Thursday, 24 April 2014

Chris Dillow: Keynes' anti-Semitism.

Here I was, making a big deal of "my" discovery of Keynes' anti-Semitism not knowing Chris Dillow and others wrote about it 5 years ago. Dillow:
"In a cryptic footnote here (pdf, via), Paul Samuelson refers to Keynes' anti-Semitism."
So, credit where credit is due.

Dillow makes some pertinent observations, which one should keep in mind before passing judgment on his Lordship's work:
"Even Keynes' admirers (such as Skidelsky and Moggridge) agree that Keynes was anti-Semitic - though in his favour it doesn't seem to have stopped him supporting Jewish refugees or even Zionism."
While I suspect Lord Skidelsky and Prof. Donald E. Moggridge aren't exactly representative of the universe of Keynes' admirers, I would leave things at that.
"And of course, his view of Jews is irrelevant in assessing the relevance of Keynesian economics today; we should avoid the 'poisoning the well' fallacy".
Again, Dillow is right (mostly). Keynes' views on Jews certainly seem irrelevant in assessing the role of aggregate demand in the business cycle, for instance, or the usefulness of fiscal stimulus; but they are highly relevant in assessing other parts of Keynes' legacy.

Ironically, a leading Jewish American disciple of Keynes, an avowedly anti-Marxist one, shows how his Lordship's anti-Semitic fixation could cloud his judgment. (I'll remind readers of my contention that Keynes' anti-Semitism had an influence in his criticism of Marx: link.)

The disciple is Paul Samuelson, whose "cryptic footnote" Dillow mentioned above (my emphasis):
"Keynes's visceral social repugnance would interest future historians less if it never contaminated his intellectual judgments. However early on, like Bertrand Russell, Keynes did recognize barbaric evils in Lenin's utopia. Strange though that instead of discovering the key role of Georgian Josef Stalin, it was the beastliness of Leon (Lev) Trotsky that Keynes's pen picks up on". (Paul Samuelson. "A few remembrances of Friedrich von Hayek (1899–1992)," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 69 (2009) 1–4, page 3 footnote)

Joan Robinson, a leading member of the English branch of the Keynesian family, describes her fellow economists' attitude towards Marx (Joan Robinson. "Preface to the second edition". An Essay on Marxian Economics. Macmillan. 1966. pp. vi-vii.):
"In those days [early 1940s] most of my academic colleagues in England thought that to study Marx was a quaint pastime (though Keynes, who was allergic to Marx's writings, received my Essay kindly) and in the United States it was disreputable".
Rational criticism, however, didn't explain that attitude:
"The academics did not even pretend to understand Marx. It seemed to me that, apart from prejudice, a barrier was created for them by his nineteenth-century metaphysical habits of thought, which are alien to a generation brought up to inquire into the meaning of meaning". (Emphasis mine)
I wonder to what extent that applies to Keynes himself and to what extent things changed since.

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