Keynes way of kick starting the economy

22 10 2008


Argos Logo 120x60
Home Retail Group, the company that owns the DIY store Homebase and retailer Argos, reported a loss of £450 million in its half-year operating profit. The reason for this loss is attributed not only to consumers restricting their spending, but also the weakening of the Pound which means that it costs more to import products from other countries, add to that the increase in the cost of raw materials, production and transportation. Products that are seen as a luxury have seen their sales and consecutively their profits drop as consumers switch to cheaper value-for-money products. Budget stores, as a result, have seen their sales and profits increase rapidly, in cases like Poundland, even double.

However, a drop in sales at Argos, which is not exactly an upmarket store, should create a little more than just a flutter amongst businesses operating in similar sectors. This is because it suggests that not only have consumers changed their shopping habits and switched to cheaper stores, they have stopped spending altogether on items they deem unnecessary. There are concerns about unemployment as many are worried that they would lose their jobs. The utility bills and mortgage repayments are rising. All this creates an atmosphere of uncertainity and leaves people preferring to save any surplus rather than spend it as they did before.

John Keynes, Image from Business Week

John Keynes, Image from Business Week

According to John Maynard Keynes, a well-known British economist, who lived during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the only way to give the economy a kick-start, is to spend and spend and spend. This is because a recession is caused by a fall in demand, not by the fall in supply. Demand has fell quite a lot recently because the credit that backed it no longer exists. Although Governments around the world have injected banks with capital, banks in turn have effectively turned off the tap of credit. Keynes believed that in the event of consumer spending decreasing, the Government should maintain or even increase its spending rather than cutting back. The people employed in the sectors where the Government spends its money would in turn spend their wages benefiting the local businesses who in turn spend and make investments and that gets the whole economy moving again. That way, a downward spiral of recession could be turned into an upward spiral of growth.

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is adopting Keynes’s ideas. He said that the Government would increase its spending on large scale projects. In the long term, it means increasing the national debt as the Government has to borrow money to keep up its spending. So be it. Keynes said that Governments should think of the short term, because, as he put it, “in the long run we are all dead”.