View more on these topics

Media Spotlight: Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes, by Richard Davenport-Hines

Spotlight

As the most tightly fought general election in decades looms ever larger, voters will need to decide between the economics of the left and the right. Does the nation want austerity pared back under an Ed Miliband-led Labour government? Or should David Cameron and George Osborne crack on with tackling the nation’s debts through swingeing welfare and public sector cuts?

Given this backdrop, now is as good a time as any to familiarise yourself with John Maynard Keynes – arguably the most influential economist of all time and a man whose thinking still permeates Treasury policymaking. But if you are keen to delve into the minutiae of Keynes’ theories on employment and interest rates, or the great ‘Keynesian versus Classical’ economic debate, you should read a textbook. Richard Davenport-Hines’ biography instead takes a huge risk by barely discussing economics and focusing on fleshing out the man himself.

Luckily, Keynes was a fascinating individual and, by dividing him into seven chapters, this sharp and sprightly book does him justice.

Chapter two, ‘Boy Prodigy’, offers insight into Keynes’ upbringing and the influence of his mother, Florence. Having been unable to formally take a degree – women were not allowed to in the 1800s – she eventually became Cambridge’s first female mayor and her pioneering guidance marked Keynes indelibly.

The next instalment, ‘Official’, charts the brilliant Keynes’ career in the India Office and the UK Treasury. Ever the Liberal reformer, he is described as conflicted in his feelings towards his Treasury colleagues. On the one hand, he clearly admired their intellect and scholarly approach to policy, but on the other he dismissed their constrained, conventional view of the world.

This pattern continues into ‘Public Man’, where we are led through Keynes’ obvious frustrations at the Treasury’s refusal to stimulate the UK’s depression-hit economy by investing in construction projects. In an era when austerity appears to have become a goal in itself, this is a timely reminder that a different way was stridently pressed by one of the greatest thinkers in history. 

His experiences during this period spurred Keynes to pen his seminal work, ‘General Theory’, which Davenport-Hines claims was “as important as Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’ in inaugurating an economic era”.

Chapter five, ‘Lover’, provides a welcome change of pace as the author explores Keynes’ complex sexual development from innocent schoolboy crushes to downright sodomy while at Cambridge. Davenport-Hines tackles this area with sensitivity, with the aim of demonstrating Keynes’ penchant for the unconventional rather than titillating.

Keynes eventually married Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova in his forties and her role in nursing him through a heart condition during 1937 freed the economist to continue to influence intra-war domestic policy and subsequently play a central role in negotiations on post-war settlements.

The word ‘Keynesian’ has, to an extent, been hijacked by modern politicians and economists as a pejorative term for left-wing policies that rack up budget deficits and create debts for the next generation. Universal Man provides a different vision, painting a picture of a brilliant non-conformist who challenged conventional wisdom in all areas of his life. 

Recommended

Whittaker_David_2015

Remortgaging now accounts for 66% of buy-to-let lending

Remortgaging now accounts for two-thirds of the buy-to-let market due to record low mortgage rates, according to Mortgages for Business. According to its latest Buy to Let index, 66 per cent of ‘vanilla’ buy-to-let loans were remortgages in the first quarter, rising from 62 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2014. The proportion for […]

Business-Handshake-Finance-Deal-700.jpg

MCI Club adds Virgin Money to its lender panel

MCI Mortgage Club has added Virgin Money to its lender panel. The club’s panel includes lenders such as Nationwide, Coventry Building Society, NatWest and Lloyds Banking Group. MCI Club managing director Phil Whitehouse says: “Virgin Money is a fantastic brand with a great reputation. The lender has one of the most well-established and respected BDM […]

Sign-Signing-Letter-Contract-Business-700.jpg

Letters: HMRC has to rely on the ‘honour system’

Star letter: HMRC has to rely on the ‘honour system’ There were some interesting readers’ views last week on the use of SA302s but few seemed to appreciate the essence of how HM Revenue & Customs taxes the incomes of the self-employed. The biggest clue is in the title ‘self-assessment’ as HMRC relies almost entirely on […]

Leader: Time to be bold on IP

Protection is rarely given the same amount of airtime as mortgages but, in recent weeks, several high-profile industry names have waded in to the debate on improving take-up. The so-called ‘protection gap’ – the amount by which people are under-insured – is measured in trillions, not billions, of pounds. There are passionate people in the […]

Keep calm and carry on?

We British are known for our stiff upper lip and just getting on with things. It’s part of our quirky cultural behaviour – like forming orderly queues, or saying sorry when it’s not our fault. Many of us just aren’t that great at talking about what’s bothering us. But if someone feels that the stresses […]

Newsletter

News and expert analysis straight to your inbox

Sign up