Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Today in history

June 5, 1883: John Maynard Keynes, British economist, was born

John Maynard Keynes is one the most important figures in the entire history of economics. He revolutionized economics with his classic book, "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money" (1936), generally regarded as probably the most influential social science treatise of the 20th century. The book quickly and permanently changed the way the world looked at the economy and the role of government in society. No other single book, before or since, has had quite such an impact.

Keynes was the son of John Neville Keynes, an economics lecturer at Cambridge University, and Florence Ada Brown, a successful author and a social reformist. His younger brother Geoffrey Keynes (1887–1982) was a surgeon and bibliophile and his younger sister Margaret (1890–1974) married the Nobel-prize-winning physiologist Archibald Hill.

Keynes was very tall at 6 ft 6 in.

In 1918, Keynes met Lydia Lopokova, a well-known Russian ballerina, and they married in 1925. By most accounts, the marriage was a happy one. Before meeting Lopokova, Keynes's love interests had been men, including a relationship with the artist Duncan Grant and with the writer Lytton Strachey. For medical reasons, Keynes and Lopokova were unable to have children, though both his siblings had children of note.

Keynes was ultimately a successful investor, building up a substantial private fortune. He was nearly wiped out following the Stock Market Crash of 1929, but he soon recouped his fortune. He enjoyed collecting books: for example, he collected and protected many of Isaac Newton's papers. He was interested in literature in general and drama in particular and supported the Cambridge Arts Theatre financially, which allowed the institution to become, at least for a while, a major British stage outside of London.

Bertrand Russell named Keynes as the most intelligent person he had ever known, commenting, "Every time I argued with Keynes, I felt that I took my life in my hands, and I seldom emerged without feeling something of a fool."'

Keynes' ideas, called Keynesian economics, had a major impact on modern economic and political theory as well as on many governments' fiscal policies. He advocated interventionist government policy, by which the government would use fiscal and monetary measures to mitigate the adverse effects of economic recessions, depressions and booms. Economists consider him one of the main founders of modern theoretical macroeconomics. His expression "In the long run, we are all dead" is much quoted.

He died in 1946, soon after arranging the guarantee of an American loan to Great Britain.

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