The debates raging over what policies will pull the U.S. economy out of its Great Recession replicate one that occurred during the Great Depression. Thanks to the efforts of Richard Ebeling, a professor of economics at Northwood University, we have compelling and concise documentary evidence. He has unearthed letters to the Times of London from the two sides that mirror today's debates.The debate rages on because the answers to those questions are not settled.
Prof. Ebeling's rediscovery of these letters has unleashed a torrent of comments on blog sites. As New York University economist Mario Rizzo put it, "The great debate is still Keynes versus Hayek. All else is footnote." Economists have clothed the debate with ever greater mathematical complexity, but the underlying issues remain the same.
Was Keynes correct that savings become idle money and depress economic activity? Or was the Hayek view, first articulated by Adam Smith in the "Wealth of Nations" in 1776, correct? (Smith: "What is annually saved is as regularly consumed as what is annually spent, and nearly in the same time too.")
Is all spending equally productive, or should government policies aim to simulate private investment? If the latter, then Mr. Obama is following in FDR's footsteps and impeding recovery. He does so by demonizing business and creating regime uncertainty through new regulations and costly programs. In this he follows neither Hayek nor Keynes, since creating a lack of confidence is considered destructive by both.
Finally, is creating new public debt in a weakened economy the path to recovery? Or is "economy" (austerity in today's debate) and thrift the path to prosperity now, as it has usually been considered before?
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