December 8, 2016: Closing date for the crowdfunding campaign for the John Maynard Keynes writings project

jmk-writingsProfessor Rod O’Donnell, University of Technology Sydney, Australia

I thank, from the bottom of my heart, all those who have backed the campaign, with donations ranging from USD5 to USD1,000.  Almost everyone has said complimentary things about the proposed edition (‘great idea’, ‘wonderful project’,   ‘best of luck’ etc), but far fewer have followed up with contributions.

The bottom line is this.  Funds are essential if the edition is to be realised.  The people undertaking the large and necessary tasks of word-processing documents and background research need to be paid.  All the money raised by crowdfunding will be devoted to document preparation, not to travel for document collection.

It is now time for the many supporters of the project to get serious about whether they want also to be backers and so help make the edition a reality.  Time is running out − only about 3 weeks remain before the crowdfunding campaign ends.  Recent events have made understanding Keynes’s economics, politics and philosophy even more important.

If you would like to provide material support, please go, before December 8, to

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/jmk-writings-project-stage-1

This link also gives more information about the project, the campaign and the editor.

Remember the overall aim:  to benefit the world by completing the publication of all of Keynes’s writings of academic significance, only about one third of which are presently available.

THANK YOU IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR BACKING OF THE JMK WRITINGS PROJECT.

Professor Rod O’Donnell, University of Technology Sydney, Australia.

Contact:  [email protected]

See also https://www.uts.edu.au/staff/rod.odonnell

Useful links

Keynes: the partly-known Colossus of economics

jmk-writingsProfessor Rod O’Donnell, University of Technology Sydney, Australia

Alongside Smith and Marx, Keynes is one of the triumvirate of economists on whom more ink has been expended than on any others. And, as the most recent of the three, he speaks more directly to our times and our troubles. His multi-sidedness also makes him a fascinating figure for non-economists. But more expended ink does not more knowledge guarantee, especially if the information sources being used are seriously incomplete. It is the aim of my JMK Writings Project to remedy this situation.

A grave misapprehension pervades the discussion of Keynes’s many contributions. It is widely believed that the Royal Economic Society edition, The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, in its 30 volumes, contains everything that Keynes wrote that is important in understanding his thought and activities.

This, however, is far from the truth. Although that edition was enormously valuable in promoting Keynes scholarship, it only made accessible a relatively small proportion of the total amount of his unpublished writings as a result of its narrow terms of reference, limited budget and largely single-archive focus. Only about 40% of the edition (11-12 volumes) contained new material, the rest being reproductions of already published output. The terms of reference, “Keynes as an economist and public figure”, for example, excluded vast domains in his writings, including all his unpublished philosophical output and most of his huge private correspondences. And the focus on only one primary archive, that at King’s College Cambridge (albeit supplemented by some selections from the UK National Archives) meant that vast swathes of documents held elsewhere in the UK and other countries were excluded.

Discoveries by a small band of hardy Keynes archive explorers over recent decades have revealed that huge amounts of Keynes’s academically significant writings remain unpublished. In the UK, large portions of even the Keynes Papers at King’s College Cambridge languish unpublished, not to mention the extensive holdings of other archives, both large (the National Archives and the British Library), and small (various university archives). Outside the UK, at least four countries have important holdings. The US has many medium to small collections, followed by Japan with a smaller number of key holdings resulting from its purchases of Harrod’s Papers. (Why portions of Keynes’s writings finished up in Harrod’s personal papers is a story for another day, but their existence remained entirely unknown until the latter’s international auction in the early 1990s). Australia has five archival holdings, Canada has at least one, and there may be one or two holdings in France and Germany. My current estimate is that approximately 60 archives world-wide have valuable unpublished collections.

The object of my JMK Writings Project is to make publicly accessible the treasure trove of information presently tucked away in his scattered unpublished writings. The Further Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, as the supplementary edition will be called, is estimated to run to around 20 to 25 volumes, although the number cannot be accurately predicted. No global catalogue of his writings has been compiled, so that nobody in the world knows their full extent.

Why crowdfunding? Sadly, official sources of funding for scholarly editorial research concerning the writings of a brilliant mind with non-orthodox views, a more discursive style of theorising, and much practical policy wisdom, have dried up due to the heavy influences of orthodox economic thinking, mathematical formalisation and econometric technique. To obtain the resources needed for the project, I have turned to the less conventional avenue of crowdfunding. The campaign launched on 11 October 2016 on the Indiegogo website, and may be located using the URL: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/jmk-writings-project-stage-1–2#/

Much more information about the edition, its structure and planned expenditure may be gained via the above link. Donations of any size are welcome, but it may be of interest for readers to know that for each USD100,000 raised (in the aggregate or by single donation), it is planned, with publisher co-operation, to provide a university in a developing country with free online access to the edition.

Organised largely on chronological lines, the supplementary edition starts with Eton and early Cambridge before proceeding through the succeeding stages of Keynes’s crowded life. The volumes will be produced in batches of roughly 3 to 6, with future crowdfunding campaigns being run as required for the later batches. The present campaign is for the first batch, these covering Keynes’s Eton years (both early and late) and his initial Cambridge years. It may surprise readers to learn − as it surprised me, being the first thorough investigator of Eton’s records concerning Keynes – that his Eton years contain much unknown exciting and insightful material. The conventional view of Eton, as but a stepping stone to Cambridge where his real intellectual foundations were laid, will need to be completely revised.

Naturally, preparing the edition is a huge task. To expedite execution, I am seeking to build teams of scholars in different countries interested in taking responsibilities for particular volumes, or parts thereof, in a voluntary capacity. Please contact me via [email protected] if you have questions about participating in this way.

Keynes’s writings are also relevant to philosophers, political scientists, historians (economic and social), and everyone seeking to improve our struggling economies, politics and societies. This is the time to give the world access to the full range of wisdom in all his writings. Motivated and dedicated people are available now, but if we postpone these labours into the future, the chances are that the bounty will never arrive, and that would be a great loss to the world’s knowledge.

Useful links


On 24 October, Georgios Krimpas, Greek Ambassador to the OECD, will be giving a talk on “Keynes: The General Theory in Three Acts – Employment, Interest and Money”. You can watch the webcast here

The OECD’s origins in the trenches

1914 2014To mark the centenary of The First World War, we will be publishing a series of articles looking at what has changed over the last century in a number of domains.

The OECD was created in 1961, but you can trace its origins back to the First World War, the centenary of which we’re celebrating this year, and in particular to today, Armistice Day. The Great War didn’t end formally with the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, but on 28 June 1919, with the Treaty of Versailles. A year later, Australian artist Will Dyson published a prophetic cartoon about the Versailles Treaty. In Dyson’s drawing, we see a baby behind a pillar with “1940 class” written above its head, and Clemenceau, the French President, is saying “Curious! I seem to hear a child weeping”. By the time that baby was old enough to join the army, the Second World War had broken out.

The Versailles Treaty was harshly criticised right from the start, not least by Keynes, who had attended the conference as part of the delegation from the UK Treasury. In fact his bestselling The Economic Consequences of the Peace is one of the reasons the Treaty has such a bad reputation. Keynes’s critique is twofold. His first attack is to a large extent moral and political. He accuses the Versailles agreement of betraying US President Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” on which the peace was supposed to be built, notably concerning the reparations the defeated nations had to pay and territorial agreements concerning colonies and the European mainland. His second criticism is more economic. For peace to last, he argued, Europe’s economies had to become more integrated, and the Treaty worked against this.

Will Dyson was almost right about when the Second World War would start, but Keynes was spot on, predicting that it would happen 20 years after the 1919 signing due to the despair and economic catastrophe the Versailles Treaty would contribute to. As the Second World War drew to a close, Keynes led the British Delegation to the Bretton Woods Conference in July 1944 that would shape the post-war economy. The leaders of the Allied nations were determined to avoid the mistakes of the past and realised that the best way to ensure lasting peace was to encourage co-operation and reconstruction, and not to punish the defeated. The Bretton Woods Agreement and the institutions created to administer it such as the IMF and World Bank Group were similar in many ways to what Keynes had proposed in 1919.

The politics and economics of the immediate post-war years would give birth to the predecessor of the OECD. As the Office of the Historian of the US Department of State reminds us, “Fanned by the fear of Communist expansion and the rapid deterioration of European economies in the winter of 1946–1947, Congress passed the Economic Cooperation Act in March 1948 and approved funding that would eventually rise to over $12 billion for the rebuilding of Western Europe.” The Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) was established to run this “European Recovery Program”, better known as the Marshall Plan, in 1947.

While US financing was important, that $12 billion would be only worth around $120 billion in today’s terms, compared, for example, to the $700 billion the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 authorised the US Treasury to spend on the bailout following the subprime crisis. It was actually by making individual European governments recognise the interdependencies of their economies that the US made its greatest contribution to the economic rebirth of Europe.

The success of the OEEC and the prospect of carrying forward its work beyond Europe led Canada and the US to join OEEC members in signing the new OECD Convention on 14 December 1960. Others followed, starting with Japan in 1964, and now 34 member countries worldwide regard it as normal to turn to one another, within the OECD, to help identify problems, analyse them, share experiences, and devise solutions. Another 100 other countries take part in OECD work.

Most of the areas the OECD works on – employment, growth, agriculture, and so on would be familiar to economists of Keynes’s generation, although the actual mechanisms have changed radically since the OECD was created, and even more so since Keynes went to Versailles in 1919. But if you look at the “Topics” menu on www.oecd.org, you’ll see one area that a specialist from a century ago would feel familiar with. While our trade specialists for example are dealing in new concepts like trade in value added, or the industry analysts are trying to understand the information economy, my colleagues at the Centre for Tax Policy are trying to demolish an international tax system that was conceived a hundred years ago and allows big companies and rich individuals to get away with paying little or no tax. That’s a war worth fighting.

Useful links

The history of the OECD