Underselling Keynes

Keynes: The Return of the Master – Robert Skidelsky

Robert Skidelsky at the 1970 general election

Robert Skidelsky at the 1970 general election (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I bought this book some two years ago but have only got around to reading it now, which makes some of my criticisms below a little unfair: the book was clearly written as an emergency response to an economic emergency and the fact that that emergency has lingered on is hardly the fault of the author.

But not all the criticisms to follow are similarly based on the gap between purchase and reading. Skidelsky has a slightly unsavoury reputation in Labour circles – once on the right wing fringes of the party  and in my mind, perhaps inaccurately, he is associated with Stephen Haseler‘s Campaign for a Labour Victory, which seemed, again from memory, to spend most of its time, or at least most of its airtime, arguing Labour needed to get tougher on immigration: a revisionist biography of Oswald Mosley, time in the SDP, an endorsement (again my memory may be faulty) of John Major. All daft ideas and the book gives you a clue to the character that produced them – for it probably spends as much time praising the outdated and oddly quaint ethical ideas of Keynes as it does on his economics, while on the economics it lays a lot of emphasis on Keynes’s opposition to globalisation.

Despite all that it is not a bad book – it is just that it could have been better. (Unfair criticism follows…) Reading it in 2013 as opposed to early 2010, when it was published, one is struck by just how much it under-sells Keynes. Everyday we see the dogmatic assumptions of the neo-classicals take a pounding (though they are forever unwilling to admit their intellectual bankruptcy) and yet this book is a poor source of ammunition. Instead it tells us of how they bested the Keynesians in the 70s, 80s and 90s on the back of sophistry and how we all paid a price for that in 2008.

At times the book seems other-worldly, particularly it the sense it seems to argue that we should stick globalisation back in the bottle. Maybe I am missing the point but the idea that we should route all foreign currency transactions through a Bank of International Settlements seems to have failed to grasp that, in the 21st century, ordinary citizens regularly trade in foreign currencies across borders via the internet.

Having said all this, I did enjoy and would recommend the book.

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One thought on “Underselling Keynes

  1. Pingback: Déjà Vu All Over Again « Books not computers

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