Kuttner on Keynes

Patrick Bond pbond at wn.apc.org
Tue Jul 21 10:43:19 PDT 1998

Kuttner's is a very nice article, especially for BW, but I like old Keynes better than the weakened 1944 vintage:

"I sympathize with those who would minimize, rather than with those who would maximize, economic entanglement among nations. Ideas, knowledge, science, hospitality, travel -- these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible and, above all, let finance be primarily national."

Keynes, John Maynard. 1933.

"National Self-Sufficiency." Yale

Review, 22: 4 (June): pp. 755-769;

reprinted in D. Moggeridge, ed.,

The Collected Works of J. M.

Keynes, Vol. 21 (Macmillan).

"Freedom of capital movements...assumes that it is right and desirable to have an equalization of interest rates in all parts of the world. It assumes, that is to say that if the rate of interest that promotes full-employment in Great Britain is lower than the appropriate rate in Australia, there is no reason why this should not be allowed to lead to a situation in which the whole of British savings are invested in Australia, subject only to different estimations of risk, until the equilibrium rate in Australia has been brought down to the British rate. In my view the whole management of the domestic economy depends upon being free to have the appropriate interest rate without reference to the rates prevailing in the rest of the world. Capital controls is a corollary to this."

Keynes, Collected Works,

Vol. XXV, p. 149

> Business Week 980727
> We are learning once again the fundamental difference between free commerce
> in ordinary goods and free commerce in money. The former is broadly
> efficient--it subjects business to bracing competition and allows products
> to find markets anywhere in the world. The latter is destabilizing and
> deflationary--it holds the real economy hostage to the whims of financial
> speculation, which is vulnerable to herd instincts, manias, and panics. In
> ordinary commerce, prices adjust and markets equilibrate. In global money
> markets, erratic and damaging overshooting is the norm.
> Exhibit A is, of course, the Asian crisis. The Asian collapse is widely
> blamed on structural problems--too much state interference in economies,
> ''crony capitalism,'' and thinly capitalized banks. But that system, while
> in need of overhaul, did produce exceptional growth for two decades. The
> more important cause of the Asian crisis is the sudden exposure of these
> nations to the speculative whims of unregulated financial capital. It is
> impossible to run an efficient economy when your currency swings by 100% in
> just a few months.
> EASY TARGETS. The fundamentals of most Asian economies remain enviable--high
> savings rates, well-educated and disciplined workforces, high rates of
> productivity growth. However, when these economies became targets for global
> financial speculation, they were abruptly exposed to forces beyond their
> control. Hot money poured in, seeking supernormal returns. When the hot
> money resulted in overbuilding followed by falling expectations, the money
> poured out just as quickly. To reassure the same global speculative capital,
> these nations, encouraged by the International Monetary Fund, resorted to
> tight money and deep economic contraction. The kowtowing to skittish
> financial markets has led to generalized deflation.
> In popular memory, John Maynard Keynes is (wrongly) associated with simple
> deficit spending. But at the heart of the Keynesian insight about the
> failure of markets to self-regulate is the disjuncture between the real
> economy of long time horizons with fixed obligations and the short-term,
> often irrational character of financial markets.
> The Bretton Woods system was an attempt to square this circle. Bretton Woods
> married free commerce in goods to regulated commerce in money. It created
> fixed exchange rates and controls on private capital movements--precisely so
> that free trade in goods could coexist with high growth and full employment.
> Financial speculators had no role in the Bretton Woods system, so there was
> no systemic bias in favor of slow growth.
> Bretton Woods collapsed, however, because it was never anchored by the
> global credit system envisioned by Keynes. Rather it was temporarily
> anchored by the U.S. dollar. But when the need to finance expanding global
> commerce collided with the need to maintain domestic price stability, dollar
> hegemony became too great a stretch. The U.S. sacrificed fixed exchange
> rates, finally ending the Bretton Woods system in 1973. It is more than a
> coincidence that 1973 also began the era of slower growth.
> SAFETY NET. With the collapse of Bretton Woods, a new generation of
> free-market fundamentalists insisted that money was just another commodity
> with prices set by markets like the price of ordinary goods. Exchange rates
> should float; all capital markets should be totally permeable. Recent
> events, however, have proven this view tragically wrong.
> If we are not careful, the world will enter a deflationary spiral not unlike
> the Great Depression, triggered by events in Asia. The American architects
> of Asian rescue can't decide whether they trust speculative markets to
> govern flows of currency and capital. On the one hand, the Clinton Treasury
> backs the IMF view--liberalize capital markets, get government out of the
> way, reassure investors. On the other hand, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin
> talks of the need for Asian social safety nets; he encourages Tokyo to bail
> out its banks and urges the Chinese to keep pegged exchange rates--none of
> which policies exactly reflect deference to market forces. The policy muddle
> reflects an intellectual muddle.
> Ad hoc damage control coupled with self-defeating austerity is the wrong
> approach. Better to act systemically, with a ''Tobin Tax'' on short-term
> currency transactions, as well as a more managed system of capital flows and
> exchange rates. It remains to be seen whether today's statesmen can rise to
> the occasion or whether they are still prisoners, as Keynes once put it, of
> the ideas of defunct economists.

Patrick Bond home: 51 Somerset Road, Kensington 2094, South Africa office: University of the Witwatersrand Graduate School of Public and Development Management phone: 2711-488-5917 fax: 2711-484-2729 home phone: 2711-614-8088 email: pbond at wn.apc.org or bondp at zeus.mgmt.wits.ac.za

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