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 and the next discuss Keynes’sphilosophy 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’sphilosophy, 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
Towards a critical but constructive appraisal of Keynes’s thought
’s assumptions. Personally, he served as a government official rather than just an academic economist and would befriend most of the prime ministers of the day.
Chapter 2 examines Keynes’sphilosophy, stressing what it describes as an inconsistent idealism and individualism. From his student days, Keynes was profoundly influenced by the conservative British philosopher G.E. Moore. Primarily an ethicist, Moore rejected a crude Benthamite utilitarianism, a rejection which Keynes would continue to celebrate, not least for inoculating him against socialism. For Keynes ‘it was
become potentially precarious, not mechanically determined by structural factors. However, as discussed in Chapter 2 , it is not clear that Keynes himself gives quite such a leading role to uncertainty, and he also endorses some more mechanical reinterpretations of his theory (Backhouse and Bateman 2011 ). Keynes’sphilosophy need not send us into a world of radical indeterminism. In an apparent climb-down from some earlier hyperbole, Keynes continues that the rate of interest is a ‘highly conventional, rather than a highly psychological phenomenon. For its actual