Tag Archives: john maynard keynes

Am I a Liberal?

On Monday 4th March at 7.30pm if you are in or around London the NLC is the place to be. The Social Liberal Forum is launching its new publication and Ian Kearns will be speaking. Admission is free. Full details are on the SLF website. Dr Seth Thevoz reviews the publication for Lib Dem Voice. The SLF will also be holding a fringe meeting with Ian Kearns about the book at the Spring Conference inYork.

The Social Liberal Forum has given us a very welcome republication of John Maynard Keynes’s Am I a Liberal?, alongside a new essay by Ian Kearns, asking that same question. Indeed, it’s doubly timely, as the piece by Labour defector-turned-Lib Dem Kearns asks some particularly topical questions, at a time when we are still trying to make sense of what the new Labour breakaway Independent Group stands for, or even seeks to do.

Keynes’s original essay prompted a serious assessment as to what liberalism means in the modern world – he argued that remaining Gladstonian shibboleths such as Free Trade and Temperance were not, in themselves, enough to sustain a mass ideology. Instead, he proposed five new dimensions that any Liberal should apply themselves to:

  • Peace Questions
  • Questions of Government
  • Sex Questions
  • Drug Questions
  • Economic Questions

The essay remains ahead of its time in many of its conclusions, and its vindication can be found in the number of ardent Liberal converts over the years, recruited on these very issues – although parts of the essay are also dated. The sections on women’s rights, for instance, are reminiscent of Bertram Russell’s Marriage and Morals (1929), in essentially being a feminist text, written by a man who does not reference any women or early feminist writers. Despite these serious setbacks, the essay is original, and buzzing with ideas; and it is well worth a read, 96 years on, for the sometimes-uncomfortable questions it raises.

Kearns’s essay is a more personal one, following on from some of Keynes’s themes – especially the passages excised from the original version of Keynes’s paper, as delivered at the 1925 Liberal Summer School. Kearns looks at much at other ideologies, and while he has nothing positive to say about conservatism, he focuses his real fire on the modern Labour Party, and its shortcomings as a vehicle for Liberal thought or action. 

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20th century support for eugenics by Churchill, Beveridge, Keynes etc – what to make of it?

This week, a couple of LDV commenters mentioned the support of eugenics by Beveridge and Keynes in the 1930s and early 1940s. Such support was widely shared by members of the Fabian society and notables such as George Bernard Shaw, Marie Stopes, Harold Laski – even Winston Churchill (earlier in the 20th century).

Debate of this point was not possible on unrelated threads this week, so this article is posted to allow discussion of this interesting, and somewhat disturbing, historic phenomenon.

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Are we targeting the wrong deficit?

 

Keynes and his contemporaries did not share our present day casual attitude to the imbalances we see in international trade. The monthly, or quarterly, trade figures were a regular and prominent feature of our business news, at one time, but we have to look much harder to find those same figures now.

Keynes’s proposal that international trade be separated from domestic trade by the use of a separate international currency, the Bancor, formed part of the official British proposals at the 1944 Bretton Woods  conference  which set the international financial and monetary arrangements for the post war period. Unfortunately this was a step too far for the Americans at the time. The proposal, had it been adopted, would have penalised the surplus nations, making it less attractive for countries to run large export surpluses and would have encouraged the deficit nations to re-align their currencies to reduce their deficits.

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“Look after the unemployment, and the budget will look after itself ” (Keynes 1933). Is he still right?


Keynes was undeniably a genius of his time, but he wasn’t infallible. We should not just assume that he was always correct. As with all prolific writers we can cherry-pick quotations to suit our own political purposes. If we want to argue for more government spending, we can use this:

For the proposition that supply creates its own demand, I shall substitute the proposition that expenditure creates its own income.

(Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, Volume XXIX, pp 80-81)

Keynes meant that the mere supply of a commodity is not enough to ensure the sale of that commodity, but money from all government spending inevitably ends up in someone’s pocket. This is a statement of the obvious, maybe, but he evidently felt it needed making anyway. On the other hand, if we are suspicious of what sounds like “magic money tree” economics, as many scathingly describe any deviation from their understanding of ‘sound money’, we can find this quotation:

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