Paul Krugman worries about the macro implications of corporations scarfing up unprecedented profits while sitting on a hoard of liquid assets. Tyler Cowen doesn’t understand why:
I am confused by this argument. I would understand it (though not quite accept it) if corporations were stashing currency in the cupboard. Instead, it seems that large corporations invest the money as quickly as possible. It can be put in the bank and then lent out. It can purchase commercial paper, which boosts investment....If there is a problem, it is because no one sees especially attractive investment opportunities in great quantity.Ah, but why are these investment opportunities lacking? Could one of the reasons be that too high a fraction of national income is being funneled into corporate profits, rather than households inclined to spend it? What Cowen has trouble with is seeing all the pieces simultaneously in true macro fashion. The problem is not that corporate money can’t find its way to ultimate investment, but that too much corporate money itself reduces the pull of final demand on the level of investment. The upshot isn’t that money disappears into cupboards, but that national income is lower than it would otherwise be.
I’m sympathetic with Cowen’s struggle: I see the same difficulties in my economics classes every year. Students can usually see only one or two linkages at a time; it is really hard to see the whole thing as one simultaneous entity. It doesn’t come easy even for professional economists, since writing a set of equations is one thing, but visualizing them on an intuitive level as an integrated system is another.
The fact is, there are a lot more Tyler Cowen’s in this world than Paul Krugman’s, which is one reason why it is so difficult to get a sensible discussion of macroeconomic policy.