January 17, 2019

Austrian Economics Is Scientific (Keynesianism Is Not)

Ronpaul1On February 9th, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas chaired his first meeting of the House Monetary Policy Subcommittee he now leads due to the Republican victories in last November’s congressional elections. Congressman Paul invited several expert witnesses to testify on monetary policy. Among these were Austrian economist Tom Dilorenzo.

Much has been made of Rep. Lacy Clay’s attack on Dilorenzo’s credibility due to Dilorenzo’s alleged association with a “politically incorrect” group called the League of the South. However, Clay also attacked the Austrian school of economics itself, calling the Austrian deductive method “a non-rigorous scientific method.” According to Clay this is because the Austrian theory is not based upon “an empirical method to study economics.” He further states the Austrian school does not recognize the Keynesian theoretical models or the aggregate data that those models rely upon to “prove” their theories scientifically.

As Robert Wenzel observed, Nobel Prize winner F.A. Hayek already addressed this criticism, arguing economists should indeed use the deductive method, rather than an empirical one, to understand economic principles. Wenzel even suggests Robert Rubin would likely agree with Hayek’s argument, because of what Rubin called “the very nature of reality–its complexity and ambiguity.”

It is somewhat futile to try to win this argument with entrenched government policy makers. The Keynesian school advocates massive government intervention into the economy to protect us from the supposed shortcomings of the free market. When crises in the economy occur, the Keynesians recommend even greater intervention in the form of increased government spending, regulation, and monetary expansion.

The Austrian school advocates no government intervention into the economy at all. They argue monumental crises are actually caused by intervention, so their cure is to cease whatever intervention has brought on the crisis, to relax regulations that impede adjustment in the labor market, and to allow the economy to rebalance itself through natural market forces.

Therefore, governments are not likely to reject Keynesianism, which grants them enormous power, and listen to the Austrians, who would strip it all away. One is reminded of the medieval governments which refused to acknowledge the world was round and called upon appointed court scientists to legitimize their assertion it was flat.

However, it is important for investors to understand which theory within the “dismal science” truly passes scientific muster. If you cannot dissuade the government from basing their policies on the wrong theory, you can at least choose the right one yourself to protect your own wealth and economic viability.

Anyone who has taken a basic chemistry class in high school remembers how you prove or disprove a theory. You conduct experiments to determine whether the predictions the theory makes are correct. For example, your theory might predict that mixing two colorless chemicals in a test tube will result in the mixture turning blue. To prove it, you must not only conduct the experiment once, but over and over again, each time yielding the same result. If your test tube turns blue under the same conditions every time, you have proven your theory. If not, your theory is considered invalid and a new one must be formulated.

Austrian economists like F.A. Hayek predicted the Great Depression when the Keynesians said that the economy was fine. Once the crisis hit, the Austrians argued that the Keynesian policies prescribed to cure it would fail, as they were merely repetition and expansion of the interventions that caused the crisis in the first place. When massive government spending and devaluation of the currency failed to pull America out of the Depression, the Keynesians argued more spending and inflation to underwrite WWII would finally do the trick. But the Depression lasted throughout the war and only subsided after massive post-war cuts in government spending, consistent with the predictions of the Austrians.

The Keynesian answer to this anomaly? Ignore the results and just state that Keynesian policies did cure the Depression, regardless of verifiable  facts to the contrary. This is science?

The Keynesians were also explicit that high unemployment and price inflation could never coexist together. The Austrians made no such claims, as they recognized that monetary expansion causes both price inflation and the malinvestment that leads to unemployment. In the 1970’s, Austrian theory was again proven correct and Keynesian theory proven wrong.

Most recently, the Keynesians argued that the technology and housing bubbles were not bubbles at all, but sustainable increases in wealth caused by their wise stewardship of the economy. If you listened to them, you were either wiped out by the NASDAQ crash, left owning a house with an underwater mortgage, or both. If you listened to the Austrians, you got rid of your technology stocks early, during the formation of the bubble, and avoided buying houses whose prices had been bid to unsustainable levels by the combination of monetary expansion and government intervention.

Even after all of this proof is in, the Keynesians are still employing the only defense they have left that their theory is sound. Deny, deny, deny. With government and consumer debt threatening to cause cataclysmic economic collapse, the Keynesians are encouraging government and consumers to borrow and spend more. The Austrians advise consumers to pay down their debts and investors to avoid the next bubble. They urge investors to protect their wealth in gold and other commodities, as they have for the past decade. Those that have listened to them have turned huge profits during this historic economic calamity.

Imagine that you are back in your high school chemistry class lab, conducting experiments. In the row behind you, an Austrian economist is testing his theory. The test tube turns blue one time after another, just as he predicted it would. In the row ahead, a Keynesian economist is testing his theory. His test tube turns a different color every time and then finally explodes, lighting his beard on fire. Which one would you deem the better scientist? Which one would you bet your life savings upon in the next experiment? If you wish to take the scientific approach, listen to the Austrians.

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.


>Our Last Emperor

>Within hours of his historic victory, the official story of Barack Obama’s presidency began to be written by the corporate media machine. The general consensus of all of the coverage is that Obama is inheriting huge problems in the economy and foreign policy of the United States, and that he alone will have to solve them. Associated Press writer Jennifer Loven’s article of this morning, carried the headline, “Great Expectations: Obama will have to deliver.” The New York Times featured an article called “For Obama, A Towering Economic To Do List.” Perhaps most ominously, an article from Bloomberg contained this passage,

“The Democratic president-elect has much more on his agenda, amounting to what may be the broadest overhaul of the U.S. economy since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Beyond job creation and big investments in public works, Obama intends to shift the tax burden back toward the wealthy, roll back a quarter-century of deregulation, extend health-care coverage to all Americans and reassess the U.S. government’s pursuit of free- trade deals.”

Fate has not been kind to Barack Obama. His task is not monumentally difficult – it is impossible. An entire nation and, to some extent, an entire world, is looking to this relatively young man to bring back to life an American Empire that is beyond resuscitation. We are presently witnessing the spectacular failure of an ideology that has dominated the world for the past century. Like his predecessor, Obama brings terribly bad (although superficially different) ideas to the White House. Like his predecessor, Obama will make a bad situation a lot worse, albeit with different tools out of the same toolbox. However, the end of the Empire that will occur on his watch is inescapable, no matter who occupies the White House. The Empire is ending because, like all empires, it is unsustainable.

Make no mistake, Obama’s policies will make things much worse. For an economy that has never really recovered from the original New Deal, the policies described in the Bloomberg passage alone should be enough to put America’s “mixed economy” out of its misery. Following the example of past American emperors, particularly from the (in past decades) more socialist Democratic party, Obama may do damage in one term that another president might take two to do. Nevertheless, this collapse is not going to be remotely his fault, although he may take much of the blame.

As I’ve written here, we are experiencing the deflation of the mother of all bubbles, the socialism bubble. America’s problems are not the result of the mistakes of specific leaders or of the failures of specific policies. America’s problems are systemic. They are the result of building the edifice of our society and economy around the idea of central planning and an all-powerful federal government. The media ludicrously portrays the welfare state, the worldwide military force, the central economic planning via the Federal Reserve and alphabet soup regulatory agencies, etc. as failing because they have been poorly managed. Sometimes they have. The Bush Administration jumps to mind. However, it is crucial to realize that there is no way to successfully manage them. They are part and parcel of an ideology that is doomed to fail regardless of the skill of its execution. When America has prospered in past decades, it has been in spite of these institutions, not because they have been managed well. Until Americans realize this, the “change” they seek will never come.

The real tragedy is that neither the majority of Americans nor Obama himself understand this. So, all look to Obama to take some action, although most really can’t say what it is. Each time I hear Obama or one of his followers dutifully mouth his one word slogan, “Change,” I am haunted by Charlotte Iserbyt’s insightful question/retort, “From what, to what?” I have occasionally asked an Obama supporter this question. Despite long, uncomfortable silences on each occasion, I have yet to hear a reply. They do not know what they mean. They just want government to make their lives better. They do not realize that government, by its very nature, does not have the power to do so.

Not long ago, I stumbled upon Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto while channel surfing just before going to sleep. It is not a movie for the faint of heart. It depicts life at the end of the Mayan empire, complete with human sacrifice in state-of-the-art digital clarity. I was struck by the words of the sacrificer to the maniacally cheering crowd. He mentions a short list of afflictions of the people – poor crops, disease, drought – and then goes on to say,

“They say this strife has made us weak. That we have become empty. They say that we rot. I say we are strong. Great people of the banner of the sun, I say we are strong. We are a people of destiny. Destined to be the masters of time. Destined to be nearest to the gods…”

He then goes on to brutally murder two captives in order to appease the gods and renew the land.

On Tuesday night, I was reminded of this scene while watching Barack Obama’s victory speech in Chicago. The similarities were more striking than one might at first think. As in the film, tens of thousands were gathered to implore their government to save them. As in the film, Senator Obama reviewed the list of problems afflicting his people (two wars, the financial crisis, healthcare costs, etc.). As in the film, President-elect Obama’s proposed solutions will do nothing to relieve the suffering of his people. As in the film, the tens of thousands gathered erupted into wild applause and adulation at each meaningless pronouncement. I am not sure what I found more horrifying: the sight of thousands of people cheering a brutal murder, or the sight of the citizens of the so-called “land of the free” worshipping their government. Each is an outward indication of systemic societal flaws within.

Perhaps President Obama’s legacy will find some luck. The great majority of Americans still believe that FDR resolved the Great Depression, when in fact he caused it. Perhaps Obama will get some credit for the eventual recovery in America, even though it will happen in spite of his policies rather than because of them. Unfortunately for him, it would be better if Americans finally saw their present form of government clearly for what it is.

After the end of the Empire, there will still be a United States of America, just as there is still an Italy, France, Spain, and England. However, this moment in American history is different. In the past, the productivity of the American economy has eventually been able to overcome the disastrous policies of an FDR or an LBJ. That is no longer the case. The accumulated effects of government intervention and government-created systemic problems that have been built into the American economy have finally destroyed that productivity. The parasite has killed the host. This crisis is going to force some substantive change, whether for better or for worse.

The real question confronting America is what will come next. None of the empires of the past were succeeded by freer societies for their people. Will America take a different path? No nation in history has achieved the liberty of its people that the United States did during its freest, most prosperous period. It is possible that this spirit of liberty is not completely extinct. Following the reign of this our last emperor, we will have the opportunity to truly remake the United States. Instead of repeating the mistakes of history, we can make history once again. After the fall of our empire, we will have the opportunity to restore our republic and reclaim our freedom. That is the real change that we need.