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The Essential Keynes Paperback – January 5, 2016
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“The essential Keynes cannot be sketched in a chart or mechanized, and we are the worse for it. But Robert Skidelsky has done us a service by putting it in a handy book.” – The Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946) is widely considered to have been the most influential economist of the 20th century. His key books include The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919); A Treatise on Probability (1921); A Tract on Monetary Reform (1923); A Treatise on Money (1930); and his magnum opus, the General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936).
Robert Skidelsky is Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick, England, and a member of the House of Lords. His three-volume biography of Keynes received numerous awards, including the Lionel Gelber Prize and the Council on Foreign Relations Prize.
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Consider the following claim made by Skidelsky:
"Any account of Keynes’s contributions to economics must start with his distinctive theory of probability.
In his Treatise on Probability (1921), he sought to rescue the ordinary language (or ordinal) use of probability from the statistical (or cardinal) theory of probability. He put forward a logical theory of probability, of which the then dominant frequency theory was a special case. In ordinary life, we will often have enough evidence to say that something is more likely to happen than not, without having enough evidence to say it is three times as likely."
Keynes's logical theory of probability is actually an interval valued approach built on George Boole's indeterminate (uncertainty)-determinate(risk ) approach in chapters 16-21 of The Laws of Thought (1854).It is impossible for a frequency theory to be a special case of an ordinal theory. An ordinal theory appears nowhere in the TP, although Keynes's approach easily handles such probabilities .The only reference to ordinal, rank order ,or comparative probability comes when Keynes discusses the work of Johnson. Keynes, in chapter 15 of the TP ,makes it very clear that in ordinary life we use intervals. A purely ordinal theory that can be used only some of the time (This is Ramsey's conclusion about Keynes's theory that Skidelsky simply accepts at face value) would be quite worthless.
Skidelsky simply lacks the basic ,fundamental training and skills in logic and mathematics needed to assess Keynes's work in probability. Relying on the reviews of an 18 to 22 year old, who never, ever mentioned or considered the concept of interval valued probability at any time in his life, is fatal.
The other selections chosen by Skidelsky are illuminating and would benefit the general reader.