Smack Down Watch: Tim Worstall versus Brad DeLong

Much as it pains me to say, Timmy comes out on top. Brad DeLong lauds the Neville Champerlain that dragged Britain out of the Great Depression:

BERKELEY – Neville Chamberlain is remembered today as the British prime minister who, as an avatar of appeasement of Nazi Germany in the late 1930’s, helped to usher Europe into World War II. But, earlier in that fateful decade, relatively soon after the start of the Great Depression, the British economy was rapidly returning to its previous level of output, thanks to Chancellor of the Exchequer Neville Chamberlain’s reliance on fiscal stimulus to restore the price level to its pre-depression trajectory.

Tim is confused and I share this confusion:

Our Neville became Chancellor in 1931.

Whereupon he got us off the gold standard and cut government expenditure.

It was a couple of years later, when the currency devaluation thing had done its stuff that he started to expand spending again.

I’ve not got the numbers for the deficit or national debt in those years. But the idea that Our Nev did “fiscal expansion” in 31, 32, seems very strange indeed. Anyone know?

So, was Neville Chamberlain to the left of Clegg and Co or is Timmy correct and Brad DeLong doing economic history wrong?

Luckily I don’t have to adjudicate this – I’ve brought the cavalry for Tim, someone even Brad will not snark at - Nick Crafts has the answer (via). There was fiscal stimulus from 1935 as rearmament kicked in, but from 1932 onwards taxes were raised, spending cut and debt stabilised:

Over fiscal years 1932/33 and 1933/34 the structural budget deficit was reduced by a total of nearly 2 per cent of GDP as public expenditure was cut and taxes increased, the public debt to GDP ratio stopped going up while short term interest rates stabilized at about 0.6 per cent. Yet, from 1933 to 1937 there was strong growth such that real GDP increased by nearly 20 per cent over that period…Fiscal stimulus was not a factor in the UK recovery until after 1935 when rearmament began.

The secret was no secret at all, and is alluded to by Tim. It was unconventional monetary stimulus to raise the price level back to pre depression trends. This raised inflation expectations, pushed down interest rates, and promoted consumption and investment, et voila, the UK grew 20% over 4 years in the face of fiscal contraction.

Something similar today from the Bank of England, like price level targeting or NGDP level targeting would get some life into the British economy, and save us all a lot of bother and suffering.

PS: Other quotations from this paper to warm the cockles of Timmy’s heart include…

A major way in which [easy money] stimulated the economy was through its favourable impact on housebuilding in an economy without strict planning rules; the private sector built 293000 houses in the year to March 1935.

*Sigh* Ford didn’t pay high wages so that his employees could afford his cars

From Richie (via Chris):

When Henry Ford built his car plant he realised that unless the product he made was cheap enough for the workers to buy then there was no point in building it: there was no market to supply. This was the basis of Fordism.

Nope. The main element of Fordism is mass production of standardised products and scientific management of that process. The high wages were added later and not for the reasons Richie gives.

The high wages typically associated with Fordism were efficiency wages, wages paid to ensure people continued to work hard even though they were being managed intensively and told exactly how to do a boring repetitive job by annoying people with clipboards. Always with the clipboards.

After introducing the production line Ford was annoyed that his very profitable company was suffering because of high labour turnover and worried because this high turnover was damaging productivity. He was not worried that his potential market was not big enough.

The US economy was the richest country in the world, growing strongly and still attracting lots of migrants, his market was secure and he was always bloodymindedly sure that meant the US would need cars, lots of cars.

He decided to do the sensible thing and offer more money to his workers. That this enabled his workers to afford to buy one of his cars was incidental to the logic behind the move, although it made for good propaganda.

He didn’t do this to increase the size of his market, but because people tend to work harder for more money. Don’t take it from me though, a lowly blogger, try Larry Summers and Daniel Raff:

Ford’s decision to increase wages dramatically is most plausibly portrayed as the consequence of labor problems of the kind stressed by efficiency wage theorists. The structure of the five-dollar day program is consistent with the predictions of efficiency wage theories. There is vivid evidence that the five-dollar day resulted in substantial queues for Ford jobs. Finally, significant increases in productivity and profits at Ford accompanied the introduction of the five-dollar day.

 Moral of the story: don’t go valorising old capitalisms.