Bill Dunn
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Economics before the General Theory
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This chapter introduces economics as Keynes encountered it and then how his own work before the General Theory begins to break from orthodoxy. First, it discusses the classics as they were understood by Marx, for whom ‘classics’ was a qualified term of approval, as distinct from the ‘vulgar’ school of mere apologists. It briefly identifies what was lost from this tradition in the later marginalist revolution in terms of its treatment of economic aggregates and economic interrelation, which Keynes substantially recovers, and in terms of the classics’ focus on production and growth, in which Keynes has little interest. This first section then discusses the beliefs which Keynes criticised, the adherence to the quantity theory of money and Say’s Law. The second section introduces Jevons’s and Marshall’s marginalism, their vision of an exchange economy, the concepts of utility and disutility, and their attitude to money, production and labour. Keynes has a somewhat ambivalent relationship: both in and against this tradition. There is a sense in which he can point out its failings precisely through a more careful application of its principles. The third section discusses Keynes’s own early work, particularly the Tract on Monetary Reform and the Treatise on Money. Keynes would retrospectively see himself as having still been orthodox when he wrote these earlier books, but they anticipate important later themes and the Treatise, in particular, sometimes makes more radical departures, and attempts a more dynamic analysis, than would the General Theory.

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