Investment and Consumption

by Don Boudreaux on September 6, 2010

in Myths and Fallacies, State of Macro, The Crisis, The Economy

Bob Higgs explains the wrongheadedness of focusing on consumption as a driver of the economy.  Here are key passages:

As every student of the business cycle learns early on, the most variable part of aggregate expenditure is private investment. When real gross private domestic investment peaked, in the first quarter of 2006, it was $2,265 billion, or 17.5 percent of GDP. When it hit bottom in the second quarter of 2009, it had fallen by 36 percent to $1,453 billion, or 11.3 percent of GDP. (Deducting investment expenditures aimed at compensating for depreciation of the private capital stock [Table 1.7.6], we find that real net private investment – the part that contributes to economic growth—in the most recent quarter was only one-third as great as it was at its peak in early 2006.) The ups and downs of the business cycle are obviously driven not by consumption spending, but by investment spending.

To bring about this essential revival of investment, the government needs to put an end to actions that threaten investors’ returns and create uncertainty that paralyzes their undertaking of new long-term projects. Gigantic measures such as the recently enacted health-care legislation and the financial-reform law, which entail hundreds of new regulations whose specific content, enforcement, and costs are impossible to forecast with confidence, contribute to “regime uncertainty” and thereby encourage investors to hold large cash balances or to park their funds in short-term, low-yield, less risky securities. Such investments cannot support genuine recovery and sustained long-run growth.

In sum, our crying need at present is for a robust revival of private long-term investment. Consumption-oriented government “stimulus” programs, at best, only ensure a protracted period of economic stagnation.

Read Bob’s entire post.

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