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Radicals generally have never abandoned this critique of Keynes, and over time it has become axiomatic for some—so obvious it requires no explanation. It has also been widely endorsed beyond the Left.

As Albert O. This much is taken for granted, even by some of the most orthodox of contemporary anti-Keynesians. Heated debate continues, certainly, but not over what he was trying to do. The questions today concern how he meant to do it, whether his arguments were politically acceptable, theoretically sound, and realizable.

In fact, the story is considerably more complicated. He was, to be sure, a capitalist, and he believed that something like capitalism—although in a more or less radically different form—would be a central pillar in the construction of more robust, peaceful, and secure social formation. But to read his commitment to capitalism as his priority is to misunderstand his politics and that of many elites of his time. He understood capitalism to be intimately interwoven with but not identical to civilization. That Keynes could imagine no better mode of production than capitalism by which to advance civilization should in no way suggest that he thought classical liberal capitalism anything less than fatal or even of special merit in its own right.

This is a question of the underexamined political bases of Keynesian thought, of which we should think of Keynes as neither the only practitioner nor even the first. He is, rather, one prominent contributor to a well-established historical tradition. This can help us understand not only what Keynes was trying to save, why he came to save it, and what he came to save it from, but also the origins of his efforts and why and how they continue to matter enormously.

In effect, it can help us understand what made Keynes a Keynesian, while also, I think, helping us under- stand why so many rediscover the Keynesian in themselves each time capitalism threatens to fall apart. He disagreed strongly with the radical Left and was particularly wary of the Soviet experiment for aesthetic as much as political economic reasons. But in contrast to much of the rhetoric one hears from the curates of contemporary neoliberal liturgy, he knew there was nothing innately eternal or natural about capitalism.

Like them, he too took these as endemic to modern capitalism. Keynes was definitively not committed to capitalism at all costs. His most passionate political commitment was his antifascism, but he never fooled himself into thinking fascism was or could ever be noncapitalist. What Keynes constructed to address these concerns is a reluctantly radical, immanent critique of liberalism, a critique with a long history. The main obstacle to grasping what is at stake in this critique, consequently, is the ideological hegemony of liberalism itself. Together, these axioms—that there is an inescapable contradiction between liberty and equality; that the individual is the privileged political subject and thus equality is subordinate to liberty ; and, finally, that history is the result of ahistorical and aspatial linear developmentalism—suggest a priori the necessary interdependent unfolding of freedom and modern capitalism.

Indeed, they are often taken to prove that freedom and capitalism are the same thing. Keynes rejected these articles of faith. The bourgeois in him was convinced that the working class was structurally incapable of anything so positive or constructive as self-organization, social reconstruction, or governance on any basis whatsoever—communist, anarchist, or otherwise. He did not fear working class radicals for their egalitarian passion for social justice.

In fact, he had a kind of paternalistic soft spot for them.

What he feared was the social disorder and demagoguery he believed such politics solicit, the unwitting reactionaries he believed radicals always eventually become. Contrary to his own occasional claims in the s and s, he was not. He was definitively not a democrat, because anything approaching popular sovereignty was in his view antithetical to the long-term interests of civilization.

There was no third school of thought in the 19th century. Nevertheless, there is a third possibility—that [the standard system] is not true. It is this third alterative which will allow us to escape. The standard system is based on an intellectual error. Our pressing task is the elaboration of a new standard system which will justify economists in taking their seat beside other scientists.

Thus, for one reason or another, Time and the Joint Stock Company and the Civil Service have silently brought the salaried class into power. In , he married ballerina Lydia Lopokova. Upon returning to Britain, Keynes wrote an essay attacking the Soviet system. It had remained stuck around 10 percent since the end of the war. Like most economists at that time, he believed monetary policy would remedy an economic slump.

These monetary measures were supposed to halt falling prices, boost industrial production, and revive hiring. But Keynes was puzzled when monetary policy did not lift Britain out of its economic rut. In , he explored a radically new way to combat unemployment by hiring the jobless to build roads, bridges, and other government-financed projects. Keynes also became embroiled in a controversy concerning the gold standard.

At this time, most industrial countries tied the value of their paper currency to gold. Britain had gone off the gold standard during the war.

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John Maynard Keynes

By holding back the money supply, the gold standard helps to control inflation in boom times. But Britain was in a long economic slump. Thus, the gold standard hobbled monetary policy, which called for an expansion of the money supply to stimulate economic growth. In , he helped draft a Liberal Party election campaign proposal to reduce unemployment by government-funded public-works projects. Then the New York stock market crashed on October 24, The stock market crash ended a frenzy of speculation that had driven up stock prices far beyond their real value.

The U. The Federal Reserve refused to pump more money into the banking system and even raised interest rates further in This made it more difficult for individuals and businesses to borrow and spend.


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The crash led to the Great Depression. During the s, industrial production in the U.

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Unemployment reached 25 percent of the labor force. The Depression quickly spread to Europe and around the world. Relying on monetary solutions, most central banks cut interest rates and increased their money supply. Britain finally abandoned the gold standard in But the economic damage was too severe. Consumers and businesses, gripped by fear of the future, hoarded cash and stopped spending. Meanwhile, the U. As the worldwide depression became more severe, Keynes concluded that the free-market capitalist system had no remedy for a long and deep economic decline.

Reducing interest rates and other monetary policy solutions were not enough. Keynes feared that if capitalism did not find a way to address mass unemployment, desperate people might turn to communism or fascism. Keynes argued that the government must save capitalism. In a radio broadcast, he revived his earlier backing of public-works projects and called for the major redevelopment of central London. He asserted that the reduction of government relief payments to idle workers and an increase in tax revenue from suppliers of materials would offset the cost of such projects.

In , Keynes began to argue publicly that the solution to mass unemployment depended on more, not less, government spending. This would require the government to borrow money and temporarily run a deficit. Keynes pointed out that newly employed public project workers and suppliers would have cash to spend again, causing more demand for goods and services from private businesses.

Keynes a la Mode

With more orders coming in, Keynes predicted, businesses would regain confidence and begin to hire workers. These workers would in turn spend their paychecks, multiplying demand, and so on. The Treasury continued to insist on spending cuts and balanced budgets. Keynes advised Roosevelt to focus first on the terrible unemployment problem. Keynes presented his case for the government to borrow and spend large amounts of money on public-works projects. Nevertheless, Keynes had many meetings with government officials, Wall Street investors, business leaders, and university economists.

He tried his best to persuade them to embrace his big idea that explained why severe depressions occurred and how to end them.