“We are all Keynesians now”

So said an unidentified economist to Business Week in 1960. So said Milton Friedman in 1965 when J. M. Keynes made it to the cover of Time. And Richard Nixon in 1971, when he shocked the nation and the economy with a “New Economic Policy.”

In 1968, the squatters of the Quartier Latin called out “We are all German Jews” in solidarity with Daniel Cohn-Bendit who had been denied re-entry into France. Forty years later, we are all Joe the Plumber.

The form “we are all” repeats. From the economists it sounds like a declaration of identity armistice erasing difference. From the politicos it sounds a battle cry, since “we are all” assumes the exclusion in 1968 of the French establishment and in 2008 of the Democratic Party.

Economists play identity wars, but they prefer to do it privately, with reference to water salinity – freshwater vs saltwater. To assume a Keynesian identity in public has stood for compromise or pragmatism. To assume a Keynesian identity does not beg emotion. It is oddly grey and safe.

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5 thoughts on ““We are all Keynesians now”

  1. Do you mean that if historians of economics are attacked by others, we might all say at some point “we are all historians of economics”.

    Hmmm.

  2. Well, Arnold … at least in France, when you say “I am a Historian of Economics”, that’s a hell of a statement, given that many others in the profession would rather call themselves “Historians of Economic Thought” !

  3. I missed the point where the McCain ad was relevant?
    Is it because ‘I’m Joe the Plumber’?

    I wouldn’t agree that being a ‘Keynesian’ is a grey and safe option, at least not in the UK where that identity has waxed and waned in popularity since the 60’s…
    There was a long period where ‘Keynesian’ was a big no-no in UK politics and policy making, and even as the early 90’s recession ended, being a Keynesian was frowned upon – as I understand it – and it is only with the current turmoil that it has again become fashionable to be Keynesian – and thus safe.

  4. Bem,

    I am no UK native although I lived there for a few years. My feeling is that Keynes was never dangerous in the UK – overlooking differences between the so called true progeny and the Keynesian bastards. So so safe that Skidelsky whose only achievement is being Keynes’s biographer, is a Tory Lord.

    I don’t say he was/is always popular, but past 1960 Keynes has not made blood boil.

  5. Tiago,

    I think there was a very strong anti-Keynesian camp in the administration, particularly during the Thatcher years, where the mood turned very monetarist and the Keynesian Planners found themselves out of a job. As the eighties rolled around a reformed type of Keynesianism started to form academically, but in the administration the advice and advisors were solidly neo-classical / monetarist, and you would be hard pressed to find support for a Keynesian economist in those days.
    Even during the 90’s, despite the 1992 recession, it was only with Labour (in 1997) and their public investment programme that some Keynesian talk was heard, but up until a few weeks ago the UK Treasury’s official policy stance has been that fiscal policy should act as a support to the monetary targets and policy laid down by the Bank of England. (and that’s saying a lot!). Now being a Keynesian may be all very interesting as people dredge up the memory of 1929.

    That Skidelsky became a Tory lord may be more of an indication of his own achievements, and Keynes’ success during WWII, than it has with his economic ideas being carried through to the 1970’s onward. Or it may just be good old fashioned fair play.

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