by most people.

The Case for Nordic and NATO Realism

To be a realist in international relations is to accept that some states are more sovereign than others. “Strict realism” now requires that Sweden and Finland pause before rushing into NATO’s arms, and that the Alliance take a step back before accepting them.

LONDON – Finland and Sweden have announced that they will apply for NATO membership. But joining the Alliance is more likely to weaken than enhance their security and that of Europe.

Strategic neutrality has preserved Sweden’s independence and freedom from war for 200 years, and Finland’s independence since 1948. Has anything happened to justify ending it?

Swedish and Finnish officials point to two episodes. In December 2021, the Kremlin went from desiring Swedish and Finnish neutrality to, in essence, demanding it, sending a clear and threatening message that an independent foreign policy is a privilege, not a right, for Russia’s neighbors. More important, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has fundamentally worsened the two countries’ security environment by increasing the risk that Russia will attack or seek to intimidate them. Since they cannot hope to defeat Russia in battle, singly or jointly, they must join an organization that can.

In expert-speak, NATO membership will “raise the threshold of deterrence.” Faced with the certainty of retaliation (including nuclear, if necessary), Russia will desist from attacking, or seriously bullying, Sweden and Finland. This argument strongly implies that, had Ukraine been a NATO member, Russia would not have invaded it, since, as the Swedish foreign and defense ministries point out, “Russia (or the Soviet Union) has never attacked a NATO ally.” But Sweden and Finland’s efforts to strengthen deterrence might be self-defeating, because NATO enlargement could raise the threshold of Russia’s willingness to invade them, at least before they become Alliance members.

Judging the wisdom of further NATO enlargement requires taking a view on two matters. First, is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (however unjustified in law and brutal in execution) evidence of a general expansionary intent, or is it sui generis? Second, what responsibilities for maintaining peace fall on small countries that abut big countries?

History offers some guidance on both questions. After 1945, Stalin could have absorbed Finland into the Soviet Union, or ruled it through a puppet. Finland had been crushed in a war in which it fought on the side of the Germans – something Finns don’t like to be reminded of, though their alliance with Hitler came about only following Stalin’s 1939 invasion.

Still, Stalin was never interested in restoring Czarist rule over Finland. His concern was strategic. As Stalin said in 1940 following the Soviet Union’s “Winter War” with Finland, “we can’t move Leningrad, [so] we must move the borders.” What he demanded, and eventually got, was some 10% of Finnish territory, including a big slice of Karelia near Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), plus some strategic islands.

After this land grab, Stalin guaranteed Finnish independence in the 1948 Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, on condition that Finland promised to “fight to repel” any attack on the Soviet Union “through Finnish territory,” with help from the Kremlin if Finland agreed. Unlike the Soviet Union’s Eastern European satellite states, Finland was not required to join the Warsaw Pact when it was established in 1955.

There is a superficial parallel between Ukraine’s current tragedy and Finland circa 1939-48. Stalin made Finnish neutrality a condition of its independence, while Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that his main demand is that Ukraine renounce the goal of NATO membership.

But the differences between the two cases are greater. Although part of the Czarist empire, Finland was never part of “historic” Russia as Ukraine was, and contained no large Russian minorities. Putin regards Ukraine as an “inalienable” part of Russia, and blames Lenin’s establishment of a Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic for creating Ukrainian nationalism. So, while strategic considerations may have been uppermost in Stalin’s mind, it is reasonable to suppose – as Ukrainians and Ukraine’s Western supporters do – that Putin is using the threat of NATO expansion as an excuse to undo what he sees as Lenin’s historic mistake.

If Russia’s fear of NATO is genuine, Sweden and Finland’s membership applications will expose them to the risk of retaliation before they join, and it is at least debatable as to whether a NATO Article 5 guarantee will offer greater real security than neutrality does. If the Russia-Ukraine war is specific to Russian history, with NATO expansion only an excuse, it cannot be seen as a prelude to unlimited territorial expansion, though Putin’s remarks belittling Kazakhstan’s statehood are worryingly similar to his denials of Ukraine’s right to exist. Either way, the case for Swedish and Finnish NATO membership is not open and shut.

This brings us to the second matter, small countries’ responsibilities for peace. The former European Union diplomat Robert Cooper argues in his book The Ambassadors that “strict realism [is] required by small states with big neighbors.” And it is realism that seems to be lacking in the Swedish and Finnish governments’ current policy thinking. Consider the Swedish foreign and defense ministries’ assertion that “The Russian leadership operates based on … a view of history that differ[s] from th[at] of the West,” including “the aim of creating spheres of influence.”1

Attributing that Russian conception simply to totalitarian thinking amounts to a denial of any special obligation of a state to its people arising from its location in the international system – the reverse of Cooper’s “strict realism.” The doctrine of spheres of influence may be alien to today’s international norms, but not to international practice. No powerful state wants a potential enemy on its doorstep. This was (and remains) the basis of the US Monroe Doctrine vis-à-vis the Western Hemisphere. It is supposedly the basis of Russia’s strategic doctrine, though in practice Russia has preferred to have vassal states on its borders.

To be a realist in international relations is to accept that some states are more sovereign than others. The Finns acknowledged this after World War II. “Strict realism” now requires that Sweden and Finland pause before rushing into NATO’s arms, and that the Alliance take a step back before accepting them. Ukraine, whose brave resistance has set the limits on Russia’s territorial expansion, also must now be willing to negotiate some form of peaceful coexistence with its more powerful neighbor.

Queen’s Speech on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

My Lords, I find myself in profound disagreement with the Government’s war strategy in Ukraine and, in fact, with almost everything that has been said about Ukraine in this debate. I will try to explain why.

British policy aims for a Russian military defeat, which it will help to bring about by economic sanctions and supplying Ukraine with the necessary means of war. Liz Truss said on 27 April:

“We will keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine”.

Simon Jenkins has commented:

“She is clearly revelling in her imagined proxy war on the Russian bear and no one in Whitehall appears able to restrain her.”

I wish her proxy war was only imagined but it is actually happening.

It is an open secret that both France and Germany regard our hawkishness as driving up the price of peace and thus making a ceasefire more elusive. So what is the price of peace? For those whose history lessons begin and end with the Munich agreement of 1938, it is obvious; the price of peace is shameful surrender to the limitless ambitions of an evil and possibly mad dictator. I take a different view. I believe that Putin’s war aims, unlike Hitler’s, are limited and therefore that the fashionable domino theory—that if you give way here, then one after another will fall—is wrong.

I want the war to end before the war aims of our Government are achieved, for two reasons. The first is because the prolongation of the war threatens economic catastrophe. One aspect of that, mass starvation, was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord King, earlier in the debate.

Secondly, there is the consequence of a military disaster. If it happened that Russian conventional forces were actually pushed to defeat, as the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary want, Russia might well counter with tactical nuclear weapons. These have never been deployed; they abolish the distinction between conventional and nuclear war and thus remove a crucial barrier to uncontrolled escalation. To avoid these huge risks, the military position on the ground has to be such—I know this is an uncomfortable thing to say—that both sides can claim some military success. That means that our Government should take a very hard and accurate look at the scale and type of military help we give to Ukraine.

The peace terms discussed in Ankara in late March called for Ukraine’s neutrality, backed by security guarantees and a timeline to address issues such as the status of Donbass and Crimea. The Ukrainians withdrew from them after reports of the massacre at Bucha surfaced on 1 April. This was a horrible war crime, but it does not follow that because a country’s war methods are brutal its ambitions are genocidal or limitless.

Our Government should be urging a resumption of the Ankara process. I believe that a negotiated peace would be possible along lines which safeguard the independence of Ukraine and satisfy some Russian demands. There are three elements. The first is Ukraine’s neutrality for 20 years in return for international, including Russian, guarantees of Ukraine’s territorial borders before the Russian invasion of 24 February. That is, Russia would need to withdraw its troops from the territories that it has conquered after 24 February. Second is UN-supervised elections to determine the future of Donetsk and Luhansk. Third is acceptance of the transfer of Crimea to Russia in return for compensation. No conceivable independent Russian Government will voluntarily give up Ukraine, but Russia must be made to pay for this.

To prepare the ground for this, our Government need to drop talk of bringing the Putin regime to trial as war criminals, and should promise to de-escalate economic sanctions by stages as the peace accord is implemented. As Liddell Hart wisely said:

“Inflict the least possible permanent injury, for the enemy of to-day is … the ally of the future.”

Times letters: The tough act of following Cressida Dick

UKRAINE DIPLOMACY

Sir, In discussing the possible “Finlandisation” of Ukraine, your leading article (“Kyiv’s Cause”, Feb 11) correctly states that it would unacceptable for great powers to enforce such a policy on Ukraine. In his brilliant book The Ambassadors, Sir Robert Cooper explains that Finland’s neutrality was not “enforced” by great powers but was decided by Finland itself, against the wishes of the Soviet Union, which wanted a military alliance. It was the ability of the two Finnish negotiators, Paasikivi and Mannerheim, plus the respect Finland had earned from Stalin by its brave resistance to the Soviet invasion of 1939, which secured more than “nominal” independence in 1948.

The moral of the tale is that it is up to Ukraine to determine the conditions of its coexistence with Russia. They are the two leading actors in this drama; all the rest are bit players.
Lord Skidelsky

House of Lords

Exchange of the week: Did the West create the monster?

To the Financial Times

Martin Wolf is right to say that Vladimir Putin has ignited an indefensible war against Ukraine. That it is worse than a crime is highlighted by your report on Kharkiv, described as “another Stalingrad”. You do not call Ukrainians your brothers then bomb them into submission. Whatever the war’s immediate results, Putin has ensured that Russia’s western borders become “ungovernable”. This is a dreadful legacy.

However, let’s not lose all sense of history. Russia’s desire to retain both Belarus and Ukraine as buffers between Russia and Nato is understandable: one has only to look at the map to understand why. I have never understood why the West – or Ukraine itself – has refused to give Russia the assurance that there would be no forward deployment of Nato forces on its borders. Had such promises been given, the dynamics of post- communist Russian politics would have been very different. As Yegor Gaidar, Russia’s first post communist PM, once said to me: “The best hope for Russian liberals is the distance of Nato from our borders.” Wolf’s piece ignores the argument that Putin’ “the monster” is partly a creation of Western diplomacy.

Robert Skidelsky, House of Lords, London

To the Financial Times

In “Just look at the map to see Moscow’s point of view” Robert Skidelsky asserts that had the West given assurances to Russia that there would be no forward deployment of Nato forces, then Putin would not have needed Ukraine and Belarus to be buffers between Russia and Nato’s “military alliance”. But Nato has never been a “war” alliance; it has always been a ” defence ” alliance, with its member nations acting “collectively” to defend against attacks on any one of its members. Therefore it is disingenuous of Skidelsky to accuse Martin Wolf of ignoring all sense of Russian history. 

Ali M. El-Agraa, emeritus professor of international economic integration, Fukuoka University, Japan

The Future of Work: Is Artificial Intelligence a New Road to Serfdom?

Lecture and Discussion with Lord Robert Skidelsky

Lord Robert Skidelsky has given a lecture at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM) on Tuesday, 15 March 2022, 18:00 CET in Vienna.

In contemporary discussions about the future of artificial intelligence we often lose our heads. While economists offer bleak predictions of mass job losses and a deepening of already widespread precarity, Silicon Valley utopians insist that new technologies are bringing us ever closer together and will one day deliver us from work, disease and poverty. But when human life is reduced to a set of rational processes waiting to be optimized, we risk losing sight of the irreducible quality of human experience. The talk shed new light on the dream of machinery and the entailed  dichotomy of liberation versus control. With his characteristic attention to the subtleties of the human condition, Robert Skidelsky offered a challenging account of what it means to pursue the good life in the age of the machines.

Think Twice Before Sanctioning Russia Further

Despite massive Western economic sanctions against Russia, the chance that they will lead to President Vladimir Putin’s ouster, or even to a drastic change in Russian policy toward Ukraine, is much lower than most people suppose. It is far more likely that punishing will neither stop the war nor secure the peace.

LONDON – The West has imposed massive financial and economic sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. But are the sanctions supposed to be a way to end the war? Are they a means of punishing Russia for its bad behavior? Or are they simply an expression of moral outrage?

This is the second time in less than a decade that Russia has been sanctioned for violating international law. Following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine, the United States imposed economic sanctions aimed at “effectively making it a pariah state.” Clearly, this did not have the desired effect of changing the Kremlin’s behavior. Now a new barrage of measures in response to the assault on Ukraine has ramped up sanctions to an unprecedented extent. 1

The current restrictions on Russia include a ban on trade in critical technologies, extensive asset freezes and travel bans, the denial of major Russian banks’ access to international capital markets, travel bans and asset freezes targeting individuals, and the exclusion of Russian aircraft from international airspace. With the sequestration of the Russian central bank’s foreign-exchange reserves and the promised eviction of Russia from the world financial and trading system, oil and gas will remain the country’s lifeline to the global economy.

All of this might seem a necessary moral response to Russia’s lawlessness. But when relatively light-touch sanctions give way to heavy economic bombardment, two key questions should be asked. First, at what point do sanctions become a pathway to war rather than an alternative to it? Second, what are such measures expected to achieve, and how effective are they likely to be? So far, these questions have scarcely been asked, much less answered. 

Governments should consider the first question carefully before imposing sanctions on a great power, particularly one with nuclear weapons. If that power perceives a threat to its means of survival, there is a strong chance that it will fight to overcome the restrictions. 

For example, when the US imposed an embargo on oil and gas exports to Japan in August 1941, following Japan’s seizure of oilfields in Indochina, the Japanese responded by attacking Pearl Harbor. And after OPEC subjected the US to an oil embargo in 1973 in retaliation for American military assistance to Israel during the Yom Kippur War, President Richard Nixon’s administration threatened to invade and occupy OPEC member states’ oil fields. The embargo ended.

The sanctions imposed so far on Russia do not yet threaten the survival of the Russian state. But President Vladimir Putin may regard a Western attempt to cut off the remainder of Russia’s international trade, especially in energy, as an existential threat. 

As for the second question, the objective of economic sanctions is reasonably clear: to prevent or stop war by imposing unacceptable costs on the aggressor state. But while there is no doubt that the Western sanctions on Russia have greatly raised the costs to ordinary Russians of Putin’s war, no one expects that this will end the conflict. 

The West instead hopes that the costs of the sanctions to Russia’s elite will achieve this result. Rather than lose their wealth, the argument goes, the elites may overthrow Putin or force him to end the war. This is the only rationale for the current sanctions that makes sense. 

But the likelihood of Putin’s ouster, or even of a drastic change in Russian policy, is much lower than most people suppose. Essentially, it depends on Russia’s defeat in Ukraine, a prolongation of the conflict without any resolution, or a growing perception among Russia’s military that Putin has failed them. Far more likely is a ceasefire and at least the appearance of a Russian victory. In that case, economic sanctions will have done nothing either to stop the war or secure the peace.

A 2007 UK House of Lords report concluded that, “economic sanctions used in isolation from other policy instruments are extremely unlikely to force a target to make major policy changes.” Even sanctions’ rare success in forcing South Africa to abandon apartheid depended on two special circumstances, neither of which applies to Russia today: worldwide enforcement and South Africa’s inability to retaliate. Turkey, India, and China are the most notable of the states that have not sanctioned Russia, and potential Russian counter-sanctions include cutting off the oil and gas supplies on which most of Europe depends. 

But that is not all. Among the “other policy instruments” mentioned in the House of Lords report, the foremost is the “threatened or actual use of force.” In other words, the inefficacy of economic sanctions on their own to change state behavior implies a high risk that they become part of an escalator to war. That is why Western countries have so far not acceded to Ukraine’s request to impose a no-fly zone. 

Economic sanctions against Russia are supposed to be an alternative to war, but they can reasonably be expected to change the Kremlin’s behavior only by becoming tactical components of the conflict. The sad truth is that Western countries cannot help Ukraine except by threatening to go to war with Russia. But to admit this is to call into question the whole logic of their sanctions policy. 

More generally, economic sanctions have become a greatly overused tool of preventive diplomacy. By cutting off parts of the world from international commerce, they promote the formation of antagonistic blocs, and destroywhatever promise globalization still holds. 

Samuel Johnson famously observed that, “There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.” His French contemporary, Montesquieu, spoke of the douceur of commerce. True, a lot of trade is criminal, and much of it benefits corrupt and oppressive governments. But forcing countries back to pre-modern economic conditions is not a formula for improvement.

Ukraine: Refugees – House of Lords Questions

Lord Skidelsky:

My Lords, in addition to the help that the Government are giving to Ukrainians to come to this country, will they consider offering humanitarian visas to those brave Russians—members of the clergy, members of civil society, academics, journalists and ordinary citizens—who face long prison sentences for exercising their democratic right to oppose this war?

Baroness Williams of Trafford:

I am very glad that the noble Lord asked that question because, at this point, we all need to stop and remember all of those Russian people who are so against, or do not even know, what is happening in Ukraine. I do not have many details of that, but it is certainly heartbreaking when you see Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine who appear not to know what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Letter: Just look at the map to see Moscow’s point of view

Martin Wolf is right to say that Vladimir Putin has ignited an indefensible war against Ukraine (Opinion, March 2). That it is worse than a crime is a folly highlighted by your report about Kharkiv, described as “another Stalingrad” (March 3). You do not call Ukrainians your brothers, then bomb them into submission. Whatever the war’s immediate results, Putin has ensured that Russia’s western borders become “ungovernable”. Belarus will be next on the list for “brotherly” persuasion, once Alexander Lukashenko has gone. This is a dreadful legacy.

However, in our condemnation of Russia’s current actions, let’s not lose all sense of history. Russia’s desire to retain both Belarus and Ukraine as buffers between Russia and Nato’s military alliance is understandable and reasonable: one has only to look at the map to understand why. I have never been able to understand why the west — or Ukraine itself — has refused to give Russia the assurance that there would be no forward deployment of Nato forces on its borders. Had such promises been given at any time since the fall of communism, the dynamics of post-communist Russian politics would have been very different. As Yegor Gaidar, Russia’s first post-communist prime minister, once said to me: “The best hope for Russian liberals is the distance of Nato from our borders.” Wolf’s piece completely ignores the argument that Putin “the monster” is partly a creation of appalling western diplomacy.

Wolf also shows an unjustified faith in economic sanctions to secure regime change. What he does show is that the kind of sanctions being imposed on Russia today will be highly damaging to the world economy, not that it will change Russia’s behaviour.

I agree with Mikhail Fridman, one of the sanctioned Russian billionaires, who said this week sanctions “will not have any impact for political decisions in Russia” (Report, March 2) because he, Fridman, has no influence over Putin.

Letters in response to this letter:

Worth heeding Keynes and the German parallels / From William Dixon, London SE18, UK

Why Nato assurances on troops is missing the point / From Ali M El-Agraa, Emeritus Professor of International Economic Integration, Fukuoka University, Japan

A Kyiv refugee’s plea for solidarity in face of attack / From Alex Levak, Refugee from Kyiv, Ukraine

Letter: Just look at the map to see Moscow’s point of view

Martin Wolf is right to say that Vladimir Putin has ignited an indefensible war against Ukraine (Opinion, March 2). That it is worse than a crime is a folly highlighted by your report about Kharkiv, described as “another Stalingrad” (March 3). You do not call Ukrainians your brothers, then bomb them into submission. Whatever the war’s immediate results, Putin has ensured that Russia’s western borders become “ungovernable”. Belarus will be next on the list for “brotherly” persuasion, once Alexander Lukashenko has gone. This is a dreadful legacy.

However, in our condemnation of Russia’s current actions, let’s not lose all sense of history. Russia’s desire to retain both Belarus and Ukraine as buffers between Russia and Nato’s military alliance is understandable and reasonable: one has only to look at the map to understand why. I have never been able to understand why the west — or Ukraine itself — has refused to give Russia the assurance that there would be no forward deployment of Nato forces on its borders. Had such promises been given at any time since the fall of communism, the dynamics of post-communist Russian politics would have been very different. As Yegor Gaidar, Russia’s first post-communist prime minister, once said to me: “The best hope for Russian liberals is the distance of Nato from our borders.” Wolf’s piece completely ignores the argument that Putin “the monster” is partly a creation of appalling western diplomacy.

Wolf also shows an unjustified faith in economic sanctions to secure regime change. What he does show is that the kind of sanctions being imposed on Russia today will be highly damaging to the world economy, not that it will change Russia’s behaviour.

I agree with Mikhail Fridman, one of the sanctioned Russian billionaires, who said this week sanctions “will not have any impact for political decisions in Russia” (Report, March 2) because he, Fridman, has no influence over Putin.

Robert Skidelsky House of Lords, London SW1, UK

Economic Recovery in the Age of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is an invitation to what the economist Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction: a chance to liquidate obsolete investments and to create something new, better, and, in the jargon, more ‘resilient’ and ‘sustainable’. Schumpeter understood that humankind does not progress in a balanced way, rather it lurches from one extreme to another, each extreme producing its own reaction.

In political economy, the subject of this contribution, the excesses of the Keynesian social democracy in the 1970s brought about the extreme reaction of neo-liberalism. The hubris of neo-liberalism – its failure to guard against the ever present possibility of collapse, its inattention to social justice, its reckless embrace of globalisation, its Faustian pact with consumerism – has in turn bred a reaction, but to what is as yet unclear. Populist forces of Right and Left, made up of fragments of old and new discontents, compete for the succession. The balance remains elusive.

We have both a short-term and long-term crisis on our hands. In the short term we run the risk of what some analysts are calling the Third Great World Depression. In the long run the risk is of the exhaustion of Nature’s tolerance for our profligate habits. The prize is to enfold our pandemic recovery measures into a long-term strategy for a sustainable way of life – I will not say growth, for growth as we understand it may not be sustainable.

The short-term threat to jobs and livelihoods is clear enough. Much of Europe is on a life-support system. The world economy will have shrunk by about 5% in 2020, and hopes of a V-shaped recovery have been put on hold. This means that unemployment is set to go on rising through 2021. In the UK, we expect an unemployment rate of close to 10%. Everyone is waiting for the end of the coronavirus pandemic so that we can get back to ‘normal’. But the virus is no longer the main problem: it is the scarring of the economy produced by a prolonged and continuous period of non-work which will damage the recovery.

And what about the further future? Suppose by a heroic effort we succeed in reopening economies much as they were before. Can anyone say they were in a healthy or sustainable situation before the pandemic struck? Debt-driven growth models which produced consumption and asset booms followed by financial busts: that was the pre-pandemic normal.

I am often asked, what would British economist John Maynard Keynes have said? I will try to give my answer, though I hasten to add that Keynes, from beyond the grave, has not authorised me to do so. Nor is Keynes the last word on the matters I will deal with.

Then and now

My book Keynes: The Return of the Master (Skidelsky, 2009) was published in the autumn of 2009. It was published the year after the global banking collapse of 2008 and the massive rescue operations undertaken by governments all round the world – not just the bailout of a bankrupt banking system, but also large monetary and fiscal stimulus. This activism was in contrast to the ‘do nothing’ stance of governments following the Wall Street crash of 1929. I believe that it prevented another Great Depression: the fall in output following the 2008 collapse was limited to four quarters, whereas output went on falling for thirteen quarters after the collapse of 1929.

Long before recovery was secure, however, our own stimulus was terminated. Alarmed by the deficits they had incurred, governments started to slash public spending. The ‘return of the master’ proved brief. “I guess everyone is a Keynesian in a foxhole” said Robert Lucas, high priest of Chicago economics. Keynes was for emergencies only.

And we have the same reaction today. Compelled to close down a large fraction of their economies to stop the spread of the coronavirus contagion, governments have spent money freely to keep up the incomes of millions of people prevented from working. But they continue to hope that as the economy reopens, a V-shaped recovery will relieve them of their fiscal burden. The talk is of ‘fiscal sustainability’, the need for consolidation and debt reduction even as the economy is set to shrink.

Many would see this as a reasonable position. Most economists view the market system as fundamentally healthy. It will get sick from time to time and therefore need medication, but it is basically self-healing, like the human body. So treatment should be limited in scope and duration. This is particularly the case given the unreliability of political medicine. Keynes rejected this analogy between the market system and the self-healing body and believed rather that a market system left unattended by the state could never be healthy.

Keynes for beginners

Keynes’s revolutionary insight was that capitalist market economies do not have an automatic tendency towards full employment. This assertion shocked the economists of Keynes’s day, whose models taught them that persisting unemployment was impossible if wages were flexible. Keynes’s Cambridge colleague Arthur Pigou expressed the typical belief of 1933: “With perfectly free competition…there will always be a strong tendency for wage-rates to be so related to demand that everyone is employed” (Pigou, 1933). Based on this argument, unemployed workers must be choosing not to work. Seeing the millions unemployed all around him during the Great Depression, Keynes thought: There is something wrong with your model! These people are not choosing not to work. They cannot find work at any wage.

Keynesian economics starts with this blinding shaft of common sense. People are unemployed when there is no demand for their services. Yet this insight never fully converted the economics profession, who went on cooking up all kinds of fancy reasons to demonstrate that what looked like unwanted unemployment was really a ‘choice for leisure’. Today I would wager that most economists believe, deep down, that most unemployed people could find work if they really wanted to, or if state benefits did not provide them with an alternative income.

But why do economies not quickly bounce back from collapses? Surely, if an employer does not want to employ me at £500 a week, I can always lower my wage requirement till it becomes profitable for him to employ me. By insisting on unrealistic wages, workers are ‘pricing themselves out of employment’. But Keynes gave two reasons why even flexible wages will not maintain or restore full employment.

Wages and demand

Keynes’s first argument was that every producer is also a consumer: my wages are your income, because my wages buy your goods. If my wages go down, your income goes down, too. The general principle is that cuts in production costs (whether by cutting wages or by laying off workers) deepen a slump by simultaneously cutting total demand or spending power. A fall of income in one part of the economy reduces production in another part, and so on, in a downward spiral as unemployment spreads rapidly throughout the economy. Eventually spending power is stabilised at a much lower level as people stop saving. But nothing has happened to stimulate consumption, and therefore to promote a recovery. The weird idea that the way to revive an economy is by getting everyone to stop spending comes only to a well-trained neo-classical economist.

Confidence and money

Keynes’s second argument against the V-shaped recovery model had to do with the behaviour of money. It is characteristic of a slump that instead of investing their money, businesses ‘hoard’ it, or ‘add to their cash reserves’. The greater this ‘liquidity preference’ is, the higher the rate of interest that owners of money will charge to lend it out. But to stimulate production, borrowers need lower rates, not higher rates. So when confidence is low, the higher rates demanded by the banks for loans mean even less investment, less consumption and less employment.

In this way, flexibility of wages and stickiness of interest rates combine to deepen the slump. Contrary to Robert Lucas, without government ‘stimulus’ the economy will remain stuck in the foxhole.

But the mainstream economist has a comeback: depressions or deep recessions are very rare events, like Nassim Taleb’s ‘black swans’ (2008). So it is absurd to organise economic life as if the next slump is just around the corner. Market economies have built-in stability so powerful that slumps will be very rare. This is exactly what Keynes denied: black swans can fly out of a clear blue sky at any time. We have just seen a large flock of them in 2020.

The reason, Keynes said, was that the theory of the ‘self-equilibrating’ market economy depends on the idea that everyone, and particularly investors, can accurately predict the future. If they can accurately calculate what assets they buy today will be worth in ten years time, they would never buy things at the wrong prices. As Keynes (1937) wrote: “The calculus of probability…was supposed to be capable of reducing uncertainty to the same calculable status as certainty itself”. But this was a myth. “Actually…we have as a rule, only the vaguest idea of any but the most direct consequences of our acts” (Keynes, 1936). This was the second huge shaft of commonsense to pierce the mathematical precision of forecasting models.

And a huge consequence followed. Because the future is uncertain, private investment – which depends on the expectation of future yield – will be unsteady. Prosperity will depend on peoples’ ‘animal spirits’. When they are feeling confident, they hire more workers; when they are pessimistic, they hire fewer.

Stabilisation policy

Two conclusions follow from this account of market behaviour: 1) Collapses are always possible because the future is uncertain; and 2) When they happen, there are no ‘automatic’ market mechanisms to ensure a quick bounce back.

That is why governments are indispensable ‘balancers’ of market economies. They add and subtract spending power as and when needed.

This explains why there is no virtue in trying to balance the budget as such. Being Keynesian means having a theory of the economy that justifies the use of the state budget to balance economic activity at an optimal level of output and employment. This can mean either a budget surplus or a budget deficit or a balanced budget, depending on what is happening in the economy. It is the accounts of the economy that it needs to balance. Without this balancing act the economy will have a spontaneous tendency not to full employment but to underemployment.

To maintain economic life on a balanced, even keel, governments need to do two things.

First, they need to steady the rate of investment. They can do this through public investment programmes. Keynes (1936) wrote: “I expect to see the state, which is in a position to [take] long views…taking an ever greater responsibility for directly organising investment”. This happened in the 25 years after World War II, but since the 1980s, the state’s share in total investment has fallen drastically, increasing economic instability. Notice that a large state investment share is not just a policy for the foxhole but a permanent part of economic management.

Secondly, governments should pursue counter-cyclical policy to limit the effect of remaining fluctuations. This means injecting extra spending into the economy when private spending falls and curtailing it when it rises. It can be done on the tax side, or spending side, or both. The ‘multiplier’, based on what is called ‘the marginal propensity to consume’, tells governments what the multiplied effect of any spending they add to or subtract from the economy will be.

The answer to the failures of both old-fashioned Keynesianism and newfangled monetarism is not to abandon the balancing role of the state, but to make it as automatic as possible. The state should commit to two things: a rolling programme of public investment and a public sector job guarantee.

The first would reduce fluctuations in investment to much narrower limits; the second would provide a buffer stock of jobs, which would automatically expand in a downturn and deplete in an upturn.

Public investment does not require public ownership. Much of it could be done by quasi-state institutions like public investment banks or funds or state-holding companies. These would operate under a broad central government mandate or ‘mission’ to use Mariana Mazzucato’s word, that reflects national purpose, but which insulates commercial decisions from political meddling.

The ‘counter-cyclical’ public sector job programme would be centrally financed, but with projects chosen and administered locally. The result of both policies pursued together would be to abolish unwanted unemployment for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.

These two balancing functions, public investment and counter-cyclical policy, are needed to ensure the full employment and stability of capitalist market economies. And the fuller the use of a country’s human resources, the more prosperous the country will be, the greater the social contentment and the less the danger of political extremism. This – in a nutshell – is the message of Keynes for our day.

Three objections

Now let us consider three neoclassical objections to Keynesian theory and policy.

First, as we have seen, economists believe the market economy to be much more naturally stable than Keynes supposed. Hence they view Keynesian demand management as inherently destabilising. History does not support them. The most stable period in modern times, with the fullest employment and fastest growth rate, has been the period from 1950 to1975, when Keynesian theory and policy was in control.

Second, anti-Keynesian economists teach that public investment ‘crowds out’ private investment. This is true if a government adds to public spending when all the economy’s resources are already fully employed. It is a cousin of the idea that public borrowing merely adds to the burdens of future generations. But whenever there is spare capacity, public investment can ‘crowd in’ private investment by increasing total demand for goods and services. Most governments drastically cut public investment after the 1970s. Growth was halved and unemployment rose. Some public investment is bound to be ‘wasted’, but this has to be compared with the waste of unemployment.

Third, monetarist economists – descendants of Milton Friedman – claim that Keynesian counter-cyclical policy is inherently inflationary. Vote-catching will lead Keynesian politicians to print too much money, resulting in creeping and eventually accelerating inflation.

Behind the monetarist argument is the belief that there is only one shock against which policy has to guard: government, which is governments ‘monkeying around’ with money. Instability in the price level can delude people into trading at false prices, disturbing the natural equilibrium of market transactions. If the key to economic stability is a low and constant rate of inflation, then control of the money supply (or equivalently) of interest rates needs to be taken out of the hands of politicians and vested in independent central banks.

History gives only qualified support to the monetarist thesis. Inflation was subdued throughout the 25 years of the Keynesian era and only started to rise at the end of the 1960s, for reasons much more connected with the Vietnam War than with Keynesian economics. As for the inherent stability of an economy with stable money: a decade of low inflation did not prevent the financial collapse of 2008-09.

Nor did quantitative easing – flooding the economy with central bank ‘base money’ or M0 in 2009-12 – bring about a robust recovery after the collapse. The aim of quantitative easing was to lower the cost of borrowing by forcing up the price of bonds. Its fallacy lay in the belief that the ‘money supply’ (which includes ‘broad money’ or bank credit) is directly under the control of the central bank. How much bank credit an expansion of base money brings about depends on Keynes’s ‘animal spirits’. A very high rate of interest can sometimes kill off a boom; but even a negative rate of interest might not produce recovery if expectations of profit from increased investment are zero.

Neoclassical economists are not the only critics of Keynesianism. Marxists would claim that such an updated Keynesian programme is just pie in the sky. A capitalist economy needs a ‘reserve army of the unemployed’ to keep up profits by keeping down wages. Only a fully socialised economy, they say, can abolish unemployment and maintain wage growth. The answer is that between 1950 and 1975, Keynesian-managed capitalist economies averaged unemployment rates of 2% to 3%, half of what they have been since; they had doubled the growth rates we have since had, with rising rather than stagnating wages; and at a cost in inflation only slightly higher than we have experienced under monetarist management.

No system of political economy is perfect. But it should be judged not by comparison with some ideal system, but with the realistic alternatives. Keynes set out to save democracy from the two challengers of his day – fascism and communism. He said that if we continued with laissez-faire in the face of massive unemployment, political freedom would not survive. “But it may be possible by a right analysis of the problem to cure the disease whilst preserving efficiency and freedom” (Keynes, 1936).

I would echo him today. I doubt if western populations will for much longer tolerate a political economy that delivers persisting underemployment, frequent crashes, stagnant wages, and extreme inequalities of wealth and income.

In thinking about our post-COVID-19 world, Keynes is an excellent start, but he did not solve all economic problems. Although he assumed that the desire to consume more would eventually be satiated by abundance, he had no inkling of long-run ecological constraints on growth. Keynes understood that inequality was both an economic and ethical problem, but his theoretical work was directed to overcoming unemployment, the big problem of the day, and he did not link it to the unequal distribution of wealth, which we are much more likely to do today.

European context

Let me conclude by putting what I have just said into a European context. This is a serious question, because while the rules of the European Union prevent member states from pursuing Keynesian policies at the national level, there is no provision for European-wide Keynesianism.

The fundamental design flaw of the eurozone has often been pointed out; it created a monetary union without three crucial tools which are needed to stabilise economies: a budget big enough to act as a balancer, a fiscal transfer capacity to deal with asymmetric shocks and a lender of last resort for the banking system. These were not accidental omissions. The European Economic and Monetary Union was built on the belief that they were unnecessary. The creators of the Union accepted the Friedman monetary doctrine that rule-governed market economies are naturally stable, which was consistent with the long-standing anti-inflationary views of the German Bundesbank. But it was worse than that: the eurozone treaty forbade the use of stabilising tools at the national level. What this meant is that the Union as a whole was badly equipped to deal with the kinds of shocks to which market capitalism is prone.

The conventional, or German, view of the financial crisis of 2008-09 was that it resulted from excessive public debts and fiscal profligacy of the Mediterranean countries. Had these countries balanced their budgets as the rules prescribed, the financial shock could have been avoided. The alternative, and I think correct, view, is that the Union provided no non-deflationary mechanism for adjusting current account imbalances between its members. Keynes’s remark of 1941 applies very accurately to the EU: “The process of adjustment is compulsory for the debtor, and voluntary for the creditor: the debtor must borrow; the creditor is under no such compulsion.” His Clearing Union set out to remedy this design flaw in the global system by providing for creditor adjustment, but no such mechanism was established in Europe. As result, Germany in particular was left free to pile up current account surpluses without limit. The system was maintained by an unstable system of creditor loans which dried up the moment debtors got into trouble.

With the fiscal policy of all member states constrained by balanced buget rules and public debt ceilings, monetary policy – the weaker stabilisation instrument – was the only macro policy available. Mario Draghi, European Central Bank (ECB) president, found a way of bending the rules of the ECB sufficiently to rescue the EU from collapse in 2015. But he recognised the limitations of a purely monetary stimulus. In an interview with Financial Times, Draghi (2019) said:

I [have] talked about fiscal policy as a necessary complement to monetary policy since 2014. Now the need is more urgent than before. Monetary policy will continue to do its job but the negative side effects as you more forward are more and more visible. Monetary pumping worked, but more feebly that fiscal pumping would have.

Draghi proposed a budget for the eurozone large enough to be a stabilising tool: this has not been acted on.

The COVID-19 crisis has brought one promising institutional innovation. In July of this year, the European Commission proposed a €750 billion European Recovery Fund, dubbed Next Generatioan EU. This would authorise the Commission to borrow in the capital markets on the EU’s behalf and disburse the loans raised as grants and loans, split half-and-half to its members.

However, it has two obvious limitations. The European Council called the fund ‘an exceptional response to temporary but extreme circumstances’. In other words, it is not intended to become a permanent part of the EU’s institutional structure, so it is limited in size, scope and duration.

And secondly, it still has to be agreed by all 27 member states. As a result of continuous wrangling, no budgetary allocations have yet been made. What seemed like an imaginative leap forward looks like a quagmire. As one analyst has remarked “a sword of Damocles therefore hangs over the whole plan”.

Many member states are still betting on that V-shaped recovery. Germany and France are planning to cut their deficits next year (Germany from 6.35% to 4.25%) with the ‘peak of the stimulus’ seemingly past. The calls for consolidation are like those leading to self-induced double dip of 2011.

Conclusion

With the world on the brink of yet another steep recession, and with ecological disaster looming, we can no longer afford the luxury of an economic policy which concentrates on the fight against inflation, leaves unemployment to emergency measures, distribution of wealth and income to the market, and ignores ecological challenges.

Overcoming the scourage of unemployment, connecting its treatment to issues of just distribution nationally and globally, and linking both to a Green New Deal: this tripartite task is the biggest politico-economic challenge facing us.

* This article is based on Robert Skidelsky’s keynote speech at the Intereconomics/CEPS online conference “COVID-19: From Lockdown to Recovery”, 27 October 2020.

References

Draghi, M. (2019, 30 September), Mario Draghi declares victory in battle over the euro, Interview, Financial Times.

Keynes, J. M. (1936), The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Macmillian.

Keynes, J. M. (1937), The General Theory of Employment, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 51, 212-223.

Pigou, A. C. (1933), The Theory of Unemployment, Macmillian, 252.

Skidelsky, R. (2009), The Return of the Master, Allen Lane.

Taleb, N. N. (2007), The black swan: The impact of the highly improbable, Random House.

Keynes: die erneute Rückkehr des Meisters

In der aktuellen Corona-Krise wiederholen sich die Muster früherer Krisen. Vor dem Hintergrund sinkender Produktion und steigender Arbeitslosigkeit versuchen Notenbanken und Staaten weltweit ihre Ökonomien vor einem größeren Absturz zu bewahren. Die Rezeptur für diese Stabilisierungspolitik basiert auf der Lehre des britischen Ökonomen John Maynard Keynes, die dieser vor dem Hintergrund der Großen Depression im Jahr 1936 in seiner „Allgemeinen Theorie der Beschäftigung, des Zinses und des Geldes“ beschrieb. Doch nicht nur in der Krise, auch darüber hinaus empfehlen sich die wirtschaftspolitischen Ansätze von Keynes für das 21. Jahrhundert.

Mein Buch „Keynes: Die Rückkehr des Meisters“ erschien im Herbst 2009, ein Jahr nach dem globalen Bankenkollaps von 2008 und den massiven Rettungsaktionen, die von Regierungen auf der ganzen Welt unternommen wurden. Damit gingen der Bailout eines bankrotten Bankensystems sowie umfangreiche geld- und fiskalpolitische Konjunkturprogramme einher. Anders als nach dem Wall-Street-Crash 1929 blieben die Regierungen in der Krise 2008/2009 nicht passiv. Ich gehe davon aus, dass durch diese Eingriffe eine weitere Große Depression verhindert werden konnte: Während die Wirtschaftsleistung nach dem Zusammenbruch 1929 über 13 Quartale in der Rezession blieb, beschränkte sich der Produktionsrückgang nach dem Zusammenbruch von 2008 auf vier Quartale.

Mit dem Rücken zur Wand ist jeder ein Keynesianer

Bevor die Wirtschaft sich wirklich erholen konnte, wurden die Maßnahmen infolge der Krise 2008/2009 bereits wieder zurückgefahren. Die Angst vor einer möglichen Überschuldung ließ die Regierungen die öffentlichen Ausgaben kürzen und die „Rückkehr des Meisters“ erwies sich als kurzlebig. „I guess everyone is a Keynesian in a foxhole“, sagte Robert Lucas, der Hohepriester der Chicagoer Wirtschaft. Keynes war offenbar nur für Notfälle gedacht.

Heute ist das Muster ähnlich. Die Regierungen waren gezwungen, einen großen Teil ihrer Volkswirtschaften zu schließen, um die Ausbreitung der Coronavirus-Pandemie zu stoppen, und haben großzügig finanzielle Mittel bereitgestellt, um die Einkommen der Unternehmen und Millionen von arbeitenden Menschen zu sichern. Aber sie hofften, dass der Staatshaushalt bei der Wiedereröffnung der Wirtschaft entlastet wird, wenn der Aufschwung v-förmig verläuft. Damit die Staatsverschuldung nicht außer Kontrolle gerät, wird nun bereits wieder über Steuererhöhungen gesprochen.

Dies scheint vernünftig. Viele Unternehmer und Ökonomen halten das Marktsystem für grundsätzlich gesund. Es wird zwar von Zeit zu Zeit krank und braucht daher Medikamente, aber im Grunde ist es selbstheilend, wie der menschliche Körper. Deshalb sollte die Behandlung in Umfang und Dauer begrenzt sein. Dies gilt insbesondere angesichts der Risiken der politischen Medizin. Der britische Ökonom John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) lehnte diese Analogie zwischen dem Marktsystem und dem selbstheilenden Körper ab und glaubte stattdessen, dass ein vom Staat unbeaufsichtigt gelassenes Marktsystem niemals gesund sein könne.

Keynes für Anfänger

Die meisten, die vom Keynesianismus gehört haben, glauben, dass diese ökonomische Schule darauf abzielt, Haushaltsdefizite zuzulassen. Das ist falsch. Keynesianismus ist eine Wirtschaftstheorie, die ein ausgeglichenes Produktions- und Beschäftigungsniveau mithilfe des Staatshaushalts ermöglicht. Das kann entweder mit einem Haushaltsüberschuss, einem Haushaltsdefizit oder einem ausgeglichenen Haushalt einhergehen, je nachdem, wie die wirtschaftliche Lage sich gerade darstellt. Es ist nicht von sich aus erstrebenswert, den Staatshaushalt auszugleichen. Vielmehr sollten konjunkturelle Auf- und Abschwünge ausgeglichen werden. Aber warum ist diese Balance so wichtig?

Keynes‘ revolutionäre Einsicht war, dass kapitalistische Marktwirtschaften nicht automatisch zur Vollbeschäftigung tendieren. Ihr Normalzustand tendiert zur Unterbeschäftigung, die sich bei einer ernsthaften Depression verschlimmert. Diese Behauptung schockierte die Ökonomen zur damaligen Zeit, deren Modelle lehrten, dass anhaltende Arbeitslosigkeit bei flexiblen Löhnen unmöglich sei. Keynes‘ Kollege aus Cambridge Arthur Pigou drückte diese Überzeugung so aus: „With perfectly free competition among workpeople and labour perfectly mobile … there will always be at work a strong tendency for wage-rates to be so related to demand that everybody is employed“ (Pigou, 1933). Ausgehend von diesem Argument, müssen sich arbeitslose Arbeitnehmer dafür entscheiden nicht zu arbeiten, indem sie auf Löhne bestehen, die die Arbeitgeber ihnen nicht zahlen können. Als Keynes während der Großen Depression die Millionen von Arbeitslosen um sich herum sah, bemerkte er, dass etwas mit den Modellen nicht stimmen kann! Die Leute wollen nicht arbeitslos sein. Sie finden unabhängig vom Lohn keine Arbeit.

Paradigmenwechsel

Die keynesianische Ökonomik beginnt mit einem Paradigmenwechsel. Keynes geht davon aus, dass Menschen arbeitslos sind, weil es keine Nachfrage nach Arbeit gibt. Doch diese Überlegung hatte die Wirtschaftswissenschaftler nicht wirklich überzeugt. Sie führten alle möglichen ausgefallenen Gründe an, um darzulegen, dass das, was wie unerwünschte Arbeitslosigkeit aussah, tatsächlich eine „Entscheidung für Freizeit“ war. Noch heute würde ich davon ausgehen, dass die meisten Ökonomen tief im Inneren glauben, dass fast alle Arbeitslosen einen Arbeitsplatz finden könnten, wenn sie es wirklich wollten oder wenn ihnen staatliche Sozialleistungen kein alternatives Einkommen bieten würden.

Aber warum erholen sich Volkswirtschaften nicht schnell von Zusammenbrüchen? Was ist mit der Idee der v-förmigen Erholung? Sicherlich kann ich, wenn ein Arbeitgeber mich nicht mit 500 Pfund pro Woche einstellen will, meine Lohnforderung so lange senken, bis es sich für ihn lohnt, mich einzustellen. Der orthodoxe Wirtschaftswissenschaftler hat eine fertige Antwort parat: Indem Arbeitnehmer auf unrealistische Löhne bestehen, nehmen sie sich selbst die Beschäftigung. Gegen diese Annahme führte Keynes zwei Gründe an, warum selbst flexible Löhne die Vollbeschäftigung nicht aufrechterhalten oder herstellen können.

Kaufkrafttheorie der Löhne

Sein erstes Argument lautete, dass jeder Produzent auch ein Konsument sei: Mein Lohn ist dein Einkommen, denn mit meinem Lohn kaufe ich deine Waren. Wenn mein Lohn sinkt, sinkt dein Einkommen. Eine Senkung der Produktionskosten (sei es durch Lohnkürzungen oder durch Entlassungen von Arbeitnehmern) vertieft also einen Einbruch, in dem gleichzeitig die Kaufkraft und die Gesamtnachfrage verringert wird. Ein Einkommensrückgang in einem Teil der Wirtschaft reduziert die Produktion in einem anderen Teil usw. Es entsteht eine Abwärtsspirale, da sich die Arbeitslosigkeit in der gesamten Wirtschaft rasch ausbreitet. Schließlich wird die Kaufkraft erst auf einem deutlich niedrigeren Niveau stabilisiert, wenn die Menschen aufhören zu sparen. Aber nichts passiert, um den Konsum anzuregen und damit eine Erholung zu fördern. Nur ausgebildete Ökonomen kommen auf die verrückte Idee, dass der Weg in den Wirtschaftsaufschwung darin besteht, dass alle die Ausgaben kürzen.

Vertrauen und Geldhaltung

Keynes‘ zweites Argument gegen die Idee der v-förmigen Erholung hatte mit der Geldhaltung zu tun. Es ist charakteristisch für eine Krise, dass Unternehmen ihr Geld horten bzw. ihre Barreserven aufstocken, statt zu investieren. Je größer diese „Liquiditätspräferenz“, desto höher ist der Zinssatz, den die Kreditgeber verlangen. Um die Produktion anzukurbeln, brauchen Kreditnehmer aber niedrigere, nicht höhere Zinsen. Wenn also das Vertrauen gering ist, bedeuten die höheren Zinssätze, die z. B. von den Banken verlangt werden, noch weniger Investitionen, weniger Konsum und weniger Beschäftigung.

So führen flexible Löhne und unflexible Zinssätze zu einer Vertiefung des Einbruchs. Anders als bei Robert Lucas bleibt die Wirtschaft ohne staatliche „Stimulierung“ in der Rezession. Aber die Mainstream-Ökonomik erlebt ein Comeback: Depressionen oder tiefe Rezessionen sind sehr seltene Ereignisse, wie die „schwarzen Schwäne“ von Nassim Taleb (2008). Es wäre absurd, das Wirtschaftsleben so zu organisieren, als stünde der nächste Einbruch unmittelbar bevor. Marktwirtschaften würden eine innere Stabilität aufweisen, sodass Krisen sehr seltene Ereignisse wären. Das hat Keynes jedoch bestritten: Schwarze Schwäne können jederzeit aus dem Nichts auftauchen.

Der Grund dafür ist laut Keynes, dass die Theorie der „sich selbst ausgleichenden“ Marktwirtschaft von der Vorstellung abhängt, dass jeder, und insbesondere Investoren die Zukunft genau vorhersagen können. Wenn sie den Wert der Vermögenswerte, die sie heute kaufen, in zehn Jahren genau berechnen könnten, würden sie niemals Dinge zu falschen Preisen kaufen. Wie Keynes (1937) schrieb: „The calculus of probability … was supposed to be capable of reducing uncertainty to the same calculable status as that of certainty itself.“ Aber das ist ein Mythos. „Actually, however, we have, as a rule, only the vaguest idea of any but the most direct consequences of our acts“ (Keynes, 1936). Dies ist ein zweiter Paradigmenwechsel, der vielen Ökonomen die Augen öffnete. Dies hatte erhebliche Konsequenzen. Weil die Zukunft ungewiss ist, werden private Investitionen – die von der Erwartung künftiger Erträge abhängen – unstetig sein. Der Wohlstand hängt von den „animal spirits“ der Menschen ab. Wenn sie sich zuversichtlich fühlen, stellen sie mehr Arbeiter ein; wenn sie pessimistisch sind, stellen sie weniger ein.

Stabilisierungspolitik

Aus dieser Darstellung des Marktverhaltens ergeben sich zwei Schlussfolgerungen: Erstens, Zusammenbrüche sind immer möglich, weil die Zukunft ungewiss ist; und zweitens, wenn sie geschehen, gibt es keine „automatischen“ Marktmechanismen, die einen schnellen Aufschwung gewährleisten. Deshalb muss der Staat als „Ausgleichsmechanismus“ in der Marktwirtschaft wirken. Er steigert oder senkt die Nachfrage je nach Bedarf.

Diese zwei Dinge sollten Regierungen tun, und zwar nicht nur im Notfall, sondern dauerhaft:

  1. Sie sollten die Investitionen stabilisieren. Dies können sie durch öffentliche Investitionsprogramme erreichen. Keynes (1936) schrieb: „I expect to see the state, which is in a position to [take] long views … taking an ever greater responsibility for directly organising investment.“ Dies geschah in den 25 Jahren nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg, doch seit den 1980er Jahren ist der Anteil des Staates an den Gesamtinvestitionen drastisch zurückgegangen, was die Instabilität der Investitionen erhöht.
  2. Die Regierungen sollten eine „antizyklische“ Politik verfolgen, um die Wirkung weiterer Schwankungen zu begrenzen. Das bedeutet, die Wirtschaft mit zusätzlichen Staatsausgaben anzukurbeln, wenn die privaten Ausgaben sinken, und sie zu drosseln, wenn diese steigen. Dies kann auf der Einnahmen- oder auf der Ausgabenseite oder auf beiden Seiten geschehen. Der „Multiplikator“, der auf der „marginalen Konsumneigung“ basiert, zeigt den Regierungen, welchen Gesamteffekt die zusätzliche oder reduzierte Nachfrage auf die Wirtschaft haben wird.

Diese beiden ausgleichenden Funktionen, öffentliche Investitionen und antizyklische Politik, sind notwendig, um Vollbeschäftigung und Stabilität in kapitalistischen Marktwirtschaften zu gewährleisten. Und je mehr Ressourcen kontinuierlich genutzt wurden, desto höher ist die Wachstumsrate und desto größer die soziale Zufriedenheit. Dies war – kurz zusammengefasst – die Botschaft von Keynes.

Gegenargumente

Lassen Sie uns nun die wesentlichen Einwände gegen die keynesianische Theorie und Politik betrachten. Der erste ist, wie wir gesehen haben, dass Mainstream-Ökonomen glauben, dass Marktwirtschaften eine natürliche Stabilität aufweisen, anders als es Keynes annahm. Aber es gibt auch Argumente gegen einzelne keynesianische Instrumente.

  1. Anti-keynesianische Ökonomen lehren, dass öffentliche Investitionen weniger effizient sind als private. Sie verdrängen (crowd out) sogar private Investitionen. Dies trifft zu, wenn alle Ressourcen der Wirtschaft voll ausgeschöpft werden. Wenn jedoch freie Kapazitäten vorhanden sind, können öffentliche Investitionen private Investitionen steigern (crowd in), indem sie die Gesamtnachfrage nach Gütern und Dienstleistungen erhöhen. Die meisten Regierungen haben die öffentlichen Investitionen nach den 1970er Jahren drastisch gekürzt. Das Wachstum wurde halbiert und die Arbeitslosigkeit stieg an. Tatsächlich wird ein Teil der öffentlichen Investitionen nicht effizient eingesetzt, aber das sollte mit der Ineffizienz von Arbeitslosigkeit abgewogen werden.
  2. Monetaristische Ökonomen – Nachfahren von Milton Friedman – behaupten, dass die keynesianische „antizyklische“ Politik zwangsläufig inflationär sein muss. Regierungen können den Konjunkturzyklus nicht steuern; und selbst wenn sie es könnten, würden sie im Bemühen Wählerstimmen zu gewinnen, so viel Geld drucken, dass es zu einer schleichenden und schließlich beschleunigten Inflation führen würde.

Diese monetaristische Kritik ist teilweise berechtigt. Aber auch hier müssen wir das keynesianische System mit der monetaristischen Alternative vergleichen. Monetaristen behaupten, dass die Märkte „antizyklisch stabil“ seien, wenn es keine „Schocks“ gäbe, da die Menschen rational in die Zukunft vorausschauen können. Der wichtigste „Schock“, gegen den Vorkehrungen getroffen werden müssen, sind unerwartete Änderungen des Preisniveaus. Diese können die Menschen dazu verleiten, zu falschen Preisen zu handeln. Der Schlüssel zur wirtschaftlichen Stabilität ist daher eine niedrige und konstante Inflationsrate. Dies macht es erforderlich, dass die Kontrolle der Geldmenge oder der Zinssätze aus der Verantwortung der Politiker genommen und unabhängigen Zentralbanken übertragen wird. Dieses System wurde in den 2000er Jahren in den meisten Ländern getestet. Es hat 2008 bis 2009 einen wirtschaftlichen Zusammenbruch nicht verhindert.

Selbst die Politik der quantitativen Lockerung – die Überschwemmung der Wirtschaft mit Zentralbankgeld oder M0 in den Jahren 2009 bis 2012 – führte nach dem Zusammenbruch nicht zu einer v-förmigen Erholung. Der Trugschluss der Monetaristen besteht darin, dass die Geldmenge (zu der die erweiterte Geldmenge oder Bankkredite gehören) nicht direkt unter der Kontrolle der Zentralbank steht. Wie viel Bankkredit eine Ausweitung der Geldbasis bewirkt, hängt von Keynes‘ „animal spirits“ ab. Ein sehr hoher Zinssatz kann einen Boom beenden, aber selbst ein negativer Realzinssatz führt möglicherweise nicht zu einer Erholung, wenn die „animal spirits“ sich verdunkeln.

Politikempfehlung

Die Antwort auf das Scheitern sowohl des altmodischen Keynesianismus als auch des neumodischen Monetarismus besteht nicht darin, die ausgleichende Rolle des Staates aufzugeben, sondern sie so automatisch wie möglich zu gestalten. Der Staat sollte sich zu zwei Dingen verpflichten: zu einem öffentlichen Investitionsprogramm und zu einer Arbeitsplatzgarantie im öffentlichen Sektor.

Das erste würde die Investitionsschwankungen enger begrenzen; die zweite würde einen Puffer an Arbeitsplätzen schaffen, der sich in einem Abschwung automatisch ausweiten und in einem Aufschwung reduzieren würde. Öffentliche Investitionen bedeuten nicht zwingend öffentliches Eigentum. Ein Teil davon könnte durch quasi-staatliche Institutionen wie öffentliche Investitionsbanken oder Unternehmen mit staatlicher Beteiligung getragen werden. Diese würden unter einem weit gefassten zentralstaatlichen Mandat stehen und damit nationale Ziele widerspiegeln, aber unternehmerische von politischen Entscheidungen trennen. Die öffentliche Arbeitsplatzgarantie würde zentral finanziert, aber mit Projekten, die lokal ausgewählt und verwaltet werden. Das Ergebnis beider Politiken gemeinsam wäre, dass zum ersten Mal seit der industriellen Revolution unerwünschte Arbeitslosigkeit abgeschafft würde.

Marxisten würden behaupten, dass ein solches aktualisiertes keynesianisches Programm nur ein Wunschtraum ist. Eine kapitalistische Wirtschaft braucht eine „Reservearmee der Arbeitslosen“, um die Profite zu erhöhen und die Löhne zu senken. Nur eine vollständig sozialisierte Wirtschaft, so sagen sie, kann die Arbeitslosigkeit abschaffen und das Lohnwachstum aufrechterhalten. Tatsächlich wiesen die keynesianisch geführten kapitalistischen Volkswirtschaften von 1950 bis 1975 eine durchschnittliche Arbeitslosenquote von 2 % bis 3 % auf, halb so hoch wie seither, mit steigenden statt stagnierenden Löhnen, und die Inflation war nur geringfügig höher als während monetaristischer Führung.

Kein System der politischen Ökonomie ist vollkommen. Aber es sollte nicht im Vergleich mit einem idealen System beurteilt werden, sondern mit den realen Alternativen. Keynes machte sich daran, die Demokratie vor den beiden Herausforderern seiner Zeit – Faschismus und Kommunismus – zu retten. Er sagte, wenn wir angesichts der Massenarbeitslosigkeit mit der Laissez-faire-Politik fortfahren würden, würde die politische Freiheit nicht überleben. Wird das Problem aber richtig analysiert, könnte es möglich sein, die Krankheit zu heilen und gleichzeitig Effizienz und Freiheit zu bewahren.

Diese Überlegungen sind auch heute aktuell. Ich bezweifle, dass die westliche Bevölkerung über längere Zeit eine politische Ökonomie tolerieren wird, die dauerhafte Arbeitslosigkeit, häufige ökonomische Abstürze, stagnierende Löhne und extreme Ungleichheiten bei Vermögen und Einkommen mit sich bringt. Der Keynesianismus löst nicht alle wirtschaftlichen Probleme. Keynes (1936) schrieb, die beiden großen Fehler der kapitalistischen Gesellschaften seien das Versagen, Vollbeschäftigung zu schaffen, und seine arbiträre und ungleiche Verteilung von Einkommen und Vermögen. Er machte sich daran, den ersten Fehler zu überwinden, was das große Problem der damaligen Zeit war. Diese beiden Therapien mit dem Green New Deal zu verbinden, bleibt die größte wirtschaftliche Herausforderung unserer Zeit.

Literatur

Keynes, J. M. (1936), The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Macmillian.

Keynes, J. M. (1937), The General Theory of Employment, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 51, 212-223.

Pigou, A. C. (1933), The Theory of Unemployment, Macmillian.

Taleb, N. (2008), Der schwarze Schwan: Die Macht höchst unwahrscheinlicher Ereignisse, Hanser.

Joseph Schumpeter

The theorist of “creative destruction,” one of the greatest economists of the 20th century, was no stranger to violent disruption in his personal life, as a new biography reveals

Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883-1950) was one of the greatest economists of the 20th century—commonly bracketed with such giants as Keynes, Hayek and Friedman. He is best known for his theory of “creative destruction”—the view that the capitalist system progresses by constantly revolutionising its economic structure. New firms, new products, new technologies continually replace old ones. Since innovation comes in fits and starts, the capitalist economy is naturally, and healthily, subject to cycles of boom and bust. The agent of this revolutionary process is the heroic entrepreneur: the individual owner in the 19th century, big business in the 20th. Innovation needs its reward, hence a dynamic economy is one which allows the innovator huge profits. Temporary monopoly is nature’s way of allowing innovators to gain from their inventions. Short-run inequity is the price of long-run progress.

Along with Schumpeter’s positive contribution went a persisting critique of conventional economics, whose concern with static problems of allocation in perfectly competitive markets rules out change and the role of the entrepreneur. But Schumpeter’s speculations ranged far beyond this, into the question of the durability of a civilisation which lives by continually destroying what it has created—a line of thought which went back to Marx in his Communist Manifesto. It may well be that Schumpeter has more to tell us about the nature of capitalism than the new breed of market idealists spawned by globalisation or by such 20th-century apostles of stabilisation as Keynes.

At least, that is the argument of Thomas K McCraw in Prophet of Innovation, his new biography of the great Austrian economist. It is a fine book, well paced and readable. There are plenty of good photographs, of Schumpeter himself and of the important people and places in his life. The theme of creative destruction appears against the background of Schumpeter’s own family uprooting, the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the turmoil of the interwar years, and the restless, and tragic, circumstances of his adult personal life. McCraw puts it like this: “Over the years he reinvented himself many times…Thinking not of where he started but of how he might move forward, he was well suited to grasp the mindset of the entrepreneur… [In Vienna] he learned that one’s identity in a rapidly changing world might come more from innovation than inheritance; that exchanging security for opportunity could bring great rewards; and that for someone with his gifts almost anything was possible.”

A thinker’s background cannot tell us everything about his thought, but it can tell us a great deal, and McCraw exploits his opportunities with great skill, while also giving the reader a lucid, non-technical account of Schumpeter’s ideas. His main insight concerns the effect on Schumpeter’s thinking of the impact of capitalist business on the still largely feudal order of central and eastern Europe. It was the speed of the transformation, and extent of the ensuing dislocation, which led him to reject the static equilibrium models of British economics, derived from a society where economic change was evolutionary and institutions very stable. Unlike his exact contemporary Keynes, Schumpeter always saw economics from the standpoint of the innovative businessman, not of the treasury or central bank.

One of McCraw’s failings is that he does not give a sufficiently concrete account of Schumpeter’s first 30 years. He bursts on the intellectual scene already a celebrity. The steps by which he reached his eminence are largely missing. Unlike Keynes, who never strayed far from Cambridge, Schumpeter was uprooted from his ancestral home. His family origins were solid Catholic German bourgeoisie, long settled in a couple of small towns in Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic. But when he was four, his father, who owned a textile business, died in a hunting accident. His mother Johanna, determined to secure a larger stage for herself and her son, moved to the provincial capital Graz, remarried a general, and, with her elderly aristocratic husband, shifted to Vienna where the 11-year-old Schumpeter was enrolled in a top gymnasium, Theresianum, proceeding from there to the University of Vienna, where he graduated in Roman and canonical law in 1906.

This double transplantation cost Schumpeter his roots, but fed his ambition. Johanna was one of those mothers who invested all her energies in the creation of a star. Schumpeter shared his mother’s ambition for him to succeed socially as well as intellectually. Outside the study, Schumpeter was an almost invented character. He started mixing with Austria’s aristocracy—as a young man he even fought a duel. He became a compelling conversationalist. He impressed old professors and dazzled young students, but he had no close male friends of his own age. The hour in the morning Keynes devoted to his investments, Schumpeter was reputed to spend on his toilette. “The new graduate,” McCraw writes, “dressed like a dandy, spent money freely, and carried on frequent liaisons with willing women.” He used to say that his three ambitions were to become the greatest economist, the greatest horseman and the greatest lover in the world, and only the decline of the cavalry had thwarted the fulfilment of all three.

McCraw could have made more of the mystery of Schumpeter’s appearance. It had more of the Levant than of Europe. Many people assumed he was Jewish, but there is no evidence of this, nor, as McCraw rightly emphasises, of any expressions of antisemitism. But Schumpeter made his strange looks a compelling feature of his personality. “He held his head high and tilted slightly backward, acccentuating his prominent chin and making his 5’8′ 145-pound frame look a little bigger than it was.”

Schumpeter possessed a prodigious capacity for work, but one would like to know more about his work habits and what he worked on. There is nothing about his eight years at Theresianum except that he emerged fluent in six languages. At the University of Vienna “it did not take Schumpeter long to find that he had a special gift for economics,” but apart from a single reference to his attendance at Bohm-Bawerk’s seminar on Marx, we learn little about what he actually studied, or the quality of his degree. He had no “special gift” for mathematics—but how much maths could he do? Two years after his graduation—aged 25—he published a 600-page book on economic method, and three years later a slenderer volume, The Theory of Economic Development (1911), which “launched his rise to stardom” from a temporary teaching job in a provincial Austrian university. On a visit to England in 1907, which confirmed a lifelong Anglophilia, the great lover unexpectedly acquired a well-connected English wife, Gladys Seaver, 12 years older than himself, with whom he was not “madly” in love. “Perhaps,” McCraw speculates not unreasonably, “it was again an issue of identity, of trying to reinvent himself as a continental aristocrat and an English gentleman.”

The Theory of Economic Development is Schumpeter’s first statement of the crucial role that entrepreneurs play in breaking up old and creating new structures and stimulating new wants, and the role of bank credit in financing innovation—themes he was to pursue for the rest of his life. It also established what was to become the main line of his defence of capitalism—that its destructiveness was inseparable from its creativity. Schumpeter was not a complete non-interventionist like his fellow members of the Austrian school, Ludwig Mises and Friedrich Hayek, but he was to come out decisively against the systematic stabilisation policy recommended by Keynes for fear it would end progress prematurely.

A surprising omission in McCraw’s account is any discussion of Schumpeter’s little book, Imperialism and Social Classes (1919), which tried to explain the the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire after the first world war. Bourgeois societies, Schumpeter argued, are by nature peaceful, but German and Austro-Hungarian politics had been dominated by a military aristocracy: “a machine of warriors, created by the wars that required it, which now creates the wars it requires.” Like Keynes, Schumpeter had vainly advocated a negotiated peace to save the European civilisation he loved. In 1919, he briefly became minister of finance in the rump Austrian state, but his stabilisation plan was powerless against hyperinflation. Here again McCraw lets down the reader: he tells us that Schumpeter’s ministerial career lasted six months, but nothing about how it ended.

Two devastating blows in short succession brought a “belated onset of… maturity.” His attempt to make money as a banker foundered in 1924 with the collapse of a bogus glassmaking company whose loans he had guaranteed. An adverse legal judgment, while exonerating him from wrongdoing, left him debts which took years to pay off and a blemished reputation. He wrote: “The promises of wealth and the threats of destitution that [capitalism] holds out, it redeems with ruthless promptitude.” Meanwhile, Schumpeter had fallen desperately in love with Annie Reisinger, 20 years his junior, the beautiful daughter of the concierge of the apartment building in which he had grown up. Inventing a middle-class background for her, and ignoring the inconvenient fact that he was still married to Gladys Seaver, Schumpeter rushed her to the altar in November 1925. A few months later came the death of his adored mother and, in August 1926, of Annie herself in childbirth. Schumpeter never fully recovered from this shattering of his hopes for wealth and personal happiness. “Everything now hangs on my ability to work,” he wrote to a friend. “If so, the engine will keep running, even if my personal life is over.” His celebrity lectures would pay off his debts; his serious work would be monuments to his Hasen—his mother and Annie.

The rest of his life was devoted to teaching, thinking and writing. He moved from a chair in Bonn in 1925 to one at Harvard in 1932, where he remained till his death in 1950. On the way, he acquired two devoted helpmates, Mia Stöckel, who managed his personal business in Bonn, and Elizabeth Boody, whom he married in 1937. At Harvard, he became a campus celebrity, holding court each afternoon in a coffee shop by the Widener Library. He was devoted to his students, and generous with his attention. Although Schumpeter insisted that “scientific” work must be kept free from the policy taint, he could not avoid politics completely in the 1930s and 1940s. Elizabeth had a soft spot for Japan, and Joseph regarded Soviet Russia as a greater danger than Nazi Germany—views which brought the couple to the attention of the FBI in the war.

McCraw provides excellent accounts of the three big books Schumpeter wrote at Harvard—Business Cycles (1939), Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) and his superb History of Economic Analysis, published after his death in 1954. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy sums up most of what Schumpeter had been thinking for the previous 30 years. It was also one of the most influential books of the 20th century. It transferred the defence of capitalism from the ground of the superiority of markets over central planning to that of the superiority of capitalism over socialism as an engine of technological progress, but one inseparable from huge costs in terms of disruption and inequity, and because of that, inherently fragile. Capitalism’s fatal flaw is exactly what Marx discerned in the Communist Manifesto: it creates a vested interest in social unrest by undermining the traditional ruling class without being able to create a ruling class of its own. To his own question “Can capitalism survive?” Schumpeter answered “No, I do not think that it can.” As JK Galbraith remarked, “Men of property and high corporate position do not rally to such friends.”

Unlike Hayek, Schumpeter defends the theoretic viability of socialism, but argues that the conditions of its arrival (except possibly in Britain) will be such as to make it intolerably oppressive. McCraw rightly points out the irony in Schumpeter’s treatment of socialism—which led some reviewers to believe that he was advocating it—but somehow misses the tragic implications of the thesis: capitalist civilisation is doomed, but its alternative, socialism, is appalling. He also, it seems to me, underestimates the huge importance Schumpeter’s discussion of democracy has had on the development of modern political science, particularly in the two propositions that politicians are entrepreneurs in votes, and that the true function of democracy is to choose leaders, not policies. What Schumpeter was arguing was that elitist democracy, or oligarchy, could give societies the advantages of dictatorship plus liberty. He saw Britain as the epitome of such a system. But in general he doubted the ability of contemporary democracies to exercise the required self-restraint.

Schumpeter was one of the dazzling minds of the 20th century, but was he a great economist? Unlike Smith, Ricardo and Keynes, he created no new theory, founded no new school. At Harvard, he taught many brilliant graduate students, some of them future Nobel laureates, but they went to his seminars more to dispute than to learn. He could certainly “do” economics, and indeed his erudition in the history of the discipline was unparalleled, but he viewed it largely from outside—that is, sociologically and historically. His major contributions to our understanding of the capitalist system stand outside the main development of the discipline, which has been towards increasing mathematical precision in stating the conditions for market equilibrium. As McGraw rightly emphasises, entrepreneurship can’t be fitted into formal models; we can’t predict the future because we can’t predict the appearance of exceptional individuals. Or as Schumpeter himself wrote: “We do not know enough in order to form valid generalisations or even enough to be sure whether there are any generalisations to form.”

Given the magnitude of Schumpeter’s achievement outside economics, this reader is left with a question: does economics, as taught and practised in the economics departments of top universities and published in top journals, rather than as Schumpeter understood it, have anything of importance to tell us about the conditions of contemporary economic and political life? Or is it, like the glass-bead game in Herman Hesse’s novel Magister Ludi, a kind of intellectual chess played by an elite of secular priests?

Letter: Remember Kissinger’s advice to the Ukrainians

Nato governments have rightly said they are willing to address Russia’s security concerns, but then say in the same breath that Russia has no legitimate security concerns because Nato is a purely defensive alliance. Whether we like it or not, a Nato that now borders Russia and could in future border even more of Russia is seen by Russia as a security concern.

In 2014 Henry Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post that “internationally [Ukraine] should pursue a posture comparable to that of Finland. That nation leaves no doubt about its fierce independence, co-operates with the west in most fields, but carefully avoids institutional hostility to Russia.”

A permanent “Finlandisation” of Ukraine would be unrealistic. But it should be possible for Nato, in close association with Ukraine, to put forward detailed proposals to negotiate a new treaty with Russia that engenders no institutional hostility. This would cover: the verifiable withdrawal of nuclear-capable missiles; detailed military confidence-building measures limiting numbers and demarcating deployment; and international agreement on presently contested borders between Russia and Ukraine.

Lord Owen
UK Foreign Secretary 1977-79

Lord Skidelsky
Historian, Fellow of British Academy

Sir Anthony Brenton
British Ambassador to Russia 2004-08

Christopher Granville
Former British Diplomat

Nina Krushcheva
Professor of International Affairs, The New School, New York, US

Letter in response to this letter:

Sovereignty also means freedom to change policy / From Helge Vindenes, Former Norwegian Diplomat (1958-1999), Padstow, Cornwall, UK

Speech on “Ukraine: Tactical Nuclear Weapons”

My Lords, I am grateful, as we all are, to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for initiating this debate and for drawing attention to the real danger of nuclear escalation.

I am in profound disagreement with the Government’s policy on Ukraine—I have said it before in this House and I shall say it again. This disagreement can be stated in one sentence: the Government’s policy is a war policy; I support a peace policy. I shall try to justify that.

The then Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, stated on 27 April:

“We will keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine.”

This policy has been repeatedly restated by government spokesmen. It is supported by the Opposition and echoed by the media.

In calling for peace, I may be an isolated voice in Britain, but not in the world. Everyone outside the NATO world is calling for negotiations and some within it—I draw attention to President Macron in particular. Let me try to be logical. The Government’s policy makes sense on one assumption: that Ukraine, with NATO military support and economic sanctions on Russia, will soon complete the reconquest of Ukraine, including Crimea. In this case, there will be nothing to negotiate; the deed will have been done—it will have been accomplished.

I am not privy to secret military intelligence, but such evidence as I have, plus a dose of common sense, suggests that neither Russia nor Ukraine can achieve their war aims at the present level of hostilities, so the pursuit of victory is bound to bring escalation on both sides. Russia will intensify its air war, and NATO will provide Ukraine with more weapons to shoot down Russian aircraft. At what point such escalation leads to the accidental or deliberate deployment of tactical nuclear weapons is anyone’s guess, but the danger must be there, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, pointed out. That is why the war should be ended as soon as possible, and that can be done only by negotiations based on a ceasefire.

I utterly reject the premise underlying the Government’s policy that it is up to Ukraine to decide if and when it wants to end the war. President Zelensky’s policy is to get his “land back entirely”. Of course, it is up to Ukraine to decide what to do, but we cannot give Ukraine carte blanche to determine its war policy when we are in fact providing it with the weaponry to continue the war at considerable sacrifice to our own people. The decisions for peace and war, and on what terms to end the war, must be taken by Ukraine and NATO jointly.

I have reached one conclusion which is more compatible with government thinking: that no meaningful negotiations are possible as long as President Putin remains in office and, more importantly, in power. It is not only that his personal prestige is too heavily implicated in an impossible object but that his attempt to achieve it is leading his country to disaster. His invasion of Ukraine has galvanised Ukrainian nationalism, expanded NATO, shifted the balance of power in Europe to its most anti-Russian eastern states, exposed hitherto hidden Russian military and technical weaknesses, subjected Russia to the most sweeping economic sanctions ever imposed, and provoked the emigration of many of the most talented Russian scientists, technicians, thinkers and artists. In sum, he has erected a new monument to imperfect and incompetent statesmanship.

Any settlement of the war which can inspire confidence in the future will require Mr Putin’s departure from the scene. I do not know how this is to come about; it is beyond our control. However, we can offer an incentive: our Government can say that they would be willing to join our partners in serious negotiations to end the war with a new Russian Government. This negotiation would include the future status of Crimea and the dropping of sanctions. It would encourage forces within the Russian state to implement a change of government. This is a tough but constructive policy that I would understand and support; I do not understand the present policy in intellectual terms. It might not succeed, but it is infinitely better than the dangerous bellicosity we seem to be trapped in.

Speech on the Autumn Statement 29 November 2022

My Lords, the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement is designed to reassure the markets of the sustainability of the public finances. That is, the Chancellor accepts as binding the views of the City of London, whether they are right or wrong. It is what the markets think that matters, not how matters really are—a nice intrusion of post-modernist thinking in what is supposed to be the hard science of economic policy-making.

It is pretty obvious why the Government should pay such attention to the financial markets. For decades, the financial sector has propped up the UK’s hollowed-out economy. Financial flows into the City of London allowed the country to neglect production and trade and artificially maintain a higher standard of living than its productive capacity warranted. Now we are paying the price.

Instead of starting to repair this long-term damage, the Autumn Statement is designed to repair the so-called “black hole” in the budget, in the belief that doing so will, by some magical process, produce an automatic surge in output and growth. In other words, it concentrates on shrinking the numerator, the budget, while ignoring the effects of that shrinkage on the denominator, which is GDP growth. Even in terms of maintaining investor confidence, that is misguided, as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, pointed out. How does the Chancellor imagine foreign creditors reacting if his spending cuts produce, or deepen, a recession?

Politics should be based on some theory, at any rate, but there is no explicit theory to be found in either the Autumn Statement or the OBR forecast. The Chancellor sets fiscal targets to reassure the markets. The OBR is there to reassure the markets that the Government’s targets are consistent with its own forecasts. The Treasury and the watchdog cling to each other for mutual protection behind a barrage of statistics that claim far more than they are entitled to.

If there is an implicit model behind both Treasury targets and OBR forecasts, it is the one known as financial crowding-out. There is assumed to be a fixed supply of capital, so the Government’s increased demand for funds puts upward pressure on interest rates. The rise in interest rates will “crowd out” any stimulus afforded by additional borrowing. That is why the less the Government borrow, the more growth you will get. That is simply a restatement of the “Treasury view” of the 1920s, explained by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill, who said that

“when the Government borrows in the money market it becomes a new competitor with industry and engrosses to itself resources which would otherwise have been employed by private enterprise, and in the process it raises the rent of money to all who have need of it.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/29; col. 53.]

Presumably, Jeremy Hunt would subscribe to that hoary doctrine, though doubtless in less orotund language. It is as though the Keynesian revolution had never happened; we are just back to pre-Keynesian orthodoxy. It is all embellished in various ways and tweaked here and there, but the substance is exactly the same. However, as the economist Rob Calvert Jump wrote in a recent article:

“There is now a consensus amongst economists that austerity does significant damage to an economy’s potential, undermining growth, as the experience of the last decade in Britain has shown us. Further austerity will do far more damage than a ‘fiscal hole’ that disappears with tweaks to models or accounting rules. The ‘fiscal hole’ is a dangerous fiction compared to the hard facts of austerity’s impact.”

The last point is particularly worth emphasising. How many people realise that the notorious “fiscal black hole” is the product of shifting definitions of net public sector debt?

Theory alone cannot provide us with all the answers; in fact, all the macro models are in more or less of a mess. I will give three examples. The first is the rise in the inactivity rate. There has been a fall of 227,000 in employment since a year ago. So we have a tight labour market with unemployment at 3.6%, a strong demand for labour and a falling labour participation rate. How can that be explained?

Secondly, there is the notorious productivity puzzle. No one has much of a handle on this. What we know is that the forecasts suggest there will be a dramatic fall in living standards, by about 7.1% over the next two years. How will creating a depression stimulate enterprise, innovation or investment, which are the drivers of productivity?

Finally, inflation is expected to peak at 11% in the first quarter and then fall. Again, the discussion really makes no advance on the old discussion about the causes of inflation, whether due to excess demand or cost push—there are, of course, cost-push factors. I think everyone understands that the UK’s support of Ukraine has pushed up energy prices. That is why the Government are now explicitly asking the public to save energy to beat Putin, using crude, World War II-style “Dig for Victory” messaging. What is much less understood is that the UK has a special problem: gas is particularly expensive here, due to our chronic lack of gas storage and our inefficient and exploitative energy distributors.

To conclude, I am strongly in favour of balancing the budget, but not by any mixture of cutting spending and raising taxes. The approach I would favour in present circumstances revives the almost forgotten Keynesian idea of a balanced budget multiplier. A contemporary version of this would suggest a windfall tax or excess profits tax on energy producers, the proceeds of which would be spent by the Government on maintaining investment and consumer demand in the face of the economic downturn.

Too Poor for War

Nov 8, 2022 ROBERT SKIDELSKY and PHILIP PILKINGTON

Decades of deindustrialization have hollowed out the UK economy and made it woefully ill-prepared for wartime disruptions. As the financial speculators who funded its current-account deficits turn against the pound, policymakers should consider Keynesian taxes and increasing public investment.

LONDON – A wartime economy is inherently a shortage economy: because the government needs to direct resources toward manufacturing guns, less butter is produced. Because butter must be rationed to make more guns, a war economy may lead to an inflationary surge that requires policymakers to cut civilian consumption to reduce excess demand.

In his 1940 pamphlet “How to Pay for the War,” John Maynard Keynes famously called for fiscal rebalancing, rather than budgetary expansion, to accommodate the growing needs of the United Kingdom’s World War II mobilization effort. To reduce consumption without driving up inflation, Keynes contended, the government had to raise taxes on incomes, profits, and wages. “The importance of a war budget is social,” he asserted. Its purpose is not only to “prevent the social evils of inflation,” but to do so “in a way which satisfies the popular sense of social justice whilst maintaining adequate incentives to work and economy.”

Joseph E. Stiglitz recently applied this approach to the Ukraine crisis. To ensure the fair distribution of sacrifice, he argues, governments must impose a windfall-profit tax on domestic energy suppliers (“war profiteers”). Stiglitz proposes a “non-linear” energy-pricing system whereby households and companies could buy 90% of the previous year’s supply at last year’s price. In addition, he advocates import-substituting policies such as increasing domestic food production and greater use of renewables.

Stiglitz’s proposals may work for the United States, which is far less vulnerable to external disruption than European countries. With a quarter of the global GDP, 14% of world trade, and 60% of the world’s currency reserves, the US can afford belligerence. But the European Union cannot, and the UK even less so.

While the UK has been almost as aggressive as the US in its response to Russia’s actions, Britain is far less prepared to manage a war economy than it was in 1940: it makes fewer things, grows less food, and is more dependent on imports. The UK is more vulnerable to external shocks than any major Western power, owing to decades of deindustrialization that have shrunk its manufacturing sector from 23% of gross value added in 1980 to roughly 10% today. While the UK produced 78% of the food it consumed in 1984, this figure had fallen to 64% by 2019. The British economy’s growing reliance on imported energy has made it even less self-sufficient.

For decades, the financial sector propped up the UK’s hollowed-out economy. Financial flows into the City of London allowed the country to neglect trade and artificially maintain higher living standards than its export capacity warranted. Britain’s current-account deficit is now 7% of GDP, compared to a current-account surplus of 1.3% of GDP in 1980. Until recently, the British formula had been to finance its external deficit by attracting speculative capital into London via the financial industry, which had been deregulated by the “big bang” of 1986.

This was brilliant but unstable financial engineering: foreigners sent the UK goods that it otherwise could not afford, Britain sent them sterling in return, and foreigners used the pound to buy British-domiciled assets. But this was a short-term fix for the long-term decline of manufacturing, enabling the UK to live beyond its means without improving its productivity.

In his 1930 Treatise on Money, Keynes distinguishes between “financial circulation” and “industrial circulation.” The former is mainly speculative in purpose. But an economy that depends on speculative inflows experiences financial booms and busts without any improvement to its underlying growth potential. The UK’s strategy echoed this observation: it did little to develop exportable goods that could improve the current-account balance, and its success depended on foreigners not dumping the pound.

But the speculator’s logic, as George Soros explains, is to make a quick buck and get out before the crash. Relying on speculators is like a narcotics addiction: a temporary high becomes a necessary crutch. The energy crisis brought on by the Russia-Ukraine war was the equivalent of cold-turkey withdrawal, blowing an even larger hole in the UK’s trade balance. The current-account deficit is expected to increase to 10% of GDP by the end of 2023, providing short-term investors with a strong incentive to sell their sterling-denominated bonds.

The pound’s ongoing decline will make UK imports more expensive. And since import prices will likely rise faster than export values, the decline in the sterling’s exchange rate will probably widen the current-account deficit, not least because the country’s diminished manufacturing sector depends heavily on imported inputs. As the pound depreciates, the price of these imports will increase, resulting in even greater erosion of living standards.

This leaves policymakers with few good options. The Bank of England has already raised interest rates to maintain inflows of foreign capital, but high interest rates will likely crash housing and other asset markets that have become addicted to rock-bottom rates over the past 15 years. Taking steps to balance the budget may temporarily calm markets, but such measures would not address the British economy’s underlying weakness. Moreover, there is no evidence that fiscal consolidation leads to economic growth.

One possible remedy would be to revive government investment. UK public investment fell from an average of 47.3% of total investments between 1948 and 1976 to 18.4% between 1977 and 2007, leaving overall investment dependent on volatile short-term expectations.

The only way the UK could “pay for the war” is to implement an industrial strategy that aims to increase self-sufficiency in energy, raw materials, and food production. But such a policy will take years to bear fruit.

All European countries, not just Britain, face an energy crisis as a result of the disruption of oil and gas supplies from Russia, and policymakers are eager to increase energy inflows. But any deal with Russia as it wages its war on Ukraine with apparent disregard for human life would carry enormous moral and political costs.

One possible way forward may be to reach an agreement to ease economic sanctions in exchange for a resumption of gas flows. Given its special economic vulnerability, and following Brexit, Britain is well placed to explore this idea on behalf of – but independently from – the EU.

A limited agreement could ease Europe’s energy crisis while allowing continued military support for Ukraine. But it should be conditional on Russia reducing the intensity of its horrific “special military operation.” Negotiation of a limited energy-sanctions deal could, perhaps, open the door to a wider negotiation aimed at ending the war before it engulfs Europe.

As for the UK, in the short term it will remain dependent on City-generated financial inflows to prevent a catastrophic near-term collapse of the pound, forcing the new British Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to scramble to “restore confidence” in the British economy. In lieu of Keynesian taxes or public investment, that will most likely mean drinking more of the austerity poison that caused Britain’s current malady.

Reinstating fiscal policy for normal times: Public investment and Public Jobs Programmes

ROBERT SKIDELSKY and SIMONE GASPERIN (2021)

Abstract:

This paper upholds the classical Keynesian position that a laissez-faire market economy lacks a spontaneous tendency to full employment. Focusing on the UK case, it argues that monetary policy could not prevent the economic collapse of 2008-9 or achieve full recovery from the Great Recession that followed. The paper then outlines the case for fiscal policy to regain a permanent status of primacy in modern macroeconomic management, beyond the pandemic emergency. It distinguishes between public investment and automatic stabilisers, reducing discretionary actions to a minimum. It presents the case for re-empowering the State’s public investment function and for reforming the system of automatic counter-cyclical stabilisers by means of public jobs programmes.

1. Introduction

Even before the advent of the pandemic crisis, economic policy had begun to inch back to the use of fiscal instruments after decades of belief in the efficacy of monetary policy to maintain the lowest possible –i.e. non-accelerating inflation –rate of unemployment (NAIRU). Already in an October 2019 speech, former ECB Chairman Mario Draghi was talking about “fiscal policy playing a more supportive role alongside monetary policy.”This reappraisal followed the failure of quantitative easing (QE) to providethe promised recovery in prices and output after the Great Recession. Conventional economic theory could not explain why trillions of QE assets remained stuck in bank deposits offering negative real rates of return. Even the very same Central Banks that have implemented unconventional monetary policy programmes have recently admitted that “important knowledge gaps remain” over the “technical understanding of QE” (Bank of England, 2021b).Disappointment over monetary policy has coincided with a much more positive reading of the global fiscal boost in 2008-9, and a much more negative interpretation of Europe’s subsequent espousal of fiscal ‘consolidation’. A notable turning point was the rehabilitation of fiscal multipliers in 2013 by the IMF Chief Economist (Blanchard and Leigh, 2013), whose findings have been recently confirmed and extended (Fatas & Summer, 2018; Brancaccio and De Cristofaro, 2020). This reflected both disappointment with the results of monetary policy and the reduced costs of fiscal policy opened up by interest rates stuck at the zero lower bound. In short, the economic crisis of 2008 exposed long-standing muddles in conventional macroeconomic theory, with vicious interrelated consequences (Gabellini and Gasperin, 2019). However, no generally agreed vision exists for future conduct of macroeconomic policy. While monetary policy is generally viewed as insufficient to safeguard macroeconomic stability, the demand for fiscal ‘help’ is still far from being a principled discussion, more in the nature of a temporary emergency response to an unexpected shock, as championed by IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath (2020) or by the Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey (2021), who merely sees fiscal policy as “helping to spread the cost of this [Covid-19] shock over time”. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, governments have run up deficits and debts unprecedented in peacetime, without abandoning the consensual theory of what constitutes fiscal prudence in the long term.Our proposition is that fiscal policy should be reinstated as part of a coherent and permanent framework for macroeconomic policy. In fact, the economic recovery that will follow the gradual resolution of the pandemic emergency will leave economies with higher debt-to-GDP ratios.A return to fiscal consolidation, without any consideration to the actual level of activity, must be avoided.1 This paper sketches the principles of a new fiscal policy approach, which would allow the maintenance of employment and output as near as possible to their optimal levels, while minimising the scope for discretionary spending driven by special interests. The focus is on the UK case.Section 2 of the paper outlines the main features of pre-crash orthodoxy. Section 3 shows how monetary policy failed in practice to stabilise the economy, both before and after the crash. Section 4 explains the causes of this failure. Section 5 outlines the case for reinstating fiscal policy. Section 6 discusses the importance of public investments in protecting against cyclical shocks and improving the long-run performance of the economy. Section 7 proposes a strengthening of the system of automatic fiscal stabilisers, embracing the introduction of a public sector job programme. Section 8 summarises the elements of theproposed fiscal approach.

2. Pre-crash macroeconomic orthodoxy

Pre-crash macroeconomic orthodox policy was essentially underpinned by the following beliefs:

(1) The belief in optimally self-regulating markets, with the supposed existence of a ‘natural’ rate of unemployment to which the economy automatically converges.This is associated with the rational expectations revolution of the 1970s, championed by Robert Lucas and Thomas Sargent. In their models (Lucas, 1972) there is no uncertainty, only risk,and wages and prices are flexible. The ‘New Keynesians’ pointed out that the existence of sticky nominal prices and wages prevented the economy from being optimally self-adjusting (Mankiw and Romer, 1991), but mainstream policy saw this fact as an invitation to de-regulate product and labour markets. It was, therefore, the economics of Lucas and his school which provided a theoretical underpinning for the Thatcher and Reagan liberalisations and labour market reforms of the 1980s. On top of this, Eugene Fama’s (1970) ‘efficient market hypothesis’ rationalised financial de-regulation and justified the expansion of banking, as giving a promise of uninterrupted liquidity.

(2) The control of inflation is a necessary and normally sufficient condition for macroeconomic stability. This is attributed to Milton Friedman’s (1968) elegant demonstration that competitive market economies2would be stable at their ‘natural rate of unemployment’ provided the rate of inflation was kept low and constant.

(3) Monetary policy is superior to fiscal policy for stabilisation purposes. This also followed from Milton Friedman’s argument3that fiscal policy operates only with ‘long and variable lags’, so that government interventions are likely to have their impact in the wrong phase of the business cycle.

(4) Stabilisation policy should be carried out by independent central banks,4insulated from political interference and applying mechanical rules. In contrast, the vote-seeking propensity of politicians would infallibly lead them to overheat the economy by running budget deficits at full employment.

(5) The State is less efficient in allocating capital than the private sector. Although Adam Smith ([1776] 1976) recognised the State’s responsibility to provide public goods such as transport and education, this was downplayed by his successors. David Ricardo (1817) notably remarked that only ‘productive industry’ could generate useful capital. This kind of reasoning underpinned the marginalisation of the State’s investment function from the 1970s. It also fed the idea that State budgets should be balanced at the lowest feasible level of taxes and revenues to prevent them from ‘stealing’ productive resources from private industry.

In summary, orthodox theory held that fiscal policy should have little or no influence either on the economy’s level of output or upon the allocation of capital.The year 1976 represented the symbolic point of hegemonic transition from Keynesian fiscal to Friedmanite monetary policy, particularly in the UK.That year James Callaghan, Labour’s prime minister, told his party conference5 (quoted in Skidelsky, 2018, pp. 169-170):“We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession, and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step. Higher inflation followed by higher unemployment…That is the history of the last twenty years.”

Economists will recognise this as the death sentence ofPhillips Curve Keynesianism (Phillips, 1958). Prime Minister Callaghan’s account, which echoed Friedman’s narrative of the 1960s, ignored the fact that the average inflation rate in the UK was lowerin the 1960s than it had been in the 1950s, while in the United States it was about the same (table 1). The record shows that full employment and low inflation –coinciding with a low ‘Discomfort Index’, the sum of the rates for inflation and unemployment popularised later by the McCracken Report (OECD, 1977) -were perfectly compatible with intelligent Keynesian fiscal policies. In contrast, the golden age of macroeconomic monetarist management (i.e. the 1990s) recorded higher Discomfort Indexes, due to the inability to reduce unemployment down to the levels of the 1950s and 1960s. Moreover, the relative importance of those two macroeconomic objectives shifted away from the full-employment commitment of the Keynesian era to the univocal obsession with inflationtargets, embedded in the policy approach of major central banks during the 1990s.6What these figures also show is that the so-called ‘fiscal theory of inflation’ -the theory that the government would always use inflation to meet its budget constraint -is at the very least vastly exaggerated. Although inflation was starting to rise at the end of the 1960s it really only took off in the 1970s, under the influence of a coordinated world boom (which caused a dramatic rise in commodity prices), the first oil price shock and the breakdown of the international monetary system (Skidelsky, 2018, pp. 164-167).

Friedman’s explanation of the higher rates of inflation over the 1970s is thus seriously incomplete. As confirmed by Benati (2008, p. 123): “the Great Inflation was due, to a dominant extent, to large demand non-policy shocks, and to a lower extent ―especially in 1973 and 1979 ―to supply shocks.”

Nevertheless, the stagflation period continued to be considered as the empirical demonstration that demand-management fiscal policy was ultimately ineffective –if not deleterious –as a tool of macroeconomic stabilisation.The withdrawal of the State from stabilisation policy was matched by the shrinkage of its role in allocating capital to guide the investment decisions of private business. Since the mid-1970s, public investment as a share of total investment has steadily fallen indeveloped countries. The UK’s record is illustrative (figure 1): from an average of 47.3% in the years 1948-1976, the public investment share fell to 18.4% in the years 1977-2007. This has left total investment unduly dependent on volatile short-term expectations.

3. The weakness of monetary policy during the Great Moderation and its failure after the 2008 crisis

The case for reinstating fiscal policy as the main instrument for macroeconomic stabilisation rests on the limitations of monetary policy. Monetary policy has had a prolonged trial, from the 1980s to the present day. The evidence is consistent with two conclusions.First, central bankers’ achievement of their target rates of inflation during the Great Moderation, which lasted from the mid-1990s to 2008, was more the result of external factors than of good policy, as Roger Bootle argued in The Death of Inflation(1997). Likewise, Mervyn King (1998, p. 2) talked about a “benign environment” for monetary policy during the Great Moderation. Second, since the economic downturn of 2008-9, central banks have been trying in vain to restore the pre-crash trend rate of economic growth. In other words, monetary policy has had much less direct influence on the real economy than orthodox monetary theorists believe, and inflation outcomes are more the result of real-economy developments than their cause.In the immediate post-crash years (2008-2010), monetary and fiscal policy acted together to halt the downturn resulting from the 2008 financial crisis. “Deficits saved the world” declared Paul Krugman (2009). In the UK, government deficit relative to GDP increased above the 9% level in the years 2009-2010, keeping the economy afloat. Subsequent monetary expansion on its own failed to offset the effects of the fiscal consolidation started by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in his budget of June 2010 (figure 2).

With conventional interest rate policy disabled, as official rates hit the zero lower bound, central banks resorted to ‘unconventional monetary measures’ in the form of quantitative easing, or buying government securities. In the UK, three rounds of quantitative easing (QE) in 2009-10, 2011-12, and 2016 injected into the British economy about £435 billion of ‘high-powered’ money corresponding to 21.8% of GDP in 2016. These measures did not achieve the recovery of prices one would associate with a strong upward movement of the business cycle (figure 3). Most importantly, the main failure of unconventional monetary policy was its inefficacy in revamping economic growth (figure 4). In the post-crisis years (2010-2019), real GDP growth was more than 1 percentage point lower than during the Great Moderation period (1997-2006).

QE was supposed to work through two main transmission channels. First, buying government debt held by banks would cause them to lower interest rates, making it cheaper for households and businesses to borrow money. Secondly, buying both public and commercial debts from non-financial companies, would stimulate investment “by boosting a wide range of

financial asset prices” (Bank of England, 2021a). However, this did not happen as quickly as foreseen, given that total business investment (in real terms) in 2014 was still below its pre-crisis level, with large variations among sectors: already in 2011 investment in real estate was close to its 2007 value, while it took until 2015 for the manufacturing sector to recover its pre-crisis value, confirming the relatively small impact of expansionary monetary policy outside housing (Krugman, 2014).7Slashing the official Bank Rate and implementing an unconventional programme of large-scale purchases of government bonds did lower short-term and long-term interest rates (figure 5), without spurring bank lending and business investment. The only clear impact was on government’s borrowing costs: interest rates on 10-year Gilts fell from 4.02% to 0.83% at the end of 2019, creating a fiscal bonus for extra primary spending.

The underlying expectation of monetary authorities, based on the theory of the money multiplier, was that an increase of base money M0 would lead to a multiplied expansion of broad money M4.8 In fact, as figure 6 shows, the relationship between these two variables in the period 2009-2015 was inverse.

This meant that QE failed to unblock the two expected transition channels from money to output and prices: the demand for bank loans did not respond to the lower structure of interest rates enabled by QE and asset owners (i.e. households and businesses) did not increase their spending (see Author, 2018, pp. 258-273). It was not the scarcity of liquidity that stopped businesses from investing, but rather a lack of demand, reinforced by the concurrent implementation of contractionary fiscal policy.

4. Theoretical shortcomings of monetary policy

The mediocre results achieved by monetary policy point to a key theoretical weakness: the scant attention paid to the causes and existence of what Keynes ([1936] 2018) called the “speculative-motive” or demand for money. In expecting QE to generate increased business

investment, the Bank of England ignored the possibility that the cash proceeds of the Bank’s bond sales would be ‘hoarded’, rather than spent. The United Kingdom Economic Accounts compiled by the ONS show that total currency and depositsof non-financial corporations in the UK increased from £ 428 billion in 2009 to £ 750 billion ten years later.The emergence of ‘idle balances’ was a well-established explanation of business downturns before Keynes. It was stated clearly by Hawtrey in 1925 (p. 42):

“When trade is slack, traders accumulate cash balances because the prospects for profit for any enterprise are slight, and the rate of interest from any investment is low. When trade is active, an idle balance is a more serious loss, and tradershasten to use all their resources in the business.”

Keynes took hold of the idea of ‘liquidity preference’ in the General Theoryand ran with it. First, he thought of it arising not just in moments of anxiety but as a normal condition of capitalist economies, given the inherent uncertainty about the future. It is his basic explanation of long-run underemployment equilibrium. Second, he thought of the rate of interest as the ‘price’ of dishoarding, not the reward for saving. Savings could not therefore be treated as ‘loanable funds’, whose rate of return had only to come down for investment to pick up. Third, absent official intervention, the liquidity premium attaching to money would prevent the establishment of a long-run rate of interest consistent with continuous full employment. Fourth, Keynes distinguished clearly between the cost of capital and the demand for capital. Central Bank policy can influence the financing of credit, but not the decision to invest which ultimately depends on the expected returns from the investment. QE adds to the liquid reserves of banks and corporations, it does not automatically reduce ‘risky’ lending rates or increase the marginal efficiency of capital.The Bank of England also ignored the distributional effects of its bondbuying policy. Its assumption was that, by raising asset prices, QE would automatically deliver the ‘wealth effect’ of increased consumption. Nevertheless, given the different class propensities to consume, this ‘effect’ turned out to be too small to stabilise consumption, with much of it being hoarded by wealthier individuals. Summing up this line of argument, the quantity of money is not an independent variable that affects lending and spending activities. The causality is rather the opposite: money circulation through the lending process depends on the level of economic activity (McLeay et al., 2014). How much QE-generated purchasing power is spent producing output depends on business expectations, and these ultimately depend on the state of effective demand, that is, having ‘consumers at the door’.

5. The need for fiscal policy and the conditions of its reinstatement

The Keynesian case for macroeconomic policy rests on the claim that a market economy lacks any efficacious internal mechanism for reaching and maintaining full employment. Moreover, because of radical uncertainty, investment is subject to sudden collapses. Such downturns, far from triggering V-shaped recoveries via flexible wages and prices, lead to a more general decline in aggregate demand. Monetary policy on its own is relatively powerless to prevent the collapse of business expectations or to counter the ensuing fall in aggregate demand.

This leads to the case for reinstating fiscal policy as a ‘necessary’ and ‘permanent’ tool of macroeconomic management.9The prime objective of fiscal policy should be to influence the level of aggregate demand in order to eradicate involuntary unemployment, accommodating the highest growth potential of the economy. A distinction needs to be made between capital and current spending.10Although both play a part in influencing demand, their functions are partly different. The role of capital spending is to help equip the economy with the infrastructures and the capital goods it needs for achieving better productive capabilities and a superior growth rate of the economy. The role of current spending is to provide the necessary resources for the government to carry out its ordinary functions, such as the provision of goods and services to the population, especially when it comes to offsetting short-term collapses, as in the recent case of the COVID-19 crisis.Following from these distinctions, fiscal policy should be reinstated in its double aspect of steadying total investment and offsetting cyclical disturbances through more automatic mechanisms.

6. The role of public investment

The return of macroeconomic policy management in normal times requires a permanent public investment function for the State. In the final chapter of his General Theory, Keynes ([1936] 2018, p. 336) stated the logic behind it as follows: “It seems unlikelythat the influence of banking policy on the rate of interest will be sufficient by itself to determine an optimum rate of investment. I conceive, therefore, that a somewhat comprehensive socialisation of investment will prove the only means of securing anapproximation to full employment;though this need not exclude all manner of compromises and of devices by which public authority will co-operate with private initiative.” The State should therefore determine the volume, and influence the direction,of investment by its own capital spending, and not just seek to influence the price(i.e. the interest rate) of investment through monetary policy.This was fully recognised in the Keynesian era, when the large share of public investment over total investment contributed to reducing the inherent volatility of private investment (figure 1). The logic of this argument is that public investment level should be partly independent of the business cycle and based on “long views and on the basis of the general social advantage”11(Keynes, [1936] 2018, p. 143). When the economy slows down, public investment programmes should be maintained, independently from short-term public financing needs. A guaranteed flow of public projects would provide the expectational foundation of a growing economy, by reducing the scope for violent fluctuations in overall investment (Kalecki, 1971).12This is now increasingly supported by recent empirical evidence, which seems to confirm that ‘Schumpeterian’ public investments have sizeable multiplier and accelerator effects (Deleidi and Mazzucato, 2019). For a sample of eleven Eurozone countries (1970-2016), Deleidi et al. (2020, p. 354) have found that “fiscal multipliers tend to be larger than one and an increase in public investment engenders a permanent and persistent effect on the level of output”. Similar results are obtained with respect to public investment and military spending by Gechert & Rannenberg (2018), based on a collection of 98 existing studies. Estimates of this long-term ‘supermultiplier’ effects (Deleidi et al., 2019) for the US economy (1947-2017) report multiplier values on GDP to be 2.12 for direct public investment (including R&D), up to 7.76 for non-military R&D public investment. Public investment is performed by central and local governments or by government-controlled entities. In the first case, investment spending is often contracted out to the private sector, which assumes the responsibility for implementing the single investment projects. This normally increases the cost effectiveness of investment projects, while affecting the planning capacity of the State when it comes to promptly executing its investment programmes (Kattel and Mazzucato, 2018).Alternatively, public investment projects could be ‘internalised’,by making use of dedicated public agencies, which represent a more direct tool of policy intervention and state planning. In the UK, a significant share of public investments is performed by public corporations, whose investments are accounted separately from other business investments.13However, the share of public investments performed by public corporations in recent decades have been significantly lower than in the post-war years. The average share of investments made by public corporations from the early 1950s until the late 1970s was 44.5%, while it only represented 18.4% in the 1980-2016 period.14This is mostly explained by the privatisation of previous State corporations, operated throughout the 1980s, which compromised the capacity of the BritishState to directly orient public investments in a more targeted way. A more effective role for the State in planning its investment programmes does not necessary imply the re-nationalisation of large chunks of the economy. Nevertheless, the macroeconomic efficacy of public investment can be reinforced with a further internalisation of investment projects within existing public entities and with a greater involvement in the coordination of investments performed by private businesses, as notably advocated decades ago by the Nobel Laureate James Meade (1970).

7. The role of public jobs programmes

The normalisation of fiscal policy as a tool to reach and maintain full employment is complemented by the role that automatic fiscal stabilisers play in taming thebusiness cycle. These can be further strengthened by means of public sector job programmes, which would directly offset cyclical variations in employment.According to Paul Samuelson (1948, pp. 332-334): “the modern fiscal system has great inherent automatic stabilizing properties.” When the economy turns down, government tax receipts fall and spending on unemployment benefits and other transfers rise, creating an automatic deficit which offsets the fall in private spending (or in terms of the national income identity offsets the rise in private sector saving). When the economy recovers the budget automatically re-balances. Following on from Minsky’s early theorisation of the government as “an employer of last resort” (1986; 2013), and in line with the existing policy research from the Levy Institute in the US15(Wray et al., 2018), this paper advocates a Public Job Programme (PJP). This is tailored for the UK economy, but can readily be applied in other countries. It would not only restrict discretion overfiscal policy, but it would also constitute a much more powerful –and modern –counter-cyclical stabiliser than the system described by Samuelson.

7.1 Earlier versions of public job programmes

Far from being a revolutionary innovation, the PJP idea is “plain common sense” as Keynes and Henderson (1929, p. 10) put it when backing Lloyd George’s programme of loan-financed public works to reduce the then high level of British unemployment.The Lloyd George plan did not see the light in the UK, but it would soon find its most famous realisation in the New Deal programmes under US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Reflecting on the Works Progressive Administration (WPA), a programme that was employing 3.3 million workers in 1938, Donald S. Howard wrotein 1943 (p. 126):“An enumeration of all the projects undertaken and completed by the WPA during its lifetime would include almost every type of work imaginable […] from the construction of highways to the extermination of rats; from the building of stadiums to the stuffing of birds; from the improvement of airplane landing fields to the making of Braille books; from the building of over a million of the now famous privies to the playing of the world’s greatest symphonies.”Similarly, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was designed to provide young unemployed men (around 1 million) with work on projects that included (Merill, 1981, p. 197):“The prevention of forest fires […] plant pest and disease control, the construction, maintenance and repair of paths, trails and fire-lanes in the national parks and national forests and such other work […] as the President may determine to be desirable.”Its rationale was later succinctly stated by the US National Commission on Technology, Automation and Economic Progress in 1966 (p. 110):“With the best of fiscal and monetary policies, there will always be those handicapped in the competition for jobs by lack of education, skill, experience, or because of discrimination. The needs of our society provide ample opportunities to fulfilthe promise of the Employment Act of 1946: ‘a job for all those able, willing, and seeking to work’. We recommend a program of public service employment, providing, in effect, that the Government be an employer of last resort, providing work for the ‘hard-core unemployed’ in useful communal enterprises.”The Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978 authorised the US Federal government to create a ‘reservoir of public employment’ to balance fluctuations in private spending. The reservoir would automatically deplete or fill up as the economy waxed or waned, creating an ‘automatic stabiliser’. However, the Humphrey-Hawkins Act was never implemented. It represented the last gasp of New Dealism. In later decades, sporadic attempts to implement a job guarantee policy have struggled against the orthodoxy that unemployment resulted from labour market inflexibility and that reforming the labour market was key to lowering the ‘natural’ rate of unemployment. Very limited examples of public job programmes can be found in Europe. In 1997, European Prime Ministers pledged a job or training guarantee to all newly unemployed workers within one year of losing their job (Layard, 2011, p. 174). Only Denmark, The Netherlands and Hungary (Matolcsy and Palotai, 2018) have sought to implement that pledge, albeit in very limited forms. Outside Europe, India has experimented the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in 2005 (Gosh, 2015), while Argentina introduced its Plan Jefeemployment policy in 2002 to address the consequence of the unfolding financial crisis (Kostzer, 2008).

7.2 An outline of a modern Public Job Programme

How would a modern public work programme be conceived? In our sketch for a Public Job Programme (PJP), the government would guarantee a job to any job-seeker of working age who cannot find work in the private sector, at a fixed hourly rate which would not be lower than the national minimum wage rate. Some other elements need to be considered:1. PJP should not target aggregate output, but labour demand. This eliminates the problem of having to calculate output gaps. It is less analytically and practically complicated to target employment than output. Definition of full employment can be made quite precise and uncomplicated: it exists where all who are ready, willing, and able to work are gainfully employed at a given base wage. This corresponds to the absence of ‘involuntary’ or ‘unwanted’ unemployment.162. The PJP pool acts as a labour buffer-stock, which expands and contracts automatically with the business cycle, reducing discretionary variations in spending. It is analogous in that sense to the unemployment insurance fund, which also automatically depletes and replenishes, but is a more powerful automatic stabiliser than the latter (see below for an analytical explanation). 3. A PJP would maintain employability better –an important factor in economic recovery and growth prospects. As Pavlina Tcherneva (2018, p. 17) puts it: “it continues to stabilize economic growth and prices, using apool of employed individualsfor the purpose rather thana reserve army of the unemployed.” It is worth emphasising that maintaining ‘employability better’ is a comparative term: the comparison is not between a PJP job and a ‘good’ job, but between a PJP job and no job.4. PJP workers would be paid at a fixed rate. This can be set at any level the government wants above unemployment benefit. A fixed wage sets a floor for private firms’ wages. If the PJP wage was set at the national minimum wage, no minimum wage legislation, with all its attendant compliance costs, would be needed, since private employers would always have to pay at least the PJP wage if they were to attract workers, and in periods of strong private sector demand they would have to bid for scarce labour at above the PJP wage. The aim of paying PJP employees a fixed minimum wage is both to set a floor to the aggregate fall in income in a downturn and to prevent employers from undercutting the legislated minimum wage in ‘normal’ times.17 For many, PJP wages may be lower than those they had previously earned, but the comparison should not be between PJP and market employment, but between PJP and no employment at all.5. PJP job champions attach great importance to Keynes’s stress in 1937 ([1978], p. 385) on the “need today of a rightly distributed demand than of a greater aggregate demand”. A satisfactory average level of employment can be consistent with some parts of the economy overheating and others under-heating, as Minsky (1965) noted. The implication of this is that orders for work should be placed in areas experiencing, or most vulnerable to, high unemployment. A PJP programme can be used to influence the structure of employment as well as its level -it can thus be made consistent with advocacy for a ‘Green New Deal’.6. Consistently with the above, a PJP could be administered locally, by a variety of agencies: local governments, NGOs, and social enterprises. Their goal would be to create ‘on the spot’ employment and training opportunities where they are most needed, matching unfulfilled community needs with unemployed or underemployed people. To ensure that projects can be ‘shovel-ready’ -rolled out on demand -inventories of communal needs should be prepared and kept by ‘job banks’ and job centres. They could fall under three main heads:18 a) care for the environment; b) care for the community; c) care for people. This does not imply that ‘caring’ will only be done when unemployment is heavy. A PJP placement should not replace, it should complement, existing public sector care provision. For instance, a PJP placement could use nursing facilities and schools to create needed-on-the-job training and credentialing opportunities to facilitate transition to private sector jobs as private sector employment opportunities pick up.

7. The fiscal resource for a PJP would come initially from current taxation, just like normal unemployment benefits. In case of a recession, the extra-spending required to pay for the newly unemployed workers could come either from taxes raised progressively fromhigher incomes –exploiting the expansionary effect of the balanced-budget multiplier (Haavelmo, 1945) –or from borrowing, or by a combination of both.A first objection against PJP is based on the idea that it would lead to inflation spiralling out of control. On the contrary, the ‘automaticity’of the programme makes it less prone to be inflationary than discretionary management of the business cycle. It provides two further built-in barriers to inflation: (a) sensitivity to the regional distribution oflabour demand and (b) maintenance of employability in the downturn, which would relieve the ‘bottleneck’ of skilled labour in the upturn. To prevent the private sector rather than the public sector becoming the source of inflationary pressure, the government could be mandated to raise anti-inflation taxes automatically to prevent inflation rising above a stated rate. If counter-cyclical policy can be made sufficiently automatic, there is much less need for governments to ‘outsource’ anti-inflationary policy to central banks.A second common objection is that PJP employment is bound to be ‘pretend’ work, in the spirit of paying people to dig holes and fill them up again. This is one reason why some ofthose sympathetic to a job guarantee favour subsidising private sector employers to retain labour in a downturn. Theoretically, this would have the same effect. However, it would be extremely difficult to prevent private sector employers claiming the subsidy under false pretences (as it has happened to some extent with the Furlough schemes of 2020). The chief defect of financial incentives for people to seek work is that they may incentivise the unemployed to look for jobs but provide no assurance whatsoever that they will find them. PJP would eliminate this obvious structural flaw. 7.3 The automatic countercyclical macroeconomic impact of a PJP programmeThis section aims to provide some analytical support to the intuition that the implementation of a PJP would represent a more effective form of countercyclical fiscal policy than the traditional system of unemployment benefits (UB). In particular, the comparison is performed with respect to the mitigating element of ‘automatic stabilisation’ that the two alternatives represent, when a recession occurs. Duringthe negative phase of the business cycle, government deficit increases as a result of two factors: a fall in revenues due to the diminished level of economic activity and an increase in public expenditure in the forms of payments to the newly unemployed workers. In the PJP case, the unemployed worker, instead of receiving a monetary compensation for the loss of his/her private job, is offered a public job, and remunerated at the minimum national wage. In simple Keynesian model of a closed economy, national income equals the sum of aggregate consumption, investment and government expenditure:

𝑌=𝐶+𝐼+𝐺

The consumption equation takes this form:

𝐶=𝐶0+𝑐𝑌

Where 𝐶0 is autonomous consumption and 𝑐𝑌 is the part of consumption which is explained by the level of national income. 𝑐 represents the marginal propensity to consume, and it assumes any value between 1 (all national income is consumed) and 0 (all national income is saved).Investments are supposed to be dependent on exogenous factors (i.e. expected profitability or ‘animal spirits’):

𝐼=𝐼0

Government spending is autonomous:

𝐺=𝐺0

Inserting the functional forms of 𝐶,𝐼 and 𝐺 in the expenditure identity, and rearranging, gives the typical Keynesian dynamic income equation:

𝑌=11−𝑐(𝐶0+𝐼0+𝐺0)

Every variable within parenthesis represents an autonomous component of aggregate demand. Therefore, with a variation in one of these (e.g. fiscal expansion +∆𝐺0), the expression 1/(1−𝑐) captures the value of its multiplier effect on 𝑌. What could happen in the case of a downturn, driven for instance by a sudden fall in investment 𝐼0? While the income component of consumption 𝑐𝑌reacts immediately and proportionally to a recession (i.e. a fall in aggregate national income 𝑌), the autonomous consumption component 𝐶0 relates to other psychological conditions. It seems reasonable to assume that, during a recession, 𝐶0 falls because people will expect to earn less in the future and they would reduce extra expenditures in favour of more precautionary savings. However, under the PJP scenario, not only would the wage compensation be immediately higher, but it would remain permanent as long as the worker is employed under the PJP. Moreover, the employability of the worker under a PJP scheme would be higher than the medium to long-term unemployed worker under UB, thus increasing the prospect of a better-paid private sector job in the future. This would positively influence the aggregate autonomous component of consumption during a recession: under a PJP scenario it would nonetheless fall, but by a lower amount than in the UB case:

↓∆𝐶0𝑃𝐽𝑃<↓∆𝐶0𝑈𝐵

Secondly, the aggregate marginal propensity to consume 𝑐(i.e. the sum of all individual marginal propensities to consume, ∑𝑐𝑖𝑁𝑖=1) would differ under the two different scenarios. The expansion of spending on PJP during a recession could also imply a redistribution of income from higher to lower earners (or not at all earners, as the unemployed worker would be), if the first were to be taxed more in order to finance extra public jobs.19 Two forces would then be at play.

First, the redistribution of income itself would have a positive impact on the aggregate propensity to consume. At the same time, the relatively higher stability of earnings and job prospects in a PJP scenario would reduce the incentive to save a higher rate of nationalincome, therefore increasing the marginal propensity to consume. It is reasonable to conclude that these parallel dynamics would have a more positive impact on the aggregate marginal propensity to consume in the PJP case than they would have under a simple UB system of less-than-compensating income transfers:

𝑐𝑃𝐽𝑃>𝑐𝑈𝐵

The crucial result arising from the distinction between the two systems is that, when considering an identical expansion in public expenditure following a recession, recovery under the PJP would be stronger. Finally, both the UB and PJP approaches should be conceived on a per capita basis. They would apply to the same number of newly unemployed. Given that PJP would amount to a full and permanent minimum wage, while the UB would represent a lower and progressively reducing disbursement, the overall increasein public expenditures relative to this automatic stabilisation mechanism would be higher in the case of the PJP. Per capita expenditure under a PJP scenario would always be higher, because providing a permanent UB at the minimum wage level (or close to) would be unfeasible, as it would generate perverse incentives for low-skilled job seekers. In order to address the same number of unemployed people, the PJP will initially imply a higher deficit but one which will rapidly fall in response to the higher boost to demand, which will increase the tax revenues (via the enlargement of the tax base) and reduce expenditures on unemployment.

8. Concluding remarks

This paper has attempted to discuss the following propositions: first, a laissez-fairemarket economy is cyclically unstable and liable to settle down to a long-term underemployment equilibrium. Second, macroeconomic policy management is required to reach and maintain continuous full employment. Third, fiscal policy is a much more effective tool to achieve this than monetary policy by itself. Fourth, an effective approach to fiscal policy would separate and reinforce the practical use of capital and current expenditure, while limiting the discretionary element in old-style Keynesian demand management. Anew fiscal policy approach can be outlined, based on a combination of long-run public investment and short-run public job programmes (table 2).

Public investment –investments in general, as noted by Sylos Labini(1964) -directly impacts on the demand for capital goods (macroeconomic impact), while increasing the productive and innovative capacity of the economy (microeconomic impact). Similarly, public job programmes impact on the demand for consumer goods via workers’ wages (macroeconomic impact), while increasing their employability (microeconomic impact).The investment component of demand is affected directly by public investments acting as a catalyser of private investment, and indirectly by public job programmes because they better preserve the income expectations of workers. Higher nationalincomes coming from PJP wages positively impact on consumption.The two pillars jointly support a full employment level of economic activity, the public investment programme by protecting total investment against the fluctuations of private investment, and the PJP by strengthening the automatic stabilisers.Leaving to one side the important issue of coordination of fiscal and monetary policy, the financing source of public investment should be based on borrowing, while PJP can be financed by a combination of both borrowing and taxation, with a progressive taxation system that, by redistributing income, maximises the multiplier effect via a higher aggregate marginal propensity to consume. The priorities for public investment, classified as capital expenditure, would be centrally planned, in order to reduce coordination problems, but their implementation should take into account the role of local business and public authorities. By contrast, public job programmes can be planned and implemented locally, with precise attention to the needs of local communities.

The employment target of public investment lies in the creation of jobs via the multiplier effect of public investments on private business, while public job programmes address the reduction of unemployment through the direct creation of work.In conclusion, the two pillars of the proposed fiscal policy constitute the sketch for a modern Keynesian demand management policy based on the primacy of fiscal policy. Moreover, far from resuscitating fiscal policy as a mere emergency measure for extraordinary times –e.g. financial crises, natural disasters, pandemic events, etc. –they promote its continuing validity as the most effective and reliable instrument for reaching and maintaining a full-employment level of economic activity. This will becomeparticularly important when the COVID-19 crisis is over, leaving the scars of higher unemployment levels, business insolvencies and losses in industrial production. The trauma of the ongoing crisis will not be overcome if fiscal policy is set to turn ‘orthodox’ –that is, cease to exist as a macroeconomic tool. It is important for governments to understand that fiscal policy is for ‘normal’ times.

References

Annali Fondazione Di Vittorio (2014), Il Piano del lavoro del 1949. Contesto storico internazionale e problemi interpretativi, Rome: Ediesse.

Bailey A. (2021), “Modern challenges for the modern central bank -perspectives from the Bank of England”, LSE German Symposium virtual event, February 5.

Bank of England (2018), “A millennium of macroeconomic data for the UK”. Available at: https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/statistics/research-datasets(6 May 2021).

Bank of England (2020), “Monetary Policy Report”, January. Available at: https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/monetary-policy-report/2020/january/monetary-policy-report-january-2020.pdf(6 May 2021).

Bank of England (2021a), “What is quantitative easing?”, Available at: https://www.bankofengland.co.uk /monetary-policy/quantitative-easing.(6 May 2021).

Bank of England (2021b), “IEO evaluation of the Bank of England’s approach to quantitative easing”, 13 January. Available at: https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/independent-evaluation-office/ieo-report-january-2021 /ieo-evaluation-of-the-bank-of-englands-approach-to-quantitative-easing(6May 2021).

Benati L. (2008), “The ‘great moderation’ in the United Kingdom”, Journal of Monetary Credit and Banking, 40 (1), pp. 121-147.

Blanchard O.J and Leigh D. (2013), “Growth forecast errors and fiscal multipliers”, American Economic Review, 103 (3), pp. 117-120.

Blanchard O.J., Leandro, A. and Zettelmeyer J. (2020), “Revisiting the EU fiscal framework in an era of low interest rates”, Mimeo for the European Commission. Bootle R. (1997), “The death of inflation”, World Economic Affairs, 1 (2), pp. 11-15.

Brancaccio E. and De Cristofaro F. (2020), “Inside the IMF ‘mea culpa’: A panel analysis on growth forecast errors and Keynesian multipliers in Europe”, PSL Quarterly Review, 73 (294), pp. 225-239.

Deleidi M. and Mazzucato M. (2019), “Putting austerity to bed: Technical progress, aggregate demand and the supermultiplier”, Review of Political Economy, pp. 1-21.

Deleidi M., De Lipsis V., Mazzucato M., Ryan-Collins J. and Agnolucci P., (2019), “The macroeconomic impact of government innovation policies”, UCLInstitute for Innovation and Public Purpose Working Papers, IIPP WP 2019-06.

Deleidi M., Iafrate F. and Levrero E. S. (2020), “Public investment fiscal multipliers: An empirical assessment for European countries”, Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, 52, pp. 354-365.

Draghi M. (2019), “Stabilisation policies in a monetary union”, Academy of Athens, October 1. Fama E. F. (1970), “Efficient capital markets: A review of theory and empirical work”, The Journal of Finance, 25 (2),pp. 383-417.

Fátas A. and Summers L. (2018), “The permanent effects of fiscal consolidations”, Journal of International Economics, 112, pp. 238-250.

Friedman M. (1960), A program for monetary stability, New York: Fordham University Press.

Friedman M. (1968), “The role of monetary policy”, American Economic Review, 58 (1), March, pp. 1-17.

Furman J. and Summers L. (2020), “A reconsideration of fiscal policy in the era of low interest rates”, Brookings Institution.

Gabellini T. and GasperinS. (2019), “Introduction: Escaping from the economics cave”, in Gabellini T.,

Gasperin S., and Moneta A. (eds.) (2019), Economic Crisis and Economic Thought: Alternative Theoretical Perspectives on the Economic Crisis, Abingdon: Routledge.

Gechert S. and Rannenberg A. (2018), “Which fiscal multipliers are regime‐dependent? A meta‐regression analysis”, Journal of Economic Surveys, 32 (4), pp. 1160-1182.

Gopinath G. (2020), “Global liquidity trap requires a big fiscal response”, Financial Times, November 2. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/2e1c0555-d65b-48d1-9af3-825d187eec58(6 May 2021).

Gosh J. (2015), “India’s rural employment programme is dying a death of funding cuts”, The Guardian, February 5. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/feb/05/india-rural-employment-funding-cuts-mgnrega

Haavelmo T. (1945), “Multiplier effects of a balanced budget”, Econometrica: Journal of the Econometric Society, 13 (4), pp. 311-318.

Hawtrey R.G. (1925), “Public expenditure and the demand for labour”, Economica(13), pp. 38-48.

Hicks J. (1969), A theory of economic history, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Howard D.S. (1943), The WPA and federal relief policy, New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Jordà Ò., Schularick M. and Taylor A. M. (2017), “Macrofinancial history and the new business cycle facts”,NBER macroeconomics annual,31(1), pp. 213-263.

Kattel R. and Mazzucato M. (2018), “Mission-oriented innovation policy and dynamic capabilities in the public sector”, Industrial and Corporate Change, 27 (5), pp. 787-801.

Kalecki M. (1971), Selected essays on the dynamics of the capitalist economy 1933-1970, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Keynes J. M. (1926), The End of laissez-faire, London: L & V Woolf.Keynes J. M. ([1936] 2018), The general theory of employment, interest, and money, New York: Springer.

Keynes J.M. ([1937] 1978),Volume 21: Activities 1931–1939: World Crises and Policies in Britain and America, in Johnson E. and Moggridge D. (eds.), The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Keynes J.M. and Henderson H.D. (1929), Can Lloyd George do it?, London: The Nation and Athenaeum.

King M. (1998), “The UK economy and monetary policy-Looking ahead”, Bank of England Speech, May 27.

Kostzer D. (2008), “Argentina: A case study on the plan jefes y jefas de hogar desocupados, or the employment road to economic recovery”, Levy Economics Institute Working Paper, n. 534, Annadale-on-Hudson: Bard College.

Krugman P. (2009), “Deficits saved the world”, New York Times, July 15. Available at: https://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/15/deficits-saved-the-world/(6 May 2021)

Krugman P. (2014), “Notes on easy money and inequality”, New York Times, October 25. Available at: https://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/25/notes-on-easy-money-and-inequality/(6 May 2021)La Pira G. (1951), L’attesa della povera gente, Florence: Libreria Editrice Fiorentina.

Layard R. (2011), Happiness: Lessons from a new science, London: Penguin UK.

Lucas Jr. R. E. (1972), “Expectations and the neutrality of money”,Journal of economic theory,4(2), pp. 103-124.

Mankiw N.G. and Romer D. (1991),New Keynesian economics: imperfect competition and sticky prices, vol. 1, Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press.

Matolcsy G. and Palotai D. (2018), “The Hungarian model: Hungarian crisis management in view of the Mediterranean way”, Financial and Economic Review, 17 (2), pp. 5-42.

Mazzucato M. (2013), The entrepreneurial state, London: Anthem Press.

McLeay M., Radia A. and Thomas R. (2014), “Money creation in the modern economy”, Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin, Q1.

Meade J. (1970), Theory of indicative planning, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Merill P.H. (1981), Roosevelt’s forest army: A history of the civilian conservation corps, 1933-1942, Montpelier (VT): Perry H. Merrill.

Ministero dell’Economia e delle Finanze (2020), “Nota di aggiornamento del documento di economia e finanza”, DEF 2020, October 5.

Minsky H.P. (1965), “The role of employment policy” in Gordon M. S. (ed.), Poverty in America, San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Company.

Minsky H.P. (1986),Stabilizing an unstableeconomy, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Minsky H. P. (2013), Ending poverty: Jobs, not welfare, Annandale (NY): Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.

OECD (1977), Towards full employment and price stability, Paris: OECD.

Phillips A. W. (1958), “The relation between unemployment and the Rate of change of money wage rates in the United Kingdom, 1861–1957”,Economica,25 (100), pp. 283-299.

Ricardo D. (1817), On the principles of political economy and taxation, London: John Murray-Albemarle Street.

Rossi E. (1977), Abolire la miseria, Bari: Laterza.

Samuelson P.A. (1948), Economics, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Samuelson P. A. and Nordhaus W. D. (2009), Economics, 19th international edition, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Sargent T. (1981), “Stopping moderate inflations: the methods of Poincare and Thatcher”, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Research Department Working Papers, n. 173, Minneapolis: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Skidelsky, R. (2018), Money and Government: A Challenge to Mainstream Economics, New York: Penguin.

Smith A. ([1776] 1976), An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sylos Labini P. (1964), Oligopolio e progresso tecnico, Torino: Einaudi.

Taylor, J.B. (1993), “Discretion versus policy rules in practice”,Carnegie-Rochester conference series on public policy,vol. 39, pp. 195-214, New York: North-Holland.

Tcherneva P.R. (2018), “The job guarantee: Design, jobs, and implementation”, Levy Economics Institute Working Paper,n. 902, Annandale-on-Hudson (NY): Bard College

Tcherneva P. (2020), The case for a job guarantee policy, Cambridge: Polity.

Tucker P. (2018), Unelected power: The quest for legitimacy in central banking and the regulatory state, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

United Nations (2009), System of National Accounts, 2008, New York: UNO.

US National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress (1966), Technology and the American economy, volume I,Washington (DC): Government Printing Office.

Wray L.R., Dantas F., Fullwiler S., Tcherneva P.R. and Kelton S.A. (2018), “Public service employment: A path to full employment”, Research Project Report, April, Annandale-on-Hudson (NY): Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.

1 For instance, the Italian Treasury in October 2020 was already outlining its long-term budgetary programme with the aim to set a reduction trajectory for the debt-to-GDP ratio to the pre-pandemic levels by 2031. Its ‘Budget Note’ does not include a single mention of any employment target (Ministero dell’Economia e delle Finanze, 2020).

2 This belief in the inherent stability of product markets anchored in stable inflationary expectations underpinned the succinct policy pronouncement of Nigel Lawson, then Chancellor of the Exchequer (quoted in Skidelsky, 2018, p. 192): “It is the conquest of inflation, and not the pursuit of growth and employment which […] should be the objective of macro-economic policy. And it is the creation of conditions conducive to growth and employment, and not the suppression of [inflation] which […] should be the objective of macroeconomic policy.” Such conditions typically included de-regulating labour and product markets, nationally and globally.

3 Friedman (1960) believed that a monetary policy that targeted interest rates was equally unreliable. That is why he favoured a money growth rule: the monetary authority should increase the money supply by a fixed percentage each year. Post-Friedman’s monetary policy approach rejected Friedman’s rule, but substituted a different rule –the Taylor (1993) rule –whereby central banks raise or lower their lending rates by a certain percentage in response to deviations from their inflation targets.

4 In his book Unelected Power(2019), Paul Tucker endorses the case for delegation of macroeconomic policy to central bank technicians, given the lack of ‘credible commitment’ by politicians to govern in the public interest. He does though raise the issue of the legitimacy of the decisions of banking technocrats.

5 The famous passage was written by his then Friedmanite son-in-law Peter Jay.

6 Notably, Article 2 of the European Central Bank’s Statute claims “the primary objective of the ESCB shall be to maintain price stability”.

7 ONS Data.

8 Broad money aggregate M4 is a measure of money supply in the UK. According to the classification made by the Bank of England, M4 comprises: holdings of sterling notes and coin by the private sector (other than monetary and financial institutions); sterling deposits (including certificates of deposit); commercial paper, bonds, floating rate notes and other instruments of up to and including five years’ original maturity issued by UK monetary and financial institutions; claims on UK monetary and financial institutions from repos; estimated holdings of sterling bank bills; 35% of the sterling inter-MFI difference.

9 It is important to emphasise this necessity, as recent academic literature has implied that were monetary policy not ‘constrained’ by the zero lower bound, it would be superior to fiscal policy. See Blanchard et al. (2020), Furman & Summers (2020).

10 The theoretical distinction between capital investment and current expenditure is well recognised in public finance theory (Sargent, 1981, pp. 23-24): “A pure current account expenditure is for a service or perfectly perishable goods that gives rise to no government-owned asset that will produce things of value in the future. A pure capital account expenditure is a purchase of a durable asset that gives the government command of a prospective future stream of returns, collected for example through user charges, whose present value is greater than or equal to the present cost of acquiring the asset. A pure capital account budget would count as revenues the interest and other user charges collected on government-owned assets, while expenditure would be purchases of capital assets. On these definitions, government debt issued on capital account is self-liquidating […]. Government debt issued to finance a pure capital account deficit is thus not a claim on the general tax revenues that the government collects through sales and income taxation. The principles of classical economic theory condone government deficits on capital account.”

11 For instance, public investment should be financed at the central government level and directed to the long-term objective of securing an adequate supply of public goods. The concept of public goods can be considered in a rather extensive way, ranging from the very restrictive textbook definition of a good “which can be enjoyed by everyone and from which no one can be excluded” (Samuelson & Nordhaus, 2009, p. 36) such as basic infrastructures to the more comprehensive aim “to do those things which at present are not done at all” (Keynes, 1926, p. 46), like investment in projects developing new technologies.

12 In our presentation, we deliberately abstract from additional reasons for public investment deriving from the existence of public goods or the possibility of enhancing the productive capacity of the economy. For instance, Mazzucato (2013) has shown that public investment in R&D has had an instrumental role in the development of new technologies in consumer electronics, renewable energies and pharmaceutical products.

13 A notable difference with respect to other countries, in which investments performed by State-owned enterprises are not distinguished from ‘private business investments’ even if these entities are classified as ‘public corporations’ (See United Nations’ System of National Accounts, 2008).

14 Author’s elaboration on ONS data

15 The idea of job programmes became also quite popular in Europe in the immediate post-war period, as a very direct way to eradicate the conditions of poverty that wereafflicting several European economies. In Italy, for instance, the consensus around this proposal stretched across thinkers with very different ideological orientations: from the proposal of the social-liberal Ernesto Rossi (1977), to the 1949 ‘Piano del Lavoro’ of the communist trade union CGIL (Annali Fondazione Di Vittorio, 2014), to the Catholic social teaching of Giorgio La Pira (1951), who would later put into practice a scheme of public works during his years as Mayor of Florence (1951-1957).

16 In our definition, involuntary unemployment includes forced underemployment: those in work for less hours than they would wish.

17 A PJP wage set at above the minimum wage, as recommended by American advocates (see Minsky, 2013 and Tcherneva, 2020), would also have a beneficial distributional effect, by substituting an upward for a downward pressure on wages. It would thus bring a single instrument to bear on the interrelated problems of unemployment and poverty. A public sector job guarantee might be built round the aim of reducing poverty. However, this is not its main macroeconomic objective.

18 Key areas of activity in the Hungarian programme are: use of organic and renewable energy; repair of public road networks inside rural settlements; elimination of illegal waste dumps; increase of local food sufficiency.

19 The redistribution of income happens if higher income earners are taxed more to finance more PJP workers, but the overall distribution of income become less unequal as more people retain a higher income flow compared to the UB case. In fact, the distributional comparison has to be made between the two different scenarios: in the UB case, incomes end up being less equally distributed than in the PJP case.

House of Lords Speech on the Public Order Bill

My Lords, it is very cold in this House; I wonder what has happened to the heating. It certainly has a chilling effect on debate.

I am not a lawyer like the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, nor a policeman like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I am driven to take part in the debate because I have become increasingly concerned at the wide powers of surveillance and control being claimed by Governments in the name of public order and national security—powers that, in their structure though not yet in the scale of their implementation, resemble those in countries such as Russia and China.

I recall that George Orwell wrote in 1939 about

“whether the ordinary people in countries like England grasp the difference between democracy and despotism well enough to want to defend their liberties. One can’t tell until they see themselves menaced in some quite unmistakeable manner.”

People feel menaced in different ways; I myself have been woken up by one such menacing experience. I hope also to bring some historical perspective to the topic we are discussing.

The traditional aim of public order Acts, starting in 1936, was to prevent violent clashes on the streets. A famous common-law precedent was Wise v Dunning in 1902. Wise, a rabid anti-Papist, whose habit of speaking and dressing in a manner offensive to Catholics in Liverpool had led to fights at previous meetings, was bound over to keep the peace. The principle was clear enough: freedom of speech, procession and assembly must not be carried to the point where it caused violence on the streets.

As most noble Lords have pointed out, we already have plenty of Acts designed to prevent disruptive behaviour. Why do we need more? As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, it is not because many of these measures have been demanded by the police. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, suggested an answer that I find extremely convincing. This Bill brings peaceful, if inconvenient, protest and incitement to violence and terrorism into the same legal framework, implying in principle that the first is as culpable as the second. This argument is used to extend the powers of the state in dangerous ways, which have been charted only in despotic systems. That is why I talk about an Orwellian creep and cited George Orwell at the beginning.

I take up just two matters from Parts 2 and 3 of the Bill, consequential on this false identification between peaceful protest and violence and terrorism. The first, which other noble Lords have alluded to, is the extension of the police’s stop and search powers. In the past, stop and search powers have been used to prevent only the most serious offending, such as serious violence or reasonable suspicion of terrorism—for example, if people were suspected of carrying knives, guns or explosives. This was seriously open to racial discrimination and was highly controversial, but I can see a justification for the power itself. However, the Bill would extend the same powers of stop and search to the protest context. 

Someone can be stopped and searched for being suspected of being linked, however peripherally, to non-violent purposes or conduct. To stop and search someone suspected of carrying a bomb is one thing; to stop and search someone suspected of carrying a bicycle lock seems to me, to put it mildly, disproportionate—and, in fact, mad.

This leads me to my second point, to which I can hardly do justice in a short speech, namely the extremely worrying spread of arrest and detention where there is no reasonable suspicion that the person may be involved in proscribed behaviour, or where there is merely a balance of probabilities—I want to come back to that term—that they might be.

Clause 11 creates a new suspicion-less stop and search power, whereby the police will have the power to specify that, in a particular locality and for a particular period of time, they do not need to have reasonable suspicion—in other words, an objective basis for suspicion based on evidence—that a protest-related offence will be committed, before stopping and searching people for a prohibited object. This is similar to powers contained in anti-terrorist legislation. Let me quote from the public information leaflet issued to explain Schedule 3 of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019:

“Unlike most police powers, the power to stop, question, search and, if necessary detain persons does not require any suspicion … The purpose is to determine whether a person appears to be, or to have been, engaged in Hostile … activity.”

Leave to one side the draconian powers being asserted here; it is surely fantastic to apply the same reasoning and powers to someone who might or might not be carrying a paintbrush.

Almost as bad as suspicionless stop and search is Clause 20, which authorises serious disruption prevention orders. Many noble Lords have talked about these. They allow a court to ban a person from attending demonstrations and protests for up to two years, not on conviction of any offence but on a balance of probabilities that, on at least two occasions in the previous five years, they have carried out activities related to a protest or caused or contributed to someone else carrying out a protest. Failure to comply with SDPO conditions is a criminal offence, subject to 51 weeks’ imprisonment.

The balance of probabilities means that the court must think that it is 51% likely that the person concerned has carried out such activities. If it thinks that it is only 49% likely, they get off free. What sort of evidence is needed to make that kind of calculation? I would be grateful if that could be explained. The essential point is that Clause 20 allows standards of proof appropriate in civil cases to be used for imposing criminal sanctions, such as electronic tagging, on individuals convicted of no criminal offence.

Any serious analyst of these measures would need to trace not only the growth of novel forms of protest, which is acknowledged, but the way that concepts such as dangerousness and mens rea—guilty mind—have penetrated into the heart of our criminal justice system, creating a large and growing area of law in which you do not have to have done anything criminal to have been deprived of large chunks of your liberty.

It would be very difficult to amend the Bill to make it compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights. I therefore agree with those noble Lords who want to reject Parts 2 and 3 and seriously amend Part 1.

Gorbachev’s Tragic Legacy

Oct 19, 2022ROBERT SKIDELSKY

Admired in the West but loathed by his countrymen as a harbinger of Russia’s post-Cold War misfortune, Mikhail Gorbachev fully grasped the immense challenges of reforming the ailing Soviet Union. Today’s Russia largely reflects the anti-Western grievances stemming from his failure.

LONDON – Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader, was buried last month at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow next to his wife Raisa and near fellow Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. To no one’s surprise, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the funeral. Novodevichy, after all, is where “unsuccessful” Soviet leaders had been consigned to their final rest.

Putin’s snub reminded me of a conversation I had two decades ago during a midnight stroll through Red Square. On impulse, I asked the army officer stationed in front of Lenin’s Tomb who was buried in the Soviet Necropolis behind it, and he offered to show me. There, I saw a succession of graves and plinths for Soviet leaders: from Stalin to Leonid Brezhnev, Alexei Kosygin, and Yuri Andropov. The last plinth was unoccupied. “For Gorbachev, I suppose?” I asked. “No, his place is in Washington,” the officer replied. 

Ironically, Gorbachev has been lionized in the West for accomplishing something he never set out to do: bringing about the end of the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, yet Russians widely regarded him as a traitor. In his ill-fated attempt at a political comeback in the 1996 Russian presidential election, he received just 0.5% of the popular vote

Gorbachev remains a reviled figure in Russia. A 2012 survey by the state-owned pollster VTsIOM found that Gorbachev was the most unpopular of all Russian leaders. According to a 2021 poll, more than 70% of Russians believe their country had moved in the wrong direction under his rule. Hardliners hate him for dismantling Soviet power, and liberals despise him for clinging to the impossible ideal of reforming the communist regime.

I became acquainted with Gorbachev in the early 2000s when I attended meetings of the World Political Forum, the think tank he founded in Turin. The organization was purportedly established to promote democracy and human rights. But in practice, its events were nostalgic reminiscences where Gorbachev held forth on “what might have been.” He was usually flanked by other has-beens of his era, including former Polish leaders Wojciech Jaruzelski and Lech Wałęsa, former Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn, Russian diplomat Alexander Bessmertnykh, and a sprinkling of left-leaning academics. 

Gorbachev’s idea of a “Third Way” between socialism and capitalism was briefly fashionable in the West but was soon swamped by neoliberal triumphalism. Nonetheless, I liked and respected this strangely visionary leader of the dying USSR, who refused to use force to resist change.

Today, most Russians cast Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin as harbingers of Russia’s misfortune. Putin, on the other hand, is widely hailed as a paragon of order and prosperity who has reclaimed Russia’s leading role on the world stage. In September, 60% of Russians said they believe that their country is heading in the right direction, though this no doubt partly reflects the tight control Putin exercises over television news (the main source of information for most citizens). 

In the eyes of most Russians, Gorbachev’s legacy is one of naivete and incompetence, if not outright betrayal. According to the prevailing narrative, Gorbachev allowed NATO to expand into East Germany in 1990 on the basis of a verbal commitment by then-US Secretary of State James Baker that the alliance would expand “not one inch eastwards.” Gorbachev, in this telling, relinquished Soviet control over Central and Eastern Europe without demanding a written assurance

In reality, however, Baker was in no position to make such a promise in writing, and Gorbachev knew it. Moreover, Gorbachev repeatedly confirmed over many years that a serious promise not to expand NATO eastward was never made

In any case, the truth is that the Soviet Union’s control over its European satellites had become untenable after it signed the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. The accord, signed by the United States, Canada, and most of Europe, included commitments to respect human rights, including freedom of information and movement. Communist governments’ ability to control their population gradually eroded, culminating in the chain of mostly peaceful uprisings that ultimately led to the Soviet Union’s dissolution. 

Yet there is a grain of truth to the myth of Gorbachev’s capitulation. After all, the USSR had not been defeated in battle, as Germany and Japan were in 1945, and the formidable Soviet military machine remained intact in 1990. In theory, Gorbachev could have used tanks to deal with the popular uprisings in Eastern Europe, as his predecessors did in East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968. 

Gorbachev’s refusal to resort to violence to preserve the Soviet empire resulted in a bloodless defeat and a feeling of humiliation among Russians. This sense of grievance has fueled widespread distrust of NATO, which Putin used years later to mobilize popular support for his invasion of Ukraine. 

Another common misconception is that Gorbachev dismantled a functioning economic system. In fact, far from fulfilling Khrushchev’s promise to “bury” the West economically, the Soviet economy had been declining for decades. 

Gorbachev understood that the Soviet Union could not keep up with the US militarily while satisfying civilian demands for higher living standards. But while he rejectedthe Brezhnev era’s stagnation-inducing policies, he had nothing coherent to put in their place. Instead of facilitating a functioning market economy, his rushed abandonment of the central-planning system enriched the corrupt managerial class in the Soviet republics and led to a resurgence of ethnic nationalism. 

To my mind, Gorbachev is a tragic figure. While he fully grasped the immense challenges facing Soviet communism, he had no control over the forces he helped unleash. Russia in the 1980s simply lacked the intellectual, spiritual, and political resources to overcome its underlying problems. But while the Soviet empire has been extinct for 30 years, many of the dysfunctions that contributed to its demise now threaten to engulf the entire world.

Economy: The Growth Plan 2022

House of Lords Speech: 10 October 2022

My Lords, the twin problems to which the mini-Budget was addressed were near-zero growth and a relentless rise in prices. I doubt whether it will do very much for the first—certainly not in time to offset the second. In the short run, what we face is not a growth crisis but an inflationary crisis and that, of course, also means a currency crisis.

What was the growth strategy? I think it was based on Reaganomics—the idea that unfunded tax cuts, by incentivising the wealthy to work hard and invest more, would pay for themselves. That was a sort of Laffer curve idea, which was very popular in the 1980s. The British Treasury never bought it; it always thought that tax cuts to encourage the wealthy would need to be complemented by welfare cuts to incentivise the poor to “get on their bikes”, in the famous phrase.

Well, that is the basis of growth orthodoxy but it is very insecure. There is no evidence that tax cuts for the rich speed up the real rate of economic growth. What they do encourage is speculation in financial assets and real estate. Also, there is no correlation between the rate of growth and the size of the public sector. So the growth strategy is very insecurely based. As the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, pointed out earlier, public investment, not public ownership, has been the main growth engine since the war.

Apart from its intellectual incoherence, the Chancellor’s mini-Budget sets out to tackle the wrong problem. The problem, as Keynes wrote in 1939, is not how to get growth but

“how to pay for the war”.

We have blundered inadvertently into a war situation, and that creates war problems. A war economy is inherently inflationary: too much consumer demand, too little supply. This is our situation. Excess demand is easy enough to explain. For over a year, from 2020 to 2021, the Government paid a large chunk of the workforce to not work. Pent-up demand exploded before supply could catch up.

That is one part of it but, in addition, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has produced big supply shortages, reflected in the near doubling of wholesale energy prices. They would have trebled had it not been for the energy price cap. How long can the Government go on capping prices without raising taxes? Is the Minister expecting energy supply in Europe to increase over the next few years? Is he expecting Saudi Arabia to increase rather than reduce supply? The important point in these questions is that, when debt costs are rising, the Government should be reducing and not increasing their borrowing.

Today, we are significantly less able to run a war economy than we were in 1940. We make fewer things, grow less food and are more dependent on foreign supplies. Extensive deindustrialisation since the 1980s has made our standard of living dependent on the City of London’s ability to finance our twin deficits—budget and current account—which are rising towards 10% of GDP. The City attracts capital into London to engage in financial investment. The energy crisis has blown a hole in the current account. Banks have indicated that a 10% current account deficit will be very difficult for the City to finance. The second factor depressing sterling is, of course, the very high rate of inflation.

We need a credible currency to maintain our standard of living and there is nothing in the strategy of the mini-Budget that guarantees that. What we need is a co-ordinated policy that can communicate a clear path forward.

Requiem for an Empire

Sep 12, 2022 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

Since World War II, Britain’s influence in the world has relied on its “special relationship” with the United States, its position as head of the Commonwealth (the British Empire’s successor), and its position in Europe. The Americans are still there, but Europe isn’t, and now the head of the Commonwealth isn’t, either.

LONDON – Amid the many, and deserved, tributes to Queen Elizabeth II, one aspect of her 70-year reign remained in the background: her role as monarch of 15 realms, including Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. She was also the head of the Commonwealth, a grouping of 56 countries, mainly republics.

This community of independent states, nearly all of them former territories of the British Empire, has been crucial in conserving a “British connection” around the world in the post-imperial age. Whether this link is simply a historical reminiscence, whether it stands for something substantial in world affairs, and whether and for how long it can survive the Queen’s passing, have become matters of great interest, especially in light of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

In the nineteenth-century era of Pax Britannica, Britain exercised global power on its own. The sun never set on the British Empire: the British navy ruled the waves, British finance dominated world markets, and Britain maintained the European balance of power. This era of “splendid isolation” – never as splendid or isolated as history textbooks used to suggest – ended with World War I, which gravely wounded Britain’s status as a world power and correspondingly strengthened other claimants to that role.

As the results of WWI were confirmed by World War II, British foreign policy came to center on the doctrine of the “three circles.” Britain’s influence in the world would rely on its “special relationship” with the United States, its position as head of the Commonwealth (the empire’s successor), and its position in Europe. By its membership of these overlapping and mutually reinforcing circles, Britain might hope to maximize its hard and soft power and mitigate the effects of its military and economic “dwarfing.”

Different British governments attached different weights to the three roles in which Britain was cast. The most continuously important was the relationship with the US, which dates from WWII, when the Americans underwrote Britain’s military and economic survival. The lesson was never forgotten. Britain would be the faithful partner of the US in all its global enterprises; in return, Britain could draw on an American surplus of goodwill possessed by no other foreign country. For all the pragmatic sense it made, one cannot conceive of such a connection forged or enduring without a common language and a shared imperial history.

Imperial history was also central to the second circle. The British Empire of 1914 became the British Commonwealth in 1931, and finally just The Commonwealth, with the Queen as its titular head. Its influence lay in its global reach. Following the contours of the British Empire, it was the only world organization (apart from the United Nations and its agencies) which spanned every continent.

The Commonwealth conserved the British connection in two main ways. First, it functioned as an economic bloc through the imperial preference system of 1932 and the sterling area that was formalized in 1939, both of which survived into the 1970s. Second, and possibly more durably, its explicitly multiracial character, so ardently supported by the Queen, served to soften both global tensions arising from ethnic nationalism, and ethnic chauvinism in the “mother country.” Multicultural Britain is a logical expression of the old multicultural empire.

The European link was the weakest and was the first to snap. This was because Britain’s historic role in Europe was negative: to prevent things from happening there which might endanger its military security and economic livelihood. To this end, it opposed all attempts to create a continental power capable of bridging the Channel. Europe was just 20 miles away, and British policy needed to be ever watchful that nasty things did not happen “over there.”

John Maynard Keynes expressed this permanent sense of British estrangement from the Continent. “England still stands outside Europe,” he wrote in 1919. “Europe’s voiceless tremors do not reach her: Europe is apart and England is not of her flesh and body.” The Labour leader, Hugh Gaitskell, famously evoked this sense of separation when he played the Commonwealth card in 1962, urging his party not to abandon “a thousand years of history” by joining the European Economic Community.

Britain’s policy towards Europe has always been to prevent the emergence of a Third Force independent of US-led NATO. Charles de Gaulle saw this clearly, vetoing Britain’s first application to join the EEC in 1963 in order to prevent an American “Trojan Horse” in Europe.

Although Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted Britain to be at “the heart” of Europe, Britain pursued the same game inside the EU from 1974 until 2021. The only really European-minded prime minister in this period was Edward Heath. Otherwise, British governments have sought to maximize the benefits to Britain of trade and tourism, while minimizing the dangers of political contamination. Today, it is not surprising that Britain joins the US to project NATO power in Eastern Europe over the stricken torso of the EU itself.

So, Britain is left with just two circles. In the wake of Brexit, the Queen’s legacy is clear. Through her official position and personal qualities, she preserved the Commonwealth as a possible vehicle for projecting what remains of Britain’s hard power, such as military alliances in the South Pacific. And whatever one may think of Britain’s hard power, its soft power – reflecting its trading relationships, its cultural prestige in Asia and Africa, and its multicultural ideal – is a global public good in an age of growing ethnic, religious, and geopolitical conflict.

I doubt whether the two remaining circles can compensate for Britain’s absence from the third. The question that remains to be answered is how much the Commonwealth’s durability depended on the sheer longevity of the late monarch, and how much of it can be preserved by her successor.

Mind the Policy Gaps

Aug 22, 2022 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

The widening gaps in policy formation nowadays reflect the division of labor and increasing specialization that has taken us from the sixteenth-century ideal of the Renaissance man. And today’s biggest policymaking gap has grown so large that it threatens global catastrophe.

LONDON – Just as the insistent demand for more “transparency” is a sure sign of increasing opacity, the current clamor for “joined-up thinking” indicates that the need for it far outstrips the supply. With its recent report on energy security, the UK House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has added its voice to the chorus.

The report’s language is restrained, but its message is clear: Without a “joined-up” energy policy, the United Kingdom’s transition to net zero by 2050 will be “disorderly” (read: “will not happen”). For example, the policy aimed at improving home insulation is at odds with local authorities’ listed-building regulations.

In April, the government called on the Bank of England and financial regulators to “have regard to” energy security. What does this mean? Which institution is responsible for which bits of energy security? How does energy security relate to the net-zero goal? Never mind gaps in the data: The real problem is yawning chasms in thinking.

In a masterly understatement, the committee’s report says that “The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created global energy supply issues.” In fact, economic sanctions against the invader have contributed significantly to a massive energy and food crisis that threatens the sanctioning countries with stagflation and many people in developing economies with starvation.1

China provides key minerals for renewable-energy technologies, including wind turbines and solar cells, and supplies 66% of finished lithium-ion batteries. The report concludes that the UK must “not become reliant on strategic competitors, notably China, for critical minerals and components.” Moreover, the government “will need to ensure that its foreign and trade policies […] and its policy on net zero are aligned.” Quite a bit more joining up to do, then.

The widening gaps in policy formation reflect the increasing division of labor resulting from the relentless march of complexity. Today’s policymakers and their advisers know more and more about less and less, recalling Adam Smith’s description in The Wealth of Nations of a pin factory worker:

“The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.”

No one in Smith’s factory would need to know how to make a pin, or even what the purpose of producing one was. They would know only how to make a part of a pin. Likewise, the world is becoming full of “experts” who know only little bits of their subject.

The ideal of the “Renaissance man,” who could do a lot of joined-up thinking, did not survive the growing division of labor. By the eighteenth century, knowledge was being split up into “disciplines.” Now, subdisciplines sprout uncontrollably, and communication of their findings to the public is left to journalists who know almost nothing about everything.

Today’s biggest gap, one so large that it threatens catastrophe, is between geopolitics and economics. Foreign ministries and Treasuries no longer talk to each other. They inhabit different worlds, use different conceptual languages, and think about different problems.

The geopolitical world is divided up into “strategic partners” and “strategic rivals.” Borders are alive and well. States have conflicting national interests and pursue national-security policies. Economics, in contrast, is the science of a single market: Its ideal is economic integration across frontiers and a global price mechanism that automatically harmonizes conflicting preferences. Economics also tells us that commerce softens the asperities of politics, creating over time a single community of learning and culture.

The eighteenth-century English historian Edward Gibbon described history as “little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” But the end of the Cold War led to hopes that the world was at last growing up; in 1989, the American academic Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the “end of history.”

Today, however, geopolitics is back in the saddle. The West regards Russia as a pariah because of its invasion of Ukraine; China, if not yet quite meriting that status, is a strategic rival with which trade in many areas should be shunned. At the same time, Western governments also insist on the need for global cooperation to tackle potentially lethal climate change and other existential dangers like nuclear proliferation and pandemics.

In 2012, for example, the University of Cambridge established the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk to help mitigate threats that could lead to humanity’s extinction. Sixty-five years earlier, atomic scientists from the Manhattan Project founded a bulletin to warn humanity of the possible negative consequences arising from accelerating technological advances. They started a Doomsday Clock, the time of which is announced each January. In 1947, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight. Since January 2020, it has stood at 100 seconds to midnight, marking the closest humanity has come to Armageddon in 75 years.

The danger of nuclear proliferation, which prompted the clock’s creation, is still very much with us. As the bulletin points out, “Development of hypersonic glide vehicles, ballistic missile defenses, and weapons-delivery systems that can flexibly use conventional or nuclear warheads may raise the probability of miscalculation in times of tension.” Do those who urge the expulsion of Russian forces from Ukraine, by economic or military means, consider this risk? Or is this another “gap” in their knowledge of the world?

It is a tragedy that the economic basis of today’s world order, such as it is, is now being put at risk. That risk is the result of actions for which all the great powers share responsibility. The ironically named United Nations, which exists to achieve planetary security, is completely marginalized. Its virtual absence from the big scenes of international conflict is the biggest gap of all, and one which jeopardizes our common future.

Boris Johnson’s Fall – and Ours

Jul 19, 2022 ROBERT SKIDELSKY

Although words like “unprincipled,” “amoral,” and “serial liar” seem to describe the outgoing British prime minister accurately, they accurately describe more successful political leaders as well. To explain Johnson’s fall, we need to consider two factors specific to our times.

LONDON – Nearly all political careers end in failure, but Boris Johnson is the first British prime minister to be toppled for scandalous behavior. That should worry us.

The three most notable downfalls of twentieth-century British leaders were caused by political factors. Neville Chamberlain was undone by his failed appeasement policy. The Suez fiasco forced Anthony Eden to resign in 1957. And Margaret Thatcher fell in 1990 because popular resistance to the poll tax persuaded Tory MPs that they could not win again with her as leader. 

True, Harold Macmillan was undone in 1963 by the Profumo sex scandal, but this involved a secretary of state for war and possible breaches of national security. Election defeats following economic failure brought down Edward Heath and James Callaghan in the 1970s. Tony Blair was forced to resign by the Iraq debacle and Gordon Brown’s impatience to succeed him. David Cameron was skewered by Brexit, and Theresa May by her failure to deliver Brexit. 

No such events explain Johnson’s fall. 

David Lloyd George, a much greater leader than Johnson, is his only serious rival in sleaze. But though the sale of seats in the House of Lords, slipshod administrative methods, and dishonesty had weakened Lloyd George, the immediate cause of his fall (exactly a century ago) was his mishandling of the Chanak crisis, which brought Britain and Turkey to the brink of war. 

The more familiar comparison is with US President Richard Nixon. Every Johnson misdemeanor is routinely labeled “gate” after the Watergate break-in that ended Nixon.

John Maynard Keynes called Lloyd George a “crook”; Nixon famously denied that he was one. Neither they nor Johnson were crooks in the technical sense (of being convicted of crimes), but Nixon would have been impeached in 1974 had he not resigned, and Johnson was fined £50 for breaking lockdown rules. Moreover, all three showed contempt for the laws they were elected to uphold, and for the norms of conduct expected from public officials. 

We struggle to describe their character flaws: “unprincipled,” “amoral,” and “serial liar” seem to capture Johnson. But they describe more successful political leaders as well. To explain his fall, we need to consider two factors specific to our times. 

The first is that we no longer distinguish personal qualities from political qualities. Nowadays, the personal really ispolitical: personal failings are ipso facto political failings. Gone is the distinction between the private and the public, between subjective feeling and objective reality, and between moral and religious matters and those that government must address. 

Politics has crossed into the realm previously occupied by psychiatry. This was bound to happen once affluence undermined the old class basis of politics. Questions of personal identity arising from race, gender, sexual preference, and so on now dominate the spaces vacated by the politics of distribution. Redressing discrimination, not addressing inequality, became the task of politics. 

Johnson is both a creature and a victim of identity politics. His rhetoric was about “leveling up” and “our National Health Service.” But, in practice, he made his personality the content of his politics. No previous British leaders would have squandered their moral capital on trivial misdemeanors and attempted cover-ups, because they knew that it had to be kept in reserve for momentous events. But momentous events are now about oneself, so when a personality is seen as flawed, there is no other story to tell. 

Johnson’s personality-as-politics was also the creation of the media. In the past, newspapers, by and large, reported the news; now, focusing on personalities, they create it. This change has given rise to a corrupt relationship: personalities use the media to promote themselves, and the media expose their frailties to sell copy. 

There has always been a large market for sexual and financial gossip. But even in the old “yellow press,” there was a recognized sphere of public events that took priority. Now the gossip stories are the public events. 

This development has radically transformed public perceptions about the qualities a political leader should have. Previous generations of political leaders were by no means all prudes. They lied, drank, fornicated, and took bribes. But everyone concerned with politics recognized that it was important to protect the public sphere. Leaders’ moral failings were largely shielded from scrutiny, unless they became egregious. And even when the public became aware of them, they were forgiven, provided the leaders delivered the goods politically. 

Most of the offenses that led to Johnson’s resignation would never have been reported in the past. But today the doctrine of personal accountability justifies stripping political leaders naked. Every peccadillo, every lapse from correct expression, becomes a credibility-destroying “disgrace” or “shame.” People’s ability to operate in the public sphere depends on privacy. Once that is gone, their ability to act effectively when they need to vanishes. 

The other new factor is that politics is no longer viewed as a vocation so much as a stepping stone to money. Media obsession with what a political career is worth, rather than whether politicians are worthy of their jobs, is bound to affect what politically ambitious people expect to achieve and the public’s view of what to expect from them. Blair is reported to have amassed millions in speaking engagements and consultancies since leaving office. In keeping with the times, The Times has estimated how much money Johnson could earn from speaking fees and book deals, and how much more he is worth than May. 

In his resignation speech, Johnson sought to defend the “best job in the world” in traditional terms, while criticizing the “eccentricity” of being removed in mid-delivery of his promises. But this defense of his premiership sounded insincere, because his career was not a testimony to his words. The cause of his fall was not just his perceived lack of morality, but also his perceived lack of a political compass. For Johnson, the personal simply exposed the hollowness of the political.