On several occasions I've referred to Robert Nelson's Economics as Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond. Philip Pilkington provides an excellent review and critique, explaining neoclassical general and partial equilibrium v. Wynne Godley's stock-flow equilibrium.
Central to the Old Keynesian and Post Keynesian v. Neoclassical and New Keynesian controversy, as well as calling out economic moralizing for what it is.
Philip Pilkington: Purging Economics of Religion – A Rebuttal to Robert Nelson’s Defence of The Great Chain of Beingg
The only way I can think to improve on this post is to add a quotation from Randy Wray about High Priest Paul Samuelson:
The reaction to our post on the nine myths also reminded me of an interview Nobel winner Paul Samuelson gave to Mark Blaug (in his film on Keynes, “John Maynard Keynes: Life/Ideas/Legacy 1995″). There Samuelson said:
“I think there is an element of truth in the view that the superstition that the budget must be balanced at all times [is necessary]. Once it is debunked [that] takes away one of the bulwarks that every society must have against expenditure out of control. There must be discipline in the allocation of resources or you will have anarchistic chaos and inefficiency. And one of the functions of old fashioned religion was to scare people by sometimes what might be regarded as myths into behaving in a way that the long-run civilized life requires. We have taken away a belief in the intrinsic necessity of balancing the budget if not in every year, [then] in every short period of time. If Prime Minister Gladstone came back to life he would say “uh, oh what you have done” and James Buchanan argues in those terms. I have to say that I see merit in that view.”
In other words, the need to balance the budget over some time period determined by the movements of celestial objects, or over the course of a business cycle is a myth, an old-fashioned religion. But that superstition is seen as necessary because if everyone realizes that government is not actually constrained by the necessity of balanced budgets, then it might spend “out of control”, taking too large a percent of the nation’s resources. Samuelson sees merit in that view.
It is difficult not to agree with him. But what if the religious belief in budget balance makes it impossible to spend on the necessary scale to achieve the public purpose? In the same film James Buchanan argues that the budget ought to be balanced except in wartime—and while he does not explicitly endorse Samuelson’s argument that this is nothing but a useful myth, he does imply that there is no financial/economic/solvency reason for balancing the budget. Rather, it is to keep government in check, to ensure it does not grow and absorb too many of the nation’s resources. Ironically, Buchanan’s willingness to deficit-spend in wartime seems to imply that the US ought to almost always run deficits since we are almost always at war with someone. Hence, he seems to advocate nearly permanent budget deficits—no doubt unintentionally. Many might question that position on the argument that if it is OK to run deficits to destroy one’s enemy then it surely makes sense to run deficits to build a strong nation. Indeed, older readers of this blog will remember that our nation got interstate hiways on the argument that this is good for national defense, and that many of us got through college on “national defense student loans”. [emphasis added]