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Keynes, John Maynard (1883-1946)  
 
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John Maynard Keynes was the most influential economist of the twentieth century. His economic theories provided the basis of the modern welfare states of North America and Western Europe. For a quarter of a century after World War II, Keynesian economic theories, and the policies that followed from them, dominated the economic life of industrial countries. Both liberals and conservatives owe something to his thinking.

Keynes, however, was much more than an economist. He was a complex and gifted man who brought about, both in economic theory and policy, some of the most significant and influential changes of the twentieth century. His most fundamental legacy, however, was not only an economic theory, but also a new philosophy of government.

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Early Life and Education

John Maynard Keynes's life spanned a period of momentous historical change: from the end of the nineteenth-century, marked by the sensational persecution of Oscar Wilde, to the grim world dominated by the rise of Hitler and Stalin, a world in which millions of Jews, along with thousands of leftists and other political dissidents, gypsies, and homosexuals, died in death camps.

Keynes was born on June 5, 1883 in Cambridge, England, the son of a Cambridge economics professor and one of the first female graduates of Cambridge, a woman who would later serve as mayor of the city. A child of privilege, he attended Eton and then entered King's College, Cambridge, where he became friends with Lytton Strachey and Leonard Woolf and a member of the Apostles, an elite social and philosophical club that included a number of homosexuals.

Keynes, Strachey, and Woolf formed the nucleus of the Bloomsbury group, which also included such important and successful figures as painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, novelists Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster, art critics Clive Bell and Roger Fry, and psychoanalysts James and Alix Strachey.

Duncan Grant

After taking his degree in 1906, Keynes moved to London and worked for the government service that administered India, then a British colony. While working there, in 1908, Keynes met one of the great loves of his life--Duncan Grant. The handsome and charismatic Grant, less than two years Keynes's junior, was then twenty-three.

Their affair started somewhat clandestinely, because Grant had just ended an affair with Keynes's close friend Lytton Strachey. Keynes's relationship with Grant was his first happy and significant relationship with a man. Over the next few years Keynes and Grant led active lives, dividing their time between Cambridge (where Keynes accepted an academic appointment in 1908) and London, academic duties and artistic pursuits, friends and work.

After a number of years, Keynes and Duncan Grant ended their sexual relationship, but remained friends for life. Soon after they separated, Keynes took stock of his sexual life and compiled a list of everyone who had ever been his sexual partner--approximately 25 different men and perhaps, from a somewhat vague reference, one woman.

From1906 he had also kept a numerical record of his sexual activity in which he tabulated his copulations, masturbations, and wet dreams. This pursuit, which obviously reflected Keynes's pleasure and interest in both statistics and sex, was a remarkable anticipation of the statistical material collected by the American sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s.

Economic Consequences of the Peace

At the end of World War I, Keynes was a representative at the Peace Conference to conclude a treaty between the Allies (principally Britain, the U. S., and France) and Germany and Austria-Hungary. He was so disappointed in the vindictive policies that emerged there that he left the conference and wrote a passionate critique of the future effects of these punitive policies, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919), which had an enormous impact.

The book was widely debated in Britain, the United States, and France. It also had a decisive effect on the way later generations have viewed the Treaty of Versailles and the negotiations of peace treaties generally.

Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote that The Economic Consequences of the Peace "met with a reception that makes the word success sound commonplace and insipid. . . . the book is a masterpiece--packed with practical wisdom that never lacks depth; pitilessly logical yet never cold; genuinely humane but nowhere sentimental; meeting all facts without vain regret but also without hopelessness; it is sound advice added to sound analysis."

During the 1920s, Keynes, as a result of his wise investments, became wealthy, able to live the kind of comfortable life that few other Cambridge dons could afford. As a Fellow of King's College, he also wisely invested funds on behalf of the institution.

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