was keynes a socialist
He took it for granted that finding the right model would involve a good deal of experimentation. Instead, I want to hone in on Mongiovi’s review as another indication of Sunkara and Chibber’s slow but inexorable retreat from Marxism. Whether Keynes was a socialist, and precisely what sort of socialist he was if he was one, are trickier questions. “The republic of my imagination lies on the extreme left of celestial space.” — John Maynard Keynes1, “For my part I think that capitalism, wisely managed, can probably be made more efficient for attaining economic ends than any alternative system yet in sight, but that in itself is in many ways extremely objectionable. By resurrecting that vision, James Crotty has performed a valuable service. Managed trade, rather than protectionism, would be a more effective strategy. The answer comes in the line: “Keynes never believed in the power of ordinary working people to control their own fate.” It’s hard to imagine anybody being a socialist if they don’t come to grips with the principles laid out in a pamphlet like “Their Morals & Ours”. Regulation of all kinds (but especially regulation of financial markets), minimum-wage laws, labor unions, the social safety net, Keynesian demand-management policies — all of these once-routine features of postwar capitalism have been the targets of sustained ideological attack. Instead, what Keynes believed was that there were certain times that the government would need to … While Keynes did believe that government interference in the economy was necessary, he did not believe that the government should own the means of production. In The General Theory, Keynes famously observed that investment decisions largely, depend on spontaneous optimism rather than on a mathematical expectation … Most, probably, of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as a result of animal spirits — of a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities … Thus if the animal spirits are dimmed and the spontaneous optimism falters … enterprise will fade and die.25. Because the skills and physical facilities necessary to a particular line of production tend to concentrate in a particular geographical region — a phenomenon that generates substantial efficiency gains for all of the linked enterprises — the contraction of an industry or the closing of a large plant means that a lot of resources become redundant, and those resources are not easily transferable to other lines of productive activity. More recently, Northwestern University economist Robert J. Gordon has argued that the pace of innovation is slowing and that there are no transformative “Great Inventions” left to be discovered that might sustain robust employment for decades and substantially raise labor productivity, the two essential conditions for permanent across-the-board improvements in living standards.12 Keynes anticipated these arguments: “there seems at the moment a lull in new inventions,” he observed in 1931.13 He didn’t think the problem could be left alone for the market to rectify; for the market will not, as a matter of course, spontaneously generate a cluster of epoch-making innovations that will keep the economy running at a healthy clip for two or more generations. There is no remedy for that by unregulated private action.”18 The traumatizing impact of structural change on the people caught up in it could be avoided only through some plan of centralized coordination. Keynes had no great affection for the working class either. Higher education was a beneficiary of the Cold War, as the US government subsidized students, both undergraduates and graduate students, who specialized in sociology, anthropology, political science, and other disciplines that could be useful for the projection of imperial influence across the globe; federally supported cultural programs were meant to project soft power. Keynes advocated deficit spending during the contractionary phase of the business cycle. Crotty, a 79-year old economics professor emeritus, is a post-Keynesian just like Mongiovi. But Liberal Socialism, as Crotty sees it, may remain a little idealistic. The central institution Keynes envisioned for this function was a Board of National Investment, an idea he first put forward in the late 1920s when he helped to draft a Liberal Party report on Britain’s Industrial Future. Keynes had a notoriously restless intellect; he was an extreme case of Isaiah Berlin’s fox who knows many things.7 He whipped up more ideas before lunch than most of us have in a lifetime. In the 1970s through the 1990s, wages stagnated, but debt-financed household consumption and asset inflation kept profits growing. He was a strong advocate of capital controls to prevent finance capital from fleeing a country in pursuit of higher returns when the monetary authorities push interest rates down. They weren’t people to compromise. He was critical of the sloppy application of orthodox ideas to complex real-world circumstances, but he was no renegade. We may be on the eve of great changes in her social and industrial structure … The most serious problems for England have been brought to a head by the war, but are in their origins more fundamental. Keynes as a Theorist of Structural Change, Enterprise, Uncertainty, and the Socialization of Investment, John Maynard Keynes, “Liberalism and Labour,” in, John Maynard Keynes, “The End of Laissez-Faire,” in. His distaste for Marx appears to have been an aesthetic reaction rather than ideological or scientific in nature; I suspect that Keynes was allergic to Marx’s dense Teutonic prose. As the economy’s capital stock increases, opportunities for profitable investment become scarcer, and profitability declines. He understood, sensibly, that muddling through is an unavoidable aspect of all human activity. This terrain has been explored before. But beyond this no obvious case is made out for a system of State Socialism which would embrace most of the economic life of the community. The latest issue of Catalyst, a journal that is published by Bhaskar Sunkara and edited by Vivek Chibber, has an article by economics professor Gary Mongiovi titled “Was Keynes a Socialist?” It is a gushing review of “Keynes Against Capitalism: His Economic Case for Liberal Socialism”, a new book by James Crotty. That being said, Keynes never believed in the power of ordinary working people to control their own fate. It was reprinted in Keynes's 1931 Essays in Persuasion (Ch. Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. For example, take the “permanent expansion of the state.” If this in itself was a positive good, you might ask whether there was much difference between the New Deal and the corporatist state of fascism. His outlook was emphatically anti-authoritarian: “the new economic modes, towards which we are blundering,” he wrote in 1933, “are, in the essence of their nature, experiments. Keynes argued that investment, which responds to variations in the interest rate and to expectations about the future, is the dynamic factor determining the level of economic activity. He boldly claims, ‘Keynes envisaged and espoused a particular form of socialism’ and ‘it is clear, explicit and unambiguous; he used the term socialism to characterise his own views’ (1999, pp. If the State is able to determine the aggregate amount of resources devoted to augmenting the instruments and the basic reward of those who own them, it will have accomplished all that is necessary.23, But a program that proposes to regulate the level of investment on a large scale cannot help but also influence the direction of investment. Instead, it is more important to define socialist in terms of a criterion that can be applied to a state like Cuba or the former Soviet Union. Again in February 1918, Keynes admitted to “being a Bolshevik.”6 The famous journalist Clarence W. Barron, founder of Barron’s magazine, met Keynes in 1918 and recorded: “Lady Cunard says Keynes is a kind of socialist and my judgment is that he is a Socialist … Change ), You are commenting using your Twitter account. Note too Keynes’ elitism. Ultimately, Keynes was trying to figure out a humane and fair way to achieve a flexible economic dynamism. In other words, Keynes wanted to turn the wheel of history … In Keynes Against Capitalism, PERI researcher James Crotty demonstrates that John Maynard Keynes—the most influential economist of the 20th Century—advanced a coherent program on behalf of 'Liberal Socialism. In the postwar Social Structure of Accumulation, the process of capital accumulation was sustained by Keynesian demand-management policies, military Keynesianism, and an accommodation between business and organized labor to keep wages more or less in line with productivity growth. Among the left professorate, post-Keynesianism is a way of being on the left but not too far left. He was born into a wealthy family in Philadelphia, but once he became a radical, he remained one. In an important new book Keynes Against Capitalism: His Economic Case for Liberal Socialism (Routledge, 2019) James Crotty argues that Keynes was a socialist who advocated a much more radical economic agenda than most mainstream economists and political analysts realize. Most socialist governments own the nation's energy, health care, and education services. Crotty might have subjected Keynes’s arguments to some critical scrutiny. This is evident in his first important book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919); there Keynes draws a striking contrast between British nineteenth-century capitalism, which witnessed astonishing improvements in living standards, largely through the adoption of transformative technologies such as steam power and rail transport, and the dispiriting mix of industrial distress and financial turbulence that marked the British economy in the aftermath of the Great War. He did not always take the trouble to reconcile the views he expressed in one context, while in a particular frame of mind, with the views he expressed in other contexts, while in a rather different mood. In the 1920s, when Britain experienced economic havoc, and particularly after the Great Crash of 1929, he began to think big and boldly in terms of an increasing socialization of investments, not because he liked socialism (he did not) but because that was the only way to save not so much capitalism but social peace. And he is nowhere close to Kalecki in terms of radical insight. In Keynes Against Capitalism, Crotty argues that the conventional view is all wrong. Many believe that John Maynard Keynes was a communist or a socialist. Nearly a decade before the publication of The General Theory, Keynes observed that: The optimistic Zeitgeist of the nineteenth century has given way to a pessimistic Zeitgeist … We used to think that private ambition and compound interest would between them carry us on to paradise. For Mongiovi and Crotty, Keynes was on the left. Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. In stark contrast to concepts such as class consciousness, historical materialism and the dialectic, Keynesian economics is associated with the moderate strand of socialist thought. It is beyond the scope of this article to offer a critique of John Maynard Keynes or James Crotty’s new book. It is true that Keynesian economics is a theory of state capitalism. Keynes lived during a time when communism and socialism were considered real, viable alternatives to capitalism. The standard interpretation is that Keynes was a great liberal. What’s entirely missing from Mongiovi’s review, and presumably in Crotty’s book, is any engagement with the class struggle. This essay argues that Crotty’s interpretation of Keynes has a great deal of merit: Keynes’s economics is indeed more radical than commonly thought, and it has considerable relevance for the Left today. At the start of his review, Mongiovi recapitulates what most of us, including me, think of Keynes. For in developing his case, Crotty shows us how a penetrating, vigorous, and humane intellect tackled questions that have a crucial bearing on debates we are still having about what our socioeconomic institutions ought to do for us and what they ought to look like. James Crotty was at UMass-Amherst for many years. Socialism comprises those tendencies, forces, and institutions that blunt, mitigate or adapt market relations to social goals. ( Log Out / Its dreary, out-of-date, academic controversialising seems so extraordinarily unsuitable as material for the purpose.”. This definitely was not a short-term government stimulus program designed to ‘kick-start’ a temporarily sluggish economy and then let free enterprise take over.” One significant achievement of Crotty’s book is its demonstration beyond a doubt that Keynes’s overarching objective was to make a case for a program of national economic planning. Like many of us, he sometimes told people things that were closer to what he thought they wanted to hear than to what he really believed; and what he did believe could change from one day to the next according to the particular light in which he happened to be viewing a problem. As the drive for mercantile profits ran up against limits imposed by the productive capabilities of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century economic conditions, tensions — or, in Marxian terminology, contradictions — arose that led to industrialization, with manufacturing now the main source of profits and driver of accumulation. The collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement made exchange-rate uncertainty and balance-of-payments crises once again potent sources of economic instability. The GI Bill enabled returning veterans to buy homes and to get college degrees that enhanced both their earning power and the productivity of the US economy. He also believed that the most effective way to ensure a steady flow of socially useful investment sufficient to keep the economy operating at full employment is to assign authority over a good deal of investment spending to the state. It must be acknowledged that he had a lot of confidence in the judgment of technocrats: “It is for the technicians of building, engineering, and transport to tell us in what direction the most fruitful new improvements are awaiting us.”24, Keynes may have contemplated the death of the rentier with equanimity, but he was probably not rooting for the death of the entrepreneur. Keynes was no radical, and it is a stretch to claim he was. The state is more entwined with capital than ever before, with its agencies and even its parliaments and congresses filled with rich people. I know that it is historically important and I know that many people, not all of whom are idiots, find it a sort of Rock of Ages and containing inspiration. Rod O’Donnell has already made a persuasive case that Keynes was a socialist in his philosophical outlook, his political orientation, and his economics. Socialism has made a remarkable comeback in the political discourse of North America, the United Kingdom, and Western Europe. “England is in a state of transition,” he wrote, “and her economic problems are serious. That is the controversial claim made in a new book by the distinguished radical economist James Crotty. Strachey was responsible for writing books that undermined the Christian ethic of the Nineteenth Century and set the tone for the pornographic and depraved literature of today. He is friendly with Bob Pollin, he of the typical social democratic views about a growth-oriented GND and how capitalism can decouple growth and energy use. Those drivers of progress were largely spent by 1900.11 The market system could no longer be expected to generate broad-based improvements in prosperity. This definitely was not a short-term government stimulus program designed to ‘kick-start’ a temporarily sluggish economy and then let free enterprise take over.”22 One significant achievement of Crotty’s book is its demonstration beyond a doubt that Keynes’s overarching objective was to make a case for a program of national economic planning. In an important new book Keynes Against Capitalism: His Economic Case for Liberal Socialism (Routledge, 2019) James Crotty argues that Keynes was a socialist who advocated a much more radical economic agenda than most mainstream economists and political analysts realize. Crotty devotes a good deal of attention to the idea that fundamental uncertainty about the future weakens the motive of private-sector managers to incur the risks associated with expanding their enterprises and with venturing into new spheres of activity. In the absence of transformative innovations that create new markets and call forth high levels of investment, including infrastructure investment, over long stretches of time, capitalism will lapse into a condition that economists call secular stagnation. David Houston was treated like a pariah at the University of Pittsburgh, was spat upon for his opposition to the War in Vietnam (unlike any returning veterans! Without hesitation, he said, “as the truth”!. ( Log Out / We have no clear idea laid up in our minds beforehand of exactly what we want. He liked to be provocative. We shall discover it as we move along and we shall have to mould our material in accordance with our experience.” Openness to criticism is indispensable, he continues: “for this process bold, free and remorseless criticism is a sine qua non of ultimate success. Keynes wanted to apologize and preserve, while Marx wanted to criticize and destroy.”. ( Log Out / He called Stalin “terrifying” and guilty of eliminating every critical mind in the USSR. Why not figure out how to smash the fucking state that will continue to kill us, if it remains in the hands of the bourgeoisie? It is curious how so many of the 1960s radical economists, like Bowles and Gintis, Crotty, Pollin, and many others, most from upper middle-class or downright rich backgrounds, soon enough lost their radicalism and became left liberals. The gap between the economy’s output and the level of spending on that output by households expands. From 1996 to 2013, he coedited the Review of Political Economy. Once policymakers had gotten the problem of unemployment under control through the application of fiscal and monetary policy, market forces and profit-driven private enterprise could be left to regulate income distribution and to channel resources into their most efficient uses. A few high points will serve to dramatize the depth and extent of Keynes Fabian immersion. Keynes’ tie-in with Fabian socialism is so extensive that it is difficult to compress the record within the confines of a few pages. His vision of a democratically guided economy that serves the needs of people rather than those of capital is as relevant now as it was in the first half of the last century. At such places, Hyman Minsky is taken in large doses and a smidgen of Karl Marx is thrown in just to add some spice to the stew. He cites Lawrence Klein, an early champion of Keynesian economics and a future Nobel laureate: “Marx analyzed the reasons why the capitalist system did not and could not function properly, while Keynes analyzed the reasons why the capitalist system did not but could function properly. Our problem is to work out a social organisation which shall be as efficient as possible without offending our notions of a satisfactory way of life.” — John Maynard Keynes2, An engraving of St George slaying a dragon graces the cover of James Crotty’s monumental new book Keynes Against Capitalism.3 The dragon is meant to symbolize capitalism, and the dragon slayer represents the great twentieth-century economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes’s often-quoted observation that “in the long run we are all dead” is almost always read out of context to imply that Keynes was entirely focused on the resolution of short-run monetary and macroeconomic glitches.9 In fact, Keynes was deeply interested in the long run; not, however, in static long-run equilibrium, but in the long-run secular trajectory of late capitalism. Younger people in particular are increasingly likely to view “socialism” as a viable and appealing alternative to the profit-driven market system that dominates our economic, political, and social institutions. The decision of OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) to raise oil prices triggered both a deep recession and an inflationary spiral; the extended episode of stagflation put mainstream Keynesianism on the defensive. Be that as it may, Crotty, without explicitly making the point, enables us to see that Keynes was an instinctive dialectician. We also find in Keynes’s argument faint echoes of an element of Karl Marx’s falling-rate-of-profit hypothesis. In a shrewd analysis of Crotty’s book, Michael Roberts identified the elitist bent: As Crotty puts it, Keynes’ central point was that the emerging importance of the system of public and semipublic corporations and associations combined with the evolution of collusive oligopolistic relations in the private sector already provided the foundation for a qualitative increase in state control of the economy. ( Log Out / Joseph Schumpeter argued that epoch-making innovations — steam power, the railroads, the internal combustion engine, electrical power — could spur long booms. Keynes wanted to apologize and preserve, while Marx wanted to criticize and destroy.”4. This approach seemed to work reasonably well for two or three decades after the end of World War II. Instead, Keynes “Keynes was building a case to replace it [capitalism] with a form of democratic socialism in which most large-scale capital investment spending would be undertaken by the state or by quasi-public entities.” All this would unfold in a “gradual transition, through a process of trial and error, to a planned economy.” The American Keynesian Alvin Hansen is usually credited with originating the idea in the late 1930s; former Clinton administration Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers has resuscitated it to explain the sluggish growth that has plagued the advanced capitalist economies since the financial crisis of 2007–2008.14 Summers’s argument is that the rate of interest that would generate enough private-sector investment demand to counterbalance saving at a full-employment level of GDP is, at the present historical juncture, negative. Keynes was highly antipathetic toward Marx. Socialism’s Biggest Hero Is a Bourgeois British Capitalist John Maynard Keynes felt little solidarity for workers and inspired a century of establishment economics. Keynes did not wish to merely save capitalism ‘from itself’ but to replace it with ‘Liberal Socialism’. I always remember my mentor and friend, David Houston, a URPE founder. However, this simply isn’t so. President Bush's deficit spending in 2006 and 2007 increased the debt. In the 1930s, the closest anything came to this ideal was the New Deal and Sweden’s social democracy, two of the Sandernista models. Its dreary, out-of-date, academic controversialising seems so extraordinarily unsuitable as material for the purpose.”20 In a 1933 draft of The General Theory, he acknowledged that Marx usefully called attention to the fact that if firms are unable to realize their profits by selling what they have produced, the circuit of production will be interrupted. It powerfully captures two basic truths, which are at the core of his plan: (1) the United States urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of this challenge, and (2) our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected. Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email. Given all the projects I have taken on, it would not be worth my time or that of my readers. Crotty shows that Keynes saw the economic distress of his time as structural in origin. Indeed, Michael Roberts pointedly refers to Crotty’s admission that “Keynes was unabashedly corporatist.”. Like the rest of the Fabians, he saw socialism as a project to be carried out by a modern version of Plato’s philosopher-kings who would administer a mixed-economy state. Crotty marshals all of the available evidence and sets it out in an exceedingly clear way. Influenced by Paul Sweezey and a frequent contributor to MR, he argued that FDR’s Keynesianism and Nazi economics had something in common, namely strong state intervention, especially using a military build-up to offset the Great Depression: Some wag has defined an economist as someone who has seen something work in practice and then proceeds to make it work in theory. He characterized Das Kapital as “an obsolete economic textbook which [is] not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world.”19 To George Bernard Shaw he wrote in 1934: “My feelings about Das Kapital are the same as my feelings about the Koran. During that so-called postwar Golden Age, unemployment was low, productivity growth and profitability were high, and real wages grew in step with productivity; business investment was robust, and the economy grew at a healthy clip. (Keynes glosses over the fact that those improvements in living standards were hard-won through disruptive activism by Chartists, trade unionists, and numerous social reformers.) Keynesian economics was supposed to have put paid to socialism. In sharp contrast to the traditional interpretation, Rod O’Donnell argues Keynes was a socialist. And many, of course, suffered for their principles. Higher levels of output can be sustained only if other sources of spending emerge to fill the gap, i.e., to absorb the economy’s higher level of savings. Nevertheless his economics have profound implications for Socialists. Based on a very close reading of Keynes’ work, Crotty argues that core Keynesian economic ideas should … The Keynesian Revolution, in Crotty’s interpretation, was considerably more revolutionary than we have been led to believe. But once it is determined that market capitalism needs to be well managed, the questions of how and for whom it is to be … Instead, Keynes “Keynes was building a case to replace it [capitalism] with a form of democratic socialism in which most large-scale capital investment spending would be undertaken by the state or by quasi-public entities.” All this would unfold in a “gradual transition, through a process of trial and error, to a planned economy.” This sounds pretty much like how Jacobin described a Sanders presidency, doesn’t it? In June 1930, at a meeting with those men, Keynes described himself as the “only socialist present.” 33 Beatrice Webb agreed and said, “ [Keynes is] certainly more advanced than MacDonald.” 34. His writing could be messy and imprecise. He also maintained that deliberate government action could foster full employment. At the risk of sounding like an anarchist, isn’t it time to stop dwelling on how the state can be expanded into a beneficent agent of economic and ecological change? Keynes is one of the most important and influential economists who ever lived. Crotty’s book suggests that turning this situation around must begin with the rediscovery of Keynes’s vision — his actual analytical vision, not the parody of it that has been handed down to us by the guardians of orthodoxy. Private enterprise could then be left to chug along as it saw fit, generating prosperity far and wide. This makes complete sense because capitalism is inherently monopolistic. Keynes became the mastermind behind the economic structure of British and American socialism. Don’t be under any illusion that Keynes was a radical supporter of labour or that he sided with the workers or had any sympathy for Marxist or socialist ideas. I know that it is historically important and I know that many people, not all of whom are idiots, find it a sort of Rock of Ages and containing inspiration. Interesting that Keynes would confide in Shaw. Keynes showed that if Capitalism is to be successful, it has to be managed: the “market”, if left to its own devices will breed great depressions and widespread impoverization. Material conditions seemed to work reasonably well for two or three decades after the end of was keynes a socialist II. The forces of the state is more entwined with capital than ever before was keynes a socialist with agencies... Rules, but once he became a radical vision the truth ”! ” [ emphasis ]! Thought has was keynes a socialist the relation between his ethics and politics categorically rejected all general,! Keynes had no use for Crotty, without changing anything fundamental about the discipline as structural in origin cast in... 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