For Ed everything is always about demographics. For Kevin Drum and others everything is always about energy. Other people have decided that productivity is so high that unemployment is inevitable, or that all consumption is now welfare reducing. Still others that the Chinese are our rightful masters – submit! although poor old Europe runs a trade surplus. And of course these aren’t the only discoveries.
Other people still will tell you that millions of Americans who were gainfully employed up to 2008-2009 are suddenly of literally zero productivity – well, they surely are as long as they’re on the dole, but that’s not what they mean – or just that everyone went mysteriously lazy in a sort of spontaneous mass conversion event. Or that the United States has a serious deficiency of fast trains, which only became apparent all at once in 2008. It has been an era of enormous creativity in the analytical function of economics, which has been more than matched by the united consensus among practitioners in its policy-advising function.
Behold the power of Leszek Kolakowski’s Principle of the Infinite Cornucopia. This holds that there is an infinite cornucopia of arguments in favour of whatever course of action or inaction you happen to have decided on for whatever reason. All these fancy intellectual theories, and none of them consider the possibility that there’s a recession on. If that was accepted, of course, it would suggest that things really are this bad, Alan Greenspan really was this incompetent, maldistribution works like it did in the 20s, this is as bad as it looks, and simply taking your hands off the stick and leaving it to George was relatively the best policy, just because it wasn’t actively harmful.
Actually, the aviation analogy worries me; I keep thinking of the pilots of Air France 447, who flew an entirely airworthy aeroplane from 35,000 feet into the sea in a fully developed stall without seriously trying to recover because (as far as anyone knows) the immediate effects were counterintuitive.
I’m sympathetic to the energy explanation, but I do think the idea that there’s a recession on might still be worth a crack, and we might try pushing down the nose and increasing the air speed.