John Maynard Keynes


John Maynard Keynes : biography

5 June 1883 – 21 April 1946

The [[IS/LM model is used to analyse the effect of demand shocks on the economy.]]

In the late 1930s and 1940s, economists (notably John Hicks, Franco Modigliani, and Paul Samuelson) attempted to interpret and formalise Keynes’s writings in terms of formal mathematical models. In a process termed "the neoclassical synthesis", they combined Keynesian analysis with neo-classical economics to produce Neo-Keynesian economics, which came to dominate mainstream macroeconomic thought for the next 40 years.

By the 1950s, Keynesian policies were adopted by almost the entire developed world and similar measures for a mixed economy were used by many developing nations. By then, Keynes’s views on the economy had become mainstream in the world’s universities. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the developed and emerging free capitalist economies enjoyed exceptionally high growth and low unemployment.

Professor Gordon Fletcher has written that the 1950s and 1960s, when Keynes's influence was at its peak, appear in retrospect as a Golden Age of Capitalism. 

In late 1965 Time magazine ran a cover article with the title inspired by a possibly tongue-in-cheek comment from Milton Friedman, a comment later echoed by U.S. President Richard Nixon, that "We are all Keynesians now". The article described the exceptionally favourable economic conditions then prevailing, and reported that "Washington’s economic managers scaled these heights by their adherence to Keynes’s central theme: the modern capitalist economy does not automatically work at top efficiency, but can be raised to that level by the intervention and influence of the government." The article also states that Keynes was one of the three most important economists who ever lived, and that his General Theory was more influential than the magna opera of other famous economists, like Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.

Economics out of favour 1979–2007

Keynesian economics were officially discarded by the British Government in 1979, but forces had begun to gather against Keynes’s ideas over 30 years earlier. Friedrich Hayek had formed the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947, with the explicit intention of nurturing intellectual currents to one day displace Keynesianism and other similar influences. Its members included Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises along with the then young Milton Friedman. Initially the society had little impact on the wider world – Hayek was to say it was as if Keynes had been raised to sainthood after his death and that people refused to allow his work to be questioned.

Friedman however began to emerge as a formidable critic of Keynesian economics from the mid-1950s, and especially after his 1963 publication of A Monetary History of the United States.

On the practical side of economic life, big government had appeared to be firmly entrenched in the 1950s but the balance began to shift towards private power in the 1960s. Keynes had written against the folly of allowing "decadent and selfish" speculators and financiers the kind of influence they had enjoyed after World War I. For two decades after World War II public opinion was strongly against private speculators, the disparaging label Gnomes of Zürich being typical of how they were described during this period. International speculation was severely restricted by the capital controls in place after Bretton Woods. Journalists Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson say 1968 was a pivotal year when power shifted in the favour of private agents such as currency speculators. They pick out a key 1968 event as being when America suspended the conversion of the dollar into gold except on request of foreign governments, which they identify as when the Bretton Woods system first began to break down.

Criticisms of Keynes’s ideas had begun to gain significant acceptance by the early 1970s as they were able to make a credible case that Keynesian models no longer reflected economic reality. Keynes himself had included few formulas and no explicit mathematical models in his General Theory. For commentators such as economist Hyman Minsky, Keynes’s limited use of mathematics was partly the result of his scepticism about whether phenomena as inherently uncertain as economic activity could ever be adequately captured by mathematical models. Nevertheless, many models were developed by Keynesian economists, with a famous example being the Phillips curve which predicted an inverse relationship between unemployment and inflation. It implied that unemployment could be reduced by government stimulus with a calculable cost to inflation. In 1968 Milton Friedman published a paper arguing that the fixed relationship implied by the Philips curve did not exist.