Further Essays on Economic Theory and Policy

By Nicholas Kaldor; F. Targetti et al. | Go to book overview

2
KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS AFTER FIFTY YEARS*

INTRODUCTION

Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money is undoubtedly regarded as the most important book on economics in the twentieth century, and this view would be shared, I think, by those who are wholly opposed to its teaching as well as by its adherents. Nearly fifty years after its appearance controversy still rages around its basic ideas and prescriptions, and I do not think that any major economist in the West would regard the issues raised by Keynes as finally settled. In this respect Keynes' General Theory is in sharp contrast to all the previous pathbreaking books on economics-- such as Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations or Ricardo's Principles or Marshall's Principles--whose main tenets have not given rise to violent controversies in the same way as Keynes'. The possible exception is Karl Marx's Capital, but then Marx was a revolutionary which Keynes was certainly not--Keynes' avowed purpose was to save the capitalist system, not to destroy it.

Why then all this turbulence? We have authors who have written several fat books on Keynes (and I presume still keep on writing them) the main message of which is that Keynes said nothing new, and others who spent the better part of their life-time in demonstrating (unsuccessfully in my view) that Keynes was entirely wrong.

I cannot point to any single dominant reason for this--I believe there must be several.

The first and perhaps the most important is that Keynes' main message ran counter to the basic tenet of respectable practitioners of the art which always has been that production in general was confined by the scarcity of human and material resources; that human welfare can be improved only by 'economising' in the use

____________________
*
Paper delivered at the Keynes Centenary Conference in Cambridge, June 1983, and printed in J. Trevithick and G. N. D. Worswick (eds), Keynes and the Modern World ( Cambridge University Press, 1983).

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