Monday, 1 January 2018

Keynes: Reader's Goodwill, Intelligence, and Co-operation

"A final difference was one of intellectual manners. By the early 1930s, Keynes and his followers felt a sense of urgency, almost of desperation, to get their ideas accepted. It became the hallmark of Keynes's coterie to regard every economist outside Cambridge as mad or stupid; argumentative good manners were sacrificed to world salvation. On the other hand, there is near unanimous testimony to Hayek's intellectual hospitality."

There's no dearth of goodwill, intelligence, and co-operation towards Keynes and his coterie in the essay where that passage comes from. His author does not number among Keynes' harshest critics. What one cannot see there is goodwill, intelligence or co-operation towards those "outside Cambridge". They were simply "mad or stupid".

Believe it or not, one finds that passage in Robert Skidelsky's 2006 essay "Hayek versus Keynes: The Road to Reconciliation".

John Toye, in his 2000 book "Keynes on Population", chronicles in excruciating detail a couple of public controversies Keynes sustained on trade (and demographics and Eugenics, implicitly). Referring to Keynes' first controversy in 1910-11, Toye writes: "From the beginning, he [i.e. Keynes] did not shy away from public polemics on issues related to the quality of population."

That's not an overstatement, by any means. Keynes enjoyed playing hardball. In that book Toye demonstrated enough goodwill, intelligence, and co-operation to earn positive reviews from prominent Keynesians, even though he concluded that:
"To propose that Keynes was afflicted by a considerable coarseness of sensibility is no doubt controversial and will provoke objections from those who are interested in Keynes as a towering contemporary cultural icon. Is it not sacrilege, they will doubtless ask, to aim such criticism at a member of the cultural pantheon? This charge is groundless. It deserves not only to be rejected in the name of free enquiry, but also to be turned back on those who make it. If the question of sacrilege were to be raised, I would contend that it was committed fifty years ago. Those who successfully established Keynes as a secular saint committed it. Those who wrongly attributed to Keynes an all embracing love of humanity committed it. Those who raised him from the status of a mere wise man to the rank of a Prophet of the Age committed it. That was the impiety. That was the hubris. That was the error that must now be redressed."
That controversy, first in Keynes' long record of controversies, saw him taking Alfred Marshall's side against Karl Pearson. Keynes was 27, Pearson 53. In a private letter to a friend, Keynes apparently wrote of Pearson:  "[T]he man is a liar".

That was beyond merely convincing his opponents.

Indeed, Keynes was not beyond convicting his opponents or even those among his followers who gained his disapproval. Paul Samuelson, Abba Lerner and maybe even Lionel Robbins could have provided testimony of that.

One need not repeat Keynes' numerous disparaging comments on Marx, Marxism and Marxists. Joan Robinson, who wasn't even remotely a Marxist and who knew Keynes personally described Keynes' attitude towards Marxism in the preface to the second edition to her "Essay on Marxian Economics":
"In those days 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."
Keynes never gave much goodwill, intelligence, and co-operation to others.


That, of course, does not deny Keynes' intellectual achievements. A man can be despicable without being inept. Further, in his defence one must say he was neither the first nor the last to act that way.

There's much to say for this plea for the reader's goodwill, intelligence, and co-operation, to be sure, but I find it a bit rich that Keynes, of all people, had the gall to make it.

03/01/2018. By the way, in the biographical notes of Joseph E. Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, delivered on occasion of being awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences (2001 and 1998, respectively) Cambridge does not emerge as a model of intellectual hospitality, even after the world had been "saved". If one believes their recollections, maybe outsiders were no longer seen as "mad or stupid" (or liars), but they were treated with serious reservations. Nor was Cambridge a big, happy family: there were many "outsiders" inside Cambridge.


  1. Oftopix just saw last jedi
    awesome Ur gonna love it
    --the oo

  2. So everybody keeps telling me. :-)

    The other day I went to the cinemas at George St. There were seats for a $30 session (yes, thirty bucks; un-fucking-believable) and for a $22. That's too steep for me.

    If people keep recommending it, maybe I'll try next Tuesday. They still have the Tuesday discount, don't they?