Tuesday, March 12, 2019

What Free Market Advocates Should Learn From John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes
Samuel Gregg writes:

First, Keynes understood the importance of persuading the populace at large when advancing policy proposals. Economic Consequences wasn’t primarily written for economists or politicians. The intended audience was far wider and his book’s impressive sales suggest that Keynes hit his target. For the rest of his life, Keynes made a point of giving public speeches and radio-addresses as well as writing easy-to-read pamphlets and popular books accessible to non-specialist audiences ranging from trade unionists to journalists.

Second, Keynes understood that his fellow academicians are crucial for shaping opinion over the long term. To sway these people into his camp, Keynes continued teaching and giving seminars, penned short scholarly works, edited prestigious academic publications such as the Economic Journal, and helped launch the careers of people who would carry the Keynesian Gospel through the world’s universities, central banks, and finance ministries long after Keynes’s death in 1946.

Lastly, Keynes focused attention upon those who actually made the political decisions: cabinet ministers, members of parliament, and civil servants. While recognizing that this audience was influenced by mass opinion and the views of scholars, Keynes knew it was important to reach such individuals directly. Keynes did so through a combination of ferocious networking, direct lobbying, and writing eyes-only memoranda and well-placed opinion-pieces in establishment newspapers.

Keynes didn’t always get his way. But it’s hard to think of any economist who comes even close to Keynes in terms of single-handedly shaping the parameters within which questions of economic policy have been discussed throughout the West from the 1920s onwards up to today. From this perspective, Economic Consequences marked the beginning of Keynes’s role in propelling economics and economists to the forefront of politics and the formation of public policy.

Put another way: having asserted the primacy of economics at Versailles, Keynes discovered that advancing economic ideas in public life requires smart and relentless politics. That’s one reason why, for better or worse, we still live very much in a Keynesian world. In this regard, free marketers could learn something from their nemesis.

1 comment:

  1. Surely his influence was boosted by the fact that his economics provided legitimacy to the state and the court intellectuals, so that statists were only too happy to pay attention. Free-market economists are like doomsayers, always pointing out what's wrong with state policy. Who wants to hear that if you're a statist?

    Clergymen have a lot more influence in church than do atheists.