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John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)

What is the problem here, according to Keynes?

In particular, it is an outstanding characteristic of the economic system in which we live that, whilst it is
subject to severe fluctuations in respect to output and employment, it is not violently unstable. Indeed it seems
capable of remaining in a chronic condition of sub-normal activity for a considerable period without any
marked tendency either towards recovery or towards complete collapse. Moreover, the evidence indicates that
full, or even approximately full, employment is of rare and short-lived occurrence. Fluctuations may start
briskly but seem to wear themselves out before they have proceeded to great extremes, and an intermediate
situation which is neither desperate nor satisfactory is our normal lot.1
How would you characterize the system described by Keynes in the next two sections?
To put this concretely, I see no reason to suppose that the existing system seriously misemploys the factors of
production which are in use. There are, of course, errors of foresight; but these would not be avoided by
centralizing decisions. When 9,000,000 men are employed out of 10,000,000 willing and able to work, there is
no evidence that the labour of these 9,000,000 men is misdirected. The complaint against the present system is
not that these 9,000,000 men ought to be employed on different tasks, but that tasks should be available for the
remaining 1,00,000 men. It is in determining the volume, not the direction, of actual employment that the
existing system is broken down . . . The central controls necessary to ensure full employment will, of course,
involve a large extension of the traditional functions of government. Furthermore, the modern classical theory
has itself called attention to various conditions in which the free play of economic forces may need to be curbed
or guided. But there will still remain a wide field for the exercise of private initiative and responsibility. Within
this field the traditional advantages of individualism will still hold true.2
For my own part, I believe that there is social psychological justification for significant inequalities of income
and wealth, but not for such large disparities as exist to-day. There are valuable human activities, which require
the motive of money-making and the environment of private wealth-ownership for their full fruition. Moreover,
dangerous human proclivities can be canalized into comparatively harmless channels by the existence of
opportunities for money-making and private wealth, which, if they cannot be satisfied in this way, may find
their outlet in cruelty, the reckless pursuit of personal power and authority, and other forms of selfaggrandizement. It is better that a man should tyrannize over his bank balance sheet than over his fellowcitizens . . . . But it is not necessary for the stimulation of these activities and the satisfaction of these
proclivities that the game should be played for such high stakes as at present. Much lower stakes will serve the
purpose equally well, as soon as the players are accustomed to them.3
What is the problem here, according to Keynes?
An act of individual saving meansso to speaka decision not to have dinner to-day. But it does not
necessitate a decision to have dinner or to buy a pair of boots a week hence or a year hence or to consume any
specified thing at any specified date. Thus it depresses the business of preparing to-days dinner without
stimulating the business of making ready for some future act of consumption. It is not a substitution of future
consumption-demand for present consumption-demand,it is a net diminution of such demand. . . . . If saving
consisted not merely in abstaining from present consumption but in placing simultaneously a specific offer for
future consumption, the effect might indeed be different. For in that case the expectation of some future yield
from investment would be improved, and the resources released from preparing for present consumption could
be turned over to preparing for future consumption. . . . In any case, however, an individual decision to save
does not, in actual fact, involve the placing of any specific forward order for consumption, but merely the
cancellation of a present order. Thus, since the expectation of consumption is the only raison dtre
[justification for existence] of employment, there should be nothing paradoxical in the conclusion that a
diminished propensity to consume has cet. par. [other things being equal] a depressing effect on employment.4


Ibid., 210-211.

F. A. Hayek (1899-1992)
Here, Hayek is defending the free market against socialism. What is the problem Hayek is trying to address?
He uses the term spontaneous twice in this section, why is he wedded to this term?
Clearly there is here a problem of the Division of Knowledge which is quite analogous to, and at least as
important as, the problem of the division of labour . . . The problem which we pretend to solve is how the
spontaneous interaction of a number of people, each possessing only bits of knowledge, brings about a state of
affairs in which prices correspond to costs, etc., and which could be brought about by deliberate direction only
by somebody who possessed the combined knowledge of all those individuals . . . I still believe that by what is
implicit in its reasoning, economics has come nearer than any other social science to an answer to that central
question of all social sciences, how the combination of fragments of knowledge existing in different minds can
bring about results which, if they were to be brought about deliberately, would require a knowledge of the part
of the directing mind which no single person can possess. To show that in this sense the spontaneous actions of
individuals will under conditions which we can define bring about a distribution of resources which can be
understood as if it were made according to a singe plan, although nobody has planned it, seems to me indeed an
answer to the problem.5 "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know
about what they imagine they can design.6
Why was the Great Depression so great, according to Hayek? Where should we look, if we want to
understand this great economic calamity?
[U]p to 1927, I should, indeed, have expected that because, during the preceding boom period, prices did not
rise but rather tended to fall the subsequent depression would be very mild. But, as is well known, in that
year an entirely unprecedented action was taken by the American monetary authorities, which makes it
impossible to compare the effects of the boom on the subsequent depression with any previous experience. The
authorities succeeded by means of an easy money policy, inaugurated as soon as the symptoms of an impending
reaction were noticed, in prolonging the boom for two years beyond what would otherwise have been its natural
end. And when the crisis finally occurred, for almost two more years deliberate attempts were made to prevent,
by all conceivable means, the normal process of liquidation. It seems to me that these facts have had a far
greater influence on the character of the depression than the developments up to 1927, which, from all we
know, might instead have led to a comparatively mild depression in and after 1927.7
What, according to Hayek, should we avoid in an economic downturn?
There is, finally, the supremely important problem of combating general fluctuations of economic activity and
the recurrent waves of large-scale unemployment which accompany them. This is, of course, one of the gravest
and most pressing problems of our time. But, though its solution will require much planning in the good sense,
it does notor at least need notrequire that special kind of planning which according to its advocates is to
replace the market. Many economists hope, indeed, that the ultimate remedy may be found in the field of
monetary policy, which would involve nothing incompatible even with nineteenth-century liberalism. Others, it
is true, believe that real success can be expected only from the skillful timing of public works undertaken on a
very large scale. This might lead to much for serious restrictions of the competitive sphere, and, in
experimenting with this direction, we shall have carefully to watch our step if we are to avoid making all
economic activity progressively more dependent on the direction and volume of government expenditure. But
this is neither the only nor in my opinion, the most promising way of meeting the gravest threat to economic

F. A. von Hayek, Economics and Knowledge, Economica 13 (1937): 49, 52.

Hayek, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 99.
Prices and Production, Second Edition (London: Routledge, 1935), 16162.
F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Fiftieth Anniversary ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 134-135.