Tinges of Covid-19, doses on financial crises, but mostly about economic history. Here is the audio and transcript. Here is the summary:
Adam joined Tyler to discuss the historically unusual decision to have a high-cost lockdown during a pandemic, why he believes in a swoosh-shaped recovery, portents of financial crises in China and the West, which emerging economies are currently most at risk, what Keynes got wrong about the Treaty of Versailles, why the Weimar Republic failed, whether Hitler was a Keynesian, the political and economic prospects of various EU members, his trick to writing a lot, how Twitter encourages him to read more, what he taught executives at BP, his advice for visiting Germany, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Was Keynes right about the Treaty of Versailles? Was it as bad as Keynes said?
TOOZE: No. I’m a confirmed liberal Keynesian in my broad politics, and my understanding of politics and the way expertise ought to relate to it, and the operations of modern democracy. I think his political writings in Essays in Persuasion are brilliant. But I regard The Economic Consequences of the Peace as disastrous because, essentially, it enhanced and gave arguments to the German nationalists who —
COWEN: But that doesn’t mean Keynes was wrong, right? It may have had that effect, but he’s writing at a time where the wealth-to-income ratio is especially low, so a given measure of debt burden is much worse for an economy than what we might be used to.
TOOZE: Absolutely, but the evidence of the 1920s is that, with the right framework, the Weimar Republic was, in fact, perfectly capable of bearing a reasonable burden of reparations — 2 percent to 3 percent were doable. The fact of the matter is the German political class had no interest in accepting that responsibility and was quite determined to do a variety of different things to escape that burden.
And there is no doubt at all that the front-loading of the demands, which is very understandable from the point of view of the financial needs of the French in particular, caused a huge bottleneck, if you like, early on in the history of the Weimar Republic when it was most fragile. And that’s, as it were, the moment when I think the critique is most valid.
And that’s why, for me, really, the hidden agenda of the economic consequences of the peace is an appeal, to the Brits but above all to the Americans, for large-scale debt concessions, on which one could only agree with Keynes that this was, in fact, absolutely critical, that market economies have unspoken fundamental political preconditions, which, in the aftermath of the massive war, have been disrupted.
COWEN: Speaking of Hitler, was Hitler, in fact, the Keynesian?
TOOZE: No. Hitler personally — absolutely not. Hitler’s personal monetary ideas are very, very conservative. He’s an anti-inflation hawk. He has to be persuaded to engage in large-scale monetary financing.
Somebody like Schacht is a contemporary of Keynes, and that’s Hitler central banker and an adventurous monetary thinker. He’d learned to think outside the monetary box, if you like, in the efforts to stabilize Weimar’s currency in 1923–24. And he’s certainly an expansionary. He’s not afraid of monetary finance and of using off-balance-sheet vehicles to provide liquidity and to provide credit for an underemployed economy.
And quite reasonably, no one’s worried about inflation in 1933 because Germany has massive unemployment. So, in that sense, they are adventurous, macroeconomic, monetary economists.
They’re not Keynesians for the simple reasons that Keynesianism, classically, of course, is a liberal economic politics. It believes in a multiplier, and the multiplier’s the be-all and end-all really of Keynesian economics because what it suggests is that small, intermittent, discretionary interventions by the state — relatively small — will generate outside reactions from the economy, which will enable the state to serve a very positive role in stabilizing the economy but doesn’t require the state to permanently intrude and take over the economy.
That’s a post-1945 kind of vision of a mixed economy. Keynes himself — that’s why he wants the multiplier to be three because if the multiplier is three, then $1 by government spending generates $3 of private economic activity.
You can think of government intervention as sporadic. It’s emergency medicine. It’s not chronic care. That, of course, is the antithesis of what the Nazis are doing because they are ramping up government spending, not across the board, but highly focused on rearmament because what they’re doing is not just creating jobs, though they do create jobs as a side effect. What they’re doing is restructuring the economy towards building the foundation for rearmament in a war economy.
What they’re actually trying to do is systematically repress the multiplier because they do not want people employed in armaments factories to go out and buy clothing and fancy food, which requires imports. They want the money to be circled straight back into the armaments effort. Saving various types of financial oppression is the order of the day. They’re macroeconomists, the Nazis. They’re adventurous macroeconomists. They’re doing massive intervention, but they’re not Keynesian.
Tooze’s discussion of his own career and interests, toward the end, is hard to excerpt but for me the highlight of the conversation. He also provided the best defense of Twitter I have heard.