National Income and Flow-of-Funds Analysis

By John P. Powelson | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
ECONOMIC OBJECTIVES AND ECONOMIC ACCOUNTING

THE NEED FOR ECONOMIC ACCOUNTING

"What are a nation's economic objectives?" we ask at the beginning of Chapter 15 of this book. Forty years ago that would have been a foolish question. A nation as such neither should nor can have objectives, economists would have answered at that time. Mark Twain's remark about the weather might well have applied to economic conditions. "Everybody talks about the panic in the economy," he might have drawled, "but nobody does anything about it." At best, all people did was to erect soup lines for the victims of depressions, earthquakes, and tornadoes.

One reason for the lack of initiative is that nothing serious ever did happen to the economy. True, there were money panics and depressions, but these straightened themselves out in time. Economists were accustomed to think that prosperity followed depression just as calm follows storm; in their unconcern over calamity they busied themselves with such intellectual curiosities as why prices were what they were, why people produced what they did and consumed what they did, and what was the theory of wages. Certain of them, like Malthus, were pessimists; the evil conditions they described were chronic sores whose symptoms might be alleviated, but whose basic cause was beyond the reach of mortal men.

It is hard to say when the change began. Perhaps it was during World War I with the destruction that spread not only in physical damage but also in trade relationships and indebtedness among nations. Perhaps it went even further back than that, to the onset of bigness in business and the recognition of need for antitrust and monopoly regulation. Perhaps it never really began, but slowly grew from seeds that were with us for a long, long time, whose fruits would inevitably grow but would remain unnoticed until they had reached a certain size.

Whatever its beginnings, the change had certainly occurred by the

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