John Maynard Keynes

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John Maynard Keynes : biography

5 June 1883 – 21 April 1946

and the European Central Bank

have expressed concern over the potential impact on inflation, national debt and the risk that a too large stimulus will create an unsustainable recovery.

Among professional economists the revival of Keynesian economics has been even more divisive. Although many economists, such as George Akerlof, Paul Krugman, Robert Shiller, and Joseph Stiglitz, support Keynesian stimulus, others do not believe higher government spending will help the United States economy recover from the Great Recession. Some economists, such as Robert Lucas, questioned the theoretical basis for stimulus packages. Others, like Robert Barro and Gary Becker, say that the empirical evidence for beneficial effects from Keynesian stimulus does not exist.Robert J. Barro, Gary Becker, Wall Street Journal editorials, 24 August 2011, and 2 September 2011 However, there is a growing academic literature that shows that fiscal expansion helps an economy grow in the near term, and that certain types of fiscal stimulus are particularly effective.Romer, Christina D., ‘What do we know about the effects of fiscal policy? Separating evidence from ideology’, Hamilton College, 7 November 2011

Career

Keynes’s Civil Service career began in October 1906, as a clerk in the India Office. He enjoyed his work at first, but by 1908 had become bored and resigned his position to return to Cambridge and work on probability theory, at first privately funded only by two dons at the university – his father and the economist Arthur Pigou. In 1909 Keynes published his first professional economics article in the Economics Journal, about the effect of a recent global economic downturn on India.

Also in 1909, Keynes accepted a lectureship in economics funded personally by Alfred Marshall. Keynes’s earnings rose further as he began to take on pupils for private tuition, and on being elected a fellow. In 1911 Keynes was made editor of The Economic Journal. By 1913 he had published his first book, Indian Currency and Finance.See He was then appointed to the Royal Commission on Indian Currency and Finance – the same topic as his book – where Keynes showed considerable talent at applying economic theory to practical problems.

World War I

The British Government called on Keynes’s expertise during the First World War. While he did not formally re-join the civil service in 1914, Keynes traveled to London at the government’s request a few days before hostilities started. Bankers had been pushing for the suspension of specie payments – the convertibility of banknotes into gold – but with Keynes’s help the Chancellor of the Exchequer (then Lloyd George) was persuaded that this would be a bad idea, as it would hurt the future reputation of the city if payments were suspended before absolutely necessary.

In January 1915 Keynes took up an official government position at the Treasury. Among his responsibilities were the design of terms of credit between Britain and its continental allies during the war, and the acquisition of scarce currencies. According to economist Robert Lekachman, Keynes’s "nerve and mastery became legendary" because of his performance of these duties, as in the case where he managed to assemble – with difficulty – a small supply of Spanish pesetas. The secretary of the Treasury was delighted to hear Keynes had amassed enough to provide a temporary solution for the British Government. But Keynes did not hand the pesetas over, choosing instead to sell them all to break the market: his boldness paid off, as pesetas then became much less scarce and expensive.

In the 1917 King's Birthday Honours, Keynes was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath for his wartime work, and his success led to the appointment that would have a huge effect on Keynes's life and career; Keynes was appointed financial representative for the Treasury to the 1919 Versailles peace conference. He was also appointed Officer of the Belgian Order of Leopold. 

Versailles peace conference