John Maynard Keynes: Beyond Economics
John Maynard Keynes is rightly regarded as one of the most influential economists of the 20th century. Yet often overlooked is Keynes’s equally significant social and political theory. Preoccupied by the new challenges of democratic politics, Keynes rejected earlier radical vocabularies of freedom and popular power. His innovation, which is not captured by treating him simply as an economist, was to design a new art of government with ‘the economy’ (first imperial, then national) as its new object. He held that the technical management of this mysterious sphere could make social life stable, equal, and abundant for the first time in human history. It could end not only poverty and unemployment, but also overwork and perhaps even war. Defining capitalism as money’s morally unfortunate and socially destructive private power to control the future, Keynes held out the possibility of overcoming capitalism too. But, if radical change isn’t rooted in popular power, how can it be effected? How do Keynes’ social and political visions follow, if at all, from his economic theory? And do they remain compelling today, 50 years after the rise, from the Keynesian rubble, of the prevailing neoliberal regime?
This course is not a traditional introduction to Keynesian macroeconomics. Instead, our goal will be to understand Keynes’s ambitions to govern the economy—and thereby, the society—and its legacy for radical politics. What explains the emergence of Keynes’s grand project to remake the social world? Did its terms portend its 1970s crises? Can we think beyond it? We will begin with Keynes’s early economic orthodoxy in treating colonised populations, before turning to the shock of World War I, his creative political essays of the 1920s, and his magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. At last, we’ll explore Keynes’ work during and after World War II, particularly his attempts to design a new global order in the Bretton Woods project. We will ask: How was Keynes informed by a particular view of the relationship between human agency, contingency, and the historicity of ideas? How did ideas about culture and race, elitism and morality structure his picture of capitalism as a finite system of rents, credit and debt? And finally, how can we understand Keynes’s legacy for radical politics today? Why, 50 years after the neoliberal counter-revolution, do radicals continue to live in Keynes’s shadow? Can we escape it? Our readings will draw mainly from works by Keynes, as well as from 20th-century studies by Michal Kalecki, Joan Robinson, Antonio Negri and Paul Mattick and recent re-evaluations by Timothy Mitchell, Geoff Mann, Manu Goswami, and Duncan Kelly.
Course ScheduleSunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
November 26 — December 17, 2023
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