At times of economic uncertainty – such as we face at the moment – economists attempt to understand the balance between democracy and government, just as John Maynard Keynes did when he developed his theory of Keynesian economics during the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Keynes’ famous quote, “In the long run we are all dead” – meaning that capitalism will fail and liberal capitalism will succeed – runs through this enjoyable book that will appeal to general readers as well as those with specialist knowledge.
Mr Mann considers Keynesian economic theory against the backdrop of the French Revolution, moving through to G W F Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and then to 21st century inequality and unemployment.
He argues that although most economists are either strongly in favour of, or against, Keynes and his theories, those who disagree with Keynes should study his work to gain a greater understanding of contemporary western civilisation.
Mr Mann is careful to highlight the importance of Hegel to Keynes because his influence on European thought during the eighteenth century led to the prominent role of political economy in today’s modern government structures.
Using Keynes’s theories of effective demand and unemployment, liquidity and capital, Mr Mann then moves the discussion on from his proposition that Keynes is the heir to Hegel.
Readers will find the middle three chapters focusing on how to read Keynes’ famous book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money particularly helpful in developing a deep understanding of his work.
The heart of The General Theory lies in its analysis of poverty and unemployment, which Keynesian economists see as having permanent and tragic political and economic consequences.
Mr Mann argues that greater use of Keynesian economic theory within political life would be a positive development.
Finally, Mr Mann says ‘new Keynesian’ economics that were thought to be the death of the original Keynesian ideals, still retain central aspects of Hegel’s and Keynes’s theories, such as liberalism.
He says this is “neoclassical synthesis” in the long-term interests of civilisation.
Readers who want to find the answers to radical critiques of Keynesianism will be inspired by the book’s robust discussions of questions around revolution, political economy and liberty.
How can we interpret Keynes and his The General Theory in these rapidly changing political times?
There is room for the growth of political economics but there is no best or permanent solution to sustaining civilisation and a stable social order.
We need dynamic government policies to effect real social change – although it is difficult to develop these, as the policymakers tasked with dealing with the current crises in health, social care and housing know all too well.
Yi Wu is a lecturer at Cass Business School
Published by Verso