The Keynesian Illusion

The Keynesian Illusion


Obama’s letter to the G20 a few weeks ago imploring Western leaders not to embark on austerity measures to rein in their expanding budget deficits but instead to continue stimulating their economies has been the starting gun to an immense battle between the forces of rational economic management and Keynesian claptrap.

This is a battle full of misinformation and one needs to remain on their toes to see through the fog. Obama’s letter contained some glaring inconsistencies upon closer inspection.

He wanted nations to “reaffirm our unity of purpose to provide the policy support necessary to keep economic growth strong.” He also said that “it is essential that we have a self-sustaining recovery that creates the good jobs that our people need.”

Within those two sentences lies a conundrum for those with the desire to dig. Is economic growth really strong if it needs “policy support” to keep it going? Or is the growth that one sees really the mirage created by government stimulus spending?

Also how could he mention the need for a “self-sustaining” recovery when he has also said that the economy needs more government stimulus to keep it going? The government cannot create a self-sustaining recovery. They produce nothing. They just take money from Peter to give it to Paul. They also have the power to borrow and spend while the private sector is doing something that it has needed to do for years, which is deleverage.

The Keynesian crowd are quite prepared to keep throwing money into a bottomless pit in an effort to create the illusion of growth. They have what seems to be a strong argument because the illusion of growth that has been created thus far is said to be real growth.

When that growth falters due to the stimulus ending they will point to the slowing growth and say “see, you pulled the stimulus too early and now the economy is weakening again, therefore the reason for the weakness is not enough stimulus”, when in actual fact the initial growth was nothing but an illusion.

Japan is the perfect example of Keynesian theories gone mad. They sit on 200% debt to GDP with plenty of bridges built to nowhere and fantastic roads but stagnant growth and a stock and property market that is still 70-80% below where it was in 1989. When their interest rates turn up again they are going to be in a lot of trouble.

When the world’s economy double dips into recession as I believe it will, you are sure to hear people like Ross Gittins screaming that the world has gone mad and needs to throw trillions of dollars at the problem. Don’t listen to them. They are the last gasps for air of a dying philosophy.

European leaders thankfully ignored Obama’s letter and have signalled to the market their willingness to cut deficits going forward so that their debt spiral can perhaps get under control. This is not necessarily the end of the matter. By cutting deficits they will affect their growth going forward and will increase the chances of falling back into recession. This will in turn affect their debt to GDP ratios (via the lower GDP denominator) regardless of whether they are getting their deficits under control. They are not out of the woods yet.

An interesting table that I found on Mish’s Global economic trend analysis blog shows the total level of indebtedness of the major economies:

Japan stands out like a sore thumb as mentioned above, but it is very interesting to note that Britain is right up there too.

So how does this stack up in History? I mean, so what if the average debt to GDP is 300%. That might be chicken feed and we should push it to 1000%!

Well I think this chart says it all:


If we are to believe in the theory of mean reversion then we must be getting close to the mother of all inflection points in this chart. When it does turn there will be nothing with the power to stop it. Not even the Fed.

There is no doubt that the Fed will jump into action again and monetise the debt by creating mountains of money, but I don’t believe they will be able to create enough money to cover the immense deleveraging the system needs. The amount of money creation necessary will create immense problems for them down the track anyway.

Last night’s price action in the States with the S+P 500 falling 3% has left the markets teetering on the edge of some very important technical levels. With Economic leading indicators all turning south recently the stage is set for the market to crack and have another large leg down. The next level of support in the ASX 200 below the recent lows of 4175 is 3900. If the market can’t hold there then we could be heading towards the lows from last March of 3120.

ASX 200 daily chart


Click here to enlarge


The last 6 months range appears complete and a failure below the recent lows is very bearish and spells the end of the bull market (which I believe was just a bear market rally) from March last year. The secular bear market remains in place and the rally is being shown for what it is; A government lead inflation based on Keynesian principles which was doomed to fail from the outset.

As Bill Gross the Managing Director of Pimco, which manages the world’s largest bond fund, recently said in his June investment outlook, “Investors must respect this rather tortuous journey in the months and years ahead for what it is: A deleveraging process based upon too much debt and too little growth to service it.”

Murray Dawes
For Money Morning Australia



18 Responses to “The Keynesian Illusion”

  1. cb

    Drew – I have been thinking of your suggestion of adopting one universal digital currency. I am no expert, but seeing the problems with the Euro, which you give as an example, I am not the only one with doubts whether it would work. My hunch is that the more you concentrate power and influence, the more vulnerable that centre of power becomes to it being hijacked and captured by special interests.

    And that is only for starters. When you factor in the diverse range of economic and labour conditions of the various parts of the world, if anything, a plurality of currencies is probably a must, and the more plurality you have, all the way down to the local and regional levels, the more flexible your system becomes, and the less vulnerable to a whole host of potential problems. Here is a brief interview of Gerald Celente on the very topic, who seems to be voicing some of those concerns.

    As it is, powerful money interests happen to be pushing for just your kind of solution through the SDR. They would love nothing more than having a universal currency like that, as they would then be able to control and dominate centrally the entire world economy. I, for one, distrust concentrations of power, as the more that happens, the more disempowered people become at the local and individual level. That is a definite pattern, and we should try to avoid it, I would say, like the plague.

    It is interesting, though, that the more you and I tend to think of all the issues on this subject, we tend to come to diametrically opposite conclusions. For what it’s worth, my view is that the current trend of globalisation is creating more and more problems, and that polarisation and localisation of issues and systems would serve us all much better. And, in terms of a universally acceptable and workable means of exchange, nothing is going to beat the naturally and universally accepted and trusted real money, which is gold, and silver, both of which represent payment in full and with no counterparty risk, as opposed to any system of IOU’s, be it paper or digital. When you have been paid in something of real, intrinsic value, you have been paid, and that’s that. What you are proposing is that people, businesses and countries be paid in promises. I agree with Celente that nothing of that sort is going to work.

    Human nature is not going to change, so any system of exchange and payment we devise will have to take it as a given. Any system would work with a community of angels, including yours. Alas, where the devil is part of the picture, you gotta be more picky.

    Gerald Celente: Go for the Gold

  2. Abby

    CB, Drew
    I’ve added my two cents worth at the end of the gold article.

  3. cb

    Thanks Abby. You hit the nail right on the head with your comments on gold.

  4. cb

    Drew – I should correct myself. We are fundamentally at one about the absolute need for honest money, that the principle means of exchange should not be vulnerable to becoming a means of exploitation and enslavelment of others. What we are still debating is the best means of implementing a system of sound money that offers the best combination of freedom, convenience and protection against exploitation and fraud.

  5. cb

    sorry, that should be principal means, not principle means.

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