From Harrod to the Lack of Carrot

There is nothing worse than not-receiving a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences because the candidate died too early. By and large, this was clearly what happened to Sir Henry Roy Forbes Harrod, who was born 124 years ago this day, on 13 February 1900.
His intellectual legacy embraces a wide range of issues starting from smaller scale problems (e.g. whether credits tend to affect perversively the general price level, See Harrod, 1934) to more macroscopic ones like what is the key driver of economic growth. Harrod and his co-author, Evsey Domar developed the famous Harrod-Domar growth (Harrod, 1939; Domar 1957) model in which the accumulation of physical capital plays a central role.
Since then, myriad of studies emphasised the shortcomings of such understanding of economic growth if for no other reason than its seductively simple abstraction does not apply in our globalised world economy. But, importantly, the Harrod-Domar model paved the way of thinkers who were trying to get a better understanding over the issue of what are the key determinants and leitmotifs of our growth potential.
Without a peradventure, physical capital (facilities, equipment etc.) was and will be the end result of people’s work which relies exclusively on people’s thinking, inspiration, thought-provoking ideas and innovations, ultimately relies on people’s encodable and tacit-knowledge. People’s body hides the mind and knowledge, it might be seen as the temple of innovative spirit. In this respect, the Harrodian and Domarian growth model which considered capital and labor as independent sources of production and growth missed the concept of human capital as a specific form of physical capital on which growth and development are riding a lot.
Nowadays, the human mind, which is the ultimate source of creativity, innovation and smart adaptation, has stepped out and become the core of the considerations over growth engine. Human mind as well as human body , maybe as part of physical capital, have to be in harmony, otherwise its capabilities suffer. An impressive contribution of the Harrod-Domar model was that it considered the market as a fundamental coordinating mechanism which is able to support the mitigation of impoverishment and that of poverty. In this sense, market plays a decisive role in providing opportunities to achieve harmony among body and mind.
In the wake of the 2008 financial and economic crisis, the era of Great Moderation was replaced by the painful Great Recession of which economic policy treatment affected differently this type of harmony requirement indicated above. After the relatively coordinated monetary and fiscal stimuli – which could be regarded prima facie as the Keynesian renaissance of which Keynesian views were collected and interpreted by Harrod as well in his Keynes biography (Harrod, 1951) – debt-overhang came into the global village by calling policymakers’ attention to the necessity for some kind of austerity. Austerity measures have become widely used as a way towards sustainable public finances and calmer investment sentiments who had become fiendishly intolerant to growing excessive debt-to-GDP and deficit ratios in certain countries. Especially European countries have run out of carrots (fiscal latitude) to discretionarily stimulate investment and consumption activities to recuperate growth.
Although the literature on the effect of austerity on growth has been increasing, there is relatively little attention being devoted to the effect of austerity on the harmony between body and mind. Without being exhaustive, austerity measures related to the expenditure cuts in fields like health and social security led to substantial deterioration of many important indicators such as the rate of homelessness, income inequality, intensive evolution and spread of HIV rates. David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu have recently published their book, called The Body Economic – Why Austerity Kills. The authors exemplify the above mentioned concerns based upon due statistical overview and research. They pinpoint inter alia that expenditure cuts affected conspiciously the living conditions (including health) of people for instance in Ireland and Greece having an austeriatarian-approach (e.g. homelessness rates rose between 2010-2011 by 68% in Ireland, HIV rates were skyrocketing in Greece and worsening tendency was also remarkable in the United Kingdom where the share of young people forced to spend their nights on the streets of London has increased by 34%. The authors argue that carrots (fiscal stimuli) should have been continued because austerity broke up the harmony between people’s body and mind by worsening their health conditions leaving limited room for them to improve their lives significantly by getting engaged in economic activity in a more meaningful way.
This fed into uncertainty. Of course, crisis management entailed lots of uncertainty over ‘what to do’ and implementation-related uncertainty (i.e. what will be the end results of an instrument, that of an action such as fiscal austerity) (Kovács, 2014). Since uncertainty has been long discussed that creates non-negligible obstacle to growth and development, it should be dampened as much as public policy can do.
In our recent paper, (Kovács, 2014), we argue that uncertainty is integrated into the modern economic systems; however its autochthonously increasing feature is puzzling and should be addressed in a more dedicated way. Behind the curtain of increasing uncertainty, we purport to demonstrate that at least the following intertwined and interrelated main building blocks can be deciphered that are contributing to the deepening global distribution of uncertainty in the advanced world by establishing a vicious circle: (i) increasing complexity; (ii) wicked characteristics of policies; (iii) heigthening role of psychological factors in economics; (iv) secularly declining innovativeness feeding into inequality which reinforces and maintains increasing uncertainties. We also shed light on some implication of increasing fundamental uncertainty on governance.
To sum, even though the old wisdom of Harrod and Domar has now merely an obscured reasoning, the physical capital, especially the people (with their knowledge), seem to remain one of the singular reference when it comes to naming the ultimate source of growth and socio-economic development. In this regard, health effect of economic policy might be relevant to be estimated to a certain extent ex ante in order to have opportunity for policy-refinement as well as policy-learning, hence to minimize and avoid uncertainty triggered by wrongly perceived policies having negative impacts on people’s daily life.
Domar,E. D. (1957): Expansion and Employment. In: Essays in the Theory of Economic Growth. New York. Oxford University Press.
Harrod, R. F. (1934): The Expansion of Credit in an Advancing Community. Economica, New Series, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Aug., 1934), pp. 287-299
Harrod, R. F. (1939): An Essay in Dynamic Theory. The Economic Journal, Vol. 49, No. 139, pp. 14-33.
Harrod, R. F. (1951): The Life of John Maynard Keynes. London: Macmillan, 1951.
Kovács, O. (2014): Endogeneously Increasing Uncertainties and Governance. TIGER Working Paper No. 130.
Stuckler, D. – Basu, S. (2013): The Body Economic. Why Austerity Kills. Penguin Books, London.