John Maynard Keynes

124

John Maynard Keynes : biography

5 June 1883 – 21 April 1946

Like several other notable British authors of his time, Keynes was a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Virginia Woolf’s biographer tells an anecdote on how Virginia Woolf, Keynes and T. S. Eliot would discuss religion at a dinner party, in the context of their struggle against Victorian era morality.

Keynes had attended church up to his teens,

but by university he had become agnostic, which he remained until his death.

Investments

Keynes was ultimately a successful investor, building up a private fortune. His assets were nearly wiped out following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which he did not foresee, but he soon recouped. At Keynes’s death, in 1946, his worth stood just short of £500,000 – equivalent to about £11 million ($16.5 million) in 2009. The sum had been amassed despite lavish support for various causes and his personal ethic which made him reluctant to sell on a falling market when if too many did it could deepen a slump.See John Maynard Keynes by Skidelsky (2003) , pp 520–21, p563 & esp p565 where Keynes is quoted saying "It is the duty of a serious investor to accept the depreciation of his holding with equanimity … any other policy is anti-social, destructive of confidence and incompatible with the working of the economic system."

Keynes built up a substantial collection of fine art, including works, not all of them minor, by Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Amedeo Modigliani, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Seurat (some of which can now be seen at the Fitzwilliam Museum). He enjoyed collecting books: for example, he collected and protected many of Isaac Newton’s papers. It is in part on the basis of these papers that Keynes wrote of Newton as "the last of the magicians."

Political causes

Keynes was a lifelong member of the Liberal Party, which until the 1920s had been one of the two main political parties in the United Kingdom, and as late as 1916 had often been the dominant power in government. Keynes had helped campaign for the Liberals at elections from as early as 1906, yet he always refused to run for office himself, despite being asked to do so on three separate occasions in 1920. From 1926 when Lloyd George became leader of the Liberals, Keynes took a major role in defining the party’s economics policy, but by then the Liberals had been displaced into third party status by the Labour party.

In 1939 Keynes had the option to enter Parliament as an independent MP with the University of Cambridge seat. A by-election for the seat was to be held due to the illness of an elderly Tory, and the master of Magdalene College had obtained agreement that none of the major parties would field a candidate if Keynes chose to stand. Keynes declined the invitation as he felt he would wield greater influence on events if he remained a free agent.

Keynes was a proponent of eugenics. He served as Director of the British Eugenics Society from 1937 to 1944. As late as 1946, shortly before his death, Keynes declared eugenics to be "the most important, significant and, I would add, genuine branch of sociology which exists."

Keynes once remarked that "the youth had no religion save Communism and this was worse than nothing." Marxism "was founded upon nothing better than a misunderstanding of Ricardo", and, given time, he, Keynes, "would deal thoroughly with the Marxists" and other economists to solve the economic problems their theories "threaten[ed] to cause".

In 1931 Keynes went on to write the following on Marxism:

Death

Throughout his life Keynes worked energetically for the benefit both of the public and his friends – even when his health was poor he laboured to sort out the finances of his old college,

and at Bretton Woods, he worked to institute an international monetary system that would be beneficial for the world economy. Keynes suffered a series of heart attacks, which ultimately proved fatal, beginning during negotiations for an Anglo-American loan in Savannah, Georgia, where he was trying to secure favourable terms for the United Kingdom from the United States, a process he described as "absolute hell."