Sunday, February 22, 2015

On the decline of international competitiveness

From Michael Hudson's How economic theory came to ignore the role of debt (PDF, 23 pages):
An important predecessor of Adam Smith, the merchant Mathew Decker, emigrated from Holland to settle in London in 1702. In the preface to his influential Essay on the Causes of the Decline of the Foreign Trade, published in 1744, he attributed the deterioration in Britain’s international competitiveness to the taxes levied to carry the interest charges on its public debt. These taxes threatened to price its exports out of world markets by imposing a “prodigious artificial Value . . . upon our Goods to the hindrance of their Sale abroad.” Taxes on food and other essentials pushed up the subsistence wage level that employers were obliged to pay, and hence the prices they had to charge as compared to those of less debt-ridden nations.

The cost of finance, in other words, drove up taxes, which drove up the cost of non-financial goods and services. This pushed up "subsistence wages" at home and reduced competitiveness in foreign markets.

Mathew Decker had in mind the costs associated with public debt. But all debt has costs that similarly affect prices at home and abroad.

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