Money Flow Paradigm Reverses Say’s Law

Economics became widely known as what Thomas Carlyle called “the dismal science” when Thomas Malthus predicted that the population growth rate will always exceed the food supply growth rate. Therefore, there could never be too much food because the population growth would at least keep up with (subsistence) and at worst exceed (starvation) the available food supply.  Demand would always increase to consume whatever could be supplied.  This led to what has become known as Say’s Law: “Supply creates its own demand” and the basis for supply-side economics. Economic growth, according to the dismal science, was always a supply-side phenomenon. You could take demand for granted and just focus on trying to increase supply.

From population explosion to population implosion

For centuries humanity spread out across the continents and populated the far corners of the world. It seemed like humans would eventually overpopulate the planet. Eventually, we would need to find another planet to colonize to keep on growing. Population growth was a given, until it wasn’t. Almost out of the blue, the unexpected happened. As countries reached higher levels of economic development, their population growth rates dropped. You might call this a Darwinian Natural Selection Paradox where when a species becomes more dominant and powerful, instead of increasing birth rates, its has falling birth rates.

Early on a Monday morning, I was about to begin my lecture about the international income distribution to my economics class at Notre Dame. But my students were all excited. They were all talking with one another about the great football game on Saturday where Notre Dame won at the last minute with an amazing play.  I couldn’t get their attention. Finally, I said: “Today we are going to talk about birth control.” My students were shocked. “Birth control?” they exclaimed. “The professor is going to talk about birth control. This is a Catholic university. He can’t talk about birth control.” But I persisted. “What is the most effective birth control method in the world?”, I asked. The students continued murmuring in apprehension and concern. Finally, I said: “The most effective birth control method in the world is per capita income. When per capita income rises above $6,000 per capita, birth rates drop like a rock.”[1]

With rising per capita income, birth rates drop. In rich countries, they have dropped below the replacement rate of an average of 2.1 children for each woman in her reproductive years. According to data from the US Census Bureau, the population growth rate in the United States in 2021 was just one tenth of one percent, which was the slowest population growth rate since the nation’s founding in the eighteenth century. Without immigration our population would be declining.

World population declines

Japan is ahead of many other countries in the transition to an economy where an aging population is dramatically increasing the ratio of non-working elderly relative to a shrinking active workforce.   In the absence of much immigration, Japan must increase its productivity in terms of output per worker to make up for its shrinking number of workers. Japan’s population was at its maximum in 2010 with 128 million people, but shrunk to 125 million by 2021, and is expected to fall below 100 million before long. In 2022 Japan’s birth rate fell to its lowest level ever and its marriage rate fell to the lowest since World War II. Consequently, with older people living longer than ever, the elderly’s share of Japan’s population has grown substantially. The elderly generally demand fewer products and services except for health services than young families, but eventually need more personal medical services. Health costs rise while government revenues fall, and aggregate demand is sustained through massive deficit spending necessary to keep the workforce fully employed. 

Over 90 percent of the world’s countries currently have a birth rate below the population replacement rate with at least 20 countries expected to cut their native populations in half by 2100 including Japan, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Thailand, and South Korea, among others. Russia’s population peaked at around 147 million and is currently heading down toward 142 million because of an aging population, falling birth rates, relatively higher death rates including military deaths and suicides, and emigration (especially young people) exceeding immigration. China’s economy has recently reached a level of per capita income over $10,000 with its population reaching a peak and then declining significantly thereafter. Populations are increasing primarily in poor regions of Africa such as Nigeria and Ghana, where the natural resource curse[2] keeps most of the population in poverty with just over $2,000 income per capita. 

Around the turn of the millennium, millions of people in China were moving out of poverty into what for many would become what we would call a lower-middle-class lifestyle. This improvement in their economic well-being was quickly changing “the dismal science” into something not quite so dismal. As noted above, Japan had already gone through this transition and had a birth rate well below the 2.1 child per woman of child-bearing age known to be the replacement rate for maintaining a constant population. Japan, Germany, Italy, Russia, South Korea and many other developed economies already have shrinking populations. As a result of China’s historic one-child policy (which it dropped in 2016) and its rising per capita income, China’s population is reaching a peak and will start declining.

If it weren’t for immigration, the United States would have a falling population as well. To some extent American immigration has enabled the United States to offset its declining birth rate. For a given level of technology and, therefore, productivity, a declining workforce means a decline in gross domestic product (GDP) and less money from the earnings tax which funds the Social Security system. Consequently, elderly people who depend on Social Security have a vested interest in encouraging immigration, especially because they are retired and, therefore, no longer in the workforce to compete for jobs with immigrants. The elderly have a special interest in encouraging immigration or at least a guest worker program in farming such as in picking fruits and vegetables in California farms to keep the cost of food low, where food and medicine constitute a greater portion of the budgets of elderly people relative to younger people who have expanding families needing lots of basic products such as home furnishings, clothing, and cars and trucks. Of course, immigration could tend to keep wage rates low to the extent that they substitute for instead of complementing the current workforce. However, there is not a fixed number of jobs in this world to be fought over (what economists refer to as the “Lump of Labor Fallacy”). Rather, through infrastructure spending and other expenditures, governments can increase the demand for workers and, thereby, increase wage rates in addition to maintaining full employment as long as it is not so much as to cause excessive inflation.

Distorted money flow reverses Say’s Law to read: “Demand creates its own supply.”

Despite the rising deficit and health costs, and in the absence of sustained government stimulus spending over the long run, deflation with falling prices and wages threatens to dominate, rather than the widely feared and reviled inflation, as measured by the typical market basket of goods and services used to calculate the consumer price index (CPI), or, alternatively, measured as the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) index. As baby boomers die and the population declines, consumer demand shrinks, while technology expands and speeds up the global supply chain. More can be produced and moved through ever increasing automation and driverless vehicle technology. Say’s Law may have worked back in the day when populations were exploding and every crumb of supply was snatched up, but today the problem is a distorted money flow diverting money primarily to those with the lowest marginal propensities to consume (the wealthy) while leaving the poor and middle class up to their eyeballs in debt. In the United States to counter high levels of unemployment the Federal Reserve uses quantitative easing (QE) to pump money into the New York financial markets which drives up stock and bond prices to benefit the wealthy. But when inflation threatens, the Federal Reserve punishes the poor and middle class by raising the cost of borrowing, while the wealthy get a higher rate of return on their bonds and certificates of deposit. In either situation, one requiring economic expansion, or one requiring economic contraction, the Federal Reserve inadvertently acts to reward the rich and punish the poor. (See Karen Petrou’s book “The Engine of Inequality” and Christopher Leonard’s book “The Lords of Easy Money.”) The Federal Reserve is implicitly following Say’s Law and supply-side economics while ignoring the fundamental changes in globalization, productivity and population that have taken place to reverse Say’s Law to invoke demand-side economics as revealed by the money flow paradigm. Note that this is not the Federal Reserve’s fault. They have just not been given the correct set of tools by Congress to properly control the economy (as explained in my forthcoming book “Distorted Money Flow” and in earlier commentary at ).

Workers are no longer paid the value of their marginal products

In the United States before 1976 worker compensation kept up with worker productivity, but after 1976 productivity continued increasing, but worker compensation flattened out in real terms. In other words, workers are no longer paid the value of their marginal products. Consequently, over the long run, in the face of an increasing money flow distortion where a larger and larger proportion of the quantity of money flows to the wealthiest people who have the lowest marginal propensities to consume, aggregate demand threatens to fall short of aggregate supply, because the bottom 90 percent of the population can no longer buy back the value of the goods and services they are producing unless government maintains and expands its flow of stimulus money to them, paid for through deficit spending or the pre-distribution (more money to Main Street before taxes) and/or redistribution (more money to Main Street and less to Wall Street after taxes).

Money flow paradigm reveals distorted money flow that has reversed Say’s Law

In conclusion, by following the flow of money and its effects on economies everywhere, the money flow paradigm has revealed the fundamental problem of the distorted money flow that has greatly restricted demand while providing excessive amounts of money for supply. This has reversed Say’s Law which said: “Supply creates its own demand” and replaced it in facing a reality very much the opposite where “Demand creates its own supply.” The money flow paradigm has shown that where supply-side economics made sense back in the day, it no longer applies to the world as we know it which is today better represented with demand-side economics.

[1] Historically, having a child was viewed by some people as an investment, especially after the advent of agriculture, and during the industrial revolution with the use of child labor in manufacturing. Eventually, this developed into a slave trade where the costs of raising a child were bypassed with the capture of fully grown slaves from Africa. Entrepreneurs in London could invest in the slave trade where the hard work of others provided a good return on investment. Hard work paid off, but not for the slaves. Their hard work paid off for the investors. This natural product of capitalism and free enterprise was abolished through government intervention when laws and regulations were passed banning child labor and slavery. Even today companies that follow the “I-win-you-lose” mindset treat their employees as just another factor input such as coal or fuel oil and not as team members. On the other hand, most successful companies follow the “win-win” strategy and recognize the dynamic creative potential (the agency) of their employees.

[2] Ironically, countries with large deposits of natural resources, which can cause an excessive demand for their currencies, are unable to produce and sell other products at competitive prices given the high value of their currency. This has been labeled the “Dutch disease” by The Economist magazine in reference to the high price of the Dutch guilder when Dutch natural gas and oil were in great demand before the Netherlands adopted the Euro as its official currency.