Mark C. Nolan, Keynes in Dublin: Exploring the 1933 Finlay Lecture.
John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) in the General Theory (1936) wrote that practical men were usually the intellectual slaves of defunct economists. Historians of economic thought such as Bradley Bateman and Roger Backhouse have recently discussed Keynes as a public intellectual as well an economic theorist. The ideas of Keynes, and the models inspired by his vision of how to correct instability in capitalist economies, have continued to cast a long shadow over the thinking of economic historians and macroeconomists. By way of illustration, the Great Recession that has emerged from the financial crisis has recently led many policymakers to return to the master's thoughts. The current journalistic and political debates on the merits of 'shovel ready projects', 'austerity' and the existence of the 'confidence fairy' all reflect Keynes's language and concerns.
Keynesianism came to Independent Ireland relatively late; the Irish Republic has never been immune from the indirect influence on policy of Keynes's theoretical macroeconomics. Keynes, in his role as public intellectual, also had direct influence on Irish economic policy: for four days in 1933, he visited Dublin and interacted with its political, intellectual and business leaders (p. 129). Keynes in Dublin is an interesting book that revisits those four days. Nolan's account is primarily concerned with the text of and the story behind Keynes's presentation of the first Finlay lecture, entitled 'National Self-Sufficiency'. Keynes's lecture, held in the Physics Theatre at University College Dublin on the evening of 19 April 1933, has been much discussed. For example, James Meenan's influential 1970 textbook discussion highlights the protectionist passages in the lecture. Mark Nolan succeeds in his attempt at providing 'a new way of looking at what Keynes had to say in his 1933 lecture' (p. 3).
Joseph Schumpeter, one of the other great economists of the period, noted, 'Keynes offered English advice, born of English problems even where addressed to the other nations'. Nolan is sympathetic to Schumpeter's assessment, as he argues that Keynes's policy outlook was always that of an English Marshallian (p. 156). After a brief introductory chapter, Chapter 2 explains that it was George O'Brien who invited Keynes to speak; Nolan demonstrates that the lecture's title was one proposed by Keynes (p. 14). Chapter 3 summarises the Irish political environment and de Valera's place in that environment. Chapters 4 and 5 examine the lecture's content as well as its respective drafts. Contemporary newspaper reactions to the lecture are the focus of Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 considers the various meetings Keynes had while in Dublin. Chapter 8 brings together Nolan's arguments.
Those interested particularly in the role of economic reasoning in the evolution of public policy debate within modern Ireland will find much that is stimulating within Nolan's book. The new archival evidence will prove very useful to historians of economics as well as economic historians of Ireland. In particular, Nolan's argument has two elements: first, he argues that the Finlay lecture is only understandable in the context of the Irish political situation; second, he argues that the version of the lecture produced in Studies is the definitive version (p. 75). This version most explicitly pleads for a middle way in the debate on free trade and protection (p. 125). Keynes was never famous for his modesty, but by his own admission, he was no expert on Irish affairs. In the Studies article, Keynes conceded that he knew so little about Ireland that it would require 'no effort for me to be discreet'!
Nolan also highlights the parts in the lecture more sceptical towards protectionism. His commendable archival digging demonstrates for instance that Keynes was concerned that economic nationalists would misrepresent the contents of the lecture for political ends (p. 124). In a letter to Sir Josiah Stamp dated ten days after the lecture, Keynes explained that he inserted a passage warning of protectionism in the Irish context in order to not appear to be giving encouragement to any 'foolish things' that de Valera might consider (p. 89). If Nolan's speculation that the British government hoped that Keynes, by meeting de Valera during his visit, could moderate de Valera's position is correct, then this was a rare example of Keynes failing to exert his formidable powers of persuasion (p. 129).
The book could have benefited from some editorial pruning at certain points. There is some unnecessary repetition in argument, and this reviewer would have particularly liked to have seen a table setting out the differences between the four different published versions as well as something more than speculation surrounding Keynes discussion with de Valera. In terms of emphasis, while a chapter is devoted to the international academic debate on protectionism, the reader does not get a clear overarching view of the contemporary attitudes of the Irish economics profession. Correspondence between Professor Joseph Johnston of TCD and Keynes is noted (p. 143). Professor George O'Brien plays an important role in the book. However, O'Brien's attempt to reconcile the economics of Hayek and Keynes is an endeavour that is unfortunately not discussed.
Likewise, it is unfortunate that the reaction of George Duncan to Keynes's visit is not mentioned. Indeed, Duncan does not even get a mention in the index. In 1930, Duncan became an elected fellow of TCD; in 1934, he was promoted to the Professorship in Political Economy. Duncan, as Austrian school free marketer, was an opponent of both protectionism and Keynesian demand management. His views would have provided an interesting aspect to the book. Nolan also ignores the attitudes of academic economists from outside of Dublin. However, these weaknesses should not deflect us from recognising that Nolan's valuable contribution reminds the reader that in the Ireland of the 1930s, practical men were aware of Keynes's views on Irish affairs in a way that previous historians have not adequately acknowledged. In summary, Keynes in Dublin is a book that deserves to be read by those historians interested in the relationship between economics, policy and the creation of the modern Irish state.
Queen's University Belfast
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|Publication:||Irish Economic and Social History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2014|
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