The Public Interest

Fifty Years of Keynes

Melville J. Ulmer

Spring 1987

LASTYEAR, almost unnoticed, was the fiftieth anniversary of one of the two or three most influential books ever written in economics.This is the masterwork of John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. It is probably the fate of its controversial status—the political passions with which the book was first supported and later spurned—that the date was unattended. Contributing, too, were revelations since his death of a surprisingly unconventional side of Keynes’s personal life, to which we return later. But of course, it is his intellectual legacy that may influence the Free World’s economic policies, for good or ill, and concerning that there is a sharp difference of opinion. The most popular impression in the United States and elsewhere seems to be that we would all be better off if it were promptly forgotten. Yet an excellent case can be made that Keynesian economics was done in not by its own limitations, but by the extravagant simplifications and hyperbolic aspirations of its most ardent followers after the author’s demise. Exaggerations and distortions aside, it is still unrivaled in the twentieth century as the most seminal contribution in its field.

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