The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and MoneyeBook

 
The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money
 
 
 
 
 


The State Of Long-Term Expectation

 


The State Of Long-Term Expectation


We have seen in the previous chapter that the scale of investment depends on the relation between the rate of interest and the schedule of the marginal efficiency of capital corresponding to different scales of current investment, whilst the marginal efficiency of capital depends on the relation between the supply price of a capital-asset and its prospective yield. In this chapter we shall consider in more detail some of the factors which determine the prospective yield of an asset.

The considerations upon which expectations of prospective yields are based are partly existing facts which we can assume to be known more or less for certain, and partly future events which can only be forecasted with more or less confidence. Amongst the first may be mentioned the existing stock of various types of capital-assets and of capital-assets in general and the strength of the existing consumers' demand for goods which require for their efficient production a relatively larger assistance from capital. Amongst the latter are future changes in the type and quantity of the stock of capital-assets and in the tastes of the consumer, the strength of effective demand from time to time during the life of the investment under consideration, and the changes in the wage-unit in terms of money which may occur during its life. We may sum up the state of psychological expectation which covers the latter as being the state of long-term expectation - as distinguished from the short-term expectation upon the basis of which a producer estimates what he will get for a product when it is finished if he decides to begin producing it to-day with the existing plant, which we examined in chapter 5.

It would be foolish, in forming our expectations, to attach great weight to matters which are very uncertain. It is reasonable, therefore, to be guided to a considerable degree by the facts about which we feel somewhat confident, even though they may be less decisively relevant to the issue than other facts about which our knowledge is vague and scanty. For this reason the facts of the existing situation enter, in a sense disproportionately, into the formation of our long-term expectations; our usual practice being to take the existing situation and to project it into the future, modified only to the extent that we have more or less definite reasons for expecting a change.

The state of long-term expectation, upon which our decisions are based, does not solely depend, therefore, on the most probable forecast we can make. It also depends on the confidence with which we make this forecast-on how highly we rate the likelihood of our best forecast turning out quite wrong. If we expect large changes but are very uncertain as to what precise form these changes will take, then our confidence will be weak.

The state of confidence, as they term it, is a matter to which practical men always pay the closest and most anxious attention. But economists have not analysed it carefully and have been content, as a rule, to discuss it in general terms. In particular it has not been made clear that its relevance to economic problems comes in through its important influence on the schedule of the marginal efficiency of capital. There are not two separate factors affecting the rate of investment, namely, the schedule of the marginal efficiency of capital and the state of confidence. The state of confidence is relevant because it is one of the major factors determining the former, which is the same thing as the investment demand-schedule.

There is, however, not much to be said about the state of confidence a priori. Our conclusions must mainly depend upon the actual observation of markets and business psychology. This is the reason why the ensuing digression is on a different level of abstraction from most of this book.

For convenience of exposition we shall assume in the following discussion of the state of confidence that there are no changes in the rate of interest; and we shall write, throughout the following sections, as if changes in the values of investments were solely due to changes in the expectation of their prospective yields and not at all to changes in the rate of interest at which these prospective yields are capitalised. The effect of changes in the rate of interest is, however, easily superimposed on the effect of changes in the state of confidence.





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