To Save The Economy, You Sometimes Need To Ignore Business

Many on the right and center indicate that in order to restore the economy, President Obama needs to do more to cater to the whims of rich businessmen. Many on the left feel that this is exactly wrong and that in order to restore the economy, President Obama needs to do more to stick it to the rich and dispossess them. History suggests that both are wrong. Economic recovery would be good for business, but businessmen who may be good at running businesses are extremely bad judges of macroeconomic policy. Consider, for example, the Great Depression, and the monetary stimulus that economists from Milton Friedman on the right to Christina Romer on the left now agree ended it.

The Depression was not good for big business. Nor was it good for banks and large financial institutions. Ending the Depression required stepping on some toes, but fundamentally the Depression was a negative-sum experience and everyone was better off when growth returned. But here’s a couple New York Times articles from June of 1933 — “Plea” from June 2, “Return to Gold” from June 4 — showing the business community’s intense hostility to the expansionary monetary policy that eventually saved all their skins:

The fact of the matter is just that running an economy is not the same as running a nationwide network of big box retailers, or a diversified conglomerate, or a large bank, or an innovative electronics company, or any other successful business. People generally understand this in reverse. Nobody ever said “Bill Clinton was a good president, so he’d be a great replacement for Bill Gates when he steps down at Microsoft.” But it’s true the other way ’round as well. Businessmen have certain kinds of prejudices about economic management that neither reflect reality nor their own self-interest. You have to ignore them, and create the conditions where, in practice, there’s enough demand for them to expand their activities.