(From part i)
For convenience, let's repeat the argument presented last, adding some emphasis:
"Answering the question 'Where do profits come from?' requires a macroeconomic perspective. Profits are produced by specific macroeconomic flows of funds. Unfortunately, the macro perspective necessary to investigate these flows can be elusive because of a logical trap: the tendency to assume wrongly that circumstances that apply to the familiar case of the single firm also apply to the entire business sector.
"To illustrate the problem of applying a microeconomic perspective to a macro situation, consider the following. As every entrepreneur knows, employee costs are a major influence on a firm's profits. Cutting payroll expenses means a more robust bottom line. Accordingly, it is commonly believed that when firms throughout the economy hold down wages, they improve aggregate profits. However, for the whole business sector, cutting employee compensation reduces revenue as well as expenses. Less worker pay means less personal income and, therefore, less personal spending on the goods and services sold by businesses. Therefore, cutting payrolls will not directly increase corporate profits".
Although less attractive than the figures in the Levy publication, let's study that argument from a strictly macroeconomic perspective, using -- however -- traditional diagrams of circular flow of the economy, much in the way Kalecki's equation is derived. Hopefully, this shall protect us from the ubiquitous fallacy of composition.
That's the baseline scenario, for a closed capitalist economy, without government:
It's equivalent to Figure 2 of the Levy publication, except that this diagram, unlike Figure 2, includes flows of goods and services and factors of production (in red) and also differentiates factor incomes. (For purposes of comparison, the link to the Levy publication.)
Firms (in fact, capitalists who own them) decide how to spend Y dollars: they pay workers W in wages for labour (L), and they pay themselves P in profits, for the use of their capital (K); together W + P = Y (GNP by income source). The egg hatched.
Households (workers and capitalists) have Y dollars to spend; they pay firms Cw (for consumption out of wages), Cp (for consumption out of profits), and I for investment goods. [*] Firms again have Y dollars for the next cycle. Together, Cw + Cp + I = Y (GNP by expenditure). The chicken laid a new egg.
Let's examine something.
If workers spend what they get, as Kalecki writes, then Cw = W.
Again setting GNP (by income) = GNP (by expenditure) and subtracting W from both sides, we find Kalecki's simplest equation:
(2) P = Cp + I.
Capitalists get what they spend. That's the same equation (1) from last time.
GNP (by income) was re-distributed, but it does not change in aggregate:
GNP' = W' + P' = (W - D) + (P + D) = W + P = GNP.
As employment and capital remain constant, there is no reason to believe physical output changed.
Households in aggregate are in possession of Y dollars.
Workers still spend what they get:
Cw' = W' = W - D = Cw - D < Cw.
But they spend less than before: i.e. their contribution to aggregate demand falls, exactly as the Levy publication would have it.
But capitalists gained what income the workers lost: P' = P + D > P. Furthermore, there is physical capital, labour and output enough to cover their increased demand, should they choose to increase it: this available capacity was made possible by the workers' smaller aggregate demand. All of this seems fairly evident, but you wouldn't know it from the quote above.
But, would capitalists spend this extra income? Well, why not? For one, I see no reason capitalists' demand should not cover the fall in workers' demand, such as to keep aggregate demand constant. Maybe one could add an additional assumption to force that result, but the Levy team did not -- explicitly -- add anything, let alone defend it. (More on this in the concluding post of this series.)
For another, according to the interpretation given to equation (1) workers' demand is irrelevant to capitalists' profit, which depends only on their own spending decisions.
Therefore, I'll conclude that in aggregate, consumption, too, was re-distributed. Some consume more, some less. But there was no recession: aggregate demand, output and employment did not change.
Finally, we find (consistent with Kalecki's dictum: capitalists get what they spend) that:
(3) P' = Cp + I + D.
Compare equations (2) and (3). This is precisely the opposite of the Levy claim above ("cutting payrolls will not directly increase corporate profits"): payroll cuts did increase corporate profits. Every single dollar lost to workers (- D) went to capitalists' pockets (+ D) and the world did not come to an end, GNP and employment were unaffected. Only income and consumption were re-distributed.
And this result was arrived at using macroeconomic flows of funds. Fallacies of composition, anyone?
So, what gives?
In the next and final post in this series we'll discuss the reasons for this paradoxical result, with numerical examples. (Hint: re-read the quote opening, paying particular attention to the two sentences emphasised.)
[*] Cw + Cp = C, in the popular macroeconomic convention for private consumption.
(To be continued)