Krugman vs. the Austrians

Paul Krugman, professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University, speaks at an international conference to mark the start of the first-ever World Trade Week UK in the City of London in June 2009.

Krugman trots out his favorite mantra against the Austrians:

My view is that the fatal flaw in Austrian economics is that it can’t explain unemployment — or, worse, that it thinks that it can explain unemployment, but is deluding itself. The Austrian view is that unemployment in a slump results from the difficulty of “adaptation of the structure of production” — workers are unemployed as resources are painfully transferred out of an overblown investment-goods sector back into production of consumption goods.

But this immediately raises the question, why isn’t there similar unemployment during the boom, as workers are transferred into investment goods production?I’ve asked this question repeatedly over the years, and all I get is one of two things: gobbledygook, or “but during the phase of rising investment, the economy is booming!”, which is of course circular. In practice, Austrians seem to be Keynesians during booms without knowing it; they realize that high demand produces a boom, but don’t realize that this contradicts their own theory of slumps.

And the key to all this, I believe, is that the Austrian abhorrence of explicit models, even for the purposes of clarifying thought, leaves them unaware of the holes in their account.

I’ve been digging around for the best Murphy refutation of this point and find this: “The elementary flaw in Krugman’s objection is that he is ignoring the time structure of production. When workers get laid off in the industries that produce investment goods, they can’t simply switch over to cranking out TVs and steak dinners. This is because the production of TVs and steak dinners relies on capital goods that must have already been produced.”

And here: “Businesses armed with newly printed Fed dollars must bid away workers from their original niches in the structure of production. Obviously, this process doesn’t lead to mass unemployment. The workers voluntarily quit their original jobs because the inflated money supply has allowed a few firms to offer them higher salaries. The Fed’s injection of new money has not yet distorted the whole economy, and so there is no reason for other businesses to suddenly find themselves in trouble and lay off workers at the beginning of the artificial boom… workers on average are not as economically productive during the recession because the whole structure of production has been thrown out of whack by the Fed’s injections of funny money. It is much harder for workers to switch jobs and take a pay cut versus quitting a job in order to take a better one that pays more. That’s the simple explanation for why the Fed-induced boom sees low unemployment, while the necessary bust experiences high unemployment.”

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