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The Role Played by Unemployed Factors of Production in the First Stages of the Boom

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Tags Business CyclesProduction Theory

06/25/2010Ludwig von Mises

[This article is excerpted from chapter 20 of Human Action: The Scholar's Edition and is read by Jeff Riggenbach.]

There are in the changing economy always unsold inventories (exceeding those quantities that for technical reasons must be kept in stock), unemployed workers, and unused capacity of inconvertible production facilities. The system is moving toward a state in which there will be neither unemployed workers nor surplus inventories.1 But as the appearance of new data continually diverts the course toward a new goal, the conditions of the evenly rotating economy are never realized.

The presence of unused capacity of inconvertible investments is an outgrowth of errors committed in the past. The assumptions made by the investors were, as later events proved, not correct; the market asks more intensively for other goods than for those that these plants can turn out. The piling up of excessive inventories and the catallactic unemployment of workers are speculative. The owner of the stock refuses to sell at the market price because he hopes to obtain a higher price at a later date. The unemployed worker refuses to change his occupation or his residence or to content himself with lower pay because he hopes to obtain at a later date a job with higher pay in the place of his residence and in the branch of business he likes best. Both hesitate to adjust their claims to the present situation of the market because they wait for a change in the data that will alter conditions to their advantage. Their hesitation is one of the reasons why the system has not reached the state of the evenly rotating economy.

The advocates of credit expansion argue that what is wanted is more fiduciary media. Then the plants will work at full capacity, the inventories will be sold at prices their owners consider satisfactory, and the unemployed will get jobs at wages they consider satisfactory. This very popular doctrine implies that the rise in prices, brought about by the additional fiduciary media, would at the same time and to the same extent affect all other commodities and services, while the owners of the excessive inventories and the unemployed workers would content themselves with those nominal prices and wages they are asking — in vain, of course — today. For if this were to happen, the real prices and the real wage rates obtained by these owners of unsold inventories and unemployed workers would drop — in proportion to the prices of other commodities and services — to the height to which they must drop in order to find buyers and employers.

The course of the boom is not substantially affected by the fact that at its eve there are unused capacity, unsold surplus inventories, and unemployed workers. Let us assume that there are unused facilities for the mining of copper, unsold piles of copper, and unemployed workers of copper mines. The price of copper is at a level at which mining does not pay for some mines; their workers are discharged; there are speculators who abstain from selling their stocks. What is needed in order to make these mines profitable again, to give jobs to the unemployed, and to sell the piles without forcing prices down below costs of production, is an increment p in the amount of capital goods available large enough to make possible such an increase in investment and in the size of production and consumption that an adequate rise in the demand for copper ensues.

If, however, this increment p does not appear and the entrepreneurs, deceived by the credit expansion, nevertheless act as if p had really been available, conditions on the copper market, while the boom lasts, are as if p had really been added to the amount of capital goods available. But everything that has been predicated about the inevitable consequences of credit expansion fits this case too. The only difference is that, as far as copper is concerned, the inappropriate expansion of production need not be achieved by the withdrawal of capital and labor from employments in which they would better have filled the wants of the consumers. As far as copper is concerned, the new boom encounters a piece of malinvestment of capital and malemployment of labor already effected in a previous boom, which the process of readjustment has not yet absorbed.

Thus it becomes obvious how vain it is to justify a new credit expansion by referring to unused capacity, unsold — or, as people say incorrectly, "unsaleable" — stocks, and unemployed workers. The beginning of a new credit expansion runs across remainders of preceding malinvestment and malemployment, not yet obliterated in the course of the readjustment process, and seemingly remedies the faults involved. In fact, however, this is merely an interruption of the process of readjustment and of the return to sound conditions.2

The existence of unused capacity and unemployment is not a valid argument against the correctness of the circulation-credit theory. The belief of the advocates of credit expansion and inflation that abstention from further credit expansion and inflation would perpetuate the depression is utterly false. The remedies these authors suggest would not make the boom last forever. They would merely upset the process of recovery.

  • 1. In the evenly rotating economy also there may be unused capacity of inconvertible equipment. Its nonutilization does not disturb the equilibrium any more than the fallowness of submarginal soil.
  • 2. Hayek Prices and Production reaches the same conclusion by way of a somewhat different chain of reasoning.
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