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9.4.2 The saving–investment perversity of Keynesianism

It was Keynesian economics, of course, that the monetarist counter-revolution

was intended to counter. But on the issue of a saving–investment nexus,

the counter could be more accurately described as a cover-up. In his General

Theory Keynes (1936, p. 21) had explicitly faulted his predecessors and

contemporaries for ‘fallaciously supposing that there is a nexus which unites

decisions to abstain from present consumption with decisions to provide for

future consumption’. According to Keynes, there is no simple and effective

way of coordinating these two decisions. Rather, the mechanisms that do

eventually bring saving into line with investment are indirect and perverse.

The saving–investment perversity, in fact, is central to the Keynesian vision

of the macroeconomy (see Leijonhufvud, 1968).

The equation of exchange can be rewritten in a way that uncovers the

issues on which the Keynesian revolution was based. Aggregate output Q

consists of the output of consumption goods plus the output of investment

goods. That is, Q = QC + QI, the QI reckoned as the ‘final’ output of investment

goods – so as to avoid double counting. The equation of exchange, then,

can be rewritten as:

MV = P(QC + QI) (9.2)

emphasizing that the problem as seen by Keynes (the volatility of QI and its

impact on all other macroeconomic magnitudes) is a problem that is simply

not addressed by the monetarists. Rather, replacing the Keynesian QC + QI

with the monetarist Q served only to cover up the primary locus of perversity.

The question of just how the output of investment goods gets squared with

preferred trade-off between current consumption and future consumption is

not answered by the monetarists – nor is it even asked.

In the Keynesian vision, which will be dealt with at some length in section

9.11, movements in the investment aggregate impinge in the first instance on

incomes, which in turn impinge on consumption spending. That is, QC and QI

move in the same direction, the movements in QI being unpredictable and the

corresponding same-direction movements in QC being amplified by the familiar

Keynesian multiplier (see Chapter 2). Similarly, autonomous changes in

current consumption, if any, would tend to affect profit expectations and hence

cause investment spending to change in the same direction. Here, the principle

of derived demand is in play. With the two major sub-aggregates moving up

The Austrian school 485

and down together (though at different rates), the Keynesian theory precludes

by construction any possibility of there being a trade-off of the sort emphasized

by the Austrians. Further, considerations of durable capital and the so-called

investment accelerator imply the absence of a generally binding supply-side

constraint. There is simply no scope in the Keynesian vision for investment to

rise at the expense of current consumption. Similarly, market participants willing

to forgo current consumption (that is, to save) in order to be able to enjoy

greater future consumption would find their efforts foiled by the market mechanisms

that link saving and investment. Rather than stimulating investment,

increased saving would impinge on overall spending and hence on overall

income. This perverse negative income effect, which Keynes identified as the

paradox of thrift, is discussed at length in section 9.9.