A Book review: The Price of Peace

23 October 2020 11:03

A Book review: The Price of Peace

How Keynes came to realize that imperialism promoted inequality rather than spreading humanitarian values. See the review written by Tor W. Andreassen

The Price of Peace: MONEY, DEMOCRACY, AND THE LIFE OF JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES” is written by Zachary D. Carter, Random House, 2020

Front cover of "The Price of Peace: MONEY, DEMOCRACY, AND THE LIFE OF JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES” is by Zachary D. Carter, Random House, 2020
"The Price of Peace: MONEY, DEMOCRACY, AND THE LIFE OF JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES” is by Zachary D. Carter, Random House, 2020

Journalist Zachary D. Carter offers an easy to read, interesting, and comprehensive biography of economist, political theorist, rock star, and statesman John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), one of the most influential figures of his time. 

The author offers intriguing new insight into Keynes private and professional life. 

As Carter shows, Keynes’ prescription for fighting off financial disaster led to an important government post for the duration of World War I. “Dispatched to summits all over the world, called to parliamentary debates in the House of Commons, and welcomed into the social circles of the British political elite,” Keynes became Great Britain’s top financial adviser - and a celebrity.  Carter elegantly traces the evolution of Keynes thought: He became disillusioned with classical economic theory, which held that market forces always would result in stability, and he came to realize that imperialism promoted inequality rather than spreading humanitarian values. 

In 1919, he mounted a “devastating attack” on the Treaty of Versailles, predicting with surgical precision that the treaty “would march Europe to economic ruin, dictatorship, and war.” In his many economic treatises, Keynes tried to synthesize “the practical, risk-averse, anti-revolutionary conservatism” of Edmund Burke and “the radical democratic ideals advanced by Rousseau.” Although he became hugely wealthy and enjoyed the privileges of his class, at heart, Carter notes, Keynes was an idealist who tried “to democratize the trappings of ruling-class life.” 

Two-third into the book Keynes dies but the book does not stop there. Elegantly, the author brings Keynes thinking up to modern times by for example introducing the reader to how we find traces of Keyne’s thinking in modern US-presidents thinking, incl Obama, and how his thinking was challenged by his rival economist and ex-colleague from Cambridge, Friedrich August Hayek (1899 - 1992). Hayek, who also inspired Milton Friedman, created a counter «let-the-markets-rule-without-government-interference» movement against Keynes who they positioned as an agent for socialism in the US. 

In his personal life, Keynes was a sometimes admired, sometimes vigorously dismissed member of the Bloomsbury group of artists and writers, counting among his friends Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, and Duncan Grant. In the category «too much information», we learn that Keynes had many male lovers and that he kept scores and comments about how they performed as lovers. Later he met, and married, the impressive ballerina Lydia Lopokova. 

In closing the book, Carter asserts that Keynesianism “is not so much a school of economic thought as a spirit of radical optimism” that “was for a time synonymous with liberal internationalism—the idea that shrewd, humane economic management could protect democracies from the siren songs of authoritarian demagogues and spread peace and prosperity around the globe.” 

In my books, Keynes was a genius and a brilliant thinker - something Zachary captures and documents. Bottom line: A book worth reading!

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