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John Maynard Keynes:
selected quotations

New translation, the Magna Carta
 
 
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John Maynard Keynes, 1st Baron Keynes [1883–1946]
English economist

Keynes was one of the great mathematicians and thinkers of the 20th century. Much that is now called Keynesianism or neo-Keynesianism would meet with Keynes’ disapproval, for Keynes was an enemy of inflation because he understood inflation for what it is: dishonesty and the debauchery of money. But Keynes was also a great pragmatist, not some mere academic theorist.

  • Thus inflation is unjust and deflation is inexpedient. Of the two perhaps deflation is, if we rule out exaggerated inflations such as that of Germany, the worse; because it is worse, in an impoverished world, to provoke unemployment than to disappoint the rentier. But it is necessary that we should weigh one evil against the other. It is easier to agree that both are evils to be shunned.[...].
    [Essays in Persuasion, p. 75 - Social consequences of the changes in the value of money, 1923]

  • The important thing for Government is not to do things which individuals are doing already, and to do them a little better or a little worse; but to do those things which at present are not done at all.
    [The End of Laissez-Faire, 1926, part 4]

  • Taxation may be so high as to defeat its object ... given sufficient
    time to gather the fruits, a reduction of taxation will run a better
    chance, than an increase, of balancing the budget. [1933, The means to prosperity in [Essays in Persuasion, p.338]

  • Marxian Socialism must always remain a portent to the historians of Opinion - how a doctrine so illogical and so dull can have exercised so powerful and enduring an influence over the minds of men, and, through them, the events of history.
    [The End of Laissez-Faire, 1926]

  • Lenin was right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.
    [The Economic Consequences of the Peace,1919, ch. 6]
    This is, of course, the point. This is the objective of Marxists/Socialists - to so disrupt society that they can take over.


  • I work for a Government I despise for ends I think criminal.
    [Letter to Duncan Grant, 15 December 1917]

  • Just as the Conservative Party will always have its diehard wing, so the Labour Party will always be flanked by the party of catastrophe - Jacobins, Communists, Bolshevists, whatever you choose to call them. This is the party which hates or despises existing institutions and believes that great good will result merely from overthrowing them - or at least that to overthrow them is the necessary preliminary to any great good. This party can only flourish in an atmosphere of social oppression or as a reaction against the Rule of Die-Hard. In Great Britain it is, in its extreme form, numerically very weak. Nevertheless its philosophy in a diluted form permeated, in my opinion, the whole Labour Party. However moderate its leaders may be at heart, the Labour Party will always depend for electoral success on making some slight appeal to the widespread passions and jealousies which find their full development in the party of catastrophe. I believe that this secret sympathy with the policy of catastrophe is the worm which gnaws at the seaworthiness of any constructive vessel which the Labour Party may launch. The passions of malignity, jealousy, hatred of those who have wealth and power (even in their own body), ill consort with the ideals to build up a true social republic. Yet it is necessary for a successful Labour leader to be, or at least to appear, a little savage. It is not enough that he should love his fellow-men; he must hate them too.
    [Am I a Liberal, 1925 in Essays in Persuasion, p.299-300]

  • Suppose that by the working of natural laws individuals pursuing their own interests with enlightenment in conditions of freedom always tend to promote the general interest at the same time!
    [The End of Laissez-Faire, 1926, p.274]

  • On Munich:
    “Neither the Prime Minister nor Herr Hitler ever intended for one moment that the play-acting should devolve into reality.”
    [October, 1938]

Keynes was a pragmatist, an elitist and a humanist.

  • If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory) there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but as there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.
    [General Theory, 1936, bk. 3]

  • Capitalism, wisely managed, can probably be made more efficient for attaining economic ends than any alternative system yet in sight, but that in itself it is in many ways extremely objectionable.
    [The End of Laissez-Faire, 1926, p.294]

Laffer includes an excellent quote from John Maynard Keynes:

  • When, on the contrary, I show, a little elaborately, as in the ensuing chapter, that to create wealth will increase the national income and that a large proportion of any increase in the national income will accrue to an Exchequer, amongst whose largest outgoings is the payment of incomes to those who are unemployed and whose receipts are a proportion of the incomes of those who are occupied, I hope the reader will feel, whether or not he thinks himself competent to criticize the argument in detail, that the answer is just what he would expect—that it agrees with the instinctive promptings of his common sense.

    Nor should the argument seem strange that taxation may be so high as to defeat its object, and that, given sufficient time to gather the fruits, a reduction of taxation will run a better chance than an increase of balancing the budget. For to take the opposite view today is to resemble a manufacturer who, running at a loss, decides to raise his price, and when his declining sales increase the loss, wrapping himself in the rectitude of plain arithmetic, decides that prudence requires him to raise the price still more—and who, when at last his account is balanced with nought on both sides, is still found righteously declaring that it would have been the act of a gambler to reduce the price when you were already making a loss.
    [1933 Essay: The Means to Prosperity, section I: The nature of the problem, p338, The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, Macmillan Cambridge University Press, 1972]

  • Possibly the Liberal Party cannot serve the state in any better way than by supplying Conservative government with cabinets, and Labour governments with ideas.
    [The End of Laissez-Faire,1926, p 310]

related material
Yet another article misunderstands Keynes - confusing money and work

bibliography

Keynes, John Maynard Essays in Persuasion

Keynes is one of the great masters of the twentieth century. He's often misrepresented under the heading of Keynesianism, for which see a useful review referenced in the EMU document. Keynes has a clear-headed understanding of both money and politics, and understands the difference; this is rare indeed. Keynes is a pragmatist par excellence. Any person wishing to gain a down-to-earth grasp of the political implications of economic factors, would be well advised to read into this collection of essays any time that they start to become confused by theory detached from reality. Keynes may even increase your sanity.

First published in 1931

(pbk, 1991, W W Norton & Co, 0393001903)
$14.95 [amazon.com / £9.40 [amazon.co.uk]

The Economic Consequences of the Peace

First published 1919

2001, Simon Publications, 1931541132, pbk
to special order
£19.95 [amazon.co.uk] / $35.95 [amazon.com]

The End of laissez-faire in
Essays in Persuasion,
the Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes [IV Politics]

First published 1926

1991, W W Norton & Co, 0393001903
pbk, $10.47 [amazon.com] / £9.09 [amazon.co.uk]

General Theory

(The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes: Vol.7: the ‘General Theory’ of Employment, Interest and Money)

First published 1936

1997, Prometheus Books, 1573921394, pbk
£11.00 [amazon.co.uk] / $11.20 [amazon.com]


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