A colleague of mine and I in the English and Humanities Department at my University (Shawnee State University) will be working on a project on John Maynard Keynes’ “The Economic Consequences of the Peace.” We are starting with an exchange during an event sponsored annually at my University called “Faculty Festival of Achievement”. I will be talking about Keynes as Political Economist and why it is important to assess Keynes’ contributions on how well, or poorly, his writings about Political Economy stack up against reality. My colleague will be discussing how analyzing Keynes’ rhetoric and writing from an aesthetic view can contribute to our understanding. If the project goes well, we may seek to publish our exchange in one of the several journals that I could envision having an interest in such an exchange. It’s been sometime since I read The Economic Consequences of the Peace, and also a while since I posted here. Thus with the goal of focusing my thoughts a bit and getting back to this blog, I’ll be posting some of my thoughts here as I re-read The Economic Consequences of the Peace.
Today: Chapter One.
In the very first paragraph Keynes addresses issues that were prominent themes in his later writings, especially in The General Theory. In particular, Keynes addresses the role of uncertainty as well as the importance of social conventions and habits (institutions) in helping us to cope with uncertainty. Keynes also reveals much about his broader social vision.
The Economic Consequences of the Peace, as many know, is not narrowly focused on economic theory. It’s Keynes’ effort to address the failures of the Treaty of Versailles in securing the peace of what Keynes’ calls Europe’s Civil War (WWI). In other words, its as much a work on diplomacy and statecraft as it is a work about economics. In that sense, Keynes is clearly what contemporary International Relations theorists would call a Realist: he is concerned about humans can create an international structure that can secure the conditions necessary for human livelihood. A short word of caution here: not all Realists in International Relations accept Henry Kissinger’s amoral “realpolitik” of great powers. So when I say Keynes is a realist, I am not implying he is devoid of moral sense and it is clear that Keynes’ concern is to avoid a repeat of the immense destruction and needless suffering brought on by World War I. These concerns of Keynes found later concrete expression both in the social vision which informs The General Theory as well as in Keynes’ contributions at Bretton Woods.