This essay was originally published as a minibook by the Constitutional
An adequate theory of depressions, then, must account for the tendency of the economy to move through successive booms and busts, showing no sign of settling into any sort of smoothly moving, or quietly progressive, approximation of an equilibrium situation. In particular, a theory of depression must account for the mammoth cluster of errors which appears swiftly and suddenly at a moment of economic crisis, and lingers through the depression period until recovery. And there is a third universal fact that a theory of the cycle must account for. Invariably, the booms and busts are much more intense and severe in the "capital goods industries" – the industries making machines and equipment, the ones producing industrial raw materials or constructing industrial plants – than in the industries making consumers' goods. Here is another fact of business cycle life that must be explained – and obviously can't be explained by such theories of depression as the popular underconsumption doctrine: That consumers aren't spending enough on consumer goods. For if insufficient spending is the culprit, then how is it that retail sales are the last and the least to fall in any depression, and that depression really hits such industries as machine tools, capital equipment, construction, and raw materials? Conversely, it is these industries that really take off in the inflationary boom phases of the business cycle, and not those businesses serving the consumer. An adequate theory of the business cycle, then, must also explain the far greater intensity of booms and busts in the non-consumer goods, or "producers' goods," industries.
The problem comes as soon as the workers and landlords – largely the former, since most gross business income is paid out in wages – begin to spend the new bank money that they have received in the form of higher wages. For the time-preferences of the public have not really gotten lower; the public doesn't want to save more than it has. So the workers set about to consume most of their new income, in short to reestablish the old consumer/saving proportions. This means that they redirect the spending back to the consumer goods industries, and they don't save and invest enough to buy the newly-produced machines, capital equipment, industrial raw materials, etc. This all reveals itself as a sudden sharp and continuing depression in the producers' goods industries. Once the consumers reestablished their desired consumption/investment proportions, it is thus revealed that business had invested too much in capital goods and had underinvested in consumer goods. Business had been seduced by the governmental tampering and artificial lowering of the rate of interest, and acted as if more savings were available to invest than were really there. As soon as the new bank money filtered through the system and the consumers reestablished their old proportions, it became clear that there were not enough savings to buy all the producers' goods, and that business had misinvested the limited savings available. Business had overinvested in capital goods and underinvested in consumer products.