Cabin Fever Hollidays
Mark Thoma: Has the Fed Learned Its Lesson?

David Glasner on the Keynesian Revolution, the Monetarist Counterrevolution, and the Cassel-Hawtrey Fourth International Fraction in Exile in Mexico

David Glasner:

Keynes v. Hayek: Enough Already: Not only did Hayek make the wrong call about the gold standard, he actually defended the insane French policy of gold accumulation in his lament for the gold standard after Britain wisely disregarded his advice and left the gold standard in 1931. In his paper “The Fate of the Gold Standard” (originally Das Schicksal der Goldwahrung) reprinted in The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek: Good Money, Part 1, Hayek offered a lament for impending demise of the gold standard after Britain tardily did the right thing. The tone of Hayek’s lament is struck in his opening paragraph (p. 153).

There has been much talk about the breakdown of the gold standard, particularly in Britain where, to the astonishment of every foreign observer, the abandonment of the gold standard was very widely welcomed as a release from an irksome constraint. However, it can scarcely be doubted that the renewed monetary problems of almost the whole world have nothing to do with the tendencies inherent in the gold standard, but on the contrary stem from the persistent and continuous attempts from many sides over a number of years to prevent the gold standard from functioning whenever it began to reveal tendencies which were not desired by the country in question. Hence it was by no means the economically strong countries such as America and France whose measures rendered the gold standard inoperative, as is frequently assumed, but the countries in a relatively weak position, at the head of which was Britain, who eventually paid for their transgression of the “rules of the game” by the breakdown of their gold standard.

So what do we learn from this depressing tale? Hawtrey and Cassel did everything right. They identified the danger to the world economy a decade in advance. They specified exactly the correct policy for avoiding the danger. Their policy was a huge success for about nine years until the Americans and the French between them drove the world economy into the Great Depression, just as Hawtrey and Cassel warned would happen if the monetary demand for gold was not held in check. Within a year and a half, both Hawtrey and Cassel concluded that recovery was no longer possible under the gold standard. And as countries, one by one, abandoned the gold standard, they began to recover just as Hawtrey and Cassel predicted.

So one would have thought that Hawtrey and Cassel would have been acclaimed and celebrated far and wide as the most insightful, the most farsighted, the wisest, economists in the world. Yep, that’s what one would have thought. Did it happen? Not a chance.

Instead, it was Keynes who was credited with figuring out how to end the Great Depression, even though there was almost nothing in the General Theory about the gold standard and a 30% deflation as the cause of the Great Depression, despite his having vilified Churchill in 1925 for rejoining the gold standard at the prewar parity when that decision was expected to cause a mere 10% deflation….

[W]hen economists began looking for alternative ways to Keynesianism of thinking about macroeconomics, Austrian economics still being considered too toxic to handle, almost no one bothered to go back to revisit what Hawtrey and Cassel had said about the Great Depression. So Milton Friedman was considered to have been daring and original for suggesting a monetary explanation for the Great Depression and finding historical and statistical support for that explanation. Yet, on the key elements of the historical explanation, Hawtrey and Cassel either anticipated Friedman, or on the numerous issues on which Friedman did not follow Hawtrey and Cassel — in particular the international gold market as the transmitter of deflation and depression across all countries on the gold standard, the key role of the Bank of France (which Friedman denied in the Monetary History and for years afterwards only to concede the point in the mid to late 1990s), the absence of an explanation for the 1929 downturn, the misplaced emphasis on the contraction of the US money stock and the role of U.S. bank failures as a critical factor in explaining the severity of the Great Depression — Hawtrey and Cassel got it right and Friedman got it wrong.

So what matters in the success in the marketplace of ideas seems to be not just the quality or the truth of a theory, but also (or instead) the publicity machine that can be deployed in support of a theory to generate interest in it and to attract followers who can expect to advance their own careers in the process of developing, testing, or otherwise propagating, the theory. Keynes, Friedman, and eventually Hayek, all had powerful ideologically driven publicity machines working on their behalf. And guess what? It’s the theories that attract the support of a hard core of ideologically motivated followers that tend to outperform those without a cadre of ideological followers.

As I have said before, IMHO Cassel and Hawtrey see a lot but also miss a lot. The Bagehot-Minsky and the Wicksell-Kahn traditions have a lot to add as well. And Friedman was a very effective popularizer of most of what you can get from Cassel and Hawtrey.

But, as I have said before, those of us who learned this stuff from Blanchard, Dornbusch, Eichengreen, and Kindleberger--who made us read Bagehot, Minsky, Wicksell, Metzler, and company--have a huge intellectual advantage over others.