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Keynes on the Wireless

Author(s):Keynes, John Maynard
Moggridge, Donald
Reviewer(s):Shilts, Wade E.

Published by EH.NET (December 2011)

John Maynard Keynes, Keynes on the Wireless, edited by Donald Moggridge.? New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.? vi + 228 pp.? $40 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-230-23916-6.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Wade E. Shilts, Department of Economics and Business, Luther College.

John Maynard Keynes described his Essays in Persuasion as ?the croakings of a Cassandra who could never influence the course of events in time? (1931 [1963], p. v).? He of course would be proved twice wrong.? We might debate whether Keynes gets the economics correct, but his writings never croaked and he certainly hasn?t been without influence.? Indeed, a better title for that book, or for Keynes? writings generally, might have been Essays That Have Been Really Persuasive (sometimes even when they shouldn?t have been).

Now appears Keynes on the Wireless.? Edited by Donald Moggridge, author of the important Maynard Keynes: An Economist?s Biography (1992) and co-editor with Elizabeth Johnson of the thirty volumes of The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes (1971-1989), Keynes on the Wireless assembles the twenty-one radio broadcasts Keynes made, most on the BBC, between 1925 and 1945. (Fifteen of these broadcasts were also published contemporaneously in The Listener and two in The Nation and Athenaeum.)

While the text of each of these broadcasts can be found in The Collected Writings, they are spread across eleven separate volumes (xix, xi, xiii, xviii-xxii, xxvi-xxviii).? Moggridge provides a one-stop destination for all broadcasts.? He offers value to the economic historian grappling with the narrative of inter-war finance, to the cultural historian exploring the evolution of public intellectuals with the mass broadcast technologies, and to the generalist digging into the what and when of Keynes? economic ideas.

And for those who teach undergraduates, he provides a unique opportunity, a dynamic way to illuminate the evolution of the ideas of one of the single most influential economic thinkers of the twentieth century.

Keynes on the Wireless
shows Keynes at his articulate, thoughtful, unrepentant, dangerous best.? Covering the period of his most fruitful work in economics, the time during which he published both The Treatise on Money (1930) and The General Theory (1936), it shows Keynes translating his theoretical ideas about finance, saving, and employment into terms that will persuade a mass audience at the very time he is trying to work those ideas out.

Except for a section on ?Education and the Arts,? with three broadcasts spanning the entire period, the broadcasts reproduced in Keynes on the Wireless appear according to the chronology of mid-twentieth century finance:? first, two broadcasts on debts from World War I, then four on the Depression and six on recovery, and finally six on World War II.

Not only do we see the evolution of Keynes? own thought, we see him engaging others.?? Sixteen have the character of a public lecture.? The remaining five show him in conversation with other thought leaders of the day:? ?University Men in Business? (1927) with then-managing director of Lever Brothers, Ernest Walls, and chaired by Sir Ernest Benn; ?Unemployment? (1930) and ?Spending and Saving? (1933) with Josiah Stamp; ?The World Economic Conference? (1933) with Walter Lippmann; and ?Should Saving Be Compulsory?? (1940) with Donald Tyerman, deputy editor of The Economist.

In ?Saving and Spending? (January 14, 1931, p. 57-66), we see the broadcast that infuriated Friedrich Hayek just before the latter came to England to give a set of lectures on ?Prices and Production.?? Two years later, in ?Spending and Saving? (p. 96-110), we see Keynes rejecting discussion with the ?difficult and queer!? Lionel Robbins in favor of the more simpatico Stamp (p. 96-97, quoting a letter of Keynes to Charles Siepmann).? In ?Is the Economic System Self-Adjusting?? (November 19, 1934), we see Keynes participating in a 12-part series on ?poverty in plenty,? and responding to H.D. Henderson, R.H. Brand, Robbins, Hugh Dalton, J.A. Hobson, A.R. Orage, and Barbara Wootton (p. 131-141).

Moggridge, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Toronto, has over four decades of experience as a Keynes scholar.? It shows.? As editor, he stays out of the way and lets Keynes do the speaking.? Both introduction and the lead-ins to individual broadcasts are brief and succinct, providing bits of context without surrendering to the temptation to summarize what is to come.

Keynes on the Wireless does not resolve ever-ongoing debates about Keynesian demand management.? It does, however, throw those debates into sharp relief.? These broadcasts provide the kind of primary source material we who would teach the economic past to 18-22 year-olds need more of.?? The book could be a supplemental text in a wide range of courses in public finance, economic history, and the history of thought.

And if you?re teaching principles of macroeconomics and seeking to improve the economic thinking skills of tomorrow?s citizens?? Toss out half of that overpriced textbook you?re using and replace it with Keynes on the Wireless, either alone or in dialogue with some essays from Friedman or Hayek.? And then exercise the economic thinking muscles of tomorrow?s citizens in a way that neither the New York Times nor the Wall Street Journal, much less the talking head panels of Fox, CNN, and PBS, do.


Keynes, John Maynard. 1930.? The Treatise on Money.? In The Collected Writings, volumes 5-6.

Keynes, John Maynard. 1931.? Essays on Persuasion. New York: W. W. Norton, 1963 reprint.

Keynes Papers, King?s College, Cambridge. 1932.? File BR/2, Letter from Keynes to Siepmann, 10 November 1932.

Keynes, John Maynard. 1936.? The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.? New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Keynes, John Maynard. 1971-1989.? The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes.? London: Macmillan, 1971-1989.? Edited by Elizabeth Johnson and Donald E. Moggridge.

Moggridge, Donald E.? 1992.? Maynard Keynes: An Economist?s Biography. London and New York: Routledge.

Wade E. Shilts ( is associate professor of economics at Luther College.? His research focuses upon the economics of listening.? His current work-in-progress, Barriers of Faith: Scalability, Listening and the Real Challenges Facing Higher Education in an Anarchic World, focuses on the challenges of teaching ?economics for citizenship? to undergraduates.

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Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII