Zach Carter on the Life and Legacy of John Maynard Keynes | Conversations with Tyler
Zach Carter, author of the intellectual biography of John Maynard Keynes, delves into the life, work, and enduring influence of the renowned economist.
The conversation explores Keynes’ critique of the Treaty of Versailles, his work in the India office, his views on the British Empire, and his significant role in shaping modern economic theory and policy.
Keynes’ seminal work, ‘The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money’, re-evaluates the function of economics, shifting the focus from competition for scarce resources to uncertainty about the future.
The central message of this book is that prosperity is not hardwired into human beings and must be guided through political leadership.
Views on Technocratic Governance
Keynes’ views on technocratic governance were complex.
He saw civilization as a thin crust preserved by the skillful acts of a few, suggesting a belief in the power of technocrats.
However, he also believed in the ability of ordinary people to make good decisions and in the power of good ideas to conquer bad ones.
Role in the Formation of the British National Health Service
Keynes played a significant role in the formation of the British National Health Service.
As a financial architect, he worked closely with the socialist labor party to ensure the numbers added up, making him an important player in the establishment of the health service.
Keynes was a flexible thinker, often shifting his economic views to align with his philosophical beliefs.
His economic theories often served as mathematical justifications for his philosophical views.
His social vision remained consistent throughout his life, even as his economic theories evolved.
Keynes’ preface for the German language edition of the General Theory has been criticized for suggesting that his economic system would work better under an authoritarian government.
However, he was simply acknowledging the technical aspects of his theory, which posits that the state can organize resources more effectively than atomized financial markets.
Keynes is not focused on scarcity at this point… he’s refocusing the nature of economics and economic humanity from competition for scarce resources towards the idea that uncertainty about the future is the most important psychological condition for economics. – Zach Carter
Views on Eugenics
Keynes’ views on eugenics have been controversial.
He was interested in eugenics from the perspective of birth control and heritability of traits like eye color.
However, when he had power as a policy maker, he didn’t pursue eugenic policies, focusing instead on more egalitarian financial policies.
Changing Views on Working People
Keynes held disparaging views about working people in the 1920s, believing that the British middle class was superior.
However, over the course of his career, he came to believe that prosperity could be shared more broadly, and that a broad swath of the population could enjoy the intellectual pursuits that he and his friends enjoyed.
Legacy as a Policymaker
Keynes’ legacy as a policymaker was largely shaped by technocratic policymaking.
Despite his complex views on technocracy and the British Empire, Keynes’ ideas continue to influence modern economic theory and policy.
Underrated and Overrated Topics
Carter discusses underrated and overrated topics, including traveling in Taiwan, the 1965 Immigration Reform Act, the Sex Pistols, Samuel Delaney’s book ‘Nova’, and the Bretton Woods monetary system.
He suggests that these topics have significant implications for understanding cultural, political, and economic shifts.