The Queerness Of Keynes

[Re-posted from earlier today]

“I think I shall have to give up teaching females after this year. The nervous irritation caused by two hours’ contact with them is intense. I seem to hate every movement of their minds. The minds of the men, even when they are stupid and ugly, never appear to me so repellent” – John Maynard Keynes.

It seems to me that we can readily acknowledge and accept many unpleasant features of Keynes’ life (like his misogyny) without thereby impugning his economic arguments. If you want to read the ur-smear-job, check out the latest from Forbes, which manages to compile every little thing that could possibly alienate a reader about Keynes, without any serious attempt to relate it to his economic ideas. (The accusation of pedophilia is based on nothing but use of the term “boys” to mean tricks. The youngest man Keynes slept with was 16, which is the current age of consent in the UK.) Yes, his broad argument for the economy was culturally counter-intuitive (which “moralist” in the early 20th century would think that there are times when thrift is collectively self-defeating?) – but it remains supported by the data, even now. Perhaps especially now. That’s how I view Keynes’ “immoralism”. It was about rejecting conventional morality if the real world showed its empirical futility. And, of course, I think he was absolutely right to dismiss any moral difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality. He was just way ahead of his time.

I have no doubt that Keynes sexual orientation might have given him an outsider’s view of what “morality” was deemed to be, and he was understandably and bravely skeptical about it. That may have given him the impulse to challenge conventional wisdom, but the products of his prodigious mind seem to me to be best analyzed by economists on their merits. On sexual matters and economic ones, in the long run, Keynes is very much alive – and helping future generations in ways most of us would dream about.