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Professor James Tobin had a seminar course for senior year economics majors called "The Keynesian Revolution and Counter-revolutions" which followed roughly along the lines of Carter's book, starting with Keynes' admirable and event-filled life and then following the macroeconomic revolution he started to its US adherents and critics. Carter's book does a good job with the British half of the same story (up until the end of World War II) but he completely loses the plot when he moves the story to the USA for part two. After the death of Keynes in 1946 and the transfer of his ideas to the USA, Zacharty Carter chooses John Kenneth Galbraith (??) as the central figure in his story of American Keynesianism. Carter describes Gallbraith as "the most prominent American Keynesian". Tobin would have laughed aloud at this notion. Galbraith was a witty and perceptive social commentator, but he was not a serious analytical or quantitative economist, and contributed nothing to macroeconomics. Carter gives him center stage by arguing that Galbraith's work is closest to the light-hearted, almost whimsical, casual piece "The Economic Possibilities of Our Grandchildren" which Keynes penned. Treating this casual little essay as the centerpiece of Keynes contribution is ridiculous and a bit insulting to Keynes' magnificent contributions. Keynes is the founder of modern macroeconomics, and spent his life in analytical and quantitative work. Although he did write some light-hearted social commentary, he was at heart an analytical economist. Keynes started as a mathematician and ended by inventing quantitative macroeconomics. Galbraith was very witty and talented at clever puns, but he has few followers, and they have even fewer modern readers.
In summary, the first half of the book works extremely well, and then the author loses the plot.
I hope that young people will understand. Maynard Keynes should be the big idol of our times... I hope that Keynes could be the solution for our battered democracies. After Orwell, Keynes is that best seer in Britain - I am sure that Orwell read his editorial essays in liberalism and in the Statesman. I am not sure that Keynes read Orwell. Very different but they believed and equality. Orwell didn't really liked that capitalism, nor did Keynes! Thanks for a good book, and I had to read Keynes after a stroke. I like Orwell's courage, and his toughness. Salute them! For many years ago I read the good books of 1930s. The 1930s are interesting now... Keynes is so interesting
This is a detailed and always engaging book, exploring not just the biography of Keynes but of Keynesianism, especially in the USA. It is a valuable contribution to current debates in that Keynes always saw the links between economics, politics and moral issues. In an era of lies, misinformation and downright political nastiness, this book reminds us that there are alternative choices to be made.
The author makes his subject, his expertise and the times come alive for both the layman and the expert. It is hard to put down and will be kept handy to revisit in the light of current and changing world events.
This is one of those rarity that would get a 6 stars rating, if possible. I am not a professional in this subject (neither history nor economics) but I have read several books on the history of economics, economic crashes, exuberances and depressions, economic theories, globalizations and all flavors of liberalisms, but this book will tower as #1 in my section of such books in my library for a long time to come.
First, it is exceptionally clear with a language that even non-specialist (like me) understand from cover to cover.
Second, the biography of the central figure in the book is simply magistral and deeply humane: rarely people are dissected, explained, analyzed, criticized and loved as done for JMK by the author in this book.
Third, the author uses a style that reminds me of another older and beautiful book, A Distant Mirror by B. Tuchman, where the main figure is perfectly inserted in the dramas of his period to create a unique narrative of a human being inserted and explained in his historical milieu, not in an immaterial cloud of philosophical principles and abstract theories or, even worse, boring historical events.
Fourth, despite masqueraded under the excuse of a biography, the book also is actually an excellent review of the political choices of the last century that have shaped our world and have created our present condition. If there is one thing that comes up brilliantly uncovered and explained by the book is that there is no economics without political choices.
I can only most warmly recommend reading attentively this book which has helped me enormously to understand the period I am leaving in and how we got here.
5.0 out of 5 starsFascinating account of a great man and his ideas
Reviewed in the United States on 9 March 2020
A very meaty book that will repay careful reading for anyone interested in economics (and who isn't?). I had sort of expected it to be mostly a biography of Keynes, following the usual bio formula (starting with the subject's grandparents, discussing his affairs with various men and women, etc.) And there is some attention to his life, including his interactions with the "Bloomsbury set." But it's chiefly about his economic theories.
The book starts with Keynes in his thirties, just before World War I, when he was called to deal with the financial crisis at the start of the war. As the author points out, he was considered by many (including Bertrand Russell) to be one of the best minds in Britain. And it was his fate to be usually right about things, but often not have his advice taken.
What first brought him popular fame was his book "The Economic Consequences of the Peace," about the catastrophic mistakes made at the 1919 peace conference. This book is still fascinating today, and a good read. It's available in several Kindle editions, amusingly some of them called "The Economic Consequences of Peace," rather then "of THE Peace [of Versailles]." I'm not sure what this error indicates about people's memory of Keynes!
I remember many years ago that conservatives used to denounce his theories, sometimes using the term, "Marxist-Keynesian." Of course, he was no Marxist, and it's been a while since I heard that. The underlying idea of Keynesianism is simply that the solution for economic problems lies in government policies, rather than the "invisible hand" of the market. Naturally, just how this is supposed to work in practice isn't simple, and Carter shows how Keynes wasn't afraid to change his mind and move in different directions: the book gives a good account of how his ideas changed over time. And the author explains how Keynesian ideas generally prevailed in disguise, even in administrations which denounced him! Keynes's last work was with the Bretton Woods Conference of 1944; the book explains very clearly what this conference was all about. Keynes died in 1946, but there's still about a third of the book left to go, from World War II up to the meltdown of 2008.
Conservatives will probably be displeased with this book: Carter's heroes include Galbraith, FDR with his New Deal, and LBJ with his Great Society. As for Hayek and Friedman... well not so much, but economists on both sides of the fence do get pretty fairly treated. The principal goats are (in addition to the 1919 negotiators) the greedy industrialists who orchestrated McCarthy's Red Scare of the fifties. The author doesn't assume that you know anything about economics. It probably wouldn't hurt if you'd had a course in economics at some time, but I hadn't, and still found the book fascinating and understandable.