If you listen to the talking heads on cable news, you might think that our country faces a choice between two kinds of economics -- stimulus spending on the one hand, and 'trickle-down' tax cuts on the other. These days, though, the real debate among economists doesn't break down along those political lines. Economists aren't, primarily, big spenders or tax cutters. In fact, macroeconomists -- economists who study the economies of whole nations -- are splintered into all sorts of schools of thought.
Lately, two of the most prominent have been the Keynesians and the Austrians. Keynesians follow the Depression-era economist John Maynard Keynes in thinking of the economy as a kind of machine, in constant need of fuel; Austrians follow economists like Friedrich Hayek, a Nobel laureate who saw the economy as more decentralized -- less like a machine, and more like a network. It's all pretty complicated -- but you can get up to speed very quickly by watching this incredible music video, in which Keynes and Hayek take each other on in an epic economics rap battle. (Mike Munger, a political scientist at Duke, plays the security guard.)
The video, "Fight of the Century," is actually a sequel to "Fear the Boom and Bust," in which Keynes and Hayek battle it out at an economics conference; it's also spectacular, and lays out the basics explored in greater detail in the new video. Both videos feature surprisingly high production values; they're made by EconStories, a non-profit collaboration between John Papola, a former creative director at SpikeTV (he learned about Austrian economics by listening to podcasts on his commute) and Russell Roberts, an economist at George Mason University. The videos are a little biased towards Hayek, who's portrayed as the underdog. In fact, though, he is less famous, nowadays, than Keynes; his supporters, who tend to be libertarian in outlook, have been working hard to make him more popular, both in bookstores and through blogs.
The video does a great job of capturing the crucial differences between Keynesians and Austrians. Here's a sample:
My solution is simple and easy to handle...
It's spending that matters, why’s that such a scandal?
The money sloshes through the pipes and the sluices
revitalizing the economy’s juices.
It’s just like an engine that’s stalled and gone dark
To bring it to life, we need a quick spark
Spending’s the life blood that gets the flow going
Where it goes doesn’t matter, just get spending flowing!
You see slack in some sectors as a “general glut”
But some sectors are healthy, and some in a rut
So spending’s not free -- that’s the heart of the matter
too much is wasted as cronies get fatter.
The economy’s not a car, there’s no engine to stall
no expert can fix it, there’s no “it” at all.
The economy’s us, we don’t need a mechanic
Put away the wrenches, the economy’s organic!
The author is solely responsible for the content.
Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.