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A page-turning biography of world-changing economist John Maynard Keynes and the big ideas that outlived him. In the spring of 1934, Virginia Woolf sketched an affectionate biographical portrait of her great friend John Maynard Keynes. Writing a full two years before Keynes would revolutionize the economics world with the publication of The General Theory, Woolf nevertheles A page-turning biography of world-changing economist John Maynard Keynes and the big ideas that outlived him. In the spring of 1934, Virginia Woolf sketched an affectionate biographical portrait of her great friend John Maynard Keynes. Writing a full two years before Keynes would revolutionize the economics world with the publication of The General Theory, Woolf nevertheless found herself unable to condense her friend's already-extraordinary life into anything less than twenty-five themes, which she jotted down at the opening of her homage: "Politics. Art. Dancing. Letters. Economics. Youth. The Future. Glands. Genealogies. Atlantis. Mortality. Religion. Cambridge. Eton. The Drama. Society. Truth. Pigs. Sussex. The History of England. America. Optimism. Stammer. Old Books. Hume." Keynes was not only an economist, as he is remembered today, but the preeminent anti-authoritarian thinker of the twentieth century, a man who devoted his life to the belief that art and ideas could conquer war and deprivation. A moral philosopher, political theorist, and statesman, Keynes immersed himself in a creative milieu filled with ballerinas and literary icons as he developed his own innovative and at times radical thought, reinventing Enlightenment liberalism for the harrowing crises of his day--which included two world wars and an economic collapse that challenged the legitimacy of democratic government itself. The Price of Peace follows Keynes from intimate turn-of-the-century parties in London's riotous Bloomsbury art scene to the fevered negotiations in Paris that shaped the Treaty of Versailles, through stock market crashes and currency crises to diplomatic breakthroughs in the mountains of New Hampshire and wartime ballet openings at Covent Garden. In this riveting biography, veteran journalist Zachary D. Carter unearths the lost legacy of one of history's most important minds. John Maynard Keynes's vibrant, deeply human vision of democracy, art, and the good life has been obscured by technical debates, but in The Price of Peace, Carter revives a forgotten set of ideas with the power to reinvent national government and reframe the principles of international diplomacy in our own time.


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A page-turning biography of world-changing economist John Maynard Keynes and the big ideas that outlived him. In the spring of 1934, Virginia Woolf sketched an affectionate biographical portrait of her great friend John Maynard Keynes. Writing a full two years before Keynes would revolutionize the economics world with the publication of The General Theory, Woolf nevertheles A page-turning biography of world-changing economist John Maynard Keynes and the big ideas that outlived him. In the spring of 1934, Virginia Woolf sketched an affectionate biographical portrait of her great friend John Maynard Keynes. Writing a full two years before Keynes would revolutionize the economics world with the publication of The General Theory, Woolf nevertheless found herself unable to condense her friend's already-extraordinary life into anything less than twenty-five themes, which she jotted down at the opening of her homage: "Politics. Art. Dancing. Letters. Economics. Youth. The Future. Glands. Genealogies. Atlantis. Mortality. Religion. Cambridge. Eton. The Drama. Society. Truth. Pigs. Sussex. The History of England. America. Optimism. Stammer. Old Books. Hume." Keynes was not only an economist, as he is remembered today, but the preeminent anti-authoritarian thinker of the twentieth century, a man who devoted his life to the belief that art and ideas could conquer war and deprivation. A moral philosopher, political theorist, and statesman, Keynes immersed himself in a creative milieu filled with ballerinas and literary icons as he developed his own innovative and at times radical thought, reinventing Enlightenment liberalism for the harrowing crises of his day--which included two world wars and an economic collapse that challenged the legitimacy of democratic government itself. The Price of Peace follows Keynes from intimate turn-of-the-century parties in London's riotous Bloomsbury art scene to the fevered negotiations in Paris that shaped the Treaty of Versailles, through stock market crashes and currency crises to diplomatic breakthroughs in the mountains of New Hampshire and wartime ballet openings at Covent Garden. In this riveting biography, veteran journalist Zachary D. Carter unearths the lost legacy of one of history's most important minds. John Maynard Keynes's vibrant, deeply human vision of democracy, art, and the good life has been obscured by technical debates, but in The Price of Peace, Carter revives a forgotten set of ideas with the power to reinvent national government and reframe the principles of international diplomacy in our own time.

30 review for The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This book is not just about Keynes. It is, as the author notes, an exploration about whether you can make changes through policy or through revolution. It gets at one of the greatest fissures in modern thought right now across the world--do you need to burn the system to the ground and start over and can you make technical fixes that improve people's lives, avoid inter- and intra-societal conflicts, and equality. Keynes was an optimist and a technocrat even though his ideas were debunked when hi This book is not just about Keynes. It is, as the author notes, an exploration about whether you can make changes through policy or through revolution. It gets at one of the greatest fissures in modern thought right now across the world--do you need to burn the system to the ground and start over and can you make technical fixes that improve people's lives, avoid inter- and intra-societal conflicts, and equality. Keynes was an optimist and a technocrat even though his ideas were debunked when his name became a byword for "radical communist." This is ironic because the neoliberal movement that swept away Keynesian was much more radical than the Keynesians. Hayek, Friedman, and Goldwater conducted a revolution in the name of incrementalism, conservatism, and technical-ism (sic). Where Keynes was the incrementalist. Anyway, this is a must-read. So well-written.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jason Furman

    The first two-thirds of this book is an extraordinary biography of John Maynard Keynes that is the basis of my five star review. It is well written, nuanced, comprehensive, and does an excellent job explaining the complicated international finance of the period in which he lived. Zachary Carter makes compelling links between the many phases and facets of Keynes’ life: someone helping the Treasury finance to the Great War vs. returning the critical roots of the Bloomsbury group; a truth teller wh The first two-thirds of this book is an extraordinary biography of John Maynard Keynes that is the basis of my five star review. It is well written, nuanced, comprehensive, and does an excellent job explaining the complicated international finance of the period in which he lived. Zachary Carter makes compelling links between the many phases and facets of Keynes’ life: someone helping the Treasury finance to the Great War vs. returning the critical roots of the Bloomsbury group; a truth teller who wants to shout his views from the rooftops vs. a man who wants to be engaged at the highest levels; a columnist writing for the moment vs. a timeless theoretician; an avid speculator in markets who was generally hostile to speculation; etc. The life and the work fit together, which for a life and work this extraordinary is a challenge. Carter places Keynes squarely in the tradition of a broader political philosophy, situating his work as a commentary on social and political power and the ways in which the market can only exist as a function of the state, pulling him out of the technocratic economic interpretation. He argues that Keynes’ masterwork, “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money is one of the great works of Western letters, a masterpiece of social and political thought that belongs with the monuments left by Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke, and Karl Marx. It is a theory of democracy and power, of psychology and historical change, a love letter to the power of ideas.” But Carter also argues, in some tension with this claim, that Keynes had pretty much worked out his ideas before the General Theory and was just using it as a rhetorical device to persuade in the present and influence posterity. My only quibble about the first two-thirds of the book is that it overplays Keynes as columnist a bit and underplays Keynes as intellectual. His relationships with Frank Ramsey, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein and his early writing on probability are all mentioned but not emphasized as much as I might have liked. But then Keynes dies on page 367 and the next 166 pages at times read like they were written by someone who had never read or absorbed the first 367 pages. These pages are a partial and polemical account of economic ideas and economic policy in the postwar United States, basically a long indictment of how Keynes was mathematicalized and marginalized within economics and how policymaking abandoned his ideas too. This part makes some interesting points and I learned from it, but the closer it got the present the more tendentious and polemical it got. Let me list a few concerns: SHOULD WE CARE WHAT KEYNES WOULD HAVE THOUGHT? The justification for including the last third was a biography of the afterlife of Keynes ideas. Carter is constantly telling us what Keynes would have thought of, say, various compromises made by Bill Clinton in the 1990s. For some reason biographers of Charles Dickens rarely feel compelled to provide his reviews of 20th century literature, biographers of Isaac Newton don’t speculate about what he would have thought of quasars, and I don’t find myself seeking out articles about what Charles Darwin would have thought of COVID. Maybe a philosopher is aspiring to timeless truths so it might make sense to ask what Kant or Mill would think of an ethical question, but the Keynes portrayed in the first two-thirds of this book is a man of the moment, someone whose ideas are pragmatic, and constantly changing. If someone changes their mind once a decade—and often holds contradictory opinions at the same time—how exactly can we extrapolate their views into the future? Carter thinks Keynes would have been opposed to the WTO and Long-term Capital Management, I would have bet he would have been pro the former and on both sides of the later, but who cares. THE NARROW FOCUS ON THE UNITED STATES IS OVERLY PAROCHIAL. Carter’s story shifts entirely to the United States after World War II. This makes the story very specific to US debates and miss out on broader themes. For example, the divergence of German and US thought on fiscal policy is large and important in putting some perspective on where Keynes’ legacy has persisted and where it has been absent. And Carter does a lot of criticism of NAFTA, the WTO and China’s accession to the WTO as evidence of the ascent of neoliberalism and the betrayal of Keynes (see previous point for why I do’t know where Keynes would have stood on those, especially when he held multiple positions on tariffs over the course of his career). But if Carter had looked at the attitudes of social democratic countries in Europe towards trade, including trade with China, it would have seen less of an exemplar of neoliberalism. “NEOLIBERALISM” AS AN OVERLY BROAD EPITHET FOR EVERYTHING CARTER DOES NOT LIKE. Carter is critical of Kennedy for cutting the top tax rate from 91 to 70 percent and Carter for his deregulation. You can think the top rate should be much higher than it is or that environmental regulation should be much tougher while also thinking those were moves in the right direction. And then there is my least favorite sentence in the book: "Improving education, for instance, probably helped at the margins by creating more jobs for teachers. But the ultimate result was a better-educated underclass just as poor as the one that preceded it." A ONE-SIDED NEGATIVE VIEW OF ECONOMIC HISTORY AND PROGRESS. In “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren” Keynes famously predicted that productivity increases would enable future generations to work fifteen hour weeks while maintaining a good standard of living. Carter explains the failure of this prediction: “The tremendous expansion of output and productivity over the past ninety years has been harvested for the most part by a very small section of society. For everyone else, economic prospects are roughly where they were in the mid-1920s.” The problems with this explanation: (1) hours have stayed high and risen more for the highest-income workers; (2) inequality has not increased since Keynes wrote it in 1930 and moreover you see people working 40+ hour weeks in countries with much lower inequality; and (3) economic prospects are vastly better than where they were in the 1930s. The same argumentation shows up again in multiple places (e.g., misleadingly missing the *percentage* decline in absolute poverty in the 1990s because he focuses on the level and then belittling the subsequent decline because many are still living in near poverty). OVERLY ATTRIBUTES THE DEVELOPMENT OF IDEAS TO MATERIAL INTERESTS AND FUNDING. There is no doubt that funding of ideas, organized groups like the Mont Pelerin society, and the like, have had an impact. But a lot of the development of ideas over the last 70 years has been based on what could explain more, what had evidence, what theories failed. Milton Friedman’s expectations-augmented Philips curve came out of a failure of the traditional Philips curve. Paul Samuelson’s textbook was successful in large part because it effectively unified a set of ideas. Not all math is obfuscation and, in fact, as Carter himself acknowledges, “Without those luminaries [Samuelson et al], The General Theory would today be an intellectual curiosity, the brilliant and confusing work of an influential Englishman that had briefly animated the Roosevelt administration.” A NARROW VIEW OF ECONOMICS. In Carter's telling Keynesianism was largely dead when Jimmy Carter embraced deregulation. He writes, "Without a patron in Washington, up-and-coming economists pursued other ideas. The dwindling few who continued to hold out against the storm—Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz—were Samuelson disciples from MIT who treated Galbraith with professional disdain." A few of the issues: (1) Krugman and Stiglitz, at the time, were primarily microeconomists and not overly engaged in the macroeconomic debate around Keynes; (2) much of the trajectory of economic research has nothing to do with patrons in Washington (see the previous point); and (3) there was a huge growth in the economics of imperfect information, behavioral economics, the shift to empirical study of issues like the impact of the minimum wage on employment, all of which were moving much of economics in a direction with a richer understanding of market failures, human behavior, and in many cases a greater agnosticism on these issues as empirical research replaced theory. But in Carter's version of economics there are only a few celebrity economists and the notion of market failures and behavior is highly limited. This is a partial list of my concerns with the last third of the book. Even in that part I learned a lot, especially the debates with John Kenneth Galbraith, Joan Robinson, the intersection of Macarthyism and economics, and more. I just wish it had ended up being a standalone book that had the sensitivity, nuance and thoughtfulness that pervaded every page of their spectacular biography of John Maynard Keynes.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    This is a biography of Keynesian economics which the author shows to be a breakthrough in economic thought and effective when used. The personal portrait of John Maynard Keynes is merely sketched. What stands out about him is ability to challenge the application of classical economics to modern times and his passion for using monetary policy for not only peace (as in the title) but also for the overall quality of life. Zachary Carter gives a chronological presentation of the concepts and theories This is a biography of Keynesian economics which the author shows to be a breakthrough in economic thought and effective when used. The personal portrait of John Maynard Keynes is merely sketched. What stands out about him is ability to challenge the application of classical economics to modern times and his passion for using monetary policy for not only peace (as in the title) but also for the overall quality of life. Zachary Carter gives a chronological presentation of the concepts and theories which he explains in easy to understand terms. He covers the issues, the papers, books, appointments, conferences, recognition and the economists who support (and those who attack) Keynes’s theories. He shows how Keynesian policies on taxes, tariffs, international finance and public works run counter to policies that preserve wealth by extracting from workers (layoffs, pay cuts, deflation). As a British treasury official he guided Brittan through its WWI finance after which he was among the youngest participants at Versailles, where in 1919, the world powers met to divvy up the earth. He was aghast at how the war’s victors saddled Germany with unrealistic reparations/debt. He predicted an economic depression which would lead to despair and despair to revolt. He left the conference upset and depressed. Unfortunately the rise of Hitler proved him to be correct . The most interesting parts for me were the presentation of Keynes’s writings and the application of his theories in the 1930’s and 40’s. The British coal strike, failure of Austrian banks, the severed relationship of currencies and gold reserves, British financing of WWII and the events and negotiations leading to the lend lease program. Carter feels the closest the world has come to implementing Keynesian theories was Roosevelt’s New Deal. He presents data to show its widespread improvement in people’s lives. He shows how McCarthy and his supporters brutally and effectively attacked Keynesian New Deal policy makers. Conservative activists went so far as to ban textbooks with a Keynesian orientation. Carter notes how all presidents after Roosevelt, (exception: Bush 41 who is not covered) distanced themselves from the name of this (liberal) economic theory, but implemented it in their policies, particularly just before an election. For Carter, Clinton, Bush 43, Obama and Trump there is a good bit on the economic issues of the day, but after Johnson (who is shown as the last New Dealer) there is little commentary on Keynesian influence or lack thereof on their policies. For instance, the new investment vehicles, more complex banking issues, NAFTA and other trade issues are covered… but it there is little commentary relating these to Keynes. Keynes’s personal life there is sketched. There is description of his role and status in the Bloomsbury set. After years of active homosexuality he married a woman for love. He bought a magazine to promote not only his theories but to expand arts and culture. He hired Bloomsbury friend Leonard Woolf to edit the literary section (after negotiations with T.S. Eliot went nowhere). He had a series of heart attacks, and died at home in England following one he (typically) had at a conference negotiating on behalf of his country. I learned a lot and came to understand more through this book, than through anything I have read in some time. Here are some things I learned: • The historical difference in coinage and money: Money was the provenance of government and p. 169 was “an inherently political tool… the state created money and had always regulated its value… four thousand years at least.” • How WWI was a public relations coup for Woodrow Wilson: Carter shows how the many loans to Britain by American banks forced the country into war. Being neither exhausted nor broke, the US provided the force to end it. Wilson elevated this war which was over the assassination of an archduke to a “War for Democracy” and articulated principles to give the war meaning. This enabled its perpetrators to skirt responsibility. The US, led by Wilson at Versailles, offended no one, and signed off on the settlement full of future problems. • More about the role of modern economists and their relationship to the Keynesian theory: John Kenneth Galbraith is well covered, and now I understand his role as a free lance celebrity economist, who, because he followed the McCarthy era, had career difficulties and could not fully credit the basis of his ideas to Keynes. Paul Samuelson made math models of Keynesian ideas. One of the few remaining Keynes influenced economists is Paul Krugman. Milton Friedman is all over the place, perhaps trying to cover his Keynesian bent. There are women in this field who never achieved the name recognition of those above, most interesting Joan Robinson. • why in my 1980’s MBA program, encompassing classes in micro, macro and labor economics, finance and banking, there was no mention of John Maynard Keynes. This was an impressive book about an impressive person. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in economics and public policy.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sherrie

    ***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway*** So, for the first 350 pages or so this was going to be a strong 4 stars. A little bit biography, a little bit economics and philosophy history. Combined, this made for a very interesting read. John Maynard Keynes was not what we think of nowadays when we think of economists (sorry, friends, not an insult!) He was quirky and let his personal experiences and beliefs color his views on economic systems. And in many situations...he was right. I thoroughly ***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway*** So, for the first 350 pages or so this was going to be a strong 4 stars. A little bit biography, a little bit economics and philosophy history. Combined, this made for a very interesting read. John Maynard Keynes was not what we think of nowadays when we think of economists (sorry, friends, not an insult!) He was quirky and let his personal experiences and beliefs color his views on economic systems. And in many situations...he was right. I thoroughly enjoyed how the author explained various financial systems and economic theories and how the different variables play against one another. I felt like I learned a lot. But then, Keynes died with like 150 pages left in the book...which is weird, but could have been OK. Instead, the book lost all semblance of direction. While the first 350 pages had dealt primarily with Great Britain and the issues that Keynes worked on directly, the latter 150 pages dealt entirely with America. Everything from the Cold War through Obama's presidency. It's too much, everything was disconnected and it just sort of fell apart. Instead of working through specific cases slowly and methodically, the author went through 50+ years in a blitz, only saying things that have been said in many other books/articles already, and only loosely connecting these back to Keynes (because, realistically, very little of American politics has been driven by Keynes ideas). The book would have been improved by cutting out that whole latter section to be replaced with something more consistent with the Keynes life and philosophy. I do recommend the first ~350 pages to readers who are curious about Keynes ideas. It was a fun and informative read. My only caveat is to keep the author's bias in mind...he's a senior reporter for HuffPost and is clearly a big fan of Keynes. He came across a little defensive at times.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bob H

    A magisterial and detailed (530 pp.) account of the work and legacy of John Maynard Keynes, the legendary economist whose writing and diplomacy -- public and private -- would influence economies and world policy in his time and beyond. Although it's a biography of sorts, it follows his adult life and career starting in the years before WWI and traces his influence beyond his death in 1946 -- indeed, the book's final pages concern the 2008 financial collapse and its aftermath. We learn of his pers A magisterial and detailed (530 pp.) account of the work and legacy of John Maynard Keynes, the legendary economist whose writing and diplomacy -- public and private -- would influence economies and world policy in his time and beyond. Although it's a biography of sorts, it follows his adult life and career starting in the years before WWI and traces his influence beyond his death in 1946 -- indeed, the book's final pages concern the 2008 financial collapse and its aftermath. We learn of his personal life, his time as a young man with the Bloomsbury Group, an almost communal group of intellectuals in pre-WWI London who traded soirées and love affairs as their varied careers and fame would grow (Keynes would shock his friends, after the war, by marrying a woman). Keynes' reputation as an economist in his early 30s would be enough for him to solve a currency crisis in London just as WWI was starting. He would remain in various important Treasury posts and serve an important role with the UK delegation at the 1919 Paris peace talks. Keynes witnessed considerable history and economic damage at war's end, and, out of government, would write of his disillusionment, and later his gathered theories on economics and government. Ignored at first, he would, we see, become more and more vindicated as Britain, and later the US, would see considerable economic calamity. Keynes would become an influence, both philosophical and personal, with FDR's administration after the Crash, and, through correspondence, with FDR himself. Keynes would be a key part of the economic response to the Depression and, later, in the Allied economic mobilization in WWII. His final act would be his crucial work at the Bretton Woods economic conference, an event that would be one of the decisive outcomes after the war. Much of the book traces his legacy. Keynes would inspire or influence generations of policy economists, particularly in the US, starting with John Kenneth Galbraith and ending up with the likes of Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz. In one way or another, Keynesian economics would affect policy in the administrations of JFK, LBJ and Richard Nixon. We also see a rival, conservative school of conservative economics originating with a contemporary of Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, whose later disciples, starting with Milton Friedman, would be antagonists, even nemeses, to the Keynesians. The book traces the decline of Keynesianism in the Clinton years, a second gilded age that would seemingly retire Keynes' notions as quaint and outdated. The book does argue that all that changed under the demands of the 2008 crash and the new economic problems. It's no spoiler to say the book pretty much concludes toward the end of the Obama years. However, given the covid-19 pandemic and the sudden new Depression it has caused, this book may explain at least some of the economic ideologies shaping official policy now -- whether or not the officials have even heard of Hayek or Keynes, the dynamics are still at hand, and this book is a timely background to this day. In the long run, Keynes famously said, we're all dead; he also wrote that in the short run, we're alive. Highest recommendation. Read in advance copy from Amazon Vine.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Lopez

    “ No European mind since Newton has impressed himself so profoundly on both the political and intellectual development of the world. When the Times wrote Keynes’ obituary, it declared him ‘the greatest economist since Adam Smith.’ But even praise so high as this sold Keynes short, for Keynes was to Smith as Copernicus was to Ptolemy—a thinker who replaced one paradigm with another. In his economic work he fused psychology, history, political theory, and observed financial experience like no ec “ No European mind since Newton has impressed himself so profoundly on both the political and intellectual development of the world. When the Times wrote Keynes’ obituary, it declared him ‘the greatest economist since Adam Smith.’ But even praise so high as this sold Keynes short, for Keynes was to Smith as Copernicus was to Ptolemy—a thinker who replaced one paradigm with another. In his economic work he fused psychology, history, political theory, and observed financial experience like no economist before or since. ” “ For Keynes, economics was the critical realm that had to unite the drive for stability with the drive for social justice. ” For the past few days I’ve been wrestling with how to write a review that might actually do some justice to the value of Zachary D. Carter’s The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes. Having finished reading it within a day or so of Robert Silverberg’s New Wave sci-fi classic Dying Inside, and finding the the latter to be a profoundly poetic, funny, and poignantly-drawn novel (and thus another I’ve been struggling to review!), The Price of Peace is a truly rare book indeed; the sort one only stumbles upon every so often, and after reading it almost inevitably feels the need to evangelize and convince others to read, too. And if this weren’t enough to humble one’s pretensions as a reviewer, it’s a positively massive book, to boot. Not in terms of its length (although it does clock in at a respectable 656 pages, the deftness of Carter’s writing makes it feel far shorter than that), but massive in the sense that it contains a truly massive amount of valuable information and documentation, suffused by the intellect of a first-rate academic historian. So while I try to wrap my head around it, and maybe compose a review which is worthy of the book being reviewed, I left a few quotes above for anyone who may be interested to further their knowledge on the subject.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    A great read. This book came out at the perfect time. It highlights many transformative moments throughout the 20th century that Keynes was part of. It is especially telling today as we go into a new transformative moment for what the world will look like after the coronavirus. Keynes was a marvelous intellect and Carter tells a gripping tale of his life. He was there for it all, the Treaty of Versailles, the abandonment of the gold standard, the formation of the New Deal, and many other signifi A great read. This book came out at the perfect time. It highlights many transformative moments throughout the 20th century that Keynes was part of. It is especially telling today as we go into a new transformative moment for what the world will look like after the coronavirus. Keynes was a marvelous intellect and Carter tells a gripping tale of his life. He was there for it all, the Treaty of Versailles, the abandonment of the gold standard, the formation of the New Deal, and many other significant events. Interestingly, Keynes dies half way through this book. From there on, Carter does a fascinating take of how Keynesian thinking persisted and evolved from Keynes's death to the present. John Kenneth Galbraith becomes a "main character" and his evolution of Keynesianism into an American version is especially interesting. All in all, this is a most wonderful history that goes beyond the life of one man. Keynes was a persistent optimist, and my favorite quote of his was "Down with those who declare we are dumped and damned!" (533), referring to pessimists. He is spot on!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    The most fascinating aspects of a critical biography, at least to me, show how the person influenced the world around him/her and continues to do so. For an intellectual biography, you have the added requirement of guiding the reader through what the subject has written and explaining how it fits into the broader story. When all of this fits together, and the author of the biography is himself a superb writer, the result is magic. I just finished Zachary Carter’s book on Keynes and it is nothing The most fascinating aspects of a critical biography, at least to me, show how the person influenced the world around him/her and continues to do so. For an intellectual biography, you have the added requirement of guiding the reader through what the subject has written and explaining how it fits into the broader story. When all of this fits together, and the author of the biography is himself a superb writer, the result is magic. I just finished Zachary Carter’s book on Keynes and it is nothing short of amazing. I have encountered Keynes in one form or another since my sophomore year in college and I never expected to find him exciting. Keynes lived an amazing life. He was influential apparently from the day he entered government service to the end of his life. He was raised in a well connected family and hung around with perhaps the toughest intellectual crowd imaginable - seriously. ...and then there is the economics and politics. As a very young man he was a critical advisor to the Paris Peace Conference and wrote “The Economic Consequences of the Peace”, one of the most influential books of the times that defined the reparations problem that would plague Europe in the next twenty years and lead to WW2. He lost a bit of official influence in the process but lived to fight again. Read the book now and see what you think. It is still gripping. Then there is the economics - leading to the Great Depression and the General Theory. This story is well told by Carter who weaves Keynes’ writings into the flow along with the dynamics of his colleagues and opponents, such as Hayek. This story is well known but the details of people like Joan Robinson are well done. His work on the Bretton Woods accord was also hugely important but just added to an already amazing career. The continuation of Keynes’ influence after his death shows the continuing importance of his ideas both in terms of their own influence and in terms of the vitriol of his opponents as the Cold War and its various morality plays developed. The story of academic politics and general nastiness regarding Keynesian devotees in the postwar period is well known but still sad. Recent histories of the “Austrian” economists tell the same story from a different perspective. One of Mr. Carter’s major punchlines appears to be that Keynes remains viable as a source of policy insights today - not surprising for someone whose work arguably stimulated the invention of the entire area of “macroeconomics”. More important than that is the position that Keynesian ideas are neither good nor bad in themselves but tools that can be used for a variety of policy objectives. In today’s terms, Keynes is the source of policy options for putting a progressive social and economic policy agenda into practice. Given issues of widespread inequality as well as the bankruptcy of the neoliberal policy consensus for handling crises since 2007-2008, this is a reassuring takeaway from the book as makes Carter’s biography of crucial importance today - and well worth reading.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David Dayen

    Took me entirely too long to get through this but well worth the wait. A dazzling portrait of Keynes, his importance, and by the end his erasure, with his ideas sort of enduring but his spirit extinguished. The story of Keynes is the story of a century of economics, and by the end we see a profession adrift. But along the way we get a portrait of Keynes, who comes out of the Bloomsbury art and literature collective in London and really kept that perspective. The good life was Keynes' lifelong go Took me entirely too long to get through this but well worth the wait. A dazzling portrait of Keynes, his importance, and by the end his erasure, with his ideas sort of enduring but his spirit extinguished. The story of Keynes is the story of a century of economics, and by the end we see a profession adrift. But along the way we get a portrait of Keynes, who comes out of the Bloomsbury art and literature collective in London and really kept that perspective. The good life was Keynes' lifelong goal, not for him but for all citizens. He brimmed with optimism and possibility, perhaps to the detriment of realism. But in the end Carter lays out how we need people like Keynes, confident that he can solve problems, rather than a world of cynics.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    In spite of his one-time prominence, John Maynard Keynes ("Cains") isn't a household name today. So Zachary Carter's The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes (2020) is a timely effort to fill that gap. Keynes's Personal Life: A Thumbnail Sketch It's well known that Keynes was homosexual. This was not unusual in his generation on Britain among prep school and university students. For Carter it is an up-front issue in Keynes's life, and Carter marvels at Keynes's su In spite of his one-time prominence, John Maynard Keynes ("Cains") isn't a household name today. So Zachary Carter's The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes (2020) is a timely effort to fill that gap. Keynes's Personal Life: A Thumbnail Sketch It's well known that Keynes was homosexual. This was not unusual in his generation on Britain among prep school and university students. For Carter it is an up-front issue in Keynes's life, and Carter marvels at Keynes's successful marriage to an internationally-acclaimed Russian ballerina named Lydia Lopokova. Carter does write well, as in this beautifully phrased snapshot capturing the complexity of his subject: Keynes was a tangle of paradoxes: a bureaucrat who marries a dancer; a gay man whose greatest love was a woman; a loyal servant of the British Empire who railed against imperialism; a pacifist who helped finance two world wars; an internationalist who assembled the intellectual architecture for the modern nation-state; an economist who challenged the foundation of economics. But embedded in all of these seeming contradictions is a coherent vision of human freedom and political salvation. Keynes Before WWI John Maynard Keynes ("Maynard") was born in 1883, the son of Ada Keynes, a social reformer, and John Neville Keynes ("Neville"), an economist at King's College, Cambridge University. He attended Eton College and graduated from King's college in 1908 with a first in mathematics—Bertrand Russell extolled his brilliance. In the same year he took a civil service position at the India Office, where he worked on financial matters in India. Though his education was in mathematics, Maynard's primary interests were in political philosophy and economics. He was a liberal of his day, believing that that government could be the solution for many social and economic problems. He was also a problem-solving optimist, an outlook that shaped his career and his work. His impact on economics began in 1909 when he was given a minor academic position as a lecturer at King's College, where his father was a noted economist. In 1911 he published Indian Currency and Finance, a result of a brief attachment to the India Office. In that treatise he argued that India should have a different monetary system for international and domestic transactions: the British pound—a gold standard currency—for international finance; a paper standard, the rupiah for domestic finance. This idea would eventually inform hos proposals for a new international monetary system after WWII. In 1911 Keynes was appointed editor of The Economic Journal, a position from which he could help shape the field by selecting papers worthy of publication. His particular expertise was in finance and monetary theory, and he would soon be tested. At the outbreak of the war in August 1914 Keynes was called to assist in managing the financial crisis facing Britain: speculative runs against the pound, both internal and external, were draining Britain's coffers of gold and of currencies convertible into gold. The result was "tight money" with high interest rates and a declining domestic money supply. A recession was in the headlights when in 1915 Keynes was appointed to an official position in the Treasury to manage the problem. This began a lifelong career with one foot in the academy and one foot in government, a career that continued until his death in 1946. The standard prescription for resolution of a financial crisis under the gold standard was to either devalue the pound (raise the price of gold in terms of pounds) or to suspend convertibility entirely (simply end the requirement that the Treasury buy or sell gold), thus letting the pound "float." In the absence of those steps, the only solution was price deflation to reduce the domestic price level relative to price levels for trading partners. Bankers, the Treasury, and the Bank of England objected to devaluation or suspension of convertibility because London's position as a financial center would be compromised. Instead they proposed a plan to end the sale of gold to foreigners—a suspension of external convertibility but a continuation of internal convertibility: British citizens could trade pounds for dollars, but foreigners could not. This would reserve the British gold stock for internal use. Keynes opposed that idea and made a counter-proposal based on his work in India: end sales of gold to the public (suspend internal convertibility) but maintain external convertibility. This turned the proposal by the bankers and their fellow travelers on its head: the gold specie (coins) used in domestic transactions would be replaced by new Treasury notes not convertible into gold. The risk was that the public would reject the new and inconvertible currency, in which case they’d want to get rid of the bad currency and inflation would emerge, exacerbating a foreign run on gold. To almost everyone's surprise, Keynes's proposal was adopted, and it worked: the new paper currency was accepted and the external drain of gold stopped because foreigners now believed there was sufficient gold at the British Treasury to maintain convertibility. Keynes Between the Wars In 1919 Keynes attended the Paris Peace Conference that hashed out the Versailles Treaty finalizing WWI. From this vantage point he wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919), a book assessing the Treaty and predicting that the massive reparations in gold and resources (like German rolling stock, Ruhr coal production) levied by the Triple Entente (France, Britain, the U. S. and Russia) to reimburse them for the costs of the war would impoverish the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) and set the foundations for another European war. He was, of course, correct: WWII would pop up twenty years later. The next serious crisis occurred in 1925 when Winston Churchill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, decided to return Britain to the international gold standard. Once again, this was driven by a desire to enhance London's position as a financial center. The return to gold at prewar parity ($4.86) was a disaster—during the war the British price level had risen sharply relative to U. S. prices. At the pre-war parity the pound was greatly overvalued—the price to foreigners of British goods was much higher than before the war and, as a corollary, the prices of foreign goods were much lower. The return to pre-war parity created a sharp decline British exports and a correspondingly sharp increase in imports to Britain. The result was sizable net imports of goods, an imbalance that was financed by an outflow of Britain's scarce post-war gold supply to other countries. The only way to stem the gold outflow was to deflate the economy via high interest rates. The result was severe unemployment that lasted until external gold convertibility was suspended in 1931. The domestic economy's troubles from this self-inflicted wound left the British with over a decade of social unrest and unemployment, and left it ill-equipped for the arrival of WWII. In addition, U. S. attempts to help by maintaining low interest rates helped to create an economic boom that would end with the 1929 stock market crash. The Great Depression The Great Depression that took the world by storm in 1930 changed the direction of Keynes's thinking. He set out to explain why the world stayed in such a prolonged economic slump when the received economic doctrine—now called “neoclassical economics”—held that business cycles were self-correcting: a slump (or a boom) would initiate adjustments of relative prices, of the national price level, and of interest rates that would return the economy to a stable position of full employment. This would take time, but the common assumption was that any intervention by government would only slow the adjustment process. So, for example, during a recession the neoclassical course for economic policy was government spending austerity and tax increases to balance the budget. True, these steps might make things worse in the short-run but they would hasten the return to full employment. This idea shaped FDR's unfortunate tax increases in 1936, and it is still in vogue—consider the austerity adopted by the British government after the 2008 financial collapse, or the European Economic Community 's reaction to the financial collapse of weak Euro-region countries ("the southern tier"), particularly Greece! For a variety of reasons, Keynes thought that reliance on self-correction was dangerous. He argued that the process of natural adjustment could be very long, famously quipping that “in the long run we're all dead." And he had the Great Depression as an immediate example. His analysis of the basis of the Great Depression was published in two books—A Treatise on Money (1930) and The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936). The second was by far the most influential: it would kick-start the field of Macroeconomics and upend our understanding of the role of government in responding to a business cycle. Regrettably, The General Theory was anything but general, and the book was almost unreadable, even among economists, so it has taken many decades to flesh out its finer points. But they can be reduced to a few observations. 1. Capitalist economies suffer from high unemployment when aggregate demand is insufficient. 2. Capitalist economies are is not homeostatic: there is no automatic adjustment mechanism that returns an economy to full employment within a reasonable time. Thus, an economy can get stuck at an "underemployment equilibrium." 3. Economies stuck at an underemployment equilibrium require active government policies to promote spending and get on the path to full employment. 4. In an underemployment equilibrium, monetary policies are likely to be ineffective.Monetary policies rely on an increase in money supply or, equivalently, a decrease in interest rates. But when interest rates are very low, as is common in depressions, monetary policy is toothless because of a "liquidity trap" in which additional money is willingly held and not spent or loaned. 5. The only effective action is a depression is fiscal policy in the form of direct government spending or tax cuts designed to increase private spending. The Bretton Woods Conference, 1944 Keynes's last major appearance was at the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire 1944. The international financial system was in a shambles: all countries were off of the gold standard and foreign exchange rates “floated” according to demand and supply. The notion of a world of floating exchange rates was abhorrent at the time, and some way of getting the advantage of fixed exchange rates without the burden of a gold link was sought. The Bretton Woods Conference was devoted to redesigning the international monetary system. Prior to the war that system had been a “gold standard” in which each participating nation fixed the price of gold in terms of its own currency. This, of course, established a fixed price of one currency in terms of another. For example, in 1925 the U. S. Mint bought and sold gold at $20.64 per ounce and the British Treasury bought and sold gold at £4.25 per ounce, resulting in $4.86 as the dollar price of a British pound sterling. That system had always been problematic because at any time the world’s stock of gold was both (largely) fixed in amount and unequally distributed among nations: after WWI the bulk of the world’s gold supply was in American and French hands; after WWII it was almost all in American vaults. This left the deficit-ridden European nations with little ability to buy the goods needed to restore their economies. Furthermore, the fixity of the world’s gold stock meant that an increasing volume of international trade would induce a general deflation in prices. Using his work on Indian finance and the ideas expressed in his Treatise on Money, Keynes shaped the British Treasury’s proposal for a post-war international monetary system. An international organization, to be called the International Clearing Union, would be created to make loans to deficit countries in the form of a new international currency called the Bancor; surplus countries would accumulate the Bancors used by deficit countries to finance their international trade. Thus, the surplus countries would effectively finance the net imports of the deficit countries. Bancors would become what we now call “international reserve assets,” displacing gold and avoiding the deflationary tendency of the gold standard that had plagued international finance and trade. In addition, each nation would fix the value of its national currency in terms of the Bancor, just as it had once been fixed relative to gold. The result would be a fixed exchange rate system like the gold standard, but with a flexible monetary base (Bancors) that could grow with the “needs of trade.” Keynes’s design became the foundation of the new international monetary system, though other countries (particularly the U. S.) put their stamp on the final product: the name of the new international financial institution became the International Monetary Fund (a benign change) and, because the American delegation was loath to give the power of the printing press to an international organization, and wanted to maintain its financial hegemony, the U. S. dollar was specified as the new international reserve asset. In effect, Keynes’s proposal was adopted but the British lost the battle of nomenclature and had to accept a national currency as the international reserve asset. Even so, Keynes and the British delegation had won the war of monetary redesign. Was Keynes "right"? Well, he was certainly right enough! The last few years have been a laboratory test for Keynes's macroeconomic ideas, and they have been generally supported. Keynes is as relevant now as he was then—his interpretation of the 1930s fits the 2010s well. The U.S. economy is now in the midst of its closest approach to the features defining the Great Depression that we've seen in eighty years—very low interest rates, toothless monetary policy, and U.S. government budget deficits that are out-of-sight as the government attempts to maintain full employment. Keynes died in 1946 at the very-young age of 63. If I had ten votes to select the Nobel Prize in Economics for best 20th century economist, all ten would go to Keynes. A pox on the naysaying troglodytes that lumber through the internet.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Unnati Bose

    Excellent- a well-written and spectacularly detailed account of economic history since the first world war to now, through the lens of Keynesianism. Zachery Carter mindfully knits together Keynes personal life - his friends, affairs and internal conflicts with his professional experience - his aspirations, failings, mistakes, and everything in between. This book is more than just Keynes and you realize that halfway through when Zachery (sometimes frustratingly) continues to detail how keynes' id Excellent- a well-written and spectacularly detailed account of economic history since the first world war to now, through the lens of Keynesianism. Zachery Carter mindfully knits together Keynes personal life - his friends, affairs and internal conflicts with his professional experience - his aspirations, failings, mistakes, and everything in between. This book is more than just Keynes and you realize that halfway through when Zachery (sometimes frustratingly) continues to detail how keynes' ideas were deployed long after his death - often contemptuously and always insincerely. Th book can serve as a primer for all econ undergrads so they understand the inevitable and obvious political project of the discipline. However, it can do with a greater inspection of how these ideals when poorly executed affected the developing world.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    I had no idea that John Maynard Keynes was such an amazing guy. I vaguely knew him as an economist whose theories influenced FDR during the Depression. I had no idea that he was a journalist, philosopher, member of the Bloomsbury group of authors and artists among other things. And his economic ideas stemmed from a desire to halt war and help the little guys. Unfortunately, he wasn't always listened to. This isn't a traditional biography in two ways. First, we don't get the cradle-to-grave treatm I had no idea that John Maynard Keynes was such an amazing guy. I vaguely knew him as an economist whose theories influenced FDR during the Depression. I had no idea that he was a journalist, philosopher, member of the Bloomsbury group of authors and artists among other things. And his economic ideas stemmed from a desire to halt war and help the little guys. Unfortunately, he wasn't always listened to. This isn't a traditional biography in two ways. First, we don't get the cradle-to-grave treatment. Carter begins the bio in 1914 at the start of The Great War, when Keynes is called from his post at university to advise the British government on how to finance the war effort. That begins his lifelong goal to develop economic principles that would help make war less likely and fueled his frustration with the Versailles Treaty that he was convinced would lead to another war with Germany. Unfortunately he was right. The other way that this is not a typical biography is that roughly the last third of the book follows events after Keynes's death. Carter follows economists like Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith and others who took Keynes's work and built on it - or evolved it into something quite different from what Keynes intended. Between the first half of the century when Keynes was alive and the second half, we get an economic history of the 20th century (and the opening years of the 21st - including economic decisions that led to the Great Recession). And Carter manages to make some of the complex theories downright readable. NOTE - I received an Advanced copy of this book from the publisher through a Goodreads giveaway.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    Perhaps you’ve heard the term “Keynesian Economics” used before by politicians or economic talking heads, particularly during times of economic upheaval, and have always wondered what it exactly means or where it came from? The Price of Peace follows the life of the man who the term was derived, John Maynard Keynes. Keynes is perhaps the most distinguished and influential economist of the 20th Century and his ideas on modern economics is still utilized today. Keynesianism can be described as a de Perhaps you’ve heard the term “Keynesian Economics” used before by politicians or economic talking heads, particularly during times of economic upheaval, and have always wondered what it exactly means or where it came from? The Price of Peace follows the life of the man who the term was derived, John Maynard Keynes. Keynes is perhaps the most distinguished and influential economist of the 20th Century and his ideas on modern economics is still utilized today. Keynesianism can be described as a demand driven economic philosophy of public deficit spending on employment generators such as public works, usually during times of economic recession. The thinking is that when the private sector is in a recessionary period and unemployment is high, the government should fill the void with spending to spur economic activity. The increase in economic activity creates a multiplier effect rippling throughout the economy as more goods and services are required from the creation of public works. Keynes’s ideas were summarized in his 1936 opus “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”. While not a full-fledged cradle to the grave biography of the renowned economist, the book begins during Keynes’s formative years at Cambridge as part of the eclectic Bloomsbury Group, a group of artists, intellectuals, and writers. Keynes went to work for the British Treasury during WWI, playing an indispensable role in designing the terms of credit to pay for the War. After the War was over and the Treaty of Versailles signed between the Allies defining the terms of the peace, Keynes was aghast at the Treaty’s outcome, believing the terms would cripple the Germany economy so brutally, that the outcome would only lead to more war. He was right. The Price of Peace is much more than a biography of Keynes but an examination of how his radical ideas changed economic thought and were essential to tackling the challenges after a ravaging world war. Keynes challenged the gold standard and its strict control of the money supply as an outdated vestige to 19th century laisse fair economic theory, and its inability to handle the new world’s challenges. After the death of Franklin Roosevelt, whose New Deal programs espoused and adopted the Keynes’s ideas through government spending on public works and jobs programs, and the death of Keynes in 1948, a massive whole in the force of his ideas were created. The ascendancy of McCarthyism in the 1950s began to portray this economic philosophy as socialist or even communist, which continue to resonate with conservative ideologies today. While Keynesian economics would be the reigning economic policy and throughout JFK’s New Frontier, LBJ’s Great Society, and the Nixon administration, where he famously stated “we are all Keynesians now”, Keynesian economics began to fall out of esteem, with the ascendancy of Reaganism. The monetarist policies (control of the money supply and interest rates, as opposed to the fiscal approach of Keynes) of economists like Milton Friedman (an acolyte of Keynes’s chief rival Friedrich von Hayek) began to take hold reaching its nadir in the Clinton Administration. While American administrations continued to utilized a form of Keynesianism through deficit inducing tax cuts and military spending, Keynes would have a resurgence during the Obama administration’s stimulus program to combat the financial systems collapse in 2008. The Price of Peace is a phenomenal work, not only of Keynes the man, but how his ideas shaped economic thought and the modern world. While the death of Keynes occurs about ¾’s of the way through, the remaining section of the book portrays how his ideas began to wane and recently re-surge. Readers looking for a biography only of Keynes may begin to lose interest from there. However, couple this reading with Binyamin Appelbaum’s recently released “The Economists' Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society”, and you will have a very commanding understanding of the economic ideas and philosophies of the 20th Century though today.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Justina

    Last night someone asked me how I found the book, and I said "Long." That is what it has to be: a biography of a polymath and an intellectual history of one of the most important -- and still one of the most frequently invoked -- economic ideas from the 20th century. There are parts of it where in order to set up the debate over a particular legacy of Keynesianism, the author delves into chapters of American political history that have little direct link to the man itself (indeed, about a quarte Last night someone asked me how I found the book, and I said "Long." That is what it has to be: a biography of a polymath and an intellectual history of one of the most important -- and still one of the most frequently invoked -- economic ideas from the 20th century. There are parts of it where in order to set up the debate over a particular legacy of Keynesianism, the author delves into chapters of American political history that have little direct link to the man itself (indeed, about a quarter of the book is about the period after his death) and there are times when I wonder if they book has wandered off course (an example is an attack on a failure by the Obama administration that seems far too specific for the subject of this book). But that also speaks to the book's dedication to parsing the various strands of Keynesianism and its discontent -- as well as the man's far-reaching impact. The book is particular intriguing in capturing the nuanced fact that while Keynesian economics have largely won over western democracies in the narrow sense that governments do tend to spend in recessions -- the pandemic economy would be a perfect example for the book -- many of its underlying principles have been largely forgotten. While today he is mostly known for demand-side economics, the book emphasizes his dedication to peace and the arts; if anything, sound economic management is only a means to an end to him. Keynes was also a different kind of economist than what we are now used to. His ideas responded to the times, were much broader than pure economics and much less mathematical. While his core proposal seems to have taken root, the whole profession has developed in a different direction. While the book still leans toward the intellectual, it also evokes a Bloomsbury pulsing with interpersonal drama, friendship, romance and talent. Virginia Woolf's recollections are a literary bonus of this book. Its hidden (?) heroine is Joan Robinson, the firebrand Cambridge economist who fought to preserve Keynes's legacy from what she sees as the distortions of the American cohort. Oh, she also has a juicy romantic side story. Even if you have little interest in the man, this book serves as a in-depth look at the sharpest economic debates from WWI through the Great Depression, WWII and the post-war boom. Indeed, that might be the benefit of this book's length and breadth: you'll end up learning a whole lot more than just a famous economist's biography.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Barry

    3.5 stars Ostensibly a biography of Keynes, this book functions more as a history and defense of Keynesian economics. Indeed, the death of Keynes occurs about 2/3 of the way in, and the final third then follows how closely his theories have been adhered to over the past 70-plus years. Carter contends that when economies flourished it was because they followed Keynesian principles, and when economies languished it was because these ideas were either abandoned or not followed closely enough. The bo 3.5 stars Ostensibly a biography of Keynes, this book functions more as a history and defense of Keynesian economics. Indeed, the death of Keynes occurs about 2/3 of the way in, and the final third then follows how closely his theories have been adhered to over the past 70-plus years. Carter contends that when economies flourished it was because they followed Keynesian principles, and when economies languished it was because these ideas were either abandoned or not followed closely enough. The book has a decidedly political slant which makes me a little more skeptical about its economic interpretations and pronouncements, but at minimum, it does demonstrate the critical importance of proper monetary policies and financial regulation, and thus serves as an effective takedown of laissez faire economics. But then again, nobody these days really argues that government should have no role to play in making sure that a free market functions as it should... 2020 MGM BAB Challenge: 1. The Fellowship (656 p) 2. Lonesome Dove (964 p) 3. These Truths (960 p) 4. Wind-up Bird Chronicle (607 p) 5. Parting the Waters (1120 p) 6. Gone with the Wind (1037 p) Bonus round: 7. The Count of Monte Cristo (1138 p) 8. Pillar of Fire (746 p) 9. Dominion (612 p) 10. Les Miserables (1456 p) 11. Price of Peace (656 p) CBNC The Splendid and the Vile (585)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sheri

    I am doing policy reading this semester; political and economic theories and frameworks are relevant and last week I noticed a link to an interview with Carter on Ezra Klein's podcast and so I peeked at this book. It was advertised as one of the best books of the year and seemed like an approachable background read to supplement the policy stuff. It was very educational, but less entertaining than I had hoped. I would hesitate to call it a biography as only about the first 2/3rds is devoted to K I am doing policy reading this semester; political and economic theories and frameworks are relevant and last week I noticed a link to an interview with Carter on Ezra Klein's podcast and so I peeked at this book. It was advertised as one of the best books of the year and seemed like an approachable background read to supplement the policy stuff. It was very educational, but less entertaining than I had hoped. I would hesitate to call it a biography as only about the first 2/3rds is devoted to Keynes and his life. Mostly it is a history of Keynesian thought and the effects it has had on the British and American economies from the end of WWI through the Clinton years. Carter does a great job, though of putting it all into historical context and explaining how economics and economic thinking has changed over time. He is also very clearly a supporter of Keynes and Keynesian thought. My take away is that Keynes believes that there is no such thing as a free market and that the role of government is regulation of the economy. He was also a humanitarian that believed in democracy and a more equitable distribution of resources. Throughout the last century, economic policy has followed Keynes upon occasion, but for the most part policy has been directed towards aiding business interest which has fueled the development of our inequality. Overall I would not call in an entertaining read, but it was certainly educational.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ellison

    A very readable and entertaining biography of Keynes and a concise history of the 20th century from an economic perspective. ‘But in his role as an economic theorist, uncertainty became the central psychological insight of his work. Uncertainty couldn’t be measured statistically. People had different levels of confidence about the future, but nobody could calculate it.’ ‘…the market prices of stocks, bonds, and other assets created an illusory sense of mathematical certainty about prospective inv A very readable and entertaining biography of Keynes and a concise history of the 20th century from an economic perspective. ‘But in his role as an economic theorist, uncertainty became the central psychological insight of his work. Uncertainty couldn’t be measured statistically. People had different levels of confidence about the future, but nobody could calculate it.’ ‘…the market prices of stocks, bonds, and other assets created an illusory sense of mathematical certainty about prospective investments.’ ‘Uncertainty about the future - not irrationality or stupidity - makes crowds prone to calamity in both finance and politics, particularly under conditions of significant anxiety. Markets are no more self-correcting than a mob hailing a demagogue.’ ‘The importance of money essentially flows from its being a link between the present and the future.’ ‘In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.’ The last two quotes are from Keynes.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    A tremendous book which takes the reader on a journey from Keynes' role in managing the British imperial economy in the First World War all the way through to the revival of his macroeconomic ideas in the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. Highly recommended for its relevance to the modern global economic crisis; history of Keynes and Keynesian responses to crises of the twentieth century; and flowing prose. This may be my favourite book of 2020. A tremendous book which takes the reader on a journey from Keynes' role in managing the British imperial economy in the First World War all the way through to the revival of his macroeconomic ideas in the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. Highly recommended for its relevance to the modern global economic crisis; history of Keynes and Keynesian responses to crises of the twentieth century; and flowing prose. This may be my favourite book of 2020.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Xander Mitchell

    One of the best books of the year. Zach Carter put together a highly engaging biography of Keynes and his afterlife - his ideological afterlife, that is. Carter makes the case that a deep humanism was at the center of Keynes' economic model, describing what makes it so powerful and how we've strayed from it since. While the latter chapters present a frustrating recent history of the failures of the economics profession, I found cause for hope in the fact that many of the premises of Keynes' econ One of the best books of the year. Zach Carter put together a highly engaging biography of Keynes and his afterlife - his ideological afterlife, that is. Carter makes the case that a deep humanism was at the center of Keynes' economic model, describing what makes it so powerful and how we've strayed from it since. While the latter chapters present a frustrating recent history of the failures of the economics profession, I found cause for hope in the fact that many of the premises of Keynes' economics are returning to the fore of public discussion.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Grantlundberg

    I came to learn from this book that economic philosophy that focuses on delivering well being for its citizens is comprehensive. It is not focused on debt, price or GDP management. It is wholistic. Anything less can destroy the social fabric and bring a nation to its knees.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    One of the best biographies I have read since Chernow's Hamilton. We've got WWI, The decline of the British Empire and the rise of the American, the Great Depression and the New Deal, WWII, debates over the gold standard, international trade policy, colonization, art, literature, and avant garde hippies, philosophy and statesmanship, in addition to the most influential theoretical economist of the 20th century. Ever wonder why stimulus checks are a thing both republican and democrats signed into One of the best biographies I have read since Chernow's Hamilton. We've got WWI, The decline of the British Empire and the rise of the American, the Great Depression and the New Deal, WWII, debates over the gold standard, international trade policy, colonization, art, literature, and avant garde hippies, philosophy and statesmanship, in addition to the most influential theoretical economist of the 20th century. Ever wonder why stimulus checks are a thing both republican and democrats signed into during the pandemic? Why do people want a gold standard, but why don't economists? (Hey...economists are people, too.) How to save capitalism and democracy from authoritarian fascists and communists? Then look no further than this accessible and exciting biology of Lord John Maynard Keynes. The first two thirds cover Keynes' life in fascinating anecdotes and nuanced exploration of the evolution of his ideas and place in Bloomsbury social life. His intimate friends were artists, yet, he had no talent for it. Fortunately for them, his eventual fame and fortune helped finance their careers, this launching Virginia Woolf, and to an extent, E. M. Forster. Keynes was involved in the treasury during WWI, brokering deals with America and present at the negotiations at Versailles. Unhappy with the punitive attitude, he predicted it would lead to depression and the return of an opportunist authoritarian. A decade latter, desiring to speak not to policy makers but to academic economists, he authored the General Theory of Money, Interest, and Employment. Launching academic macroeconomics as a field and as a bureaucratic profession in government. Proving their worth in public bureaucracy, today, economists are highly sought in private corporate bureaucracy. The last third of the book follows his legacy via United States politics. Not as balanced or even handed as the first two thirds, it still yielded a lot I didn't know, such as the roll of McCarthyism, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Joan Robinson in Keynesian identity and public debates.

  22. 4 out of 5

    David C Ward

    An interesting, fluently written yet oddly constructed book; two books in one, really: a biography of Keynes and then a treatment of Keynesianism in American politics after his death. Without Keynes himself, his theory disappeared into a welter of measures that generally failed when implemented by venal and short sighted policy makers in the public and private sectors. In particular, the fear of anything that could possibly be called radical, let alone socialistic, meant that Americans ignored b An interesting, fluently written yet oddly constructed book; two books in one, really: a biography of Keynes and then a treatment of Keynesianism in American politics after his death. Without Keynes himself, his theory disappeared into a welter of measures that generally failed when implemented by venal and short sighted policy makers in the public and private sectors. In particular, the fear of anything that could possibly be called radical, let alone socialistic, meant that Americans ignored both Keynes’ economic emphasis on inequality and his social program for a just and good society. Carter does a good job at showing how Keynes’ creativity came from the conflict in his character between revolution and conservation. He realized as Lampedusa says in The Leopard, Everything had to change to remain the same.

  23. 5 out of 5

    James

    In The Price of Peace, Zach Carter writes about Keynes' life, work, and the impact of that work through today. Keynes was "not only an economist but the preeminent anti-authoritarian thinker of the twentieth century ... a moral philosopher, political theorist, and statesman". Keynes is best known for The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. This book created macroeconomics (p. 257). It "proved that the condition and organization of society were not the inevitable, dispassionate requi In The Price of Peace, Zach Carter writes about Keynes' life, work, and the impact of that work through today. Keynes was "not only an economist but the preeminent anti-authoritarian thinker of the twentieth century ... a moral philosopher, political theorist, and statesman". Keynes is best known for The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. This book created macroeconomics (p. 257). It "proved that the condition and organization of society were not the inevitable, dispassionate requirements of tragically insufficient resources. They were, instead, political choices that societies could not avoid." (273) The General Theory was written partly in response to societies' inability to escape the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s due to a reliance on old ideas that assumed that economies would fix themselves. This wasn't dry ivory tower economics: one reason the book is so important is that, as experience has shown, high levels of unemployment can lead pretty quickly to radicalization, militarism, and war. Economists who repeat old doctrines simply because familiar ideas are comfortable can be dangerous, and Keynes devoted a lot of effort attempting to convert "the priesthood of academic economists to his new doctrine." (245) Keynes admired the classical economists, including Ricardo, James and John Stuart Mill, Alfred Marshall, and AC Pigou, and believed that their picture of the economy "had once been an accurate understanding of how social needs could best be met." But things change: the productive capitalist economy of the 20th century was different from the 18th and 19th century world the classical economists were describing. The General Theory was the culmination of Keynes' attempts to help the economics profession remain relevant. The United States was the country that implemented Keynesian ideas on the biggest scale. To escape the Great Depression, FDR established more than two dozen federal agencies including the Public Works Administration, which built dams, bridges, and power plants; the Works Progress Administration, which built schools, theaters, and hospitals, and the SEC, which policed Wall Street. These policies worked: unemployment dropped from over 20 to below 10 percent, and between 1934 and 1936, the US economy grew by more than 10 percent per year. To administer the new policies, the government needed economists: public intellectuals such as John Kenneth Galbraith got their start in New Deal DC. Galbraith explained that in 1933, things were so bad that the financial community was grateful to Roosevelt for putting things on surer footing. But there was always resistance to the implementation of Keynes' ideas, despite (and because of) their success."By 1934, things were enough better so that his efforts on behalf of farmers and the unemployed ... could be disliked and even feared. Roosevelt had become 'that man in the White House' and 'the traitor to his class.'" (287-8) This resistance extended to economics education as well. When Lorie Tarshis published The Elements of Economics in 1947, a textbook introducing students to Keynesian economics, conservatives pushed back, effectively banning book sales. Their campaign helped Paul Samuelson's Economics to become a bestseller. The difference between the books was significant. Tarshis presented markets for money and debt as "creatures of the state, an expression of democratic politics that citizens could manage and adjust." Samuelson, on the other hand, highlighted the "power of the market to order social preferences, with the help of just a little fiscal adjustment." (379) The acceptance of Samuelson's ideas had widespread implications for the development of "Keynesian" economics in the US, including for the policy response to the 1970s inflation, which was seen as discrediting Keynesian ideas. What struck me most about this book was just how damaging American Keynesians were to the project that Keynes and his Cambridge group initiated. Establishment Republicans and Democrats uniformly embraced the neoliberal project by the late 20th century. The Republicans were explicit about "starving the beast", and the Democrats to a large extent followed along. Milton Friedman said that Ronald Reagan was unsuccessful in cutting down the size of the government-- "It would take a Democrat to finish the job." (483) As the coronavirus pandemic and financial crisis made clear, we have built a system that is largely unprepared for external shocks and occasionally creates existential crises itself. In 2008, after two decades as the world's most powerful economic policymaker, Alan Greenspan admitted to being mistaken in the view that a free market could always regulate itself. He said "I found a flaw in the model that I perceived as the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works." Keynes' work is a reminder of the danger of clinging to orthodox models that fail to provide a useful guide to circumstances. We need to adapt our economics to the world as it is, constantly changing.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Matt Schiavenza

    Perhaps the first thing to know about this excellent new biography of John Maynard Keynes is that its subject dies halfway through. This isn't meant as a slight; if anything, it only goes to show that Keynes' influence did not end with his passing in 1946. Most people with a passing understanding of economic history have a basic sense of Keynesian economics: that the government has a responsibility to stimulate the economy when high unemployment and economic uncertainty limit private consumption Perhaps the first thing to know about this excellent new biography of John Maynard Keynes is that its subject dies halfway through. This isn't meant as a slight; if anything, it only goes to show that Keynes' influence did not end with his passing in 1946. Most people with a passing understanding of economic history have a basic sense of Keynesian economics: that the government has a responsibility to stimulate the economy when high unemployment and economic uncertainty limit private consumption and investment. His ideas stood in contrast to classical economists, like his Austrian contemporary Friedrich Hayek, who argued that government intervention in the economy prolonged economic misery by increasing inflation. In the decades after World War Two, Keynes' ideas were so pervasive in the U.S. that even President Richard Nixon, a conservative Republican, referred to himself as an adherent. But the fallout from the oil shock of the 1970s and the subsequent rise of Ronald Reagan led to a repudiation of Keynesian economics that remains a potent force in right-wing thought even today. Carter's biography is a fascinating account of Keynes's early life as a member of the Bloomsbury Group, a set of London artists and intellectuals that included Virginia Woolf, a close friend. A noted homosexual, Keynes nonetheless found happiness through his marriage to Lydia Lopokova, a famed Russian ballerina; their celebrity in pre-war Britain brought along considerable wealth. But Keynes was no moderate squish, and his ideas from the vantage point of today are quite radical. Proposals floated by the left in present-day America, like a universal basic income, would probably strike the great economist as eminently reasonable. If anything, I'm sure he'd be surprised how little progress we've made. As I write this review, America faces its greatest economic crisis in decades, attenuated only by the passage of generous unemployment benefits, a grant program for flailing businesses, and a temporary eviction moratorium back in March. These temporary measures have since expired. America's most vulnerable citizens are now facing destitution with no relief in sight. And yet rather than address this shocking situation, Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the White House refuse to help, claiming that doing so would blow out America's long-term economic future. "In the long run, we're all dead," is Keynes' famous retort. Fortunately, Keynesianism is alive. May it rise again.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Hall

    Keynes had a colorful personal life, and his legacy is complicated. After letting this book sink in for a day or so, it strikes me that the questions it raises remain prescient. It asks the reader to consider the political implications of macroeconomics, what a government can do to shape society and respond to the effects of macroeconomics on their citizens. It asks us to consider how ideas and virtues are implemented, and how we can account for the unintended effects of those ideas in the long d Keynes had a colorful personal life, and his legacy is complicated. After letting this book sink in for a day or so, it strikes me that the questions it raises remain prescient. It asks the reader to consider the political implications of macroeconomics, what a government can do to shape society and respond to the effects of macroeconomics on their citizens. It asks us to consider how ideas and virtues are implemented, and how we can account for the unintended effects of those ideas in the long duree of history. Keynes was adamant, writing in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s that unemployment and inflation drove support for right wing demagogues across Europe, and as someone who valued a kind of small-c conservatism (even as he enjoyed a particularly privileged, bohemian lifestyle) thought deeply about the grand ideological clashes between capitalism, communism, authoritarianism and democracy occurring around him, and he sought a method to secure financial stability for society given the vicissitudes and the randomness of large, unforeseen effects (COVID, anyone?) Of course, he couldn't foresee the way that his ideas, working as the underpinning of the New Deal and the New Deal coalition, such as large public works and public investment in industry, would lead both to monstrous infrastructure in terms of highways, "urban renewal" and the size and scope of the military-industrial complex, nor the way its assumptions would be co-opted by banking interests in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. His ideas about the necessity of government interventions remain true, even as they are often obscured in ideological and policy battles. The question left to us is to ponder how we take that wisdom and fuck it up less for the future.

  26. 5 out of 5

    chienyu

    In the long run, we are all dead. —JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES, December 1923 In the long run almost anything is possible. —JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES, April 1942 The Price of Peace - Zachary D. Carter’s new biography of Keynes begins and ends with the above quotes that elegantly illustrate the great economist’s analytical prowess and boundless optimism in human progress. What “Keynesianism” meant for me before this book was an approach to macroeconomics that implied the heavy hand of the state. Carter describes K In the long run, we are all dead. —JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES, December 1923 In the long run almost anything is possible. —JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES, April 1942 The Price of Peace - Zachary D. Carter’s new biography of Keynes begins and ends with the above quotes that elegantly illustrate the great economist’s analytical prowess and boundless optimism in human progress. What “Keynesianism” meant for me before this book was an approach to macroeconomics that implied the heavy hand of the state. Carter describes Keynes’ intellectual legacy as more of a liberal, philosophical doctrine. The Bloomsbury group of artists and intellectuals including Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, and Keynes himself in early 20th century had radical attitudes towards feminism, pacifism, and sexuality. All of which would influence Keynes’ later ideas on economics which was not merely an attempt at describing the mechanical motions of the market in pseudo-Newtonian fashion, but encompassed a total theory of human psychology, conflict, and flourishing. Though Keynesianism would remain relevant right up to our current time (Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary nominee is a self-described Keynesian) it resurfaced in ways that would be unrecognizable to Keynes himself. Keynes believed an economic order required some measure of management to avoid foreign militarism and civil unrest. In what may be the most galling appropriation of Keynesian thought the US during WWII would organize its economy around the war and continue to profit off of conflict thereafter, what Eisenhower would later call the “military-industrial complex”. We will likely continue to hear echos of Keynes in the near future. The question is which “Keynes”? As Carter describes, will it be Keynes the “philosopher of war and peace”? or Keynes the “fiscal therapist”?

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dan Stoyell

    Keynes had a surprisingly interesting life, and it was fascinating to learn about his moral and social philosophy, which I didn't know anything about prior to this book. I also enjoyed the chronological overview that blended his life with the large events of the day, which Keynes generally played a large role in. Learning about the Bloomsbury society, Keynes' writings on Versailles, and his growth as an economist and human was fascinating. The book sometimes felt like a cheerleader rather than n Keynes had a surprisingly interesting life, and it was fascinating to learn about his moral and social philosophy, which I didn't know anything about prior to this book. I also enjoyed the chronological overview that blended his life with the large events of the day, which Keynes generally played a large role in. Learning about the Bloomsbury society, Keynes' writings on Versailles, and his growth as an economist and human was fascinating. The book sometimes felt like a cheerleader rather than neutral narrator for Keynes' life, but they were willing to mostly not pull punches when it came to detailing his worse traits like anti-semitism or apathy towards British colonialism, which I appreciated. I was surprised to see the book continue for some time after Keynes' death. It felt kind of like an overview of American economic history, with Keynes as the protagonist. It wasn't without insight but probably could have been condensed. The parts contrasting Keynesianism with Hayek and neoliberal theory was interesting, and I thought the idea that Keynesianism has been reduced to a set of monetary levers rather than a socioeconomic philosophy was interesting. As somewhat of an aside, I think it’s funny that a lot of the more recent books I’m reading really feel like their narrative has to tie into the recent rise of rightwing populism. It seems like a pretty easy claim to make about pretty much anything - give your philosophy on how to make the world better, explain that it hasn't happened, then blame Trumpism/populism on the disaffected people who lost out. It might even be true here! But it did feel a little tacked onto the end.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Richard Marney

    All economics students know of Keynes and his work in economics, probability and public policy. A smaller number have actually read him in the original, whether the General Theory, Economic Consequences of the Peace or A Treatise on Probability. Even fewer (including yours truly) have read much about the man. Of the many books, perhaps Robert Skidelsky’ is the most renown. Mr. Carter’s book is a worthy addition to the body of work. This well-researched and written book provides many insights into All economics students know of Keynes and his work in economics, probability and public policy. A smaller number have actually read him in the original, whether the General Theory, Economic Consequences of the Peace or A Treatise on Probability. Even fewer (including yours truly) have read much about the man. Of the many books, perhaps Robert Skidelsky’ is the most renown. Mr. Carter’s book is a worthy addition to the body of work. This well-researched and written book provides many insights into how Keynes’ family, education, friends (most notably the Bloomsbury Group), and health shaped the development of his views of society, politics, and markets which underlay his seminal work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Other significant milestones in this storied career equally benefit from the author’s deep knowelege of the man behind the genius. Given today’s highly polarized and ideologically rigid world, the reader will appreciate the author’s description of the drama surrounding the place of Keynesian economics in American universities’ curriculums in the 1950s. The theory’s message that the failure of economies to reach full employment equilibrium requires government intervention via counter-cyclical policies was seen representing a threat to democracy, liberty and free markets as potentially serious as the KGB and Soviet central planning. Universities were politicized, careers ruined, and students short changed. Happily Minsky and company have redeemed Keynes, after the desert of Monetarism, the Austrian School, and New Classical Theory.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    I have to say, I know nothing about economics, never studied it. So there were things about this book that I didn't really understand, no matter how nicely Carter explained them. There were some important things I learned. It seems that most of what happened in the US under the name of Keynesian economics wasn't. It was made up of attempts by various people to modify Keynes' ideas to fit a country that worships markets above all else, with predictable results. When Keynes died about halfway throu I have to say, I know nothing about economics, never studied it. So there were things about this book that I didn't really understand, no matter how nicely Carter explained them. There were some important things I learned. It seems that most of what happened in the US under the name of Keynesian economics wasn't. It was made up of attempts by various people to modify Keynes' ideas to fit a country that worships markets above all else, with predictable results. When Keynes died about halfway through the book I was puzzled, but the rest of the book is about the afterlife of his ideas in the US, right up to the financial crisis of 2008. I also learned how much of Keynes' thought was focused on reducing economic inequality, improving people's lives so that they would not succumb to the lure of revolution and totalitarianism. The aftermath of WWI and the rise of Hitler vindicated his criticisms of the Treaty of Versailles. It's not hard to imagine what he would make of today's America. Carter doesn't have much good to say about any modern US president. Only FDR and Eisenhower tried anything really Keynesian, as well, surprisingly, as Nixon, but none of them were sufficiently thorough. I guess I am a Keynesian by nature because I always think that if people have no money to spend then how can businesses succeed? And that if you don't give people a stake in the system they will lose nothing by tearing it down. I think I need to read this again.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Oliver Kim

    Takes an expansive reading of Keynes as more than just a theorist of depressions, but a visionary for peace and the good life for all -- a reformist "third way" that avoids the bloodletting of revolutions and the callousness of neoliberalism. In general I'm sympathetic to broader readings of Keynes that try to pull him out of the narrow box of "sticky prices + deficit spending" which academic economists have stuck him in, but I wonder if Carter overreaches in trying to recast this unabashed elit Takes an expansive reading of Keynes as more than just a theorist of depressions, but a visionary for peace and the good life for all -- a reformist "third way" that avoids the bloodletting of revolutions and the callousness of neoliberalism. In general I'm sympathetic to broader readings of Keynes that try to pull him out of the narrow box of "sticky prices + deficit spending" which academic economists have stuck him in, but I wonder if Carter overreaches in trying to recast this unabashed elitist and defender of the British Empire as a champion of egalitarianism. And this is coming from someone who considers himself a Keynesian! While the first two thirds -- ironically, the parts concerned with Keynes's life -- are fine, where the book really shines is in tracing the afterlife of Keynes's ideas, showing how Keynesians came to win then lose control of American policymaking, and how the path of Academic Keynesianism gradually diverged away from Keynes's Keynesianism. John Kenneth Galbraith (all but forgotten by academic economists) emerges as a central figure, who like Simon Peter tries to carry on the Gospel before being professionally martyred for the trouble. For Carter, the culmination of this gradual drift away from Keynes is Barack Obama, a liberal icon who fretted about deficit reduction while the economy teetered on the edge of a double dip recession. Again, while I share Carter's sympathy for Keynes's Keynesianism over the academic kind, I also worry about falling into a sort of Keynesian Originalism, where if He didn't say it, it doesn't count -- Keynes himself would have hated that sort of blinkered dogmatism. Though, now that I stop and think about it, it's hard for me to think of a headline economic issue where he wasn't basically right.

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