“… money has, both in the long and the short period, a zero, or at any rate a very small, elasticity of production, so far as the power of private enterprise is concerned, as distinct from the monetary authority;—elasticity of production meaning, in this context, the response of the quantity of labour applied to producing it to a rise in the quantity of labour which a unit of it will command. Money, that is to say, cannot be readily produced;—labour cannot be turned on at will by entrepreneurs to produce money in increasing quantities as its price rises in terms of the wage-unit. In the case of an inconvertible managed currency this condition is strictly satisfied. But in the case of a gold-standard currency it is also approximately so, in the sense that the maximum proportional addition to the quantity of labour which can be thus employed is very small, except indeed in a country of which gold-mining is the major industry.Money has a zero or very small elasticity of production. This means that a rise in demand for money and a rising “price” for money (i.e., an increase in its purchasing power) will not lead to businesses “producing” money by hiring workers.
Now, in the case of assets having an elasticity of production, the reason why we assumed their own-rate of interest to decline was because we assumed the stock of them to increase as the result of a higher rate of output. In the case of money, however—postponing, for the moment, our consideration of the effects of reducing the wage-unit or of a deliberate increase in its supply by the monetary authority—the supply is fixed. Thus the characteristic that money cannot be readily produced by labour gives at once some prima facie presumption for the view that its own-rate of interest will be relatively reluctant to fall; whereas if money could be grown like a crop or manufactured like a motor-car, depressions would be avoided or mitigated because, if the price of other assets was tending to fall in terms of money, more labour would be diverted into the production of money;—as we see to be the case in gold-mining countries, though for the world as a whole the maximum diversion in this way is almost negligible” (Keynes 1936: 230–231).
Even under the gold standard, when money was a type of producible commodity, production of gold or silver in significant quantities was severely limited to certain countries and brief times. For example, if the UK was hit by a deflationary depression in the 1880s, with a rising purchasing power for money as demand for it increased as a hedge against future uncertainty (that is, a rise in its value due to deflation), could UK businesses just hire unemployed workers to “produce” gold in the UK? They could not.
The property of zero or very small elasticity of production also applies to liquid financial assets. If consumers decide to buy less producible commodities and increase their holding of money or ownership of financial assets, unemployment will result in some sectors as demand for commodities declines. The price of financial assets will rise and it is possible that the price of money could also rise. But private businesses cannot hire the unemployed to “produce” or “manufacture” more money or financial assets to exploit profit opportunities in the high-price liquid assets (Davidson 2010: 255–256).
A further point is that money and financial assets have zero or near zero elasticity of substitution with producible commodities:
“The elasticity of substitution between all (nonproducible) liquid assets and the producible goods and services of industry is zero. Any increase in demand for liquidity (that is, a demand for nonproducible liquid financial assets to be held as a store of value), and the resulting changes in relative prices between nonproducible liquid assets and the products of industry will not divert this increase in demand for nonproducible liquid assets into a demand for producible goods and/or services” (Davidson 2002: 44).The gross substitution axiom is a fundamental assumption of neoclassical economics and the Austrians appear to tacitly assume the axiom as well. But the gross substitution axiom is wrong, and all inferences made from it in economic theories are also wrong.
This is also one of the reasons why Say’s law, in its various forms, does not work.
Davidson, P. 2002. Financial Markets, Money, and the Real World, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.
Davidson, P. 2010. “Keynes’ Revolutionary and ‘Serious’ Monetary Theory,” in R. W. Dimand, R. A. Mundell, and A. Vercelli (eds), Keynes’s General Theory after Seventy Years, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, England and New York. 241–267.
Keynes, J. M. 1936. The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, Macmillan, London.