Keynes in Ireland

Keynes’ famous lecture on economic experimentation, delivered at UCD in April 1933, has recently become available online.

12 replies on “Keynes in Ireland”

Amazing what one can find online these days Frank. What I am most often worried about is stuff that is available online suddenly being taken down and you are hosed. Cadence magazine (mechanical engineering computer aided design glossy from a decade back) which was taken over by its main competitor is one such example I can remember. Recently I read a blog entry where a whole website that had disappeared in 1995 was still available thanks to the Internet archive project. I was able to get my favourite Cadence magazine articles back again, along with some of my favourite old MicroStation Manager articles from a decade ago. BOH.

“There may be some financial calculation which shows it to be advantageous that my savings should be invested in whatever quarter of the habitable globe shows the greatest marginal efficiency of capital or the highest rate of interest. But experience is accumulating that remoteness between ownership and operation is an evil in the relations among men, likely or certain in the long run to set up strains and enmities which will bring to nought the financial calculation.”

How much more of the lessons of the past have been forgotten? How much more dangerous will it become?

Work, soil, capital said JMKeynes in relation to good prosperity. In contemporary World driven by services instead of using our designed sources we go to the excess of them and massive reduction in workforce therefore. By the excess I mean creation all derivatives of money with no coverage by real tangible sources. Let us go further. How we even compete in real fast moving and mega changeable environment. How we can develop and implement something new with so short life cycle and have from it decent long term gains. Overally taken I am lost about with really tiny light at the end of the tunnel.


“How much more of the lessons of the past have been forgotten? How much more dangerous will it become?”

Indeed. And we must place this essay in the context of the times, since Keynes has subsequently been villified for providing in this essay a patina of intellectual respectability for protectionism. When Keynes was drafting this essay some evidence of the impact of Stalinist totalitarianism was beginning to emerge. The full horrors of fascist totalitarianism were yet to be revealed. Meanwhile the intellectual ancestors of the “freshwater” economists stalked the corridors of power in the established democracies.

Keynes was embarking on a major project – the search for a middle way to save capitalism from itself, to ensure the continuation of civilisation and to copperfasten liberal democracy. He summed this up in an article in 1940:

“The reformers must believe that it is worth while to concede a great deal to preserve that decentralisation of decisions and of power which is the prime virtue of the old individualism In a world of destroyers, they must zealously protect the variously woven fabric of society, even when that means that some abuses must be spared.”

The jostling of the newly emergent great powers resembles that prior to WWI. The Middle East has replaced the Balkans of that era and the EU is beginning to resemble the Ottoman Empire. And the American imperium is in relative decline similar to that of Britain in the lead up to WWI.

But perhaps we shouldn’t worry about this matters since Ireland has captured the moral high ground of neutrality.

There is an amusing account of the circumstances surrounding the delivery of Keynes’s Finlay lecture in James Meenan’s memoir of George O’Brien. Almost all members of De Valera’s new government attended in the Physics Theatre in Earlsfort Terrace, ‘as far removed as possible from the members of the government whom they had replaced’. It was assumed that Keynes would denounce protectionism but he showed himself quite sympatric to erecting economic defences and declared ‘were I an Irishman I should find much to attract me in the economic outlook of your present Government towards self-sufficiency’. At this, the smiles faded from one side of the audience and appeared on the other.
Meenan tells us that the lecture was followed by a dinner (in one of the yacht clubs, I believe), to which, on Keynes’s prompting, some of the best know wits of Dublin were invited. ‘It was, by George’s account, a total failure. There were too many wits and [Oliver St John] Gogarty talked too much. Worse still, Keynes was called to the telephone in the middle of meal. When he came back he said: ‘you may be interested to know that the United States has just left gold’. The short silence that was felt to appropriate was broken by Gograty: ‘Does that matter?’

See James Meenan, George O’Brien: A Biographical Memoir, Gill and Macmillan 1980.

Here’s another quote from Keynes, one that Joyce would have called “an epiphany”, dated 1936 and including the phrase “eines totalen Staates”.

Read some Hayek or Rothbard and realise how distinctly superstitious Keynsian economics is. If any intellectual is to blame for this crash it is Keynes, promoting the distortion of the economy that enables these idiotic crashes. Greed is not to blame, government is.

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