Rule By Rentiers (Déjà vu Edition)

This column and related blog posts by Paul Krugman motivated me to poke around a bit on the subject and, lo and behold, I found the following, from May 1993, by John Kenneth Galbraith:

There are the many who live in recession with a wholly secure livelihood and with a lessened fear of price increases, of inflation. They are in no real danger of loss or diminution of income. Present here are the more secure parts of the modern corporate bureaucracy. Its members see their brethren being shed. (The corporate elite is never fired or sacked; in the interest of efficiency, in is only shed.) However, those who are truly influential have no fear. They, always in the interest of efficiency, are the ones who do the shedding.

Similarly secure are many in the professions, professors, needless to say, some public servants, lawyers, doctors and media stars. Also very important is the modern large rentier class. And many who live on Social Security or pensions.

For all these, recessions mean stable or even falling prices and no serious reduction of income. Relatively secure also are those Kansas farmers, constituents of Senator Bob Dole, whose prices are guaranteed by the Government, whose expenses and labor costs are now stable.

Also, in an economy where services are increasingly important, a recession means a more willing and pliant labor supply, an underclass more available for the unpleasant toil that makes life for the rest of us more agreeable. And for employers.  […]

But monetary policy works against recession by reducing interest rates and therewith rentier income. This is by no means welcomed by those who enjoy such income. They are not without political influence. Any talk of an easier monetary policy automatically brings grave and urgent warnings of the danger of inflation. This, too, is a threat to those on stable incomes.

A recession in modern times is also for many far more attractive than remedial action against it.

It is hard to argue that this is not exactly what we are currently experiencing.


Recession? Why Worry?
John Kenneth Galbraith
NYT, May 12, 1993

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