I am not an economist and never would have chosen this field as a profession. But I have been a banker for the greatest part of my life, working with and understanding the financial doings of companies. So, at one time I had to study some economic basics. I must say that I always had extreme difficulties understanding this sheer mechanical thinking: you raise this and that will go down, you restrain that and this will happen. I never could imagine that this was about real people and companies (which in the end are also real people).
Then, why did I buy and read this short biography of John Maynard Keynes? Because I think he was different. Because he was a member of the Bloomsbury circle, befriended with E.M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, Viginia Woolf, and the like. Because he could write, was a spirited person, and was prepared to change his mind when facts or new thinking overruled his older views.
Keynes was a rich man. The royalties of his books already guaranteed him a life without financial sorrows, but he managed to make a lot more money out of his lifelong investments on the financial markets.
He was not obsessed by money, though, and he was a real Bloomsburyan in that he loved the arts (and he was a patron). Last year I read a selection of Wittgenstein’s letters; apparently Keynes helped him, also financially, on several occasions.
Mr Clarke’s book is a biography as I like them. It is short, well written, with the right mixture of sympathy and criticism. The actual biographical part only takes up some 95 pages. The rest of the book is a history of his changing economic ideas, eventually resulting in The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money. This might have been written for the fine series, edited by Atlantic Books, presenting the biographies of influential books (eg Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man or Darwin’s Origin of Species, A Biography).
While reading I was thinking that Keynes’s continuous effort to change deficient economic policies is an example of how difficult it is to plan and change the behaviour of countries, of societies. Societies as un unwieldy vehicle, where changing a direction seems above the capability of one man. Look at Mr Obama’s difficulties in setting up a decent healthcare system. Of course, some men are more equal than others. More equal to such a task, that is.