Category: Friedrich Hayek

Slouching towards depression: The advice of the great Austrian economists goes unheeded

The three most prominent Austrian economists were clear on the correct policy response to an economic crisis – non-intervention:

The appearance of periodically recurring economic crises is the necessary consequence of repeatedly renewed attempts to reduce the “natural” rates of interest on the market by means of banking policy. The crises will never disappear so long as men have not learned to avoid such pump-priming, because an artificially stimulated boom must inevitably lead to crisis and depression… All attempts to emerge from the crisis by new interventionist measures are completely misguided. There is only one way out of the crisis: Forgo every attempt to prevent the impact of market prices on production. Give up the pursuit of policies which seek to establish interest rates, wage rates and commodity prices different from those the market indicates.

~ Ludwig von Mises, The Causes of the Economic Crisis (1931)

Instead of furthering the inevitable liquidation of the maladjustments brought about by the boom during the last three years, all conceivable means have been used to prevent that readjustment from taking place; and one of these means, which has been repeatedly tried though without success, from the earliest to the most recent stages of depression, has been this deliberate policy of credit expansion….

To combat the depression by a forced credit expansion is to attempt to cure the evil by the very means which brought it about; because we are suffering from a misdirection of production, we want to create further misdirection – a procedure that can only lead to a much more severe crisis as soon as the credit expansion comes to an end…. It is probably to this experiment, together with the attempts to prevent liquidation once the crisis had come, that we owe the exceptional severity and duration of the depression.

~ Friedrich Hayek, Prices and Production and Other Works (1932)

So now we see, at last, that the business cycle is brought about,
not by any mysterious failings of the free market economy, but quite the opposite: By systematic intervention by government in the market process. Government intervention brings about bank expansion and inflation, and, when the inflation comes to an end, the subsequent depression-adjustment comes into play… what the government should do, according to the Misesian analysis of the depression, is absolutely nothing. It should, from the point of view of economic health and ending the depression as quickly as possible, maintain a strict hands off, “laissez-faire” policy. Anything it does will delay and obstruct the adjustment process of the market; the less it does, the more rapidly will the market adjustment process do its work, and sound economic recovery ensue. The Misesian prescription is thus the exact opposite of the Keynesian: It is for the government to keep absolute hands off the economy and to confine itself to stopping its own inflation and to cutting its own budget.

~ Murray Rothbard, “Economic Depressions: Their Cause and Cure,” 1969

Sadly, the political class, mainstream media, investor class, and a variety of economic charlatans failed to get the memo. Continuing to pursue the current course of relentless and audacious interventions virtually guarantees depression. Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard must be rolling in their graves. Will we ever learn?

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