Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Misbegotten View

Some conservatives want to find meaning
In professed homosexual leaning,
Which some think explains
The penchant of Keynes
For cyclical, state intervening.

We know the economist said
In the long run, that we are all dead, 
But the meaning was not
That he hadn't begot,
Or who he preferred in his bed. 

The historian Niall Ferguson provoked indignation this week while speaking at a conference in California. During the Q&A, he referred to John Maynard Keynes' oft-quoted statement that "in the long run we are all dead." Keynes was blind to the importance of future generations, Mr. Ferguson told the audience, because, though married, he was gay and fathered no children. In the face of a generally outraged reaction that evidently surprised him, Mr. Ferguson offered a full and sincere apology.

But what of his core contention, that Keynes did not care about the future and thus was willing - to paraphrase Corinthians 1 -  to "eat, drink & be merry (or at least, stimulate economically) today, for tomorrow we die?"  This interpretation misses the point of Keynes' famous quote, writes Matt Yglesias in Slate.  In his 1923 Tract on Monetary Reform, Keynes wrote that “this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.”  In other words, in the midst of a crisis, economics should have something more to tell us than that, in the long run, things will work themselves out. Says Yglesias: "The fact of the matter is that both Keynes personally and “Keynesian” thinkers about macroeconomics in general care deeply about long-term issues. In fact, Keynes is one of the deepest thinkers about the long-term economic trajectory of all time."

So, regardless of whether his sexual leanings may have been kept on the down low, Keynes as an economist and public figure was strictly on the up & up.

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