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Capitalist Revolutionary: John Maynard Keynes Hardcover – December 15, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


This very readable book makes the actual historical Keynes and his ideas accessible to modern readers, whose views are so often formed by misleading myths about him, his work, and its significance. (David Laidler, University of Western Ontario)

The authors' interpretation of Keynes is broadly convincing, not least in challenging the way that his own arguments have been misleadingly stereotyped by subsequent economists. It succeeds in shifting our perspectives on the nature of Keynes's achievement. It recognizes his intellectual greatness while acknowledging the flaws and lacunae in his various arguments. And it brings out his own reluctance to police a new 'Keynesian orthodoxy' and his tolerance of various approaches. (Peter Clarke, University of Cambridge)

An excellent introduction to the thought of John Maynard Keynes. Lucid and nontechnical, it explains how, because Keynes was such a different kind of economist--eclectic, practical rather than formalistic, worldly, intuitive--from the formalistic academic economists of the next generation, who came to dominate the economics profession, he was misunderstood by his successors. They created and later discredited 'Keynesianism'--a distorted version of Keynes's thought. Backhouse and Bateman explain that to cope with our current economic problems, we need to restore Keynes's original vision. (Richard A. Posner, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit)

[A] timely and provocative reappraisal. (John Cassidy New Yorker 2011-10-10)

Backhouse and Bateman provide a useful context for the many policymakers, journalists, economists, and historians who have recently rediscovered, rehabilitated, or revived Keynes's thought. The duo portray Keynes as a nontrivial personality who was in equal measure economist and moral philosopher, revolutionary and conservative. The brief volume flows with merciful grace through the particulars of Keynesian economic thought, interweaving historical, biographical, and technical details. The Keynes who emerges is not a one-dimensional deficit-spending proponent but a complex philosopher-economist who earnestly calls for perpetual revolution of capitalism to preserve this imperfect but best-available economic system. (Jekabs Bikis Library Journal 2011-11-01)

Elegantly written and extremely thoughtful...This is not a technical economic tract; this is a book for someone who wants to understand how Keynes' ideas and habits of thought fit together (it includes a useful bibliographic essay to the Keynes industry at the end). While it deals with the broad outline of Keynes' economic ideas, particularly in the '30s when he published his masterpiece, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, it also tackles the philosophical contexts that shaped his thinking and what the authors call "Keynes' ambiguous revolution," that is, how those ideas were revised and reshaped after World War II into a kind of orthodoxy, then rejected in the stagflation '70s, then embraced, debated and reinterpreted up to our own deeply confusing era. This is extremely useful, particularly in an age where we are once again hearing from movements like Occupy Wall Street that capitalism needs to be renovated or eliminated, or when, in a time of often-vicious partisanship, Keynes and Keynesianism is tossed around as a term of blackest opprobrium or unassailable wisdom...There's a lot packed in this small volume. Keynes' ambition, his worldly views and his diagnostic tendencies all lie behind the book's seemingly contradictory title: Capitalist Revolutionary...Writing about someone like Keynes who personally wrote so much, so well, must be a daunting task. Backhouse and Bateman more than keep up, not by competing with Keynes, but by letting him speak, in all his many voices. Their Keynes is not a secret socialist, or closet communist; not an apostate from classical economics; not some avatar of permissiveness and inflation. As they make clear in their discussion of Keynesianism after Keynes, his relationship with his own legacy is complex and ambiguous. He was not a man to be pinned down because he recognized that the world, which includes matters of economics as well as so much more, is neither simple, straightforward nor apprehensible by time-bound men armed with doctrines and dogmas. That alone is a lesson well worth revisiting regularly. (Robert Teitelman The Deal 2011-11-07)

From Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes, the great economists of the past saw economics as a historical, philosophical and, above all, moral discipline...The first step to good capitalism, therefore, is to re-moralize economics. In their tantalizingly brief but thought-provoking study of Keynes, Roger E. Backhouse and Bradley W. Bateman have started to do just that. Keynes, they show, was much more than an astonishingly innovative economic theorist and accomplished man of affairs. He was also a moral philosopher...He abhorred the utilitarian would world view that lay at the heart of classical economic theory. The fundamental utilitarian dogma--that markets are driven by rational, individual utility maximizers--seemed to him morally repulsive as well as factually incorrect. He thought that capitalism was the least bad economic system available but he also thought it was morally defective. (David Marquand New Statesman 2012-03-19)

About the Author

Roger E. Backhouse is Professor of the History and Philosophy of Economics at the University of Birmingham.

Bradley Bateman is President of Randolph College and was formerly Provost and Professor of Economics at Denison University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674057759
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674057753
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #497,675 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a marvelous short introduction to Keynes, Keynesianism, and the relevance of Keynes for the 21st century.

These authors, exceptionally and outstandingly, accomplish their aim to articulate and describe a highly interesting, nuanced, and intellectually rich John Maynard Keynes. They are indeed defending Keynes, but not a Keynes to defend the so-called welfare state, but one to address a dynamic and ever changing capitalist system. They are able to achieve this in just over 150 pages. A real triumph.

They further offer a very brief and highly selective bibliographical essay (pp. 161- 174) which is very useful. The bibliographical well captures the spirit of Backhouse and Bateman, an invitation and introduction to the richness of Keynesian economics. The bibliographical essay is highly selective, but not biased to any one interpretation of Keynes, including both Keynesian supporters and critics.

Here is another way to express the intention of Backhouse and Bateman: After Keynes became well known, his repetition and legacy simultaneously became exaggerated and caricaturized, well exemplified by illustrators amplifying Keynes' extrovert, busy and bouncy personality, with his bulgy eyes and thick lips. But take a look at the cover of this book (available on amazon). Not only is this (Henry Lamb) portrait of Keynes elegant and beautiful as art, but it portrays a darker, introvert Keynes, sitting and quiet, with inset eyes and rather thin lips. The cover announces an alternative to the exaggerated and caricaturized depictions of Keynes and Keynesianism. Anyone familiar with Keynes will also appreciate that it is also a gesture toward Keynes' love of the aesthetic.
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Format: Hardcover
Bateman and Backhouse's(BB) latest book on Keynes continues a theme that appears in all of their work on Keynes.The idea that Keynes had no formal mathematical analysis in the GT was popularized in Robert Skidelsky's three volume biography of Keynes,but the claim was originally made by Richard Kahn,Joan Robinson and Austin Robinson AFTER Keynes had died.The Robinsons' and Kahn claimed that Keynes had no microeconomic foundation in the GT to support his D-Z model of Effective Demand because he had not taken the 20 minutes necessary to study the theory of value .They also claimed that there were many mathematical errors in the GT because Keynes had ignored Kahn's suggestions .These claims have no support-they are the canards upon which Keynes is stil evaluated today by 99.99 % of economists.
In fact,Keynes made extensive use of mathematical,technical, formal analysis in the A Treatise on Probability (TP,1921)and in the General Theory(GT,1936) in order to formally demonstrate that the Benthamite Utilitarian mathematical models of Neoclasscical analysis were a special case of his GT model as contained in chapters 20 and 21 of the GT.This review will concentrate on this continuing error as it appears in the latest work of Backhouse and Bateman on Keynes.

Let us first consider the discussions in BB that centers on Keynes's work on uncertainty,expectations,probability ,and risk in the TP and GT.

BB implicitly base their work on chapter 3 of the TP alone.
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