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Maynard Keynes: An Economist's Biography.

D. E. Moggridge. Routledge. 25.00[pounds]

This book has already received a mauling for its overdue length of nearly 950 pages. One suggestion was that we could have done with one-third of it, more generously, I would suggest about a half. In the American academic manner the author cannot tell what is relevant and what irrelevant -- long strings of names of members of dead committees, for example. Nevertheless there is much that is informative, and some of it quite new and valuable.

Keynes was born in the odour of sanctity of Cambridge Liberalism, with its illusions about Europe and Germany. Hence his ambivalence about Britain resisting German aggression in 1914. He did take part in the war-effort from the sanctuary of the Treasury, with a grumbling |conscience' whether this was right. Nothing about this in the book. Then, though serving the government, he took an active part in opposing conscription, when it was indispensably necessary. This was irresponsible and wrong. However, he was young; by the time of the next German war he was |older and wiser', as this author allows.

But not yet by a long chalk. His book about the Versailles Treaty gave him international fame and a little fortune, but did untold damage. The territorial provisions were fair -- as that just man, J. L. Brierley, Professor of International Law at Oxford affirmed; the Treaty re-created Poland and liberated all the Slavs of Europe. The Reparations clauses may have been unworkable, but Germany made little attempt to work them. Keynes himself wrote in 1926: |The United States lends the money to Germany, Germany renders its equivalent to the Allies, the Allies pay it back to the United States government. Nothing real passes -- no-one is a penny the worse'. No wonder the French were mad about it, after all their sufferings and losses. Later, the French economist Mantoux pointed out that Germany spent far more in re-arming than ever she paid in reparations. Hence, in part, the Second War -- in which Keynes played a far better part.

Meanwhile, he was right against our mistaken return to the Gold Standard at the impossibly high rate of $4.85 to the pound. Think of that today! It largely created unemployment. Keynes produced a constructive programme for dealing with it, but sank it by making it the policy for the Liberal Party. What was the sense in that? -- there was hardly any Liberal Party left to put it into action.

Why would he not co-operate with the Labour Party, to make each other effective? On the Macmillan Committee he and Ernest Bevin were in close agreement on economic policy. The Labour Party's mass movement would have given Keynes the fulcrum he needed. I kept up a constant argument with him on that -- he was always generous and encouraging to me as a young man -- and I eventually wrote a booklet about it, Mr. Keynes and the Labour Movement, besides many other articles. He half-inclined in letters to me, but wouldn't commit himself. Nothing about that in the book.

He was ambivalent too in other ways. We could have spared the detailed information about his |risque' private life for more about the relevant politics.

A lot of economic argumentation is like abstract mathematics, when the facts of economic life are comparatively simply. You can't get more out of a pint pot than it holds; high wages increase prices and create unemployment. Sometimes Keynes confessed to a salutary scepticism about the academic industry that employs so many economists, with their conflicting views.

Usually he was too optimistic. After the Second World War -- with our enormous losses of capital and foreign investments -- he favoured maximum expenditure on social services and the Beveridge Report. Hubert Henderson, a good pessimist, favoured minimum outlay, what the country could afford. At the end the facts of life were brought home to him by the hard-fisted American bargainers at Bretton Woods. However, he was a man of genius and a devoted public servant.

His Bloomsbury friends disapproved of this, with their vocational disease of superciliousness. Strachey wrote, |he has a crapulous egotism and smug impermeability qui font fremur, (sc. fremir: a Canadian should know French). They also disapproved of his marriage to Lydia Lopokova, |not one of us'. Keynes's mother said that it was the best thing Maynard ever did.
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Author:Rowse, A.L.
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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