100 Heroes: John Maynard Keynes

The queer man who founded macroeconomic theory.

100 Heroes: John Maynard Keynes

Let’s take a look at the life and career of John Maynard Keynes.

Early life and career

Born in 1883 in Cambridge  -  where his father was an economics lecturer at the University of Cambridge  -  Keynes went to school at Eton College, before returning to Cambridge to join King’s College, where he studied mathematics.

After graduating, Keynes worked briefly in the Civil Service  –  as a clerk in the India Office  -  before returning to Cambridge where he began lecturing and tutoring students.

In 1911, Keynes was appointed as editor of The Economics Journal.

Having published a book on the subject, Keynes was appointed to the Royal Commission on Indian Currency and Finance.

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Keynes was appointed to a position in the Treasury. Recognised for the valuable work that he had contributed to management of the government’s finances during the war, Keynes was appointed financial representative for the Treasury to the 1919 Versailles peace conference.

Keynes was unhappy with the post-war settlement imposed on Germany, feeling that it was too harsh and would be counter-productive. He analysed his position in detail in his 1919 book The Economic Consequences of the Peace.

During the post-war period, Keynes remained an influential voice on economic policy. Published works such as Treatise on Money and The Means to Prosperity helped shape government thinking during the depression of the 1930s.

In 1936, Keynes published what is probably his defining work  –  The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. With this book, Keynes outlined the interventionist economic approach that he was advocating as a way to tackle the recession. The General Theory is viewed as the foundation of modern macroeconomics.

The philosophy that Keynes outlined in The General Theory was that a system of managed capitalism could promote peace rather than conflict between countries  –  capitalism managed through an international monetary fund and a high degree of freedom of trade.

In 1942, Keynes was rewarded with a hereditary peerage in the King’s Birthday Honours, becoming Baron Keynes.

Keynes was heavily involved in government policy during and after World War Two, helping to shape the establishment of both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

A passionate supporter of the arts  -  particularly the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells  -  Keynes was instrumental in establishing the Arts Council of Great Britain, becoming its founding chairman in 1946.

Personal life

It was while he was at school at Eton that Keynes first met Dan Macmillan. Keynes described Macmillan as the love of his life. Macmillan’s older brother  -  Harold  –  went on to become the Prime Minister of the UK.

While at King’s College, Keynes was in a relationship with Dilly Knox.

In life after college, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, Arthur Hobhouse, and Sebastian Sprott were all significant relationships.

A key member of the collective of London intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group, Keynes was open about his sexuality. From 1901 to 1915, he kept separate diaries in which he recorded his numerous sexual encounters with men.

Keynes died of a heart attack in 1946 - he was aged 62.

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