Economic Aspects of the Pension Problem – Part 2

Appears Sixty Years Later

Part Two: Productivity Theory of Interest Revisited

Antal E. Fekete

In Part One I discussed the clear and present danger to pension rights: deflation as manifested by the interest rates structure that has been falling for thirty years, while most observers think that the real danger is inflation. In this second part I carry out a deeper analysis of the pension problem, looking at the marginal productivity of labor and capital and its relevance to the theory of interest.

Courtesy of Professor Fekete @ Professor

Higher marginal productivity: boon or bane?

There is a lot of loose talk about productivity. Paul Krugman is expecting miracles to start happening after an increase in a mythical productivity, provided that government spending is increased to the level matching or exceeding that during World War II.

However, as Mises pointed out, productivity is a vacuous concept unless its meaning is fixed, such as that of marginal productivity of labor. Then, and only then, can one state the pension problem. According to Mises, the only means to increase permanently the wages and benefits payable to workers is to increase the per capita quota of capital invested in the methods of production, thereby raising the marginal productivity of labor. (See References, Planning for Freedom, p 6.) This is certainly true so far as it goes. It is also true that, if we project this observation to the world at large, then we can conclude that in order to have a progressive world economy and receding poverty, global capital accumulation must accelerate relative to increase in population. The greater the quantity and the better the quality of tools, the greater will be the output of the marginal worker, that is, the greater will be the marginal productivity of labor.

In reading Mises one may get the impression that an increase in marginal productivity is always beneficial to society ― as indeed it would have been under the conditions he envisaged. However, in the case of a monetary system that admits both large swings and prolonged slides in interest rates, this is no longer true. If the matter were simply increasing marginal productivity, monetary policy would be a valid means of “turning the stone into bread”. All it would take is central bank action to keep raising the rate of interest indefinitely. This would force the marginal producer whose capital produces at the marginal rate of productivity to fold tent. His marginal equipment and plants would be idled. His workers producing, as they are, at the marginal rate of productivity of labor would be laid off. Marginal productivity would increase. Indeed, the marginal productivity of both capital and labor automatically rises as a consequence of a rise in the rate of interest. However, in this case the rise in productivity, far from being a boon, is a bane to society, as it makes output and employment shrink. The trick is precisely to make marginal productivity rise along with rising output and employment.

Gold standard: a safeguard against deflation

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Destroy The 40-Hour Workweek


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Our American economy needs you to work nothing less than 40 hours per week. The message is simple: earn more, collect belongings, and don’t stop until you retire/die. Unless you meet this expectation, be prepared to be called lazy and unproductive — stuck in the unfortunate world of lower and middle incomes. And if you’re not doing something that makes more money than your neighbor, you ought to think about changing careers.

McMansions, vehicles, and stores grow. In turn, our consumption escalates. We need more to fill our bigger homes; otherwise, they feel empty. Meanwhile, our wallets are stripped and we maintain this cycle of work and near poverty — just getting by. Despite going through a horrific “great recession” over the last few years, companies have continued to report record revenue and profits. The business world is clearly benefiting from our workweek and continued spend.

This current system is predicated on infinite growth. If you’re not continually benefiting from pay raises and getting promoted, you’re not doing it right. Since the Industrial Revolution, we haven’t stopped to seriously question what we’ve created and amassed. Like worker zombies, it’s hard not to see the countless hours we put into companies — all so that we reach financial independence. Continue reading