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social sciences

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Keynes, John Maynard (1883-1946)  
 
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Marriage

At the beginning of the 1920s, Keynes had found no one to take Duncan Grant's place in his emotional and sexual life. After the end of their relationship, he engaged in casual sex and had several other affairs with men. In the fall of 1921, however, Keynes fell "very much in love" with Lydia Lopokova, one of the stars of Serge Diaghihev's Ballets Russes. "She seemed perfect in every way," he explained to Vanessa Bell.

In 1925, four years after he met Lopokova, he married her. Strachey and Grant had both set up households with women, while continuing to have sexual relations with men. Perhaps Keynes did the same thing. After all, he had led an active homosexual life for almost twenty-five years and did so without regret or guilt. After his marriage, he never repudiated his homosexual friends or shied away from the men he had loved in his past.

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Keynes had, in any case, frequently claimed that affection was more important to him than sex. Whatever the sexual content of his marriage to Lopokova, the union was by all accounts happy and fulfilled. Although some of Keynes's Bloomsbury friends considered his wife inappropriate for him, others found her delightful.

It may be significant that in 1937 Keynes made a generous settlement on Duncan Grant, a gift that helped support the artist and his work for the rest of his long life.

The Depression and The General Theory

The Depression of the 1930s was one of the largest economic downturns in modern history. To some extent Keynes had predicted such a development in The Economic Consequences of the Peace. He was determined to develop a new perspective on the economic factors that led to the Depression.

Keynes showed that in the midst of a depression, savings, which are one of the ways that people hold money for future use, dry up because people's incomes decline. People may even use their savings in order to satisfy their everyday consumption needs. This results in less savings for businesses to borrow. But it is only through investment, which is borrowing money to produce goods for future consumption, that businesses operate, and thus provide employment. And, of course, if people are unemployed, they do not have any source of income and cannot make consumer purchases or save. It is a vicious circle.

The only way out of the vicious circle, Keynes argued, was for the government to boost people's incomes--through public works programs, unemployment insurance, and programs that support new investments. In The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), the book that Keynes wrote to explain his new theory, he produced a work that revolutionized not only economic thought itself but also the very foundations of the government's role in the economy.

The General Theory served as the foundation of the modern welfare state--a political institution that provides comprehensive social benefits, such as social security, unemployment and disability, and national heath insurance.

Post-War Institutions and His Death

After World War II, Keynes sought to avoid the disastrous consequences that had followed from the previous world war. He worked very hard to help design the new international economic institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, that facilitated a quick recovery from the economic damage of the war--both for the Allies and for Germany, Italy, and Japan.

While at a conference in the United States in 1944, Keynes suffered a mild heart attack. The stress of the war years had seriously undermined his health. When he returned to England that summer, he felt tired and sick. Nevertheless, he maintained a heavy schedule of work for the government. Less than year later, he had another heart attack--this one fatal. He died at Tilton, his home in Sussex, on April 21, 1946. He was sixty-three years old.

The Coherence of His Work

The achievements of Keynes's life and thought are most evident in his three major works: The Economic Consequences of the Peace, The Treatise on Probability (1921), and The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.

His work on probability was rooted in his suspicion of the confusion between the statistical norm and the ethical norm, and of the use of the idea of the long-run to justify unfair or unrealistic policies. The fallacious faith that European societies would automatically return to their pre-war prosperity in the long-run underlay the book on the economic consequences of the Versailles treaty.

In The General Theory Keynes demolishes the belief that unfettered markets will provide enough jobs and adequate national incomes to guarantee the future of capitalism.

The force of each work rests on Keynes's rejection of the belief that ethically acceptable outcomes will result from the operation of long-run "statistically" predictable social behavior.

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