Book Review — The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes


The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes by Zachary D. Carter is a biography of the economist and his times. Carter is a senior reporter at HuffPost, where he covers Congress, the White House, and economic policy. He is a frequent guest on cable news and news radio, and his written work has also appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, and The American Prospect, among other outlets.

It wasn’t until my last semester of graduate school that I finally took an economics class, and that was because it was a prerequisite for graduation. That being said, I have never had much interest in economics outside of the historical. I chose this book mainly because of my interest in Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group (or “Set” as the author prefers to call it). In the group of writers and artists, Keynes seemed to be the odd man in the group. It was hard for me to see how deficit spending, public works, and monetary policies would blend with a group of artists.

Carter explores Keynes’s personal life, including his unlikely marriage to the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova. Lopokova became a wedge between Keynes and the Bloomsbury Group that took nearly a lifetime to remove. Keynes did become a major benefactor of the Group. His love for the arts was also included in some of his theories, as a symbol of what we had lost during the two world wars and what we fought for. However, most of the book is dedicated to his economic theories and history.

Keynes’s opinion often sought by governments and their leaders; however, like a modern Cassandra, his advice was rarely taken or diluted to the point where little of the original recommendation was carried out. From the aftermath of World I through Bretton Woods and to Nixon’s admission, “I am now a Keynesian in economics,” Keynes’ influence grew with time even after he died in 1946. His theories went against the earlier ideas of neoliberalism and were attacked throughout the second half of the twentieth century — most notably by Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s. Although attacked by the right, it was the Clinton Administration that almost killed Keynesian economics in America. However, shortly afterward came the return of deficit spending, demand-side economics, and government expenditures to maintain the economy. The most recent example is most Americans received a $1,200 check because of the pandemic. If people can’t work, they can’t “feed” the private sector.

Keynes was a man dedicated to his work and ideas. His early death can be attributed to his commitment. Even though his life centered on economics, he was a man who supported the arts. He financially supported the Cambridge Arts Theatre, the Royal Opera House, and helped establish the Arts Council of Great Britain. He was not a communist and did not want to liberate the working class, but felt that stabilizing capitalism would lead to a higher standard of living and a higher quality of life for all. The Price of Peace provides a detailed biography of the man, his life, and his legacy.

 

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