Are Keynes and Marx Compatible?

In the October 2010 issue of Monthly Review, John Bellamy Foster has an article that praises once again the work of John Maynard Keynes. In this article, Foster presents evidence that perhaps the most important ideas that distinguished Keynes of the “General Theory” from the traditional marginalist economists of the time were inspired by Karl Marx himself. Foster’s latest article has drawn criticism from some corners of the Internet to the effect that Foster and Monthly Review are advocating Keynesian ideas rather than Marxism.

This is not a new charge against the Monthly Review School. Paul Sweezy, the founder of Monthly Review, never hid the fact that he was strongly influenced not only by Marx but by Keynes. Foster’s article in the October 2010 Monthly Review―and other recent articles by Foster along the same lines―combine with two other developments that raise anew the relationship between the economic theories of Marx and Keynes.

The first of these developments is the expected sharp gains of the U.S. Republican Party in the congressional, state and local elections scheduled to be held on Nov. 2. Along the same lines is the recent string of large gains by far-right anti-immigrant parties in Europe.

The second development is the apparent decision of the world’s central banks, headed by the U.S. Federal Reserve System, to engineer a new increase in the quantity of token―paper―money, dubbed by the media “quantitative easing,” in a bid to jump-start the stumbling recovery from the “Great Recession.” In anticipation of a new surge in the supply of token money, the dollar price of gold has been surging on the open market. It seems that a new wave of inflation-breeding currency devaluations may have begun, though in late October 2010, apparently alarmed by the spike in the dollar price of gold, the governments and central banks appear to be making efforts to dampen a bit the speculation regarding a new wave of currency devaluations.

While I have already written on Keynes and his relationship to Marx in my main posts, questions by readers and events demand that I take another look at the relationship between these two economic thinkers. This reply is therefore the first in a series of monthly posts on this subject.

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