Alternative Insight

 Update on the Keynes Investment Multiplier as a Divider

British economist John Maynard Keynes transferred Richard Kahn’s employment multiplier into the concept of an investment multiplier. Others used the same formula to arrive at a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) multiplier. Portrayed by Keynesian followers as an advantage for government deficit spending and featured as a significant advance in economic thought for determining public policy, the “multiplier” could be misunderstood and not deliver the benefits it promises. Both Mr. Kahn and Lord Keynes might have used a hypothetical capitalist system to describe their theories and achieve spurious results. Using a real world system, does the “multiplier’ become a “divider,” and does the theory do nothing more than describe the normal functioning of the capitalist economic system.

Other commentators have attempted to discredit the investment multiplier, but it remains a vital consideration in economic thought. This article takes a new approach, one, which, hopefully, will definitely clarify the multiplier’s benefits and characteristics. 

 Investopedia at: explains the multiplier.

The Keynesian multiplier was introduced by Richard Kahn in the 1930s. It showed that any government spending brought about cycles of spending that increased employment and prosperity regardless of the form of the spending. For example, a $100 million government project, whether to build a dam or dig and refill a giant hole, might pay $50 million in pure labor costs. The workers then take that $50 million and, minus the average saving rate, spend it at various businesses. These businesses now have more money to hire more people to make more products, leading to another round of spending. 

Keynes represented these rounds of spending as a geometric series: 1 + k + k2 + k3 + ...  to infinity, where k=propensity to spend. Mathematically, the geometric series obeys the formula:


If part of the available spending is saved, say 20%, and only 80% is spent, then k=0.8. Substituting 0.8 in the multiplier formula indicates that the original spending, represented by the total rounds of spending will be multiplied by five; left unstated is that the multiplication occurs after an infinite number of investment transactions and infinite time. Note that if all of the available spending is actually spent, k=1, and the total investment becomes infinite; the age of abundance has been achieved.

 The questions for the multiplier theory are:

  1. How can employment multiply without multiplied additions to the money supply? Where is the multiplied money to pay employees and purchase the products?

  2. Has Keynes used a specious capitalist system in his theory?

  3. Has Keynes only formulated the operation of the capitalist system; after products are sold and the market is cleared, a new round of investment occurs?

  4. Did Keynes neglect an important factor – time? Is it possible in the goods economy, where tooling takes much time, that there can be a rapid purchasing of new goods?

 Uncovering the fallacies in the operation of the investment multiplier.
As one example, a misunderstanding of the “multiplier” has led Joseph Stiglitz to exaggerate the effects of government spending. Stiglitz wrote: 

… [W]hen the government spends more and invests in the economy that money circulates, and recirculates repeatedly. So not only does it create jobs once: the investment creates jobs multiple times.

The result of that is that the economy grows by a multiple of the initial spending, and public finances turn out to be stronger: as the economy grows, fiscal revenues increase, and demands for the government to pay unemployment benefits, or fund social programmes to help the poor and needy, go down. As tax revenues go up as a result of growth, and as these expenditures decrease, the government’s fiscal position strengthens.

Government revenue, from taxes and sales of non-monetized securities (not purchased by the Federal Reserve), which is endogenous spending, only transfers already available purchasing power to the government. When the government uses this revenue to purchase good by contracts, the manufacturer and its suppliers employ a labor force that transfers the revenue from the government expenditure as wages to the workers. Employment is increased and the manufacture adds to the GDP, but that is all. The industry workers use the transferred purchasing power to purchase the products that the taxed and purchasers of government securities had the opportunity to buy. No other added production occurs from the sale of the previously unsold goods and no additional employment happens. Government spending from taxes and non-monetized debt has benefits in temporarily adding to GDP and decreasing unemployment, but there is no investment multiplier. A fixed amount of temporary employment occurs, and GDP is enhanced, but the basic economy, outside of the government transactions, does not receive an added stimulus.

For an analysis of exogenous spending, where debt is created that adds to the money supply, such as in Federal Reserve quantitative easing, we must assume that in the economic production system (apart from the services sector), the total price of all goods consists of cost plus expected profit. The state of the economy during the time of the exogenous spending must also be qualified.

If demand is greater than supply, then the exogenous spending will inflate prices. Manufacturers may either invest the added profit in new production, distribute dividends, pay off loans, give bonuses, or bank as retained earnings. Clearly, the profits and the re-investments can never exceed that obtained from the exogenous spending. When the entrepreneur uses the added profits to establish new manufacturing facilities, the cost of those goods absorbs the profit. The entrepreneurs’ vision is that the new production, which increases employment, will generate additional profit. As before, gaining this additional profit will require new additions to the money supply. No investment multiplier from the original debt monetization occurs; for each investment cycle to expand, demand must increase and the money supply must expand from one or more of the factors mentioned above, which includes government debt monetization. Increased production follows increases in the money supply, which is not multiplied.

 If demand is less than supply, the exogenous spending will only increase demand and enable more supply to be sold. Any added profit can be reinvested and allow an increase in production. In order for the that production to be multiplied, it will have to yield a profit, and that profit will require additions to the money supply by new exogenous spending

Followers of the investment multiplier seem to indicate that if someone goes to purchase an automobile for $20,000, the seller takes the $20,000 and immediately spends it elsewhere on quickly produced goods, and that seller does the same and so forth. Not in the real economic system. Businesses receive income and then purchase already manufactured goods from inventory in the present investment cycle. After the manufacturer’s marketing department realizes the company will have profit, it decides how the profit is distributed and if additional investment in new manufacture is beneficial.

Service Sector
Economists have unknowingly justified the investment multiplier by referring to investment in the service sector. Multiplication of employment, investment, and GDP is not unique in this sector and does not need new government or other new spending to create a multiplier.

 As an example, suppose a wage earner does not purchase a consumer good or commodity from his/her wages but purchases a service, such as medical advice. The doctor is employed, and the service is registered in the GDP statistics. The doctor goes to a lawyer for advice. The lawyer is now employed, and the service is registered in the GDP statistics. The lawyer goes to a cabinetmaker to purchase custom furniture. The cabinetmaker is now employed, and the service is registered in the GDP statistics. The cabinetmaker finally purchases the unsold goods in the domestic economy. Plenty of apparent multiplication of investment and employment without government spending and creation of new money.

This is how the service industry normally functions, and how the employment and GDP statistics record its efforts, which is why some economist sense that including them in the GDP can over inflate the appearance of the economy. A rapid exchange of money can occur in the service sector and give the appearance of an investment multiplier without government spending or increases in the money supply. The same process cannot occur in the manufacturing industry, where Keynes intended to apply his investment multiplier.

In his theoretical analysis, Keynes shaped the industrial economy to fit his analysis and did not include the time element required to establish a new manufacturing process of goods. “Leakage’ has meaning but Keynes ascribed “leakage” to the wrong element. Because some wages are saved, purchase imported goods, or are consistently turned over in financial markets, not all income is available for purchase of goods. Exogenous money, including debt monetization, comes to the rescue, purchasing the unsold product and allowing profits. Borrowing money has a purpose, which is to finance the purchase of goods, and the borrower is not going to permit his borrowings to “leak.” “Leakage” occurs at the production end, where industrialists do not use the entire profit for re-investment.

 Keynes’ multiplier formula actually says that, if not all of specific goods are purchased in each investment cycle, less will be manufactured in succeeding cycles. Eventually, the public will no longer need these specific goods, and manufacturing of those goods will cease. The “investment multiplier” of the geometric series is actually a divider. Let k=0.8 in the investment series described above, and, with each investment cycle, the investment is reduced by 20% until it becomes nil and the company stops producing from the original investment. Instead of investment being multiplied by 0.8, investment is reduced by 0.2. If k=1, then investment is entirely repeated in each investment cycle and after an infinite number of cycles, total investment reaches infinity. The formula becomes logical and has no indeterminate value.

The System
The capitalist production system has a built-in lack of demand that cannot satisfy supply. Credit and Federal Reserve quantitative easing furnish the funds to soak up the excess supply and balance the system. These funds barely accomplish that task without enabling any additional multiplication of investment. Additional investment comes from the additional profit made from the additions to the money supply.

 Keynes “investment multiplier” only describes the way the system works ? sell the goods in one investment cycle, and, if there is profit due to the added money supply, start a new investment cycle that is slightly greater than the previous. The renowned economist iterated in mathematical terms what all adequate company managers knew ? if you turn over inventory quickly and replace it with new inventory, the enterprise can earn a lot of bucks.

Debt monetization played a crucial role in financing profits immediately after the 2008 recession, when, at the same time, household borrowing was going negative. During the last years, household debt is more positive in its contribution to the money supply and debt monetization has been sidetracked.

Refutation of a significant and well accepted-theory in economics, which has determined public policy and highlighted famous economic textbooks, cannot be lightly dismissed. It is possible the arguments are not entirely correct and a “tripwire” exists. A careful and complete examination of Keynes’ multiplier and the contradictions concerning it are in order. If the argument cannot be refuted, the famous “multiplier” may have to be reevaluated. 

july 19, 2019