The Great Recession of 2008 restored John Maynard Keynes to prominence. After decades when the Keynesian revolution seemed to have been forgotten, the great British theorist was suddenly everywhere. The New York Times asked, “What would Keynes have done?” The Financial Times wrote of “the undeniable shift to Keynes.” Le Monde pronounced the economic collapse Keynes’s “revenge.” Two years later, following bank bailouts and Tea Party fundamentalism, Keynesian principles once again seemed misguided or irrelevant to a public focused on ballooning budget deficits. In this readable account, Backhouse and Bateman elaborate the misinformation and caricature that have led to Keynes’s repeated resurrection and interment since his death in 1946.
Keynes’s engagement with social and moral philosophy and his membership in the Bloomsbury Group of artists and writers helped to shape his manner of theorizing. Though trained as a mathematician, he designed models based on how specific kinds of people (such as investors and consumers) actually behave—an approach that runs counter to the idealized agents favored by economists at the end of the century.
Keynes wanted to create a revolution in the way the world thought about economic problems, but he was more open-minded about capitalism than is commonly believed. He saw capitalism as essential to a society’s well-being but also morally flawed, and he sought a corrective for its main defect: the failure to stabilize investment. Keynes’s nuanced views, the authors suggest, offer an alternative to the polarized rhetoric often evoked by the word “capitalism” in today’s political debates.
This very readable book makes the actual historical Keynes and his ideas accessible to modern readers, whose views are so often formed by misleading myths about him, his work, and its significance.
The authors' interpretation of Keynes is broadly convincing, not least in challenging the way that his own arguments have been misleadingly stereotyped by subsequent economists. It succeeds in shifting our perspectives on the nature of Keynes's achievement. It recognizes his intellectual greatness while acknowledging the flaws and lacunae in his various arguments. And it brings out his own reluctance to police a new 'Keynesian orthodoxy' and his tolerance of various approaches.
An excellent introduction to the thought of John Maynard Keynes. Lucid and nontechnical, it explains how, because Keynes was such a different kind of economist--eclectic, practical rather than formalistic, worldly, intuitive--from the formalistic academic economists of the next generation, who came to dominate the economics profession, he was misunderstood by his successors. They created and later discredited 'Keynesianism'--a distorted version of Keynes's thought. Backhouse and Bateman explain that to cope with our current economic problems, we need to restore Keynes's original vision.
[A] timely and provocative reappraisal.
Backhouse and Bateman provide a useful context for the many policymakers, journalists, economists, and historians who have recently rediscovered, rehabilitated, or revived Keynes's thought. The duo portray Keynes as a nontrivial personality who was in equal measure economist and moral philosopher, revolutionary and conservative. The brief volume flows with merciful grace through the particulars of Keynesian economic thought, interweaving historical, biographical, and technical details. The Keynes who emerges is not a one-dimensional deficit-spending proponent but a complex philosopher-economist who earnestly calls for perpetual revolution of capitalism to preserve this imperfect but best-available economic system.
Elegantly written and extremely thoughtful...This is not a technical economic tract; this is a book for someone who wants to understand how Keynes' ideas and habits of thought fit together (it includes a useful bibliographic essay to the Keynes industry at the end). While it deals with the broad outline of Keynes' economic ideas, particularly in the '30s when he published his masterpiece, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, it also tackles the philosophical contexts that shaped his thinking and what the authors call "Keynes' ambiguous revolution," that is, how those ideas were revised and reshaped after World War II into a kind of orthodoxy, then rejected in the stagflation '70s, then embraced, debated and reinterpreted up to our own deeply confusing era. This is extremely useful, particularly in an age where we are once again hearing from movements like Occupy Wall Street that capitalism needs to be renovated or eliminated, or when, in a time of often-vicious partisanship, Keynes and Keynesianism is tossed around as a term of blackest opprobrium or unassailable wisdom...There's a lot packed in this small volume. Keynes' ambition, his worldly views and his diagnostic tendencies all lie behind the book's seemingly contradictory title: Capitalist Revolutionary...Writing about someone like Keynes who personally wrote so much, so well, must be a daunting task. Backhouse and Bateman more than keep up, not by competing with Keynes, but by letting him speak, in all his many voices. Their Keynes is not a secret socialist, or closet communist; not an apostate from classical economics; not some avatar of permissiveness and inflation. As they make clear in their discussion of Keynesianism after Keynes, his relationship with his own legacy is complex and ambiguous. He was not a man to be pinned down because he recognized that the world, which includes matters of economics as well as so much more, is neither simple, straightforward nor apprehensible by time-bound men armed with doctrines and dogmas. That alone is a lesson well worth revisiting regularly.
From Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes, the great economists of the past saw economics as a historical, philosophical and, above all, moral discipline...The first step to good capitalism, therefore, is to re-moralize economics. In their tantalizingly brief but thought-provoking study of Keynes, Roger E. Backhouse and Bradley W. Bateman have started to do just that. Keynes, they show, was much more than an astonishingly innovative economic theorist and accomplished man of affairs. He was also a moral philosopher...He abhorred the utilitarian would world view that lay at the heart of classical economic theory. The fundamental utilitarian dogma--that markets are driven by rational, individual utility maximizers--seemed to him morally repulsive as well as factually incorrect. He thought that capitalism was the least bad economic system available but he also thought it was morally defective.
- 208 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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