Keynesian Economic Theory
and European Society
The influence of economic theory on the intellectual, political, and social history of Europe has been extensive. For at least the last two hundred years, the course of events in Europe has moved in channels analyzed, delineated, and not infrequently constructed by economic theory. In part, the influence of economic theory derives from the increasing extent to which economic factors have come to pervade the political, social, and cultural dimensions of modern society. It is not necessary to revert to a crude economic determinism to understand that many features of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European history—the development of the division of labor through technological change and capital accumulation, the extension of the market, the conflicts between labor and capital, the complex relations between the state and the economy, colonial and imperial expansion into Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, and the like—have been issues that at once have shaped and molded the character of contemporary European society and towards which economics has made most of the relevant contributions.
Since these features of the European experience are essentially economic in nature, few would disagree with the claim that economic theory has something to say about them. However, what is more interesting and less widely appreciated is the fact that economic theory has often also been decisive in establishing the character and content of the discourse within which the practical and political reactions to these events have been played out. It has done this quite independently of whether the economic theory itself was abstract, or misleading, or even wrong.