Michael Hudson on The American School of Political Economy

JisforJunkEconMore from iconoclast Professor Michael Hudson’s book J is for Junk Economics (p.30-32). For a more detailed account, I can recommend his book America’s Protectionist Takeoff 1815-1914, which I have posted on here.

“American School of Political Economy: The northern economists who focused on protective tariffs, infrastructure investment and a national bank to promote industrial and agricultural technology before and after the Civil War (1861-65). Mathew and Henry Carey, Henry Clay and William Seward among the Whigs and, after 1853, the Republicans, provided the economic policy that enabled America to industrialize and overtake England. They also emphasized the positive effect of rising wage levels and living standards on the productivity that made the American economic takeoff possible. Every major Northern politician and region was associated with a major economist: Alexander Everett for Daniel Webster and other Bostonians; Calvin Colton for Henry Clay; the Careys for Pennsylvania industrialists; and E. Peshine Smith for Seward and the Republicans. They developed the logic for tariff protection as opposed to Ricardian free-trade theory, and for government-sponsored internal improvements and a national bank to finance industry and achieve monetary independence from Britain.

It is testimony to the censorial power of subsequent free-trade ideology that these writers make no appearance in histories of economic thought. Historians have also ignored them, focusing on the Democratic Party (which meant mainly the South seeking to add slave states). At issue was whether the United States would suffer deflation and monetary and trade dependency on Britain, or would become independent. The American School opposed westward expansion and Manifest Destiny, and also opposed the Anglophilia of free traders and slave owners. The latter demanded monetary deflation to prevent industrialization so as to keep food prices low (and hence the cost of feeding slaves).

When the Civil War brought the Republicans to power, the American School found that the most prestigious colleges – founded originally to train the clergy – simply taught mainstream British free trade economics (largely because New England and southern seaboard schools favored free trade). The path of least intellectual resistance was to create a new set of schools – business schools and state land-grant colleges.

A central tenet of the American School was technological optimism in contrast to the Dismal Science of Ricardo and Malthus based on diminishing returns in agriculture and overpopulation leading to poverty. Also central was the Economy of High Wages doctrine: “It is not by reducing wages that America is making her conquests, but by her superior organization, greater efficiency of labor consequent upon the higher standard of living ruling in the country. High-priced labor countries are everywhere beating ‘pauper-labor’ countries.”

By the late 19th century nearly all the major American economists studied in Germany and followed the Historical School. Returning to America, they developed the Institutionalist School to explain why the United States should follow a different economic path from free-trade Britain. They continued to elaborate the logic for the protective tariffs that were nurturing American industry, as well as for public support for internal infrastructure improvements so as to create a low-cost competitive US economy. Most notable was Simon Patten, the first professor of economics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He taught protectionist trade theory and led economists into the discipline of sociology to analyze what he called the Economy of Abundance that resulted from the increasing returns in industry and agriculture.

When the United States achieved world industrial and financial dominance after World War I, it deterred other countries from protecting their own industry and agriculture – while continuing to protect its own. This about-face emulated British experience in urging free trade on other countries so as to make them dependent. This free-trade logic remains the buttress of today’s financial austerity and privatization policies imposed on debtor economies by the United States, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. These policies are the opposite of America’s own protectionist takeoff, the Economy of High Wages Doctrine and the Economy of Abundance that powered its rise to global economic supremacy. The lessons of the American School of Political Economy provide a more realistic model for other countries to emulate.”

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Trumponomics Part 3: Alternatives

TrumponomicsHere is Part 3 of my series on the book Trumponomics – Causes and Consequences. As it is an early assessment of the economics of the Trump presidency, concrete left policy alternatives do not take up much of the content, but there are some ideas to draw on.

Central to the aim of making the left ‘great again’, to quote one of the authors, is a political programme which pivots away from the dominant liberal, politically correct agenda, and which serves the interests of the masses.

This would be a social democratic platform, offering a radical alternative to the neoliberal ideology which has captured both major parties in the US. Bernie Sanders, despite failing to win the Democratic nomination, gave many a taste of what could be achieved.

Sanders styled himself a ‘socialist’, but by the standards of Europe, his policy proposals were far more social democratic. He certainly was not calling for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, but merely a larger role for government in the economy. Continue reading

Trumponomics Part 2: Consequences

TrumponomicsSince taking office Trump has proved unpredictable, but what are the likely outcomes of his policies? His executive orders aside, he has not had it all his own way, despite Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.

Yesterday I outlined the economic causes of the rise to power of this ostensibly populist president. This post reviews some of the potential consequences of Trump’s economic policies, as discussed in the book Trumponomics.

Jobs and growth

The centrepiece of Trump’s economic strategy, if in fact it has any coherence at all, is a pledge to put ‘America first’ and raise the growth rate of the US economy from its currently sluggish 2% per annum, to something like 4%. In doing so, he has promised that this will create 25 million jobs over ten years.

The pledge on jobs, if it is achieved, would in fact be nothing special when looking at the US record since the last recession. Continue reading

Trumponomics Part 1: Causes of the phenomenon

TrumponomicsAs promised, here is a review of some of the ideas covered in the fairly weighty tome Trumponomics – Causes and Consequences, recently published by the World Economics Association.

The book consists of 30 chapters, each one written by a different author. They are wide-ranging, but all come from a left perspective on economics and politics.

I am not going to review it chapter by chapter, but thought I would discuss some of the main ideas. As there is plenty to get through, I have divided it into three posts to be published this week: part 1 – causes, part 2 – consequences, and part 3 – alternatives.

Part 1 – Causes

A number of the chapters discuss the reasons for the electoral success of Donald Trump. The book is written by economists, so inevitably many of them have an economic basis. However, since their sympathies are with left wing heterodox thinking, much of it could be classed as political economy, which often incorporates political, historical and sociological ideas to an interdisciplinary analysis.

Broadly speaking, the rise of Trump can be explained by patterns of socio-economic change in recent decades which have left many behind; by the perception that particular elites, including the Democrats, have become disconnected from the concerns of ordinary people and have been captured by Wall Street and the ideology of neoliberalism; and by a campaign whose rhetoric successfully appealed to raw emotion rather than to rationality alone. Continue reading

Free-market policies rarely make poor countries rich (Ha-Joon Chang’s Thing 7)

23-things-they-don-t-tell-you-about-capitalismThese telling extracts from Ha-Joon Chang‘s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism come from ‘Thing 7’ (p.63-5):

“Contrary to what is commonly believed, the performance of developing countries in the period of state-led development was superior to what they have achieved during the subsequent period of market-oriented reform. There were some spectacular failures of state intervention, but most of these countries grew much faster, with more equitable income distribution and far fewer financial crises, during the ‘bad old days’ than they have done in the period of market-oriented reforms. Moreover, it is also not true that almost all rich countries have become rich through free-market policies. The truth is more or less the opposite. With only a few exceptions, all of today’s rich countries, including Britain and the US – the supposed homes of free trade and free markets – have become rich through the combinations of protectionism, subsidies and other policies that today they advise the developing countries not to adopt. Free-market policies have made few countries rich so far and they will make few rich in the future.”

To illustrate the above, a brief country case study:

“[This] country’s trade policy has literally been the most protectionist in the world for the last few decades, with an average industrial tariff rate at 40-55 per cent. The majority of the population cannot vote, and vote-buying and electoral fraud are widespread. Corruption is rampant, with political parties selling government jobs to their financial backers. The country has never recruited a single civil servant through an open, competitive process. Its public finances are precarious, with records of government loan defaults that worry foreign investors. Especially in the banking sector, foreigners are prohibited from becoming directors while foreign shareholders cannot even exercise their voting rights unless they are resident in the country. It does not have a competition law, permitting cartels and other forms of monopoly to grow unchecked. Its protection of intellectual property rights is patchy, particularly marred by its refusal to protect foreigners’ copyrights…

…[the country described above]…is the USA, around 1880…one of the fastest-growing – and rapidly becoming one of the richest – countries in the world…[following] policy recipes that go almost totally against today’s neo-liberal free-market orthodoxy.”

Richard Wolff on Trump’s budget proposal

Economist Richard Wolff discusses in the video below Trump’s budget proposal, which aims to dramatically slash various benefits for many of the poorest Americans, cut taxes for the richest and ramp up military spending. It is unlikely to pass through Congress unaltered, and it is apparently somewhat fantastical in its economics, but it remains disgraceful.

I am not a socialist. In my view, social democracy, the mixed economy and a reformed capitalism which deliver widespread prosperity is surely an effective bulwark against revolutionary socialism. Indeed, in the early decades after World War II, this was more widely accepted in the West as part of the ‘soft’ fight against communism. If capitalism does not deliver the goods to the majority, it will lose legitimacy.

In a number of European countries, relatively strong unions which act as social partners with government and business, rather than as shock troops of the revolution, have helped to achieve both prosperity and a degree of social justice alongside individual liberty. There may sometimes be trade-offs between these goals, but they are worth shooting for together.

Trump’s budget balls-up – via Michael Roberts

President Trump’s economic team have release their plans for the federal budget over the next ten years. It is a combination of wildly optimistic economic growth forecasts, vicious cutbacks in public services and environmental measures; and significant cuts in corporate taxes and personal taxes for the rich. But what is exercising mainstream economists are the […]

via Trump’s budget balls-up — Michael Roberts Blog