I cannot leave this subject as though its just treatment wholly depended either on our own pledges or on economic facts. The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable, –abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilised life of Europe.
Both of Keynes's parents outlived him: his father John Neville Keynes (1852–1949) by three years, and his mother Florence Ada Keynes (1861–1958) by twelve. Keynes's brother Sir Geoffrey Keynes (1887–1982) was a distinguished surgeon, scholar, and bibliophile. His nephews include Richard Keynes (1919–2010), a Physiologist, and Quentin Keynes (1921–2003), an adventurer and bibliophile. Keynes had no children, his widow, Lydia Lopokova, died in 1981.
In January 1889 at the age of five and a half, Keynes started at the kindergarten of the Perse School for Girls for five mornings a week. He quickly showed a talent for arithmetic, but his health was poor leading to several long absences. He was tutored at home by a governess, Beatrice Mackintosh, and his mother. In January 1892, at eight and a half, he started as a day pupil at St Faith's preparatory school. By 1894, Keynes was top of his class and excelling at mathematics. In 1896, St Faith's headmaster, Ralph Goodchild, wrote that Keynes was "head and shoulders above all the other boys in the school" and was confident that Keynes could get a scholarship to Eton.
In 1897, Keynes won a scholarship to Eton College, where he displayed talent in a wide range of subjects, particularly mathematics, classics and history. At Eton, Keynes experienced the first "love of his life" in Dan Macmillan, older brother of the Future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Despite his middle-class background, Keynes mixed easily with upper-class pupils.
Keynes's early romantic and sexual relationships were exclusively with men. Keynes had been in relationships while at Eton and Cambridge; significant among these early partners were Dilly Knox and Daniel Macmillan. Keynes was open about his affairs, and from 1901 to 1915 kept separate diaries in which he tabulated his many sexual encounters. Keynes's relationship and later close friendship with Macmillan was to be fortunate, as Macmillan's company first published his tract Economic Consequences of the Peace.
In 1902 Keynes left Eton for King's College, Cambridge, after receiving a scholarship for this also to read mathematics. Alfred Marshall begged Keynes to become an Economist, although Keynes's own inclinations drew him towards philosophy – especially the ethical system of G. E. Moore. Keynes joined the Pitt Club and was an active member of the semi-secretive Cambridge Apostles society, a debating club largely reserved for the brightest students. Like many members, Keynes retained a bond to the club after graduating and continued to attend occasional meetings throughout his life. Before leaving Cambridge, Keynes became the President of the Cambridge Union Society and Cambridge University Liberal Club. He was said to be an atheist.
In May 1904, he received a first class BA in mathematics. Aside from a few months spent on holidays with family and friends, Keynes continued to involve himself with the university over the next two years. He took part in debates, further studied philosophy and attended economics lectures informally as a graduate student for one term, which constituted his only formal education in the subject. He also studied for Tripos in 1905 and, the following year took civil Service exams.
Keynes's friends in the Bloomsbury Group were initially surprised when, in his later years, he began dating and pursuing affairs with women, demonstrating himself to be bisexual. Ray Costelloe (who would later marry Oliver Strachey) was an early heterosexual interest of Keynes. In 1906, Keynes had written of this infatuation that, "I seem to have fallen in love with Ray a little bit, but as she isn't male I haven't [been] able to think of any suitable steps to take."
Attitudes in the Bloomsbury Group, in which Keynes was avidly involved, were relaxed about homosexuality. Keynes, together with Writer Lytton Strachey, had reshaped the Victorian attitudes of the Cambridge Apostles: "since [their] time, homosexual relations among the members were for a time common", wrote Bertrand Russell. The Artist Duncan Grant, whom he met in 1908, was one of Keynes's great loves. Keynes was also involved with Lytton Strachey, though they were for the most part love rivals, not lovers. Keynes had won the affections of Arthur Hobhouse, and as with Grant, fell out with a jealous Strachey for it. Strachey had previously found himself put off by Keynes, not least because of his manner of "treat[ing] his love affairs statistically".
By 1909 Keynes had published his first professional economics article in the Economics Journal, about the effect of a recent global economic downturn on India. He founded the Political Economy Club, a weekly discussion group. Also in 1909, Keynes accepted a lectureship in economics funded personally by Alfred Marshall. Keynes's earnings rose further as he began to take on pupils for private tuition.
On being elected a fellow in 1911 Keynes was made Editor of The Economic Journal. By 1913 he had published his first book, Indian Currency and Finance. He was then appointed to the Royal Commission on Indian Currency and Finance – the same topic as his book – where Keynes showed considerable talent at applying economic theory to practical problems. His written work was published under the name "J M Keynes", though to his family and friends he was known as Maynard. (His father, John Neville Keynes, was also always known by his middle name).
The British Government called on Keynes's expertise during the First World War. While he did not formally re-join the civil Service in 1914, Keynes travelled to London at the government's request a few days before hostilities started. Bankers had been pushing for the suspension of specie payments – the convertibility of banknotes into gold – but with Keynes's help the Chancellor of the Exchequer (then Lloyd George) was persuaded that this would be a bad idea, as it would hurt the Future reputation of the city if payments were suspended before it was absolutely necessary.
In January 1915, Keynes took up an official government position at the Treasury. Among his responsibilities were the design of terms of credit between Britain and its continental allies during the war, and the acquisition of scarce currencies. According to Economist Robert Lekachman, Keynes's "nerve and mastery became legendary" because of his performance of these duties, as in the case where he managed to assemble – with difficulty – a small supply of Spanish pesetas.
On the introduction of military conscription in 1916 he applied for exemption as a conscientious objector, which was effectively granted conditional upon continuing his government work.
In the 1917 King's Birthday Honours, Keynes was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath for his wartime work, and his success led to the appointment that would have a huge effect on Keynes's life and career; Keynes was appointed financial representative for the Treasury to the 1919 Versailles peace conference. He was also appointed Officer of the Belgian Order of Leopold.
The three principal players at Versailles were Britain's Lloyd George, France's Clemenceau and America's President Wilson. It was only Lloyd George to whom Keynes had much direct access; until the 1918 election he had some sympathy with Keynes's view but while campaigning had found his speeches were only well received by the public if he promised to harshly punish Germany, and had therefore committed his delegation to extracting high payments.
Only a small fraction of reparations were ever paid. In fact, the Historian Stephen Schuker demonstrates in American 'Reparations' to Germany, 1919–33, that the capital inflow from American loans substantially exceeded German outpayments so that, on a net basis, Germany received support equal to four times the amount of the post-Second World War Marshall Plan.
Keynes was a lifelong member of the Liberal Party, which until the 1920s had been one of the two main political parties in the United Kingdom, and as late as 1916 had often been the dominant power in government. Keynes had helped campaign for the Liberals at elections from about 1906, yet he always refused to run for office himself, despite being asked to do so on three separate occasions in 1920. From 1926, when Lloyd George became leader of the Liberals, Keynes took a major role in defining the party's economics policy, but by then the Liberals had been displaced into third party status by the Labour Party.
In 1921, Keynes wrote that he had fallen "very much in love" with Lydia Lopokova, a well-known Russian ballerina and one of the stars of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. In the early years of his courtship, he maintained an affair with a younger man, Sebastian Sprott, in tandem with Lopokova, but eventually chose Lopokova exclusively. They were married in 1925, with Keynes's former lover Duncan Grant as best man. "What a marriage of beauty and brains, the fair Lopokova and John Maynard Keynes" was said at the time. Keynes later commented to Strachey that beauty and intelligence were rarely found in the same person, and that only in Duncan Grant had he found the combination. The union was happy, with biographer Peter Clarke writing that the marriage gave Keynes "a new focus, a new emotional stability and a sheer delight of which he never wearied". Lydia became pregnant in 1927 but miscarried. Among Keynes's Bloomsbury friends, Lopokova was, at least initially, subjected to criticism for her manners, mode of conversation, and supposedly humble social origins – the last of the ostensible causes being particularly noted in the letters of Vanessa and Clive Bell, and Virginia Woolf. In her novel Mrs Dalloway (1925), Woolf bases the character of Rezia Warren Smith on Lopokova. E. M. Forster would later write in contrition: "How we all used to underestimate her".
In 1922 Keynes continued to advocate reduction of German reparations with A Revision of the Treaty. He attacked the post World War I deflation policies with A Tract on Monetary Reform in 1923 – a trenchant argument that countries should target stability of domestic prices, avoiding deflation even at the cost of allowing their currency to depreciate. Britain suffered from high unemployment through most of the 1920s, leading Keynes to recommend the depreciation of sterling to boost jobs by making British exports more affordable. From 1924 he was also advocating a fiscal response, where the government could create jobs by spending on public works. During the 1920s Keynes's pro stimulus views had only limited effect on policy makers and mainstream academic opinion – according to Hyman Minsky one reason was that at this time his theoretical justification was "muddled". The Tract had also called for an end to the gold standard. Keynes advised it was no longer a net benefit for countries such as Britain to participate in the gold standard, as it ran counter to the need for domestic policy autonomy. It could force countries to pursue deflationary policies at exactly the time when expansionary measures were called for to address rising unemployment. The Treasury and Bank of England were still in favour of the gold standard and in 1925 they were able to convince the then Chancellor Winston Churchill to re-establish it, which had a depressing effect on British industry. Keynes responded by writing The Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill and continued to argue against the gold standard until Britain finally abandoned it in 1931.
Keynes's followers assert that his predictions of disaster were borne out when the German economy suffered the hyperinflation of 1923, and again by the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the outbreak of the Second World War. However the Historian Ruth Henig claims that "most historians of the Paris peace conference now take the view that, in economic terms, the treaty was not unduly harsh on Germany and that, while obligations and damages were inevitably much stressed in the debates at Paris to satisfy electors reading the daily newspapers, the intention was quietly to give Germany substantial help towards paying her bills, and to meet many of the German objections by amendments to the way the reparations schedule was in practice carried out".
Keynes was ultimately a successful investor, building up a private fortune. His assets were nearly wiped out following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which he did not foresee, but he soon recouped. At Keynes's death, in 1946, his net worth stood just short of £500,000 – equivalent to about £11 million ($16.5 million) in 2009. The sum had been amassed despite lavish support for various good causes and his personal ethic which made him reluctant to sell on a falling market, in cases where he saw such behaviour as likely to deepen a slump.
Lionel Robbins, former head of the economics department at the London School of Economics, who engaged in many heated debates with Keynes in the 1930s, had this to say after observing Keynes in early negotiations with the Americans while drawing up plans for Bretton Woods:
In 1931 Keynes had the following to say on Marxism:
Keynes was a firm supporter of women's rights and in 1932 became vice-chairman of the Marie Stopes Society which provided birth control education. He also campaigned against job discrimination against women and unequal pay. He was an outspoken campaigner for reform of the law on homosexuality.
In "National Self-Sufficiency" The Yale Review, Vol. 22, no. 4 (June 1933), he already highlighted the problems created by free trade .
Keynes's magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was published in 1936. It was researched and indexed by one of Keynes's favourite students, later the Economist David Bensusan-Butt. The work served as a theoretical justification for the interventionist policies Keynes favoured for tackling a recession. The General Theory challenged the earlier neoclassical economic paradigm, which had held that provided it was unfettered by government interference, the market would naturally establish full employment equilibrium. In doing so Keynes was partly setting himself against his former teachers Marshall and Pigou. Keynes believed the classical theory was a "special case" that applied only to the particular conditions present in the 19th century, his own theory being the general one. Classical economists had believed in Say's law, which, simply put, states that "supply creates its own demand", and that in a free market workers would always be willing to lower their wages to a level where employers could profitably offer them jobs. An innovation from Keynes was the concept of price stickiness – the recognition that in reality workers often refuse to lower their wage demands even in cases where a classical Economist might argue it is rational for them to do so. Due in part to price stickiness, it was established that the interaction of "aggregate demand" and "aggregate supply" may lead to stable unemployment equilibria – and in those cases, it is the state, not the market, that economies must depend on for their salvation.
In 1939 Keynes had the option to enter Parliament as an independent MP with the University of Cambridge seat. A by-election for the seat was to be held due to the illness of an elderly Tory, and the master of Magdalene College had obtained agreement that none of the major parties would field a candidate if Keynes chose to stand. Keynes declined the invitation as he felt he would wield greater influence on events if he remained a free agent.
During the Second World War, Keynes argued in How to Pay for the War, published in 1940, that the war effort should be largely financed by higher taxation and especially by compulsory saving (essentially workers lending money to the government), rather than deficit spending, in order to avoid inflation. Compulsory saving would act to dampen domestic demand, assist in channelling additional output towards the war efforts, would be fairer than punitive taxation and would have the advantage of helping to avoid a post war slump by boosting demand once workers were allowed to withdraw their savings. In September 1941 he was proposed to fill a vacancy in the Court of Directors of the Bank of England, and subsequently carried out a full term from the following April. In June 1942, Keynes was rewarded for his Service with a hereditary peerage in the King's Birthday Honours. On 7 July his title was gazetted as "Baron Keynes, of Tilton, in the County of Sussex" and he took his seat in the House of Lords on the Liberal Party benches.
As the Allied victory began to look certain, Keynes was heavily involved, as leader of the British delegation and chairman of the World Bank commission, in the mid-1944 negotiations that established the Bretton Woods system. The Keynes-plan, concerning an international clearing-union, argued for a radical system for the management of currencies. He proposed the creation of a Common world unit of currency, the bancor, and new global institutions – a world central bank and the International Clearing Union. Keynes envisaged these institutions managing an international trade and payments system with strong incentives for countries to avoid substantial trade deficits or surpluses. The USA's greater negotiating strength, however, meant that the final outcomes accorded more closely to the more conservative plans of Harry Dexter White. According to US Economist J. Bradford DeLong, on almost every point where he was overruled by the Americans, Keynes was later proved correct by events.
The Keynesian Revolution was associated with the rise of modern liberalism in the West during the post-war period. Keynesian ideas became so popular that some scholars point to Keynes as representing the ideals of modern liberalism, as Adam Smith represented the ideals of classical liberalism. After the war, Winston Churchill attempted to check the rise of Keynesian policy-making in the United Kingdom and used rhetoric critical of the mixed economy in his 1945 election campaign. Despite his popularity as a war hero, Churchill suffered a landslide defeat to Clement Attlee whose government's economic policy continued to be influenced by Keynes's ideas.
Throughout his life, Keynes worked energetically for the benefit both of the public and his friends; even when his health was poor, he laboured to sort out the finances of his old college. Helping to set up the Bretton Woods system, he worked to institute an international monetary system that would be beneficial for the world economy. Keynes suffered a series of heart attacks, which ultimately proved fatal. They began during negotiations for the Anglo-American loan in Savannah, Georgia, where he was trying to secure favourable terms for the United Kingdom from the United States, a process he described as "absolute hell". A few weeks after returning from the United States, Keynes died of a heart attack at Tilton, his farmhouse home near Firle, East Sussex, England, on 21 April 1946, at the age of 62. Against his wishes (he wanted for his ashes to be deposited in the crypt at King's), his ashes were scattered on the Downs above Tilton.
On the practical side of economic life, "big government" had appeared to be firmly entrenched in the 1950s, but the balance began to shift towards the power of private interests in the 1960s. Keynes had written against the folly of allowing "decadent and selfish" speculators and financiers the kind of influence they had enjoyed after World War I. For two decades after World War II the public opinion was strongly against private speculators, the disparaging label "Gnomes of Zürich" being typical of how they were described during this period. International speculation was severely restricted by the capital controls in place after Bretton Woods. According to the journalists Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson, 1968 was the pivotal year when power shifted in favour of private agents such as currency speculators. As the key 1968 event Elliott and Atkinson picked out America's suspension of the conversion of the dollar into gold except on request of foreign governments, which they identified as the beginning of the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system.
In late 1965 Time magazine ran a cover article with a title comment from Milton Friedman (later echoed by U.S. President Richard Nixon), "We are all Keynesians now". The article described the exceptionally favourable economic conditions then prevailing, and reported that "Washington's economic managers scaled these heights by their adherence to Keynes's central theme: the modern capitalist economy does not automatically work at top efficiency, but can be raised to that level by the intervention and influence of the government." The article also states that Keynes was one of the three most important economists who ever lived, and that his General Theory was more influential than the magna opera of other famous economists, like Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations.
While Milton Friedman described The General Theory as "a great book", he argues that its implicit separation of nominal from real magnitudes is neither possible nor desirable. Macroeconomic policy, Friedman argues, can reliably influence only the nominal. He and other monetarists have consequently argued that Keynesian economics can result in stagflation, the combination of low growth and high inflation that developed economies suffered in the early 1970s. More to Friedman's taste was the Tract on Monetary Reform (1923), which he regarded as Keynes's best work because of its focus on maintaining domestic price stability.
Influenced by Keynes, economics texts in the immediate post-war period put a significant emphasis on balance in trade. For Example, the second edition of the popular introductory textbook, An Outline of Money, devoted the last three of its ten chapters to questions of foreign exchange management and in particular the 'problem of balance'. However, in more recent years, since the end of the Bretton Woods system in 1971, with the increasing influence of Monetarist schools of thought in the 1980s, and particularly in the face of large sustained trade imbalances, these concerns – and particularly concerns about the destabilising effects of large trade surpluses – have largely disappeared from mainstream economics discourse and Keynes' insights have slipped from view. They are receiving some attention again in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007–08.
Keynesian economics were officially discarded by the British Government in 1979, but forces had begun to gather against Keynes's ideas over 30 years earlier. Friedrich Hayek had formed the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947, with the explicit intention of nurturing intellectual currents to one day displace Keynesianism and other similar influences. Its members included the Austrian School Economist Ludwig von Mises along with the then young Milton Friedman. Initially the society had little impact on the wider world – according to Hayek it was as if Keynes had been raised to sainthood after his death and that people refused to allow his work to be questioned. Friedman however began to emerge as a formidable critic of Keynesian economics from the mid-1950s, and especially after his 1963 publication of A Monetary History of the United States.
When Time magazine included Keynes among its Most Important People of the Century in 1999, it said that "his radical idea that governments should spend money they don't have may have saved capitalism." The Economist has described Keynes as "Britain's most famous 20th-century Economist." In addition to being an Economist, Keynes was also a civil servant, a Director of the Bank of England, and a part of the Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals.
The global financial crisis of 2007–08 led to public skepticism about the free market consensus even from some on the economic right. In March 2008, Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, announced the death of the dream of global free-market capitalism. In the same month macroeconomist James K. Galbraith used the 25th Annual Milton Friedman Distinguished Lecture to launch a sweeping attack against the consensus for monetarist economics and argued that Keynesian economics were far more relevant for tackling the emerging crises. Economist Robert J. Shiller had begun advocating robust government intervention to tackle the financial crises, specifically citing Keynes. Nobel laureate Paul Krugman also actively argued the case for vigorous Keynesian intervention in the economy in his columns for The New York Times. Other prominent economic commentators who have argued for Keynesian government intervention to mitigate the financial crisis include George Akerlof, J. Bradford DeLong, Robert Reich, and Joseph Stiglitz. Newspapers and other media have also cited work relating to Keynes by Hyman Minsky, Robert Skidelsky, Donald Markwell and Axel Leijonhufvud.
By the end of December 2008, the Financial Times reported that "the sudden resurgence of Keynesian policy is a stunning Reversal of the orthodoxy of the past several decades." In December 2008, Paul Krugman released his book The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, arguing that economic conditions similar to what existed during the earlier part of the 20th century had returned, making Keynesian policy prescriptions more relevant than ever. In February 2009 Robert J. Shiller and George Akerlof published Animal Spirits, a book where they argue the current US stimulus package is too small as it does not take into account Keynes's insight on the importance of confidence and expectations in determining the Future behaviour of Business People and other economic agents.
In the March 2009 speech entitled Reform the International Monetary System, Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of the People's Bank of China, came out in favour of Keynes's idea of a centrally managed global reserve currency. Zhou argued that it was unfortunate that part of the reason for the Bretton Woods system breaking down was the failure to adopt Keynes's bancor. Zhou proposed a gradual move towards increased use of IMF special drawing rights (SDRs). Although Zhou's ideas had not been broadly accepted, Leaders meeting in April at the 2009 G-20 London summit agreed to allow $250 billion of special drawing rights to be created by the IMF, to be distributed globally. Stimulus plans were credited for contributing to a better than expected economic outlook by both the OECD and the IMF, in reports published in June and July 2009. Both organisations warned global Leaders that recovery was likely to be slow, so counter recessionary measures ought not be rolled back too early.
These ideas were informed by events prior to the Great Depression when – in the opinion of Keynes and others – international lending, primarily by the U.S., exceeded the capacity of sound investment and so got diverted into non-productive and speculative uses, which in turn invited default and a sudden stop to the process of lending.
The Economist Harry Johnson wrote that the optimism imparted by Keynes's early life is a key to understanding his later thinking. Keynes was always confident he could find a solution to whatever Problem he turned his attention to, and retained a lasting faith in the ability of government officials to do good. Keynes's optimism was also cultural, in two senses: he was of the last generation raised by an empire still at the height of its power, and was also of the last generation who felt entitled to govern by culture, rather than by expertise. According to Skidelsky, the sense of cultural unity current in Britain from the 19th century to the end of World War I provided a framework with which the well-educated could set various spheres of knowledge in relation to each other and to life, enabling them to confidently draw from different fields when addressing practical problems.