Monday, December 24, 2012

A Keynesian Christmas

At the blog, John Cochrane shares a 1934 Christmas poem about consumption that could have been improved if it just waited two years for John Maynard Keynes. Here's some of it:

“And what do you mean to be?”
The kind old Bishop said
As he took the boy on his ample knee
And patted his curly head.
“We should all of us choose a calling
To help Society’s plan;
Then what to you mean to be, my boy,
When you grow to be a man?”

“I want to be a Consumer,”
The bright-haired lad replied
As he gazed into the Bishop’s face
In innocence open-eyed.
“I’ve never had aims of a selfish sort,
For that, as I know, is wrong.
I want to be a Consumer, Sir,
And help the world along.”

“I want to be a Consumer
And work both night and day,
For that is the thing that’s needed most,
I’ve heard Economists say,
I won’t just be a Producer,
Like Bobby and James and John;
I want to be a Consumer, Sir,
And help the nation on.”

Keynes would enjoy the social mindedness of the boy, and of course point out that one doesn't just have to be a consumer. Those "producers" Bobby, James, and John have another name: investors. And the real troubles come in when nobody wants to be a consumer or an investor: when everyone wants to stay liquid and nobody wants to enjoy and invest to produce more of life's bounty.

But as I've always said, consumptionism did lay important ground-work for demand-side thinking in general. And what's great is that there's nothing diminishing about investors in this poem - the boy doesn't say he won't be a producer. In fact he says he "won't just be" a producer. He says he'll "work both night and day", so he'll be a very dedicated producer.

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