No Government, No Force

Keynes, the Man by Murray N. Rothbard

by Murray N. Rothbard published at Lew Rockwell

Originally published in Dissent on Keynes: A Critical Appraisal of Keynesian Economics, edited by Mark Skousen. New York: Praeger (1992). Pp. 171–198.

John Maynard Keynes, the man – his character, his writings, and his actions throughout life – was composed of three guiding and interacting elements. The first was his overweening egotism, which assured him that he could handle all intellectual problems quickly and accurately and led him to scorn any general principles that might curb his unbridled ego. The second was his strong sense that he was born into, and destined to be a leader of, Great Britain’s ruling elite.

Both of these traits led Keynes to deal with people as well as nations from a self-perceived position of power and dominance. The third element was his deep hatred and contempt for the values and virtues of the bourgeoisie, for conventional morality, for savings and thrift, and for the basic institutions of family life.

Born to the Purple

Keynes was born under special circumstances, an heir to the ruling circles not only of Britain but of the British economics profession as well. His father, John Neville Keynes, was a close friend and former student of Alfred Marshall, Cambridge professor and unchallenged lion of British economics for half a century. Neville Keynes had disappointed Marshall by failing to live up to his early scholarly promise, producing only a bland treatise on the methodology of economics, a subject disdained as profoundly "un-English" (J. N. Keynes [1891] 1955).

The classic refuge for a failed academic has long been university administration, and so Neville happily buried himself in the controllership and other powerful positions in Cambridge University administration. Marshall’s psyche compelled him to feel a moral obligation toward Neville that went beyond the pure loyalty of friendship, and that sense of obligation was carried over to Neville’s beloved son Maynard. Consequently, when Maynard eventually decided to pursue a career as an economist at Cambridge, two extremely powerful figures at that university – his father and Alfred Marshall – were more than ready to lend him a helping hand.

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The young Keynes displayed no interest whatsoever in economics; his dominant interest was philosophy. In fact, he completed an undergraduate degree at Cambridge without taking a single economics course. Not only did he never take a degree in the subject, but the only economics course Keynes ever took was a single-term graduate course under Alfred Marshall.

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