The Ideas of John Maynard Keynes (pt 2)

Keynes on the ‘classical’ marginalist economists

In Chapter 2 of his “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,” Keynes provides a summary of the theories of those he called the “classical economists.” Though Keynes uses the same terminology that Marx uses, Keynes is referring to the “classics” of marginalism, not the classical economists in Marx’s sense of the term.

To Marx, the classical economists were those pre-1830 bourgeois economists who lived in a time when the contradiction between the capitalist and working classes was still underdeveloped. Therefore, the bourgeois economists were still able to analyze the laws of capitalist production scientifically, rather than merely apologetically.

Keynes’s “classical economists” were the “classics” of marginalism, especially Keynes’s own teacher Alfred Marshall (1842-1924). In his critique of the “classical” marginalist doctrine, Keynes did not dump marginalism and return to anything like classical economics in the Marxist sense. Instead, he gave marginalism a facelift so it would no longer be in such obvious contradiction with capitalist reality, especially the reality of the Depression years. Keynes’s main aim was to develop a form of marginalism that could explain the existence of persistent mass unemployment under capitalism.

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