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Keynes: The Return of the Master by Robert…
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Keynes: The Return of the Master

by Robert Skidelsky

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This little booklet - perhaps monograph is the best word - is packed with interesting info and thought provoking ideas. First off, Skidelsky is clearly a fan: Keynes appears to have been not only a great mind but a nice bloke - rare combination. He had a moral conscience as well as a broad cultural background, unlike most economists - a paid up member of the Bloomsbury group he saw that economic activity had a point - the good life, which philosophers have been wondering about since the dawn of thought. And what is the good life? - friends, family and the enjoyment of the arts. He thought economic growth would reach an equilibrium where most needs were satisfied and we could all relax. That point does not seem to have happened, though Skidelsky argues that it still could: today's inequality distorts the figures. Keynes' humanism also lead him to oppose the mathematising of economics. Skidelsky shows how classical and neo-classical economists distort reality in order to make elegant models and equations seeming not to care about the distortions. The quants are still evidently in business today. Keynes also simplified: his main model omits foreign trade, which has been a significant factor since the Stone Age and ever more so today.

Does the Keynesian approach work? Skidelsky demonstrates that the period in which Keynesianism rode high (from 1945 Bretton Woods to its breakdown and the oil crisis in early '70s), the Western economies did better on most counts than in the subsequent years of Thatcher/Reagonomics. But his point is slightly weakened by the admission that policies at the time did not follow Keynes in all respects.

The most graphic image in the book is Keynes analogy for the stock market: voters at a beauty contest who vote not for the prettiest girl but for the one they think other people will think the prettiest. Of course this is a simplified model too: they could abstain, spoil their ballot-papers, or go round the corner and vote in a trans-gender contest instead. Or just buy some candy-floss.

It's aimed at the layman but even with my third of a degree in economics some parts were hard going. For example, the distinction between"risk" and "uncertainty" seems important but still escapes me. Still, inclines me to read more of Skidelsky and perhaps of Keynes himself ( )
  vguy | Feb 22, 2016 |
Less on Keynes himself than I thought.
  ohernaes | Mar 31, 2013 |
Don't bother reading this. Overly academic and pretentious - hard to read, poor description of ideas, almost nothing about the man himself. Worst book I've read for ages. ( )
1 vote jvgravy | Aug 6, 2012 |
Remedial reading is seldom entertaining. Lord Skidelsky has written an outstanding multi-volume biography of the 20th century's greatest economist, John Maynard Keynes. This book serves as an introduction to those who are too lazy to read the biography (or its abridgment - to which I plead guilty, my reading progress being stuck after a few hundred pages) or an economics textbook about proper Keynesianism (if they still print those in the US).

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is a (flawed) account of the current economic crisis. The book was written too early for a balanced account. Skidelsky, whose political views journeyed all over the place, places too much blame on the greedy poor taking out undeserving mortgages and not enough on corrupt bankers. He is also hampered by the fact that he continued to author Greenspanish paeans to the self-correcting market and the need for ultra-low inflation. He only manages partly to walk back on his former ideas.

The second part is a short recapitulation of Keynes' life as a successful hedge fund manager, who nevertheless was nearly wiped out multiple times during the Great Depression, advisor to the British government and shaper of Bretton Woods. Part two also includes a quick overview of the main Keynesian ideas. Skidelsky points to Keynes' important notions of uncertainty and animal spirits that reign beyond the possibilities of economic calculus.

Part three pleads for the return of intelligent Keynesianism in fiscal policy, a plea that only the pernicious influence of the Chicago economists prevents from being a mainstream idea. It as a sad fact that most US-trained economists are ignorant about Depression economics. If only the "practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist,” would let John Maynard Keynes be that defunct economist. ( )
2 vote jcbrunner | May 1, 2011 |
Ideas of a master written by one. ( )
  matthewpoggi | Feb 14, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Mr. Skidelsky is righteous in his thunder about how Keynes’s ideas have been spurned in recent decades... When Mr. Skidelsky pulls out a napkin and begins to scribble down figures, this book is slower going. It is probably safe to say that “Keynes: The Return of the Master” is aimed at the general reader, if that general reader owns excellent reading glasses and enthusiastically devours the daily business section from front to back.
 
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This is the worst global turndown since the Great Depression. But it is highly unlikely to be as bad. The years 1929-32 saw twelve successive quarters of economic contraction. If repeated, this would mean the economic slide will continue till mid-2011. But the present contraction will be neither as deep nor as long, and this for two reasons. First, the will to International cooperation is stronger. Second, we do have Keynes.… (more)

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