April 16, 2002

Robbins on Keynes

Stanley Fischer's Robbins Lectures have a quote from Lionel Robbins's wartime diaries (June 24, 1944) about John Maynard Keynes's intellectual dominance over the Atlantic Alliance's post-WWII economic planning:

Keynes was in his most lucid and persuasive mood; and the effect was irresistible. At such moments, I often find myself thinking that Keynes must be one of the most remarkable men that have ever lived – the quick logic, the birdlike swoop of intuition, the vivid fancy, the wide vision, above all the incomparable sense of the fitness of words, all combine to make something several degrees beyond the limit of ordinary human achievement. Certainly, in our own age, only the Prime Minister [Churchill] is of comparable stature. He, of course, surpasses him. But the greatness of the Prime Minister is something much easier to understand than the genius of Keynes. For in the last analysis, the special qualities of the Prime Minister are the traditional qualities of our race raised to the scale of grandeur. Whereas the special qualities of Keynes are something outside all that. He uses the classical style of our life and language, it is true, but it is shot through with something that is not traditional, a unique unearthly quality of which one can only say that it is pure genius. The Americans sat entranced as the God-like visitor sang and the golden light played around. When it was all over there was very little discussion.…

The more I work through the memoirs and the documents for post-WWII economic policy planning, the more I am convinced of the primacy of John Maynard Keynes's influence on the post-WWII economic institutions that were created. The view--common in "Small Britain" circles--that Keynes was ineffective in a struggle between allies over the economic shape of the postwar world seems to me to be extraordinarily at variance with the actual history. The system of economic management that he and his peers set up has, all in all, served us very very well over the past half-century and more.

Posted by DeLong at April 16, 2002 10:00 PM | TrackBack

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