This Motley Fool series examines things that just aren't right in the world of finance and investing. Here's what's got us riled today. If something's bugging you, too -- and we suspect it is -- go ahead and unload in the comments section below.
Today's subject: Many Keynesian economists are softpedaling the idea that our gigantic -- and growing -- deficit and public debt are highly dangerous. Shame on them, and on anyone who believes there's anything sustainable about the faux economic "growth" we're now seeing. One of economist John Maynard Keynes' most famous analogies may have involved digging holes, but I think it's high time we put down the shovel.
Why you should be indignant: Keynes, a fan of government intervention during down cycles, said:
'To dig holes in the ground,' paid for out of savings, will increase, not only employment, but the real national dividend of useful goods and services. It is not reasonable, however, that a sensible community should be content to remain dependent on such fortuitous and often wasteful mitigations when once we understand the influences upon which effective demand depends.
I've got two big problems with that quote. First, what savings? (In case you've forgotten, the National Debt Clock ran out of numbers on its display.) Second, even Keynes acknowledged the risks of letting random hole-digging go on for too long, with his "sensible community" comment.
That awareness seems entirely missing from today's Keynesian advocates. They happily call for more and more government spending. (More stimulus!) But do they care how that money's deployed, or to what end?
The recent data concerning how many jobs stimulus spending actually created has been rife with inaccuracies and errors. Most outrageously, it recently came to light that some Recovery Act funds went to Congressional districts that don't exist. Other official economic projections have turned out to be flat wrong.
Meanwhile, spending on arguably productive goals like infrastructure seems to be missing thus far. Dig some holes and fill 'em in, folks! (And get future generations to foot the bill!)
What now: The New York Times recently pointed out that the U.S. government is up against a "wave of debt payments" as national debt tops $12 trillion. The government has been paying low interest on that debt thus far. But as many people learned during the housing bubble, payments can skyrocket when interest rates balloon. In response, Nobel-winning, Keynesian economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman shrugged about "deficit hysteria."
Why shouldn't we be hysterical?
Our government's fiscal policies were already atrocious before we even rang in 2009. Last year's documentary I.O.U.S.A., featuring well-known folks like Alan Greenspan, Paul Volcker, Ron Paul, and Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK-A) (NYSE: BRK-B) Warren Buffett, should have been a wake-up call. It pointed to an unsustainable fiscal situation well before the official "economic crisis" hit.
Long ago, Richard Nixon said, "We're all Keynesians now." His prediction seems truer than ever today. Eager opponents of free-market strategies fail to point out that government interference creates massive economic distortions, ample irrationality and inefficiency in federal spending, and the moral hazard inherent in bailouts that reward and incentivize failure.
And while President Obama's policies have led critics to howl about some "new" Keynesian strain in our economic mind-set, the Bush Administration's deficit-driven spending policies were arguably already there. Even Keynes wouldn't have condoned such deficit spending in supposedly "good times."
If the economic crisis taught us anything, it should have made us realize that we can't borrow our way to prosperity. No matter what, we're going to have to pay the bill. Alas, we can't exhume Keynes for any help on that. Our current economic policy isn't reversing our road to ruin -- just paving it faster. And, apparently, digging a heck of a lot of deep, black holes.
Don't think the road to ruin is paved with holes? Let me know in the comments section below.