Johannes Witteveen on IS-LM

H.J. (Johannes) Witteveen (1921) is best known as managing director of the IMF in 1973-1978.

Please note that the Bretton Woods Institutions IMF and Worldbank have wrong names. J.M. Keynes already complained to the Americans: “The Fund is a bank and the Bank is a fund !” (no exact quote). It would be better that the IMF is renamed to World Central Bank and the Worldbank into World Investment Bank, since this would strengthen their role and position also in public perception and discussion.

Following the First Oil Crisis 1973-74 Witteveen created the Supplementary Financing Facility, unofficially known as the Witteveen facility, to channel revenues from oil producers back to the consuming countries, to prevent a liquidity crisis amongst those consumers. The IMF book by James Boughton The silent revolutionassigns a later major role to Witteveen’s successors Jacques de Larosiere and Michel Camessus, but underestimates how Witteveen paved the way.

In the current crisis of 2007+, Witteveen pointed to requirements for a New Bretton Woods (Nov 20 2008, Financial Times). For Europe he advised a similar “facility” again by the IMF rather than the ECB (Aug 22 2011, Financial times, Business Insider).

Recently, Witteveen looked at the Dutch export surplus and the need for an investment strategy in The Netherlands itself.

We can observe that the Dutch surplus exists since 1981. When Germany started copying that, Southern Europe got into problems. I tend to agree with Witteveen on IS-LM but advise at the level of each nation: (a) an Economic Supreme Court, (b) National Investment Banks (NIBs), (c) the overall approach to reduce unemployment as discussed in my book DRGTPE.

My pre-crisis book is Definition & Reality in the General Theory of Political Economy (DRGTPE). My 2007+ papers on the crisis are collected in Common Sense: Boycott Holland (CSBH). A boycott of Holland is warranted because of the censorship of economic science by the Dutch government. That censorship pertains to the issue discussed below, and professor Witteveen’s discussion suffers seriously from not having the material under censorship.

Witteveen had been professor at Erasmus University since 1948. Apparently he never got time for an official farewell, and last week the old fox took the opportunity of a Valedictory Lecture to gather an audience and to present his analysis on that Dutch investment strategy (May 15 2014). The Lecture was published by the Dutch economics journal Economisch Statistische Berichten (ESB May 17 2014 p294-298). I thank the editors for permission to reproduce the lecture with my comments.

Cllick here to read the lecture and my comments on my website.

Witteveen also wrote books on universal sufism (not to be confused with islamic sufism), see his personal website. As a personal remark on my side: my father is also from 1921 but has stopped reading and writing. I am much impressed by Witteveen’s command of economics. Admittedly, Keynes solved these issues by IS-LM itself already in 1936 and by his proposal for an international trade currency (bancor). Our main problem since 1945 has been that politicians arrogantly proclaim to know it better.

Witteveen’s Valedictory Lecture is a major event in economics. It deserves to be treated with much respect and critical comment. It shows that the problem is not lack of knowledge from economic science but that the problem lies in the structure of decision making about economic policy.


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