Courtesy Reuters

Keynes in Retrospect

Economists must leave to Adam Smith the glory of the Quarto, must pluck the day, fling pamphlets into the wind, write always sub-specie temporis, and achieve immortality by accident, if at all.

--John Maynard Keynes, in his essay on Alfred Marshall

AT THE whisper of an economic issue Keynes leaps among us with brightening opinion and advice. He will continue to do so. That is immortality.

The publication of Roy Harrod's "Life"[i] stirs the impulse to inspect his title to remembrance. That is not easy. For his mind and spirit both were always on the move. Those who travel with them will appreciate, even if they do not approve, the wry comment of Sir Eyre Crowe: ". . . he, Keynes, only sees for the time being, the point he sets himself to prove, and regardless of the fact he has proved something very different yesterday, and is very likely to prove something different still tomorrow. . . . He can bring a converging series of arguments to bear upon a single point so that he succeeds in making everything else seem to have a minor interest to other persons, and it is doubtful if it even has a subordinate interest for Keynes himself. His opinions are in a perpetual state of progress, and therefore of apparent flux. . . ."

In this flux there were many themes. Of these I shall pursue but three: his assault upon the Peace Treaty with Germany (1919); his examination of international monetary matters; and his inquiries into our economic system.


"The Economic Consequences of the Peace" appeared in the late autumn of 1919. It cried woe. The book transported its readers to Bedlam (a spot of which Keynes was often reminded when visiting the realm of statesmanship).

His censure touched all features of the Treaty. But it centered on economic terms, particularly the reparation demands imposed on Germany. These, he argued in an analytical brief that impressed the world, were hugely beyond Germany's capacity to pay. The refusal of the Allies to fix a

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