There is a fundamental illogic to the notion that an economy can be grown by encouraging consumption. When a person consumes, by definition, they use things up. The very process leaves us with less than before. Growing the availability of valuable goods and services for society by using them up is not just an impossibilityits an absurdity. Consumption is the goal, but it is production that is the means.
For most of human history, ordinary people had to spend their lives growing food. Today, we have many billions more people on the planet. And yet food is cheaper, better and of greater variety than ever before. Still, almost nobody works in agriculture. We didnt create this wealthy, amazing world… by eating. We did it by saving our seed corn, investing and ultimately inventing our way out of farming jobs. Thank heavens we did.
There are important lessons for public policy that come from these classical insights. Any program which accelerates the consumption of value, or worse, the destruction of value, ultimately make our society poorer. Despite what Keynes and his modern followers claim, Wars, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, faked alien invasions, or programs that encourage us to destroy our used cars — all make us poorer. These schemes reduce the amount of valuable goods and services available for society. Some may consider unemployment benefits to be a necessary policy on humanitarian grounds, but they by no means stimulate the economy. The recipient, after all, is consuming without producing any value for others. Disincentives for people to be productive, which have exploded in recent years, not only reduce employment, but reduce output and growth as well. This last point used to be widely believed by economists–including the immensely popular and polarizing economist, Paul Krugman, whose own 2009 textbook blamed extended unemployment benefits as one of the main reasons for decades of European stagnation and high structural unemployment. Now, I fear that a decade of Keynesian macro follies may have brought Eurosclerosis to the rest of the world.
Savings and investment which enable increased productivity, greater specialization and trade are the true engines of economic growth. Increasing consumption is a result of that growth, never the cause of it. If we want sound and sustainable economic growth, each of us has to discover the most valuable ways to serve others and contribute to the supply of wealth before we can take from it. Much like everyone else, even Santa Claus must produce all year long before people get to enjoy their presents.