If the price in the market is “sticky,” it may not adjust immediately to the change in demand, resulting in a large decrease in the quantity of houses that are produced and sold. What about the effects on other markets? As before, a decrease in demand for housing will cause construction workers to lose their jobs. If wages are sticky, these workers may become unemployed for a significant period of time. Their income decreases, and they consume fewer goods and services. So, for example, the demand for beef in the economy might decrease because unemployed construction workers buy cheaper meat. This means that the demand for beef shifts inward. The reduction in activity in the construction sector leads to a reduction in activity in the beef sector. And the process does not stop there—the reduced income of cattle farmers and slaughterhouse workers will, in turn, spill over to other sectors. What has happened to the self-stabilizing economy described earlier? First, sticky wages and prices impede the incentives for workers to flow from one sector to another. If wages are sticky, then the reduction in labor demand in the construction sector does not translate into lower wages. Thus there is no incentive for other sectors to expand. Instead, these other sectors, such as food, see a decrease in demand for their product, which leads them to contract as well. Second, the decrease in income means that it is possible to see decreases in demand across the entire economy. It no longer need be the case that reductions in spending in one area lead to increased spending in other sectors. The Circular Flow of Income during the Great Depression So far, we have told this story in terms of individual markets. The circular flow helps us see how these markets come together in the aggregate economy. When we looked at the markets for housing and beef, we saw that a decrease in demand for housing led to a decrease in demand for labor and, hence, to lower labor income. We also saw that as income earned in the housing market decreased, spending decreased in the beef market. Such linkages are at the heart of the circular flow of income. Household spending on goods and services is made possible by a flow of income from firms. Firms’ hiring of labor is made possible by a flow of revenue from households. Keynes argued that this was a delicate process that might be prone to malfunction in a variety of ways. Households are willing to buy goods and services if they have a reasonable expectation that they can earn income by selling labor. During the Great Depression, however, household expectations were surely quite pessimistic. Individuals without jobs believed that their chances of finding new employment were low. Those lucky enough to be employed knew that they might soon be out of work. Thus households believed it was possible, even likely, that they would receive low levels of income in the future. In response, they cut back their spending. Meanwhile, the willingness of firms to hire labor depends on their expectation that they can sell the goods they manufacture. When firms anticipate a low level of demand for their products, they do not want to produce much, so they do not need many workers. Current employees are laid off, and there are few new hires. Through the circular flow, the pessimism of households and the pessimism of firms interact. Firms do not hire workers, so household income is low, and households are right not to spend much. Households do not spend, so demand for goods and services is low, and firms are right not to hire many workers. The pessimistic beliefs of firms and workers become self-fulfilling prophecies. The Aggregate Expenditure Model In the remainder of this section, we build a framework around the ideas that we have just put forward. The framework focuses on the determinants of aggregate spending because, in this approach, the output of the economy is determined not by the level of potential output but by the level of total spending. This model is based around the idea of sticky prices—or, more precisely, it tells us what the output of the economy will be, at a given value of the overall price level. Once we understand this, we can add in the effects of changing prices. Earlier, we introduced the national income identity: production = consumption + investment + government purchases + net exports.
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