Back in the days when I was learning economics and central banking, the General Theory had cast fresh light on old problems. The intellectual contributions were immense. But popularized, bowdlerized, and pressed to extremes, it lost fashion for good reason.
The monetarists – emphasizing old truths in modern clothing – have provided a large service in redressing the balance. It is in pressing the point to an extreme that the danger lies – the impression that only money matters and that a fixed rate of reserve expansion can answer most of the complicated problems of economic policy.
In a way, I suppose full confidence in a simple, unified view of economic policy is a comforting thing: a kind of security blanket in an uncertain world. But Alfred North Whitehead, in a different context, once pointed to the danger: “There are no whole truths; all truths are half truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.”
He overstated the case. The practical man cut adrift from our sense of what is the greater truth – distinguishing, if you will, the one-eighth truths from the seven-eighths truths – will soon lose his way. But in assessing those truths, he can never afford to lose sight of the messy reality of the world in which we live.