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Response to Susan Howson?s Review of Vincent Barnett?s John Maynard Keynes

Author(s):Barnett, Vincent
Reviewer(s):Barnett, Vincent

Published by EH.Net (July 2013)

Response to Susan Howson?s Review of Vincent Barnett?s John Maynard Keynes ? by Vincent Barnett.

I should start by praising Professor Howson?s own excellent work on Keynes, which is referred to in my book and my journal articles on Keynes. However it is a little unfair to point out that my book contains many references to the existing biographies, without also stating that it contains references to the Keynes Papers as well. I can remember at least four separate visits to King?s College at different times.

In terms of substance, one of Howson?s main criticisms of my book is contradictory, as she may realize when she thinks about it a bit more. She claims that the book ?essentially ignores Keynes?s contribution to war finance,? but her case is that this is because I devote too much space to his work on: war finance. Let me explain. The final chapter (15) is too brief (Howson claims) and the early chapters are too long: but some of these early chapters (5 and 6) are precisely devoted to a detailed account of Keynes?s work on war finance (World War I). It is my contention that it is impossible to understand Keynes?s later work on war finance (World War II) without fully understanding his earlier work on war finance (World War I), as the later work was a direct reaction to the earlier experience. That is why I published two journal articles on Keynes and the financing of WWI (Barnett 2001, 2009), and covered it in detail in this book.

Also, his work on the financing of WWI was important to his economics in the 1920s and beyond, but his work on the financing of WWII (simply by its timing) could not possibly have influenced his economic thinking of the 1920s/1930s. Hence it could be argued that it is Skidelsky?s three volumes that are (on this topic) incorrectly weighted: more space should have been given to WWI and less to WWII. Howson also claims that I diminished Keynes?s influence on world affairs by my chapter weightings, but his greatest impact by far was (and still is today) through The General Theory, not through his work on war finance (WWI or WWII). Hence my book?s structure and chapter weightings accurately reflect what is generally agreed to be Keynes?s most significant legacy.

Finally, in the acknowledgements I characterized Skidelsky?s work on Keynes as ?a monumental effort? and praised Moggridge?s ?remarkable efforts? in editing the Collected Works ? not especially critical evaluations. On the few occasions I do disagree with them in the main text, it is invariably my account that is more favorable to Keynes than theirs. From the lukewarm tone of her review overall, I get the feeling that Howson is a little irked that a ?nobody? within the Keynes world had the gall to write a new biography, and that the account of the economics is actually ?quite good.? In contrast I would warmly welcome a book by Howson on any Russian economist.

References:

Vincent Barnett (2001). ?Calling up the Reserves: Keynes, Tugan-Baranovsky and Russian War Finance.? Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 53 no. 1, pp. 151-69.? Russian translation published in Vestnik Sankt-Peterburgskogo universiteta: ekonomika, series 5, issue 4, pp. 48-69.

Vincent Barnett (2009). ?Keynes and the Non-neutrality of Russian War Finance during World War One.? Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 61 no. 5, pp. 797-812.

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Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII