Why Was J.M. Keynes the Greatest Economist of the Century?

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From: <> Subject: Keynes Status:

Hello Sir,

I am an undergraduate student of economics at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland and I am currently sitting my final examinations. I have been asked to write an essay on who I feel the greatest economist of the 20th Century was and I am understandably drawn to Keynes. Having used the internet for research I get the impression that you have a keen interest and respect for Keynes and would be grateful if you could give me a little help.

Basically I would just like to know if you could suggest a few brief justifications as to Keynes being the greatest economist of the last century, in a sense reasons why he is and other economists are not.

I understand that you are probably very busy, but I would be grateful of any reply no matter how small. Of course I will understand if a reply is not possible but thank you for reading this anyway. If you do send me a reply, I am afraid it would have to be quite soon as I must complete my essay by Sunday 14th May.

Thanks you for listening

-- mr iain douglas clarkson (iain.clarkson@strath.ac.uk), May 13, 2000


I would give four reasons:

--His theories dominated how people thought about business cycle issues for fifty years (and still profoundly shape how we think about them today).

--Where his attempts to shape economic policy were successful (i.e., Bretton Woods), the policies put in place were themselves extraordinarily successful: his IMF and World Bank helped sustain the most astonishing post-WWII economic boom the world ever saw.

--Where his attempts to shape policy were unsuccessful (Versailles; Britain in the 1920s; coping with the Great Depression), nearly everyone agrees in retrospect that his proposals would have provided a better road.

--He wrote extremely well: he is still well worth reading today. If you want a brief introduction to monetarism, Keynes's _Tract on Monetary Reform_ is still the best thing ever written (in my view at least). If you want to read about economic policy in the 1920s and early 1930s, Keynes's _Essays in Persuasion_ are indispensible. And his _General Theory_ is an extremely lively book--even if it is much more a prophetic vision of the economy than a work of social science...

-- Bradford DeLong (delong@econ.berkeley.edu), May 15, 2000.

Would it not be safe to say that Keynes, though maybe not the first to develope the idea, caused economists to understand the obvious that consumption is the main engine of economic development, and the lack of consumption is the primary factor in economic stagnation. All of which seems pretty obvious, at least outside of Chicago. And that tinkering with interest rates if consumption is lacking will not always stimulate the economy, hense Keynes' contribution of the Keynesian liguidity trap.

-- jack wilson (wilsonj@io.com), August 03, 2000.

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