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Keynes: The Rise, Fall, and Return of the 20th Century's Most Influential Economist Hardcover – October 27, 2009
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Praise for The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire: 'Clarke has created a brilliant popular history ... he tells [the story] with such wit, verve and scholarly insight that one seems to encounter a brave new world' Piers Brendon, Sunday Telegraph 'There are few historians writing today who are more elegant and lucid than Clarke ... a triumph of stylish, thought-provoking history' Richard Aldous, Irish Times 'As this book majestically demonstrates, the empire tortuously, deceptively and often misleadingly progresses towards extinction' Jan Morris, Guardian --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Peter Clarke was formerly a professor of modern history and Master of Trinity Hall at Cambridge. His many books include The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire, The Keynesian Revolution in the Making, 1924–1936, and the acclaimed final volume of the Penguin History of Britain, Hope and Glory, Britain 1900–2000. He lives in Suffolk, England, and Pender Island, British Columbia.
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Top Customer Reviews
The best comparison I can give is it is like the movie Malcolm X - it should have been an intense compelling movie (the book sure was), yet it wasn't. This book falls in that same category.
The crisis produced a fiscal stimulus -- the one I am thinking of is the rush of a few publishers to quickly issue new books about Keynes. I read Clarke's because the publisher provided me a free examination copy through a LibraryThing lottery. It is less than 200 pages in the body and is definitely a good selection for readers that wish to catch-up on Keynes but do not have either the time or the stamina for Robert Skidelsky's full three-volume biography (published between 1994 and 2001). Another possible new-issue choice, which I did not read, is Skidelsky's own single-volume Keynes: The Return of the Master.
Clarke is a former Professor of Modern British History at Cambridge who has written two previous books about the Keynesian revolution in economics. In this new volume he covers many essentials, including an overview of Keynes' shifting reputation from 1920 to the present, biographical highlights, Keynes' economic policy ideas, and core elements of his economic theory. In an epilogue he considers how Keynes' insights have been put into practice (or not) in both Britain and America and how we can still benefit from his thinking.
Keynes once remarked that an effective economist must also be a "mathematician, historian, statesman, [and] philosopher" and "must understand symbols and speak in words." He describes himself. He was a notable public figure from the appearance of his The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919) until his death (1946), a skilled writer and arguer for his positions, often a representative of his country in international economic negotiations. He was a central figure in the Bloomsbury group, broadly engaged in the arts and generous in his support. In the end he was a highly successful investor, though his fortunes fluctuated wildly at times.
Clarke gives special emphasis to how Keynes' ideas developed from 1929 through the 1936 publication of his magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. He recounts in some detail Keynes' participation and influence on the Committee on Finance and Industry (1929-1931), a group appointed by the British government to provide policy guidance to deal with the depression. Beginning in 1931, Keynes also participated with a discussion group at Cambridge known as the "Circus," including both established and younger economists. Out of these experiences several of his core ideas took shape and matured.
Clarke covers several of Keynes' key concepts in lay terms that will appeal to most readers (no need for mathematics). He claims "the seed of the Keynesian revolution in economic theory" is the recognition that thrift (savings) does not determine enterprise (investment), but rather enterprise determines thrift; savings is not the dog, but the tail. He provides clear explanations of Keynes' ideas about the stickiness of wages, multiplier effects, the limits of monetary policy, infrastructure spending, budget deficits, and the role of expectations in shaping economic outcomes, for example.
Clarke believes there is no "timeless Keynes," that his thinking shifted in reaction to the times in which he lived. The one constant was "a lifelong commitment to the strategy of institutional reform through reasoned argument."
For a work such as this that seeks to summarize the contributions of a distinguished thinker, it is probably a compliment rather than a criticism to say that one would like to have heard more on certain subjects. Two teasers in particular caught my attention, where Clarke surfaces some interesting assertions but does not develop them in any depth. In America, Clarke suggests, Keynesianism became identified with budget strategies to stimulate consumption, whereas Keynes' emphasis was on investment. Clarke notes, too, that there is an "oddly Keynesian twist" to the "supply side" notion of Reagan era economists that tax cuts would be more than recouped because of the economic growth they would supposedly stimulate.
Clarke's dedication page is inscribed, "In the long run, for my grandchildren," an obvious reference (and refutation?) to Keynes often quoted remark that "in the long run we are all dead." Less well-known is Keynes' 1930 essay "The Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren," which Clarke touches on just briefly here. In it Keynes envisions that higher productivity could mean either more consumption or more leisure for everyone. He preferred the latter, speculating that by 2030 the English would work only 15 hours per week because their material needs would be satisfied and they would see the love of money as "one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities." To the dismay of many, this is one forecast where he is likely to be well off the mark.