Sunday, April 13, 2014

Keynes' Close Friends: Will's Turn.

Another commentator writes to deny Keynes' anti-Semitism. Will, the commentator, likes Antonio Garrido de la Morena's conclusion, but not his argument and instead he advances his own:
"For what it's worth, I think that Keynes's attitude toward Marx was probably a result of (A) his elitism, as you say; (B) his acculturation in the Marshallian tradition, which posited Marx and others as illegitimate heirs to Ricardo, and Marshall as the legitimate heir who had read the Great Man correctly; (C) a generally weak familiarity with the history of economic thought."
So, there, chemically pure: no anti-Semitism whatsoever.


Will's explanation is straightforward enough, but I have two questions. Fear not, I'll try to make it snappy.

First Question.
Let's assume for a moment your explanation, Will. Based on it, when Lord Keynes, oozing unshakeable confidence, wrote:
"How can I accept a doctrine [i.e. Marxism] which sets up as its bible, above and beyond criticism, an obsolete economic textbook [i.e. Das Kapital] which I know to be not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world?"
He was just faking it. He didn't really know what he was talking about (C in your explanation, Will). It's not his fault, mind you: he was only parroting Marshall and the "Marshallian tradition" (i.e. B), but instead of doing it out of anti-Semitism, he did it out of disdain for the "boorish proletariat" only (i.e. A).

Now, I like that explanation. The anti-Semitism bit aside, it doesn't seem different from mine! But (and that's the first question)… is that supposed to be a defence? I mean, one more of those and Keynes goes back to Epirus alone.

Second Question.
Unfortunately, Will, I can't accept your explanation: you (exactly like Garrido) refuse to consider the evidence of anti-Semitism and want us to follow you.

What part of the quote below, Will, penned in clear English by his Lordship himself, and included in my previous comment but ignored by you, is not obviously, undeniably, offensively, anti-Semitic?
"He [i.e. Albert Einstein] is a naughty Jew boy covered with ink-that kind of Jew-the kind which has its head above water, the sweet, tender imps who have not sublimated immortality into compound interest. He was the nicest, and the only talented person I saw in all Berlin. … Yet if I lived there, I felt I might turn anti-Semite. For the poor Prussian is too slow and heavy on his legs for the other kind of Jews, the ones who are not imps but serving devils, with small horns, pitch forks, and oily tails. It is not agreeable to see civilization so under the ugly thumbs of its impure Jews who have all the money and the power and brains."


  1. Keynes certainly had read Marx, and found he had considerable interest and application for the modern world. For example:

    "Karl Marx pointed out that the nature of production in the actual world is not, as economists seem often to suppose, a case of C- M- C‘, i. e. of exchanging commodity (or effort) for money in order to obtain another commodity (or effort). That may be the standpoint of the private consumer. But it is not the attitude of business, which is a case of M-C-M‘, i. e. of parting with money for commodity (or effort) in order to obtain more money. This is important."

    The lines you quote were written in a political context, for a political purpose. It is not an accurate summary of Keynes' relationship to Marxism.

    More generally, see Behrens (1985), “What Keynes Knew About Marx,” Studi Economici 26, pp. 3–14.

    1. Please, don't take this the wrong way, Mason, but it seems the more opinions I hear about Keynes' "allergy" to Marx, the more confirmation for my suspicion that Keynes' opinion on Marx reveals more about Keynes as a person **and** an intellectual than about Marx:

      (1) Whether His Lordship knew what he was talking about or not (more on this at the end), everybody seems essentially in agreement that his explicit opinion on Marx was influenced by all sorts of exogenous things, beyond the relative merits (or lack thereof) of Marx's argument. The specific reason changes (anti-Semitism, elitism, now you advance a more general "political purpose", either on an exclusive basis or in combination), but the three of us seem to agree these external things somehow cloud Keynes' judgment.

      Note that I am speaking of **explicit**opinion**. Let me put this clearly, hoping I am not being rude. My main concern here is what is written and what it actually says, not Keynes' unspoken purpose for writing that.


      (2) Did Keynes know his Marx? You say he did, and support your claim on literature (btw, thanks for the link to Bertocco's paper: I found it curious it doesn't mention Gesell; I couldn't lay my hands on Behrens').

      But there is literature claiming exactly the opposite:

      "Keynes’s knowledge of Marx’s economics was mainly based on secondary literature rather than on a direct acquaintance with the original writings of Marx. Joan Robinson was convinced that Keynes ‘never managed to read Marx’ (1973: ix) and that, in any case, he ‘could never make head or tail of Marx’ (1964: 96)"

      Sardoni, C. 1997. "Keynes and Marx," in A 'Second Edition' of The General Theory. G. C. Harcourt and P. Riach eds. London and New York: Routledge. The third section (Keynes's opinion of Marx) also mentions my "obsolete economic textbook" quote.

      Who should I believe?