A Macroeconomics Reader

By Brian Snowdon; Howard R. Vane | Go to book overview

3

On different interpretations of the General Theory

Don Patinkin

Journal of Monetary Economics (1990) 26, October, pp. 205-43

During the first quarter-century after the publication of the General Theory, there were no significant differences among the various interpretations of this book. Such differences began to appear only in the 1960s. These interpretations are critically examined and an explanation given of their emergence.


I

To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, of making many interpretations of the General Theory there is no end, and that is what intrigues me. Why should there be different interpretations of this book? More to the point, what does it mean to provide a different interpretation of the General Theory thirty, forty, and even fifty years after it was published? What new information became available at those respective times to provide a basis for such new interpretations? And let me immediately say that one cannot answer that question by pointing to the hitherto unpublished or obscurely published materials in the Royal Economic Society’s monumental thirty-volume edition of Keynes’s Collected Writings. For the volumes of that edition which contain materials that relate to the General Theory (XIII, XIV, and XXIX) were not published until the 1970s, several years after different interpretations of the book had already been advanced. Furthermore, there is little reliance on these materials even in interpretations which appeared after the publication of these volumes. I might also add that the new classical macroeconomics has presented what it regards as fundamental criticisms of the General Theory, not different interpretations of it.

I am, of course, fully aware of the fact that much more than fifty years later we continue to get different interpretations of, for example, Smith, Ricardo, and especially Marx. But in these cases the difference in time is itself a partial explanation: for no matter how many and how detailed the studies we have of these writers and their respective periods, we still cannot have a feeling for the full social, political, and economic context in which they wrote. We still will not be aware of some of the events and/or discussions to which they alluded. We still will not fully know what

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