Policy Research in Macroeconomics

Cambridge excludes Keynesians from conference on Keynes

Like Catholics organising a conference on Protestantism and excluding Protestants, the Cambridge organisers of a conference to ‘celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money’, have excluded Keynes scholars. By contrast, most of those who will address the conference subscribe to the ‘classical’ theory that Keynes thought he had defeated.

The one name on the list that is identified with Keynes, at least in the public eye, is Professor Paul Krugman of Princeton University, who will be giving the ‘Plenary Lecture’. However, in his opening remarks to the conference, Prof. Krugman poses the question: “What am I doing here?” and modestly suggests that:

“I’m arguably not qualified to [give this talk]. I am, after all, not a Keynes scholar, nor any kind of serious intellectual historian. Nor have I spent most of my career doing macroeconomics. Until the late 1990s my contributions to that field were limited to international issues; although I kept up with macro research, I avoided getting into the frontline theoretical and empirical disputes.”

Click here to download a PDF copy of Paul Krugman’s lecture >

Krugman is an extremely controversial figure for Keynes scholars. He champions a mainstream interpretation of Keynes’s work known as the neo-classical synthesis, and seems to have avoided any discussion with those actually working in the field. Many fear that his adherence to a rightly discredited version of Keynes’s theory serves Keynes very badly indeed.

Qualification for participation in this event hosted by the Cambridge Faculty of Economics and Cambridge Finance appears to be complete detachment from scholarly debates about the nature of Keynes’s work. Scholars were hard pushed to recall one contribution to the Keynes literature written by any on the list of participating economists. The UK Post-Keynesian Economics Study Group, a body dedicated to the serious pursuit of these matters since 1988, with an on-line community of over 300 academics, found out about the conference by accident. “Even by the standards of the economics profession, this is staggering”, one member observed.

One wonders why Lord Eatwell, who once wrote a Keynes-oriented textbook with Joan Robinson, one of Keynes’s close collaborators, has consented to be on the Organising Committee for such an event.

The impression created is of an economics profession actively seeking to exclude any Keynesian challenge to an orthodoxy that has so patently failed society. As we seek solutions to rising unemployment, bank and business failures, debt-deflation and sovereign debt crises, the determination of a group of economists at an elite University – Keynes’s University – further to close down debate on alternatives should be a matter of the greatest possible concern to the public at large.

9 Responses

  1. Nobody of you did pay attention to the conference sponsors? I know anything about Cambridge Finance, yet the other 3 are the Bank of England, the Bank of Italy and…ohhh the European Central Bank.

  2. Sounds like none of you have attended this Conference
    I did and have been in Cambridge since 1959 many years as a member of Economics Faculty and recently as a regular at Post Keynesian Seminar Group

    I understand the conference wanted not to rake over the embers of controversy over Keynes-Keynes was then and this is now

    Krugmans Plenary address captured many of the difficulties

    And Goodhart as normal critical of recent diversions by Nobel Economists

    There was some emphasis on abstract models as befits contemporary and so called orthodox economics which still fail to predict

    Krugman explained that models help to think about a problem as Richard Stone once said to me in the early 60s

    Refusal to rely on exclusive use of models in a drive to make Economics a Science
    and a shift to a wider remit in now labeled Heterodox

    This is considered ontological or in my view a matter of perception

    But if it puts Politics tramsparently back in Pol Econ so much the better

    After all Greenspan got 4 US Presidents elected and helped cause our present troubles

    Its the Political Cycle Stupid

  3. Oh c’mon everyone, don’t be such a bunch of whiners. You are just berating the thing because you guys didn’t get invited… in the end… Who the hell cares? Professional economics is just an exercise in clubbing: Post-Keynesians have their own, New Keynesians have other clubs, etc etc. In any case, just deal with it and move on. If you really had the desire to extend bridges, you would have already had done it on your own. Nevermind the complaint “ohhh but they don’t listen to us!”. It’s not only about what you have say, but how… and the sad truth is that people in the non-mainstream camp are just not willing to be more sensible than their orthodox counterparts. They just like to hammer at the same stale old criticism, and keep their own little clubs tight as to maintain the prestige of the alpha econs of their pack.

  4. This is scandalous, but Krugman’s paper is actually rather good. His distinction between ‘part 1’ and ‘chapter 12’ Keynesians is spot on, and he is one of the very few orthodox macroeconomists I know who understands the simple point about the asymmetry between debtors (whose spending is necessarily constrained) and creditors (who are under no such constraint to increase their spending). Perhaps I’m going soft in my old age, but I think his Old Keynesian ideas are greatly superior to anything in the New Neoclassical Synthesis.

  5. I take this as a sign that the condition of orthodox neoclassical theory has become so fragile its practitioners can no longer psychologically tolerate any kind of reasoned criticism.

  6. Yeah, this is certainly mind boggling. It is as if these dinosaurs (as far as I gather of the male orientation all of them as well) could not find another occasion to pump their egos, celebrating Keynes’ genius, yet berating his shortcomings. Couldn’t one start claiming discrimination for excluding people of other orientations (here e.g. Keynesian). At least in the US there was a time when private clubs could not exclude women. Perhaps this is another card to draw.
    Krugman is the best of the lot, he does try to think independently at least. And takes some battles. Why he wants to line up with this crew is incomprehensible. They seem to be fairly stuffy at that.

    At least the wine is probably good.

    The question, though, is how serious one should take this meeting of old boys.

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