Keynes was intensely political. He was an activist, a populariser of economic ideas, an influential Treasury official, and seldom for long out of touch with the prime minister of the day. Fitzgibbons argues that he ‘developed his political theories long before his economics, and the principles of his economics reflected his politics rather than the other way around’ ( 1988 : 54–5). It is probably not a simple either/or but for Keynes, economics was never a neutral scientific endeavour, and it makes sense to understand his economics in the light
This chapter and the next discuss Keynes’s philosophy and politics, particularly with a view to how they influence his economics. The division of these chapters is somewhat arbitrary, and some of the material inevitably leaks between them. Broadly, however, this chapter introduces Keynes’s philosophy, the next his politics, including his views of the state and the inter-state system.
Probably more than any major economist since Marx, Keynes thought deeply about political and philosophical issues. He was a sophisticated thinker, close
This book sees Keynes as neither villain nor hero and develops a sympathetic ‘left’ critique. Keynes was an avowedly elitist and pro-capitalist economist, whom the left should appropriate with caution. But his analysis provides insights at a level of concreteness which Marx’s analysis largely ignored and which were concerned with issues of the modern world which Marx could not have foreseen. A critical Marxist engagement can simultaneously increase the power of Keynes’s insight and enrich Marxism. To understand Keynes, whose work is liberally invoked but seldom read, the book first puts Keynes in context, explaining his biography and the extraordinary times in which he lived, his philosophy and his politics. The book describes Keynes’s developing critique of ‘the classics’, of mainstream economics as he found it, and summarises the General Theory. It shows how Keynes provides an enduringly valuable critique of orthodoxy but vital insights rather than a genuinely general theory. The book then develops a Marxist appropriation of Keynes’s insights. It argues that Marxist analysis of unemployment, of money and interest, and of the role of the state can be enriched through such a critical engagement. The book addresses Keynesianism after Keynes, critically reviewing the practices that came to be known as ‘Keynesianism’ and different theoretical traditions that have claimed his legacy. It considers the crisis of the 1970s, the subsequent anti-Keynesian turn, the economic and ecological crises of the twenty-first century, and the prospects of returning to Keynes and Keynesianism.
This chapter cannot detail Keynes’s life. There are probably already more biographies than are strictly necessary, including many good ones. Skidelsky’s ( 1983 , 1992 , 2000 ) huge three-volume study seems particularly authoritative and is raided liberally in what follows. The purpose of this book is to discuss Keynes’s theories, but ideas make better sense in the context of the life and times of the people who articulate them. In Keynes’s case, both the life the times are extraordinary and despite Keynes’s individual brilliance, there is a
Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money is a notoriously difficult book, which this chapter tries to explain as simply as possible. Keynes could be a great stylist and the General Theory’s many quotable passages have enhanced its appeal. Elsewhere, however, Keynes’s prose is dense and the arguments highly technical and convoluted. Sympathetic critics give a flavour of the difficulty. Heilbroner says the book has ‘a forbidding title … and a still more forbidding interior’ ( 1999 : 269). De Vroey and Hoover see it as ‘elegant
Keynesian scholarship is enormous and diverse. It is impossible to know, much less to present, this contradictory richness in a single chapter. Rather than feigning an overview of the literature, the chapter sketches three broad trajectories to make an argument that each of these strands of the Keynesian critique remain limited by an ambiguous and unsatisfactory break with neo-classical economics. The problem can perhaps be couched in terms of the analogy with physics mentioned in the Introduction. Keynes saw his theory as general in the same
: Results, Management and the Humanitarian Affairs Agenda
( London : Humanitarian Affairs Team &
Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute ).
A. ( 1971 ),
Selections from the Prison Notebooks ( London :
Lawrence and Wishart Limited ).
P. ( 2017 ), Age of
Anger: A History of the Present ( Milton Keynes :
Allen Lane ).
S. ( 2010 ), The
Last Utopia: Human Rights in History ( Cambridge, MA :
Harvard University Press
J. ( 1986 ),
Liberalism ( Milton Keynes : Open
University Press ).
Hafner-Burton , E.
M. ( 2013 ), Making Human Rights
a Reality ( Princeton, NJ : Princeton
University Press ).
S. ( 2006 ), Keepers
of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International ( Ithaca,
NY : Cornell University
S. ( 2013 ) The
Endtimes of Human Rights ( Ithaca, NY :
Cornell University Press
Towards a critical but constructive appraisal of Keynes’s thought
There are good reasons to revisit Keynes. The global financial and economic crisis of the 2000s punctured some of the hubris around unrestrained markets. The coronavirus crisis again confirmed that governments could mobilise resources to counter both the disease and economic contraction. Keynesian ideas regained credibility and found new audiences. Much of what Keynes said in the 1930s seems to fit: against austerity, about economic uncertainty, about money and financial assets, about income inequality and effective demand, about the need for balance in the
This chapter introduces economics as Keynes encountered it and then how his own work before the General Theory begins to break from orthodoxy.
Keynes depicts almost all his predecessors, at least those he considered worth discussing, as ‘classical’ economists. He acknowledges that this stretches the concept, but it allows him to include not just ‘Ricardo and James Mill and their predecessors …[but also] the followers of Ricardo’ ( 1973 : footnote 3). His understanding therefore includes the later marginalist or ‘neo-classical’ writers