Standing Keynesian GDP on Its Head: Saving Not Consumption as the Main Source of Spending
[This article is based on a portion of Chapter 15 of the author's Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics.]
According to the prevailing Keynesian dogma, consumption is the main form of spending in the economic system, while saving is mere nonspending and thus a "leakage" from the spending stream. This dogma underlies much of government economic policy in the United States, including the so-called economic stimulus package that has just been enacted. In this article, I prove, to the contrary, that consumption is not the main form of spending in the economic system and that the source of most spending is, in fact, saving. I prove my claims by starting with the very formulations of the expenditure aggregates presented by the Keynesian doctrine itself.
Thus, the simplest, core accounting relationship of Keynesian economics is that national income, which is essentially the sum of profits plus wages, is equal to the sum of consumption expenditure plus net investment.
It is only a small step from national income to gross domestic product (GDP). Essentially all one does is add business depreciation allowances to profits on the left-hand side of the equation and to net investment on the right-hand side. This last raises net investment to what contemporary economics calls gross investment. The sum of consumption plus gross investment is held to equal GDP.
In a slightly more complex formulation, government expenditure is stated as a third component of expenditure, alongside of consumption and investment. In yet a still more complex formulation, net exports are also included. These expenditure items, whether two, three, or four, are understood as paying the national income or GDP.
For the sake of simplicity, I'll ignore net exports, which, rounded off at minus $1 trillion, represents the smallest of the four items. By far the largest single item of expenditure reported is personal consumption expenditure, which is currently running at an annual rate of about $10 trillion. The next largest item is government expenditure, currently running at roughly $3 trillion. Gross private domestic investment is reported as slightly more than $2 trillion.
These numbers add up to approximately $15 trillion, which is a rough approximation of today's annual rate of GDP. Business depreciation allowances of roughly $1 trillion imply net investment in the amount of approximately $1 trillion and a national income on the order of $14 trillion.
Now government expenditure is itself a species of consumption expenditure. But with or without the inclusion of government expenditure, consumption spending appears as the overwhelming source of GDP and national income: $10 trillion out of $15 trillion and $10 trillion out of $14 trillion respectively. Count government spending in with private consumption, and the figures rise to $13 trillion out of $15 trillion and $13 trillion out of $14 trillion.
It is data such as these that lead commentators routinely to make such statements as "consumption accounts for two-thirds of GDP." The clear implication of such statements is that consumption expenditure, private or private plus government, is what constitutes the overwhelming bulk of spending in the economic system and pays the overwhelming bulk of the incomes of the economic system.
Nevertheless, this proposition is not in fact supported by the various formulas used in aggregate economic accounting. The formulas are all mathematically correct. For example, national income does in fact equal consumption plus net investment. And it is true that consumption spending almost always dwarfs net investment. Indeed, on occasion, net investment might even be zero or, still more extreme, a negative number. Yet in no case is it true in a modern economic system that consumption is the main form of spending and pays most of the incomes. The belief that it does rests on a radically incomplete, highly superficial understanding of the formulas.
The truth is that the great bulk of spending and income payments in the economic system is concealed under net investment! Net investment is analogous to an iceberg, nine-tenths of whose volume is concealed beneath the surface. Only in the case of net investment, what is concealed can easily be much more than nine-tenths.
Net investment is the difference between two enormous monetary magnitudes, which are never radically different from one another in size and sometimes may even be approximately equal. Indeed, occasionally the one that is subtracted may even be larger than the magnitude it is subtracted from, which gives rise to negative net investment.
|"The truth is that the great bulk of spending and income payments in the economic system is concealed under net investment!"|
The monetary magnitude that is subtracted in the determination of net investment is the aggregate of all of the costs that business firms report in their income statements as subtractions from their sales revenues in calculating their profits, namely, depreciation cost, cost of goods sold, and selling, general, and administrative expenses. The monetary magnitude from which the costs are subtracted has no name in contemporary economics. I call it productive expenditure.
Productive expenditure is expenditure for the purpose of making subsequent sales. It is the expenditures made by business firms in buying capital goods of all descriptions and in paying wages. Capital goods include machinery, materials, components, supplies, lighting, heating, and advertising. In contrast to productive expenditure, consumption expenditure is expenditure not for the purpose of making subsequent sales, but for any other purpose. In the terminology of contemporary economics, consumption expenditure is described as final expenditure. Productive expenditure could be termed intermediate expenditure. Implicitly or explicitly, productive expenditure is always made for the purpose of earning sales revenues greater than itself, i.e., is made for the purpose of earning a profit.
I now must demonstrate just why net investment is in fact the difference between productive expenditure and business costs. My demonstration consists of two parts: first, a demonstration that the definition of national income as the sum of profits plus wages implies that national income also equals the sum of consumption and productive expenditures minus business costs; second, a demonstration that the difference between productive expenditure and business costs is in fact net investment.
Let me begin with the proposition that national income equals the sum of profits plus wages. This proposition can be taken as true simply as a matter of definition. There are profits, there are wages, and the sum of the respective aggregates of each across the entire country is what we call national income.
Now a simple but critical step is to recognize that profits are the difference between the sales revenues and the costs of business firms. The aggregate profit earned in an entire country in a year is equal to the sum of the sales revenues of all the business firms of the country for the year minus the sum of all of the costs that those business firms subtract from their respective sales revenues in calculating their respective profits.
Stating profits as sales revenues minus costs allows us to reformulate national income as the sum of sales revenues minus costs plus wages.
The next step in my demonstration is based on the realization that every dollar of business sales revenues and every dollar of wages received represents an identical dollar of expenditure by those who pay the sales revenues or wages. Thus the sales revenues of a steel company, say, represent expenditures on the part of such buyers as automobile companies. Wages received are wages paid by employers of one description or other.
From this point forward, we must look at sales revenues and wage incomes from the perspective of the buyers who pay them. In paying sales revenues or wages, the buyers can have only one or the other of two basic purposes in mind. They can be paying the sales revenues or wages for the purpose of themselves making subsequent sales. Or they can be paying the sales revenues or wages not for the purpose of themselves making subsequent sales.
Sales revenues and wages paid for the purpose of the buyer himself making subsequent sales constitute productive expenditure. Sales revenues and wages paid not for the purpose of the buyer himself making subsequent sales constitute consumption expenditure.
|"Sales revenues and wages paid for the purpose of the buyer himself making subsequent sales constitute productive expenditure."|
Examples of sales revenues constituted by productive expenditure are all the sales revenues paid by one business firm to another. It is the receipts from the sale of steel to automobile companies and of iron ore to steel companies, receipts from the sale of flour to baking companies and of wheat to flour millers. It is receipts from the sale of all goods purchased by retailers at wholesale, And, of course, it is receipts from the sale of all newly produced machines and equipment purchased by one business from another.
Examples of sales revenues constituted by consumption expenditure are the sales revenues of grocery stores, clothing stores, movie theaters, restaurants, and the like. However, even here, some portion of the sales revenues may be productive expenditures, as when a restaurant buys supplies in a supermarket or a business buys work clothes for its employees.
Examples of wage payments that are productive expenditures are all of the wages paid to the employees of business firms, from the wages of field hands, miners, and factory workers, to the wages of office secretaries, advertising executives, bank tellers, and sales clerks — the wages of all workers paid for the purpose of the employer making subsequent sales. (All wage payments and purchases of goods that are necessary to the existence or functioning of a business enterprise are to be conceived of as made for the purpose of making subsequent sales, for that is the purpose of the business enterprise itself.)
Examples of wage payments that are consumption expenditures are the wages paid to maids and baby sitters by housewives, and, among the very rich, the wages paid to butlers, personal cooks, and chauffeurs. These wages, of course, are obviously trivial in comparison with the wages paid by productive expenditure. The one substantial example of wage payments constituted by consumption expenditure is the wages of government employees. Those wages are not paid for the purpose of the government making subsequent sales.
What we've done at this point is conceptualize national income in terms of its revenue/expenditure subcomponents. We've seen that profits plus wages equals not only sales revenues minus costs plus wages, but also, and more precisely, that it equals the sum of that part of sales revenues that is constituted by productive expenditure plus that part of sales revenues that is constituted by consumption expenditure, minus costs, plus that part of wages that is constituted by productive expenditure plus that part of wages that is constituted by consumption expenditure. The revenue/expenditure subcomponents are, of course, the two constituent parts both of sales revenues and of wages from the perspective of their respective types of expenditure, i.e., productive expenditure or consumption expenditure.
At this point, the revenue/expenditure subcomponents are grouped according to the type of revenue they represent, i.e., sales revenue or wages. National income is conceived as representing the addition of all four revenue expenditure/subcomponents, with costs subtracted from the two that are grouped together as business sales revenues.
What we need to do now is simply regroup the revenue expenditure subcomponents according to expenditure type rather than revenue type. Thus we will add that part of business sales revenues constituted by consumption expenditure to that part of wages paid by consumption expenditure. When we do this, we obtain total consumption expenditure, i.e., the "C" in the equation "National Income Equals C + I."
We must also regroup that part of business sales revenues constituted by productive expenditure with that part of wage payments constituted by productive expenditure. When we do this, we obtain total productive expenditure, which, as I've said, has no designation in contemporary economics.
If we now subtract from productive expenditure the same costs that up to now we've subtracted from business sales revenues, the result will be net investment, the "I" in the equation "National Income Equals C + I."
All that remains to be shown is why productive expenditure minus costs does in fact equal net investment. At a superficial level we already know that it must if we've accepted the proposition that national income equals consumption plus net investment in the first place. This is because we began with what was unquestionably national income (the sum of profits plus wages) and have shown that that sum can logically be reformulated exactly as we've reformulated it. Thus if it's true that national income equals consumption plus net investment and also true that it equals consumption plus productive expenditure minus costs, it follows inescapably that productive expenditure minus costs equals net investment.
|"The one substantial example of wage payments constituted by consumption expenditure is the wages of government employees."|
However, we can do much better than this and show that the very nature of net investment implies that it equals productive expenditure minus costs. All we need do is break down productive expenditure and costs into three exhaustive subcategories respectively. Thus, we will have that part of productive expenditure which is capitalized into plant and equipment accounts, that part of productive expenditure which is capitalized into inventory/work in progress accounts, and finally that part of productive expenditure which is not capitalized but deducted as a cost from sales revenues immediately.
With respect to costs, we will have that part of costs which is depreciation cost, that part of cost that is cost of goods sold, and that part of costs that represents productive expenditure that is deducted as a cost from sales revenues immediately. Obviously the difference between this third component of cost and the third component of productive expenditure must always be zero, since they are necessarily identical.
At least for some readers, a few words are necessary about the meaning of capitalizing productive expenditures and the relationship of such capitalized expenditures to costs. When productive expenditures are made for plant and equipment, they do not immediately appear as a cost deducted from sales revenue. Instead, they are added into a balance sheet account usually described as "gross plant and equipment," or something very similar. A $1 million expenditure for new computers, say, is treated as a $1 million addition to this account. The computers may be depreciated over a three year period. In this case, one-third of a million dollars will appear as depreciation cost in the firm's income statement for each of three years.
As depreciation cost is incurred in the firm's income statement, the same amount of depreciation is added into another balance sheet account, known as "accumulated depreciation reserve," or something very similar. Yet a third balance sheet account appears as the result of the subtraction of accumulated depreciation from gross plant. This account is the "net plant and equipment" account.
At the beginning of the first year of the computers' depreciable life, the value of the net plant account, as far as these computers are concerned, is $1 million, representing $1 million of gross plant minus zero of accumulated depreciation. At the end of the first full year of the computers' depreciable life, however, the net plant account will be down to $666,6667, owing to the subtraction of $333,333 of accumulated depreciation from the $1 million of gross plant. At the end of the second year, the net plant account will be down to $333,333, owing to the subtraction of twice as much accumulated depreciation from the gross plant account. At the end of the third year of the computers' depreciable life, the value of the net plant account, as far as these computers are concerned, will be zero, because the accumulated depreciation reserve will then equal the part of the gross plant account that represents the purchase price of the computers.
The essential point here is to recognize that, other things being equal, productive expenditure for plant and equipment represents additions to the net plant accounts of business, while depreciation cost represents subtractions from the net plant accounts of business. To the extent that in the economic system as a whole the totality of such additions exceeds the totality of such subtractions, there is an increase in the aggregate value of net plant and equipment accounts. This increase is net investment in plant and equipment.
Of course, it is possible that in a given year, productive expenditure for plant and equipment might be less than the depreciation cost incurred in that year. In that case, net investment in plant and equipment would be a negative number, just as it is a negative number in the second and third years of our example concerning the purchase of computers.
The case of inventory/work in progress is similar. When expenditures are made on account of inventory, the sums in question are added into yet another balance sheet account, known as "inventory/work in progress" or something similar. Thus, for example, when a furniture retailer purchases furniture from a furniture manufacturer and brings that furniture into his warehouses or showrooms, the purchase price of that furniture is added into the retailer's inventory account. Only as and when the furniture is sold and leaves the premises of the retailer, does a cost item appear in the retailer's income statement. It appears as "cost of goods sold," which is an excellent, literal description of it.
Just as purchases on account of inventory add to the inventory account, so cost of goods sold represents subtractions from the inventory account. A furniture retailer who has purchased, say, 100 sofas at a price $1,000 per sofa adds $100,000 to his inventory account. Each time he sells a sofa, he subtracts $1,000 from his inventory account and deducts that $1,000 as a cost of goods sold in his income statement. (The same principle applies to more complex cases, such as General Motors's purchases of steel sheet. The purchase price of the steel sheet is added to GM's inventory/work in progress account and only as the automobiles into which that steel sheet enters are sold, does GM incur cost of goods sold and make an equivalent deduction from its income statement.)
Here the essential point is to recognize that, other things being equal, productive expenditure on account of inventory/work in progress constitutes an addition to the balance sheet account "inventory/work in progress," while cost of goods sold constitutes a subtraction from that account. To the extent that productive expenditure on account of inventory et al. exceeds cost of goods sold, the value of the inventory account is correspondingly increased and there is thus net investment in inventory (or inventory/work in progress). To the extent that productive expenditure on account of inventory et al. falls short of cost of goods sold, the value of the inventory account is correspondingly reduced and there is thus negative net investment in inventory (or inventory/work in progress).
So, hopefully, it is now clear to every reader why productive expenditure minus costs does in fact equal net investment: net investment in plant and equipment plus net investment in inventory.
Productive expenditure, the sum of the expenditures for capital goods and labor by business firms, almost certainly not only exceeds consumption expenditure but does so by a wide margin. The truth of this proposition can be inferred from common knowledge about the size of business profit margins. A profit margin, of course, is the ratio of profit to sales revenues.
In the case of supermarkets, profit margins are often as low as just 2 percent. In instances of highly capital-intensive investments, such as electric utilities, they may be as high as 20 percent. We will not go far wrong if we assume that, on the average, profit margins are 10 percent.
If profit margins are 10 percent of sales, it follows that costs are 90 percent of sales and thus that the productive expenditures that gave rise to these costs are also 90 percent of the sales. If we assume that those productive expenditures on average were divided between capital goods and labor in the ratio of 5 to 4, then for every $1 spent in buying a consumers' good, there was 50¢ expended in buying the capital goods needed to produce it, and 40¢ expended in paying the wages of the workers needed to produce it.
However, the same story is repeated in the production of the capital goods that sold for 50¢ of productive expenditure. They will have a cost of production of 45¢, broken down into 25¢ of productive expenditure for earlier capital goods and 20¢ of productive expenditure for earlier labor. As we trace the process further and further, we reach a point at which the cumulative expenditure for capital goods itself approaches $1 and the cumulative expenditure for labor approaches 80¢ (i.e., 50¢ + 25¢ + 12.5¢ … = $1, and 40¢ + 20¢ + 10¢ … = 80¢).
These expenditures can be taken as representing not only the productive expenditures of earlier years but also as indicating the productive expenditures of the present year. Some part of today's productive expenditures is devoted to producing consumers' goods. Another part is devoted to the production of the capital goods that will produce consumers' goods at a later date. A third part of today's productive expenditure is devoted to producing the capital goods that will serve in the production of the capital goods that will serve in the production of consumers' goods, and so on.
In any event, what we have in the present case is $1.80 of productive expenditure for every $1 of demand for consumers' goods. And, for the reasons explained, such a relationship must be considered as typifying the economic system in any given year.
What all of the preceding discussion implies is that Keynesian macroeconomics is literally playing with half a deck. It purports to be a study of the economic system as a whole, yet, in ignoring productive expenditure, it totally ignores most of the actual spending that takes place in the production of goods and services. It is an economics almost exclusively of consumer spending, not an economics of total spending in the production of goods and services.
|"Keynesian macroeconomics is literally playing with half a deck."|
An accounting aggregate that would be far more appropriate to a genuine macroeconomics is what I have called gross national revenue (GNR). This is the sum of all business sales revenues plus wage payments. It also equals the sum of the consumption and productive expenditures that actually pay it.
Imagine an equation in which the sales revenues and wage incomes that constitute GNR appear on the left-hand side, while the consumption and productive expenditures that actually pay those sales revenues and wages appear on the right-hand side. If one then subtracts the aggregate of the costs that appear in business income statements from the left-hand side of the equation, sales revenues reduce to profits, and GNR thus reduces to national income. If one subtracts these costs from the right-hand side, productive expenditure reduces to net investment, and consumption expenditure plus productive expenditure reduce to consumption plus net investment.
Now if, instead of subtracting all costs on both sides, one subtracts all costs with the exception of depreciation, GNR reduces to GDP. That is, on the right-hand side, it will reduce to consumption expenditure plus what contemporary economics terms gross investment (a "gross" investment, incidentally, one of whose components is explicitly described as the net change — the net investment — in inventories).
Thus, it turns out that GDP falls far short of a measure of the aggregate expenditure for goods and services. It falls short by an amount equal to the sum of all costs of goods sold in the economic system plus all of the expensed productive expenditures in the economic system. It is these costs that must be added to GDP to bring it up to a measure of the actual aggregate amount of spending for goods and services in the economic system.
Adding cost of goods sold to contemporary economics' "gross investment" would bring it up to true gross investment: that is, not only gross investment in plant and equipment but also gross investment in inventory as well. Adding expensed productive expenditures to this true gross investment would raise the latter up to productive expenditure.
My substitution of a radically new approach to aggregate economic accounting for that of the Keynesian approach has numerous major implications. One of them pertains to the role of saving in the economic system. In Keynesian economics, saving appears as mere nonspending. This is because essentially the only spending that Keynesian economics recognizes is consumer spending. Thus, if funds are earned and are saved rather than consumed, it appears to Keynesians that they are simply not spent, i.e., are hoarded. It is on this basis that Keynesian economics describes saving as a "leakage."
Yet the truth is that the only way that funds expended in the purchase of consumers' goods can ever subsequently show up as productive spending for capital goods and labor is if and to the extent that the business recipients of those funds do not consume them. Only by saving the funds in question can they have them available to make productive expenditures of any kind. Productive expenditure depends on saving.
And because productive expenditure is the main form of spending, most spending in the economic system depends on saving. Even consumption expenditure depends on saving, inasmuch as saving is the basis of the payment of the wages out of which most consumption takes place.
The purchase of expensive consumers' goods, such as homes, automobiles, major appliances, vacations, indeed, anything whose price exceeds more than a significant fraction of the income earned in one pay period, can be purchased only on a foundation of saving. Virtually no one buys a home out of current income, not even the income of an entire year. Likewise, very few people can buy a new automobile out of a year's income, let alone out of the proceeds of just one pay check. And the same is true of many other goods. Saving is essential to the purchase of all such goods — if not the saving of the purchaser himself, then the saving of those from whom the purchaser borrows.
The dependence of productive expenditure on saving in turn has major implications for the so-called economic-stimulus package that has just been enacted. So too does the understanding we have developed of net investment and the role of cost of goods sold in connection both with net investment and with profits.
|"GDP falls far short of a measure of the aggregate expenditure for goods and services."|
The supporters of the stimulus package assume that all that is necessary to increase the demand for goods and services all up and down the line — that is, at all stages of production from retailing to wholesaling, through manufacturing, to mining and agriculture — is to increase the demand for consumers' goods, essentially by printing money and giving it to various consumers to spend. Yet if all that happened was that people spent the new and additional money in purchasing consumers' goods, there would not be any additional demand for capital goods and labor whatsoever based on that new and additional money.
To demonstrate this, imagine that, precisely in accordance with the wishes of the supporters of the stimulus package, some consumer somewhere receives a thousand-dollar tax refund that is financed by the government's creation of new and additional money. He cashes his refund check and proceeds to a nearby large shopping mall, where he buys $1,000 worth of furniture, say.
The owner of the furniture store happens to be on the premises, and, like a model Keynesian consumer, with a "marginal propensity to consume of 2/3," he proceeds to withdraw $666.67 from his till and walks down the hall to a nearby men's clothing store, where he spends that amount for new clothes.
The owner of the clothing store also happens to be on the premises, and he too, like another perfect Keynesian consumer with a marginal propensity to consume of 2/3, takes $444.44 out of his till and walks to a third store in the mall, where he spends that sum in buying a new television set. The owner of this store, in turn, removes two-thirds of his additional receipts and telephones his wife and in-laws to come and have dinner at a restaurant in the mall.
If this process kept on going, over and over again, there would ultimately be $3,000 of additional consumer spending. The Keynesians believe that this $3,000 would constitute new and additional net income and would increase the demand for labor and employment to that extent back though all of the stages of production leading up to the presence of consumers goods on the shelves of retailers.
The spending multiplier and the alleged benefits to the demand for labor and thus employment would be even greater, according to the Keynesians, if the marginal propensity to consume were three-fourths instead of two-thirds, and greater still if it were nine-tenths instead of three-fourths. The multiplier and its benefits are allegedly restrained only by the disappearance of funds into the "leakage" constituted by saving.
Now the truth is that in order for additional consumer spending to constitute equivalent additional income, as the Keynesians believe, the only type of additional income that it could possibly constitute would be business profits, specifically the profits of the sellers of the various consumers' goods. It would not constitute any additional wage income or the employment of any additional workers. This is because all that is present is additional business sales revenues. The income earned on sales revenues is profit, and if the additional income is to equal the additional sales revenues, it means that there will be additional profits equal to the additional sales revenues.
A further implication is that the prices of the consumers' goods must rise, thereby depriving other buyers of consumers' goods of the ability to buy them. This follows from the fact of more money being spent to buy the same quantity of goods.
Of course, the Keynesians will be quick to object that more goods will be sold, not the same quantity. Sellers will reduce their inventories to meet the additional demand. To the extent that this happens, prices need not immediately rise. But the reduction in inventories implies an increase in cost of goods sold and thus profit income rising at each point of additional consumer spending by equivalently less than the increase in such spending.
|"Productive expenditure depends on saving."|
Thus, for example, if the seller of the furniture incurs $500 of additional cost of goods sold when a purchaser spends $1,000 in his store, his additional profit income will be only $500, not $1,000. His consumption, as a model Keynesian consumer, will therefore be only two-thirds of that amount. And similarly for all other sellers in the chain of spending and respending. The alleged "stimulus" will be radically less than the Keynesians expect and desire, e.g., not only $333.33 instead of $666.67 but also $111.11 instead of $444.44, and so on, with each subsequent round of spending reflecting not only the alleged "leakage' of funds into saving but the effects on profit income of having to subtract cost of goods sold.
If the sellers practiced Keynesianism to the hilt, they would ignore the little matter of additional cost of goods sold and accompanying inventory depletion and simply consume in proportion to their additional sales proceeds, as though it were additional income, as Keynesianism assumes and teaches. In that case there would be $3,000 of consumption and $1,500 of inventory decumulation.
Such behavior would set the stage not only for there being no additional demand for capital goods and labor but for there being less such demand than there was before, with the result of an actual increase in unemployment.
This is because, if at some point the sellers wanted to replace the goods they had sold, they would find that their ability to do so would be diminished because they had consumed part of their capital. To replace that capital they would need either to raise additional capital from outside or to withdraw capital that they themselves had been advancing to others. Either way, less capital would be available somewhere in the economic system, and where less capital is available, business activity must shrink. The consequence is more unemployment, not less.
In order for the new and additional money injected into the economic system through additional consumption expenditure to find its way back to earlier stages of production, the sellers must not consume their additional sales proceeds to any great extent. To the contrary, they need to save them to the greatest extent possible. If the furniture store owner saves and productively spends his $1,000 of additional sales revenues, he will be able give some "stimulus" to his suppliers. If they in turn save and productively expend the great bulk of their additional sales revenues, they will be able to give some stimulus to their suppliers, and so on back. Along the way, the demand for labor and employment may increase. But any such result will depend on additional saving and productive expenditure, not consumption expenditure.
The fact that, if accompanied at all stages of production by heavy saving out of sales revenues, an increase in consumer spending financed by inflation can serve to increase the demand for capital goods and labor at all the stages is not a sufficient basis for recommending such a policy. In fact, what it represents is an effort to reestablish the same kind of misdirected, wasteful production that leads to a recession or depression in the first place and which then creates the appearance of a need for stimulus.
It should never be forgotten that our present problems originated in an arrangement whereby a very large amount of production, i.e., the construction of hundreds of thousands of new houses, was taking place for the benefit of people whose own production was grossly insufficient ever to allow them to pay for those houses. It is a positively good thing that that wasteful, inherently loss-making production has now ceased.
|"Such behavior would set the stage for there being less demand than there was before, with the result of an actual increase in unemployment."|
The solution is not to now attempt to create another such loss-making arrangement to take its place. Another arrangement under which producers will produce goods for the benefit of people whose own production is insufficient to enable them to afford the goods in question — people who will buy the producers' output only with "refunds" of taxes they never even paid. The problems created by building houses for "sub-prime" borrowers cannot be corrected by now producing goods of all descriptions for "sub-prime" consumers in general.
A real solution requires making it possible for production to be directed to the needs and wants of those whose own production is sufficient to enable them to pay for the production of others.
I've shown that contrary to superficial appearance, in the most literal sense of the word "superficial," consumption expenditure is not the main form of spending in the economic system and does not pay the national income or gross domestic product. I've shown that most spending in the economic system is in fact concealed under the head of net investment. However modest in size, including possibly being actually negative, net investment represents the true source of most revenue and income. That source is productive expenditure, which, I showed, is expenditure for the purpose of making subsequent sales and is represented by the spending of business firms for capital goods of all descriptions and for labor. (Consumption expenditure, in contrast, I showed is expenditure not for the purpose of making subsequent sales.)
The role of productive expenditure is concealed because net investment is the difference between it and business costs, the same costs that appear in business income statements in calculating business profits, and which do not differ very greatly from productive expenditure in size. Thus only a very small portion of the actual magnitude and importance of productive expenditure is ever revealed in conventional, Keynesian national-income accounting.
I demonstrated the presence of productive expenditure behind net investment by means of a step-by-step logical demonstration of the equality between profits plus wages on the one side, and consumption plus net investment on the other. The crux of the demonstration was the restatement of profits as sales revenue minus costs, and then the breakdown both of sales revenues and wage incomes into productive expenditure and consumption expenditure. I called the resultants of the breakdown "revenue/expenditure subcomponents" and showed how the equality of profits plus wages and consumption plus net investment resulted simply from changing the order of addition of those subcomponents, from one based on revenue and income type to one based on expenditure type.
I showed on the basis of elementary business accounting principles why productive expenditure minus costs is the sum of net investment in plant and equipment and net investment in inventory. I then demonstrated why and how productive expenditure exceeds consumption expenditure and does so by a wide margin.
I presented gross national revenue (GNR) as the appropriate measure of total spending that constitutes revenue or income payments in the economic system. I showed GNR as equal to sales revenues plus wages on the left and consumption expenditure plus productive expenditure on the right. I showed how by means of the subtraction of business costs from sales revenues on the left and productive expenditure on the right, GNR reduces to national income on the left and consumption plus net investment on the right. I showed the deficiencies of GDP as a measure of total spending in comparison to GNR.
And finally, I've shown the radical difference between my analysis and the conventional, Keynesian analysis for understanding the role of saving as a source of spending in the economic system, and I have shown its relevance to the so-called economic stimulus package that has just been enacted.
George Reisman, Ph.D. is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics. His web site is www.capitalism.net, and his blog is www.georgereisman.com/blog. Send him mail. Comment on the Mises blog.
Copyright © 2008 by George Reisman. All rights reserved.