Keynes's life and times
in Keynes and Marx
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The chapter argues that while the purpose of this book is to discuss Keynes’s ideas, these make better sense in the context of his life and times. Both the life and the times were extraordinary, and despite Keynes’s individual brilliance, there is a strong case for seeing him as a product of and spokesperson for his class and nation. Keynes’s thinking was shaped during a period of remarkable social and economic upheaval. From an age of apparent stability and complacent British imperial hegemony, he lived through two world wars, the descent into the Great Depression and times of sharpened class struggles. A liberal economics based on enlightened self-interest in which, by assumption, neither states nor unemployment existed made sense neither as theory nor ideology, and Keynes became the most prominent of many economists trying to articulate a more realistic theory, a theory which would better describe capitalism but also better defend it. By the end of this period, Keynes had become both the world’s most famous economist and a leading player in the negotiations to shape the post-WWII order – now a world where the US had displaced Britain as the dominant power. The chapter’s content highlights how Keynes’s life (1883–1946) spanned this extraordinary age. It is divided chronologically into four parts, from 1883 to 1914, to 1929, to 1939 and to 1946, marking vital stages in Keynes’s intellectual and political career.

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