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Posts Tagged ‘Lord John Maynard Keynes’

Reinhart-Rogoff and Austerity: The math is not the problem

April 24, 2013 1 comment

Eurozone-Crisis-Timebomb

After reading and commenting on David Graeber’s post at the Guardian, I feel it necessary to comment more broadly on the problem the euro-zone faces in the crisis, as well as the problem posed by the austerity regime being pursued by the member nation of the European Union. My point is to show that the errors of the bourgeois economists Reinhart and Rogoff are not, as is commonly believed, a simple math or spreadsheet error. Behind these errors is concealed the fact that the euro-zone itself is founded on a fundamental structural flaw resulting from the monetarist economic theory on which it is constructed. This flaw was nothing more than an attempt to obstruct the working class majorities of the member nations from democratic control over their economies — a flaw that is now haunting the euro-zone and will likely cause its collapse.

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Like What, Exactly? (3)

January 9, 2013 11 comments
1937 – The 9th Party Congress was called the "Rally of Labour" (Reichsparteitag der Arbeit). It celebrated the reduction of unemployment in Germany since the Nazi rise to power.

1937 – The 9th Party Congress was called the “Rally of Labour”. It celebrated full employment in Germany since the Nazi rise to power.

Part Three: Conceived in Nazi Germany, Born in the USA

The search for a solution to the financial crisis

You probably are not aware of this, but in 2008-2009, when the world market faced its darkest hours of the financial crisis, the attention of many mainstream economists, who were desperately looking for a way out of that mess, turned to the halcyon years of the early Nazi regime. Yep, that’s right — economists scrambled to study fucking Nazi economic policies. Most Marxists don’t realize this, but the template for their cherished “social state” was the Nazi policies of the Great Depression.

Really, I am not making this up. Have a look at this quite interesting article from the New York Times in 2009:

“Every so often, history serves up an analogy that’s uncomfortable, a little distracting and yet still very relevant. In the summer of 1933, just as they will do on Thursday, heads of government and their finance ministers met in London to talk about a global economic crisis. They accomplished little and went home to battle the crisis in their own ways. More than any other country, Germany — Nazi Germany — then set out on a serious stimulus program. The government built up the military, expanded the autobahn, put up stadiums for the 1936 Berlin Olympics and built monuments to the Nazi Party across Munich and Berlin.”

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Kicking Capitalism Down the Road: Occupy Wall Street and Debt

October 1, 2012 Leave a comment

The entire point of bourgeois misdirection in this crisis is to convince us that our choices are between debt or unemployment — that is between “growth” and “austerity”, and between taxes and reductions in our pensions, social security, and wages; that is, a choice between “kicking the can down the road”, or “taking our medicine now”.

It is important that the debate be framed this way, because these are the only two options consistent with existing relations of production. Since these choices are both consistent with existing capitalist relations of production, the fascist state does not care which option you choose. Just as Washington does not care whether Obama or Romney wins the next election, it does not care whether this crisis is resolved by debt or unemployment. You are free to make your choice based on what feels right to you — letting people go years without a job, or piling up the public debt.

Your choices are posed in this way because it is assumed you have already accepted the premise of these choices: It is assumed you have accepted the idea that this crisis can only addressed at your expense. You have, therefore, accepted the premise that you must either take the hit to your standard of living now, or in the future. Whether you take the hit now or in the future, you accept that this is the only way forward.

This is why there are so many people running around trying to stock up on guns, beans and gold — assuming the big hit is coming. It is just a matter of time, we are told — shit is going to get funky.

It is absolutely necessary that you never question this premise, and everything is aimed at preventing you from ever questioning this premise. This is not just the message coming from Washington and its servile agents in the media and economics profession; it is also the message delivered on the Left and the Right. On the Right, it is expressed in a demand to end the deficits no matter what the cost, on the Left it is expressed in a demand to end austerity no matter how this ends in more public debt.

It is not just that these contradictory demands appear as polar wings of politics, it is that the demands themselves must be posed as an unbridgeable contradiction. In fact, there is nothing that prevents the Left from adopting the Right’s demand against deficits as well as its own against austerity. And there is nothing that prevents the Right from adopting both a demand against deficits and a demand against austerity. But if this phony contradiction is not maintained, there is no Left or Right — and the point of politics is that there should always be a Left and a Right.

I think this is the revolutionary significance of the Occupy movement’s idea of addressing debt; it breaches this false contradiction. Occupy, which has already clearly taken on austerity, is now adding the question of debt to its argument. With a movement that opposes both austerity and debt, the phony opposition between Left and Right will be ended. Combining a demand against austerity with a demand against debt, announces working people will not pay for this crisis now or in the future. It throws down a gauntlet to Washington and Wall Street in the form of a demand that is not consistent with capitalism or the state.

The significance of these two modest demands against austerity and debt, when combined, are far greater than it may look on the surface. For instance read this quote from David Graeber:

“One realization really startled me when researching the book: that is, the realization that throughout human history, most people have been in debt. Think about it for a second. Could the majority of the human race really be improvident failures unable to manage their affairs, and thus justly dependent on the rich? Of course not. Rather, states and elites have always colluded to ensure that their subjects become debtors; not least, because debt is the easiest way to take a relation of violent inequality, of violent extraction, and make it seem not only moral, but make it seem like it’s the victim who’s to blame.”

How does this describe euro-austerity and the continuing argument that Greece “deserves” austerity now because of its past public profligacy? The fact is the public debt Greece accumulated in the past was just the inter-temporal shift of austerity and nothing more.

And not only private debt, but public debt more so, since Washington can, through its inflationary monetary policy, extend the impact of this austerity throughout the world market. Washington can, therefore, under the pretext of increasing its own debt, impose an austerity on every nation trading in dollars.

Debt, Inflation, Unemployment and Austerity

Consider the problem of debt and austerity from another perspective: In an austerity, unemployment rises, wages and pension are slashed. An increase in debt now is nothing more than the inter-temporal transfer of these same effects over some period of time going forward — wages and pensions are gradually slashed over time. This is accomplished through inflation, and can be made to appear as the result of “natural” forces rather than deliberate policy.

Employment growth slows and persistent high level of unemployment can last for a decade or more. What is accomplished all at once in an austerity regime is, with debt, accomplished over a period of time. All the effects of austerity are still felt by the mass of society, but the torture is extended sometimes a decade or longer.

The state must impose this austerity on behalf of capital because it nothing more than capital organized as the state, but the question is whether the population will accept it all at once, or whether it must be stretched out. This is politics — how much pain can the proles take, and it is a practical question. If people surround the government and demand it resign, this government can be replaced by one “committed to growth”, i.e., the accumulation of even more public debt.

Although this new government only promises to stretch austerity over a decade, instead of imposing it all at once, it is sold as compassion. Twenty five percent unemployment now, or ten percent over the next decade; slashing wages and pensions now, or inflating away their value and compelling people to work longer — make your choice, folks. In either case, the mass of society suffers the effect of unemployment and reduced subsistence through state policy.

Occupy is taking on precisely this policy in both of its possible manifestations. It is combating both an immediate imposition of an austerity regime and an inter-temporal imposition of this regime through debt.

We have to consider also the relationship between unemployment and wages: the reduction of wages is the aim and unemployment is the means. In a market where there is low unemployment, there is less competition among the working class — it has the opportunity to organize itself. Moreover, even where there is some unemployment this occurs against a backdrop where this unemployment is unevenly distributed — in specific sectors or regions of the world market the demand for labor power may even exceed the supply. The impact this has on profits is obvious, and the capitalist class responds to this with all the means at its disposal — introducing new machines, reducing wages, layoffs.

What Keynes explained to the capitalist class is that its typical response to this condition — slashing wages — is counterproductive. Since the Great Depression, profitability cannot be restored simply by slashing wages — as Greece and Spain is demonstrating graphically. What is gained by slashing wages, is lost when the working class goes into the market to purchase goods. The state, Keynes argued, can accomplish the task far more efficiently than capitalists in slashing wages. This is because the method employed — debt — has the effect of subsidizing profits even as the purchasing power of wages fall.

Of course, Kurz explains, this results in the accumulation of debt that cannot be paid off — but that is the can that must be “kicked down the road”. In the long run the debt cannot be paid off, but in the interim it can transfer the product of labor from wages to profits. And, as Keynes observed, in the long run you will be dead after having slaved your entire life away to service that debt.

It is not just private debt that transfers the product of labor from one class to the other, state debt has this very same effect. Your take home pay doesn’t change, but the prices of what this take home pay buys spirals out of sight. In the choice between austerity and debt, debt is actually the preferred option because the state doesn’t provoke people into the streets. As Keynes explained in his General Theory, unions will fight a cut in their wages, but not one imposed through debt and inflation.

“Thus it is fortunate that the workers, though unconsciously, are instinctively more reasonable economists than the classical school, inasmuch as they resist reductions of money-wages, which are seldom or never of an all-round character, even though the existing real equivalent of these wages exceeds the marginal disutility of the existing employment; whereas they do not resist reductions of real wages, which are associated with increases in aggregate employment and leave relative money-wages unchanged, unless the reduction proceeds so far as to threaten a reduction of the real wage below the marginal disutility of the existing volume of employment. Every trade union will put up some resistance to a cut in money-wages, however small. But since no trade union would dream of striking on every occasion of a rise in the cost of living, they do not raise the obstacle to any increase in aggregate employment which is attributed to them by the classical school.” (my emphasis)

I bet you could count the number of major demonstrations against inflation in the past forty years on a single hand — I know of no strikes produced by it. Nobody ever surrounded the congress to demand a reduction in inflation nor fought the police in the streets with firebombs because of it. As a matter of fact, the prima facie silliness of the euro-austerity regime in Spain, Greece, Ireland, Portugal etc., suggests the states and ruling classes of those nations are now trapped and cannot employ debt to meet their aims.

By taking on the issue of debt Occupy is in fact taking on one of the most powerful tools in the state’s arsenal for imposing austerity — debt. Occupy is showing that it is not just a matter of austerity versus debt, but also of austerity through debt. The debt campaign is big because it calls bullshit on both the Democrats and the GOP and can appeal to whatever healthy elements remain in the Tea Party.

*****

As a side note I also want to point out that not one Marxist critic of David Graeber was able to uncover this hidden connection between debt and austerity that Occupy has discovered purely through its practical activity alone. This includes that asshole over at Jacobin, Mike Beggs; that “humanist marxist” Andrew Kliman; Dean, Deseriis, and a host of other imbeciles. Nor does it appear in the writings of Marxists who feel an obligation to repair capitalism, such as Dumenil, Levy, Saad-Filho and that sorry lot.

What good is a goddamned theory if the people using it are idiots.

Oh yeah. And fuck Zizek too!

A Brief Sketch of the Political-Economy of the Fascist State (Revised and Extended)

February 20, 2012 2 comments

Introduction to this revision

On the Left there is a real prejudice that Paul Krugman’s Keynesian policy ideas represent a more humane form of capitalism than Obama, Bush, Geithner and Bernanke neoliberal policies. Or that state social spending represents a more moderate face of capitalism than calls to dismantle entitlements and welfare spending. Even anarchists like Chomsky or Marxists like Wolff buy in to this stupid proposition.

Let’s be clear about this: there is not a dime of fascist state spending on anything that is not aimed at prolonging the life of capitalism. There is not a single penny spent on the poor that is not aimed at anything but intensifying their poverty. We are talking about a class of cannibals that have ruthlessly leveled entire cities to gain a competitive industrial advantage. If you think capitalism has a human face, you should get your fucking head examined.

Henry VIII exterminated 70,000 men and women to force the working class to accept wage slavery. The folks who control wealth right now, slaughtered millions on every continent to accumulate it, yet we still have dumbasses in the movement who think Obama cares about the unemployed and about your health? We are facing a class of predators who would feed on your children if they thought it would give them a competitive advantage. These are people who will drive our species to the brink of an extinction level event, secure in the knowledge there is profit to be made.

Our limitation, naiveté, is the inability to imagine just how inhumanely they can act toward entire sections of humanity to make a buck. We on both the Left and Right can talk all we want about the Constitution or “human need”, but this is meaningless to these people. They have already told us “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

Translation: “Whatever we have to do, we will keep our monopoly over the wealth of society.”

–Jehu

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Inflation, the negative rate of profit, and the Fascist State (Part four)

April 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Executive Order 6102

In the bare bones sketch of Marx’s theory I argued that the value of the object serving as money played no role in its function as money. This was incomplete, of course, but it served to advance my argument until I could directly address the implication of debasement of money by the industrial powers during the Great Depression. In reality, the price (actually value/price) mechanism can only perform its function to coordinate the separate acts of millions of individual labor times if it shares with commodities the attribute of being a product of labor itself, and, for this reason, requires a definite socially necessary labor time for its own production. Because gold has value, it can express the value of the commodities with which it is exchanged.

On the surface, a commodity is exchanged for money, and this transaction is the exchange of two absolutely unlike objects: the money serves no purpose but means of exchange, while the commodity with which it is exchanged is eventually consumed; the money never leaves circulation, while the commodity disappears; the money can always find a new owner, while the commodity only finds an new owner where it is needed. They are as different as night and day. Although, the flows of money through the community are only a necessary reflex of the flows of commodities through the community as it engages in a more or less developed act of social production. But, by always being exchangeable for commodities throughout the community, always being in constant circulation within the community, and by serving only as means of exchange, money brings millions of isolated individual acts of production into some sort of rough coordination.

As the physical expression of socially necessary labor time money is a natural and spontaneous means by which the value/price mechanism regulates the activities of the community in absence of the community’s own planned management. However, I must emphasize, money is only the expression of socially necessary labor time; it is not and should not be mistaken for socially necessary labor time itself. And, it can only express the socially necessary labor time of society, because the community requires some definite socially necessary labor time to create it. What object serves as money for the community is, therefore, of general interest to the whole of the community, and has a very long history — most of which, since we take this history as our starting point, is of no interest to us here. I only note that since this General Interest must take some form, the form it takes during the period under discussion, from the Great Depression until the present, are the laws of the various States regarding the legal definition of money.

Breakdown of the law of value emergence of the Fascist State

On April 5, 1933, the Roosevelt administration issued Executive Order 6102. The Wikipedia outlines the scope of this executive order:

Executive Order 6102 is an Executive Order signed on April 5, 1933, by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt “forbidding the Hoarding of Gold Coin, Gold Bullion, and Gold Certificates” by U.S. citizens. The bank panics of Feb/March 1933 and foreign exchange movements were in danger of exhausting the Federal Reserve holdings of gold. Executive Order 6102 required U.S. citizens to deliver on or before May 1, 1933, all but a small amount of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates owned by them to the Federal Reserve, in exchange for $20.67 per troy ounce. Under the Trading With the Enemy Act of October 6, 1917, as amended on March 9, 1933, violation of the order was punishable by fine up to $10,000 ($167,700 if adjusted for inflation as of 2010) or up to ten years in prison, or both.

This simple executive order, which was succeeded by several additional orders during 1933, and by the Gold Reserve Act of 1934, removed gold as the standard for the dollar, made it illegal to own more than a small amount of the metal, and compelled individuals under penalty of law to turn their gold over to the Federal Reserve in return for the then existing exchange rate of $20.67. On the surface this order just gave the State monopoly over the ownership of gold and reduced money to just a State-issued token. While this step was, in and of itself, fairly staggering, particularly when we consider that it was duplicated in all the big industrial nations at the same time, once we consider the full ramifications of the orders and succeeding law in terms of the various national economies, it quickly becomes apparent that a state monopoly over the ownership of gold, and the replacement of gold standard money by State-issued currency was only the most obvious effect. John Maynard Keynes, who examined the issue entirely from the standpoint of a bourgeois economist, had some inkling of the far reaching implication of State issued ex nihilo money. Fifteen years earlier, he argued that the inflationary consequences of excessive money printing amount to the confiscation of private property:

… By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security but [also] at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth.

Those to whom the system brings windfalls, beyond their deserts and even beyond their expectations or desires, become “profiteers,” who are the object of the hatred of the bourgeoisie, whom the inflationism has impoverished, not less than of the proletariat. As the inflation proceeds and the real value of the currency fluctuates wildly from month to month, all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless; and the process of wealth-getting degenerates into a gamble and a lottery.

Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.

If excessive money printing raised the question of secret confiscation of property, the actual confiscation of gold, and the replacement of gold money  by state-issued currency amounted to the explicit expropriation of monetary wealth. Yet, even this implied expropriation of social wealth in its capitalistic form was not the most significant implication of the state action: From the standpoint of Marx’s theory, the debasement of money was the abolition of the historically developed natural and spontaneously created value/price mechanism as the regulator of the social act of production. In place of a natural relation between the values of commodities and the prices of commodities, the relation between the two was, after this, to be established as a matter of state policy. This separation is the absolute development of the historical antithesis between the commodity and money, since paper money has no use except as medium of circulation of commodities — as means of exchange. Moreover, by this executive order severing gold from money, we see not only that the value of the commodity was severed from its price, but, further, that production was severed from consumption; labor power was severed from wages; surplus value was severed from profits. Finally, with the law of value no longer determining the social necessity of a given expenditure of labor time, the labor time expended by society was no longer limited by social necessity.

In place of the historical, spontaneous and naturally developed mode by which the separate activities of millions of members of Civil Society in every country had been hitherto regulated, social labor and its duration was now regulated by the State, and under conditions determined solely by the State. The abolition of the gold standard did not simply sever the connection between gold and money, and abolish the value/price mechanism, it also placed the total social capital of Civil Society at the disposal of the State — or, what is the same thing, announced the emergence of the Fascist State. Property, the classical thinkers argued, is the power to dispose of the labor of others, hence this total social capital was converted into the property of the State.

The Fascist State as regulator of production and consumption

The entire social capital of every nation was expropriated, precisely as Marx predicted, but in a fashion and under circumstances quite different than those which might have been welcomed by him. As I argued in another post, Marx’s differences with Bakunin came down to difference over whether the Proletariat would be compelled to effect management of social production according to the principle of “to each according to his work”, that is by replacing the existing Civil Society and the State with new rules enforcing labor equally on all members of society. Marx was not making this argument in a vacuum; his theory predicted a breakdown of the law of value as the regulating principle of social labor before the necessary conditions were established for a fully communist society. Society would be required by this breakdown to step in and manage social labor directly and according to a plan. Marx’s argument with the Anarchists essentially asked the question, “By what rules would this management be effected?” As is obvious from an investigation of history, this question was settled decisively in favor of the existing Civil Society, which rose to manage its General Interest — i.e., its interests as a mode of Capital — through the machinery of the Fascist State.

Within ten years of this act, more than 80 million people were dead and the Eurasian continent lay in ruins, as each nation state, finding itself in total control of the productive capacity of their respective nations, immediately put this productive capacity to good use by trying to devour their neighbors — unleashing a catastrophe on mankind. By 1971, with the collapse of the Bretton Wood agreement, a single fascist state, the United States, had imposed on the survivors the very same control over the other national economies, that it imposed on its own citizens.

As I stated in the previous post:

However, there are so many holes in the economist’s definition of inflation, as a matter of due diligence I must consider inflation from the standpoint of Marx’s labor theory of value. If I arrive at the same conclusions about inflation that are expressed in the Wikipedia definition — or at conclusions that throw no new light on the subject — then I will have spent about five hours pursuing a dead end.

I have now considered inflation from the standpoint of Marx’s labor theory of value and have come to decidedly different conclusions than those drawn in the Wikipedia entry on the subject. These conclusions, I argue, suggest a catastrophic breakdown of the conditions of capitalist production and exchange during the Great Depression; and, based on this, the assumption by the State of direct management of social production, the conversion of the total social capital into the property of the State — not by means of outright seizure of this capital, but by taking control of the conditions of exchange — and the extension of this relationship to the entire World Market.

With the assumption of management of social production by the Fascist State, the law of value, which served to limit the average price of the commodity to the socially necessary labor time required for its production, no longer imposed such limits on prices. Hence, prices could be determined by factors other than the value of these commodities. On the other hand, with the law of value — that is socially necessary labor time — no longer imposing a limit on the total labor time of society, this labor time could be expanded in a form that is completely superfluous to social necessity. We can, therefore, define inflation as the chronic general rise in the price level resulting from the further extension of hours of labor beyond their socially necessary limit; or, prices held constant, by the reduction of the ratio of socially necessary labor time to the actual hours of labor expended. Finally, we can see that inflation itself is no more than the result of Fascist State policy, which, acting as the social capitalist, seeks the ever greater extension of the working day even as the productive capacity of society reduces the necessary labor time of social labor.

In my next post, I will examine each of these conclusions in turn.

To be continued

The Golden Grimace (Part Two: A closer look at the Great Depression)

May 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Below is a breakout from the chart we showed you previously, which focuses on U.S. Gross Domestic Product from 1929 to 1940 – the Great Depression period.

The Great Depression of the 1930s

The Great Depression, we have always been told, was ultimately overcome by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Keynesian-style government economic policy. The narrative goes some thing like this: Lord John Maynard Keynes rewrote the book on Economics; and, as governments like FDR’s New Deal adopted his prescription, a marvelous economic recovery began to take hold.

As you can see from the chart, however, this is not a completely accurate portrayal of the events. By 1940 the economy of the United State did indeed seem to recover to its 1929 level, but only when measured in dollar terms. When measured in ounces of gold, it was still 40 percent off of its 1929 peak.

You can actually see where the two measures of economic activity begin to diverge in 1933 – the first year of FDR’s administration. This divergence occurred because Washington, to create a false prosperity, debased the dollar from the gold standard that year and began flooding the economy with fiat money, i.e., paper money printed on a press and required by law to be accepted in the place of real (gold based) money.

This debasement resulted in an outbreak of massive inflation in the middle of an ongoing depression! Absolutely unprecedented!!! For the first time in history, prices rose despite the near complete collapse of economic activity. This inflation created the false perception that economic recovery was underway, but its real effect was to sharply reduce the real value of the wages of working families and fatten corporate profits.

This was the goal explicitly suggested by Keynes, who argued that you could either drastically cut wages and get in a pissing contest with the unions – as Greece, Spain and many U.S. states are doing today – or, you could simply inflate the value of those wages away by printing a ton of paper money and injecting it into the economy. Faced with this inflation, the natural choice for working people would be to work harder and longer in a vain attempt to keep up with rising prices.

Says Keynes:

… it is fortunate that the workers … resist reductions of money-wages … whereas they do not resist reductions of real wages … Every trade union will put up some resistance to a cut in money-wages, however small. But since no trade union would dream of striking on every occasion of a rise in the cost of living, they do not raise the obstacle to any increase in aggregate employment which is attributed to them by the classical school.

Despite this ugly reality of government-corporate collusion, people who would otherwise be opposed to such fascistic predatory behavior nevertheless embrace the New Deal as an example of what the Messiah should be doing in our present crisis.

Stupidity has no bounds.

Saint Paul’s complaint…

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

He’s phoning it in now.

If it were not previously obvious that Paul Krugman has simply decided to cease evolving, and fully intends to ride his Nobel Prize into a grassy, well-shaded, spot overlooking the American economist version of an intellectual Forest Lawn, his most recent response to an imagined slight by the WSJ should put all doubts to rest.

The Journal apparently accused Saint Paul of duplicity for his claim in the popular press that unemployment compensation does not reduce labor force participation, while maintaining just the opposite view in his textbooks:

I hear through the grapevine that the usual suspects at the WSJ have put out something along the lines of “Krugman says that unemployment benefits won’t raise unemployment, but in his textbook he says they will, neener neener.” Are they really that stupid? Probably not — but they […] think that you, the reader, are that stupid.

Since you are not stupid, Saint Paul proceeds with his argument that,

Everyone agrees that really generous unemployment benefits, by reducing the incentive to seek jobs, can raise the NAIRU; that is, set limits to how far down you can push unemployment without running into inflation problems.

While unemployment compensation will not necessarily encourage the unemployed to avoid work, really generous unemployment compensation will. Everyone, Saint Paul swears, agrees with this. If you pay people enough to not work, it will begin to affect how much they have to be paid to seek work – leading to inflation. If we make it too comfortable for people who cannot find jobs, we will pay for it in higher prices. So we need to carefully calibrate exactly how much the unemployed receive for having been laid off – too little and they starve, too much and Lloyd Blankfein won’t be able to afford that diamond studded, solid gold, Rolls Royce he has his eye on – the one with seats covered in the most exquisite gossamer of fairy wings.

(And, if we provide decent shelters for battered women, we will only encourage the collapse of marriage. It is typical of Saint Paul that he protests the most squalid assertions of his field only to incorporate the logic of those assertions into his argument.)

However true the reasoning that forcing companies to pay full compensation to those who have been thrown into the streets might lead to the loss of such fear of starvation that workers might even prefer not to work – and, therefore, adopt the attitude of such notables as Paris Hilton, who seems to survive quite nicely without the burden of the daily commute – nevertheless, Saint Paul assures us that we are far from encouraging these sorts of pretensions among the filthy poor:

But in case you haven’t noticed, that’s not the problem constraining job growth in America right now. Wage growth is declining, not rising, and so is overall inflation. A wage-price spiral looks like a distant dream.

Not only are we able to keep the unemployed in such a state of anxiety about their mere survival, with incremental extensions of the unemployment compensation – subject to the periodic political infighting in Washington – there are so many of them that their sheer number threatens to starve even those who remain at work by depressing wages.  The problem we face instead is precisely the opposite: who is going to consume all the crap we’re producing in China, now?

What’s limiting employment now is lack of demand for the things workers produce. Their incentives to seek work are, for now, irrelevant.

Thus, Saint Paul cuts through the knot: we are suffering such unemployment, because we have no cash, because we are unemployed!

Well, at least we are getting somewhere: If there is a lack of demand for the things we already produce, then there must also be a lack of demand for productive investment to hire the unemployed to produce more of it. A situation which Saint Paul’s intellectual godfather, Lord John Maynard Keynes, put this way: “investment demand is so far saturated that it cannot be brought up to the indicated level of savings without embarking upon wasteful and unnecessary enterprises.”

And, what was his solution, Paul? Was it to maintain the threat of starvation over the heads of 20 percent of the labor force indefinitely?

Or was it to reduce hours of work?