By J K Galbraith

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1 When he published The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money in 1936, liberal capitalism had already been around, in at least a broadly recognizable form, for more than a century. Today, eighty years after The General Theory, it is still around, if of course in a slightly different variety. The persistence of liberal capitalism matters in multiple ways, but the one I want to emphasize here is that as long as it persists, so too will Keynesianism. The anxiety and hope beating at the heart of Keynes’s ideas is endemic to capitalist modernity in this sense, and it becomes especially visible in moments of crisis.

In fact, Keynesian ideas have been an essential component of political life in capitalist liberal democracy since long before Keynes himself walked the earth. The chapters that follow examine these ideas—which I call “Keynesianism” or the “Keynesian critique”—from their origins in the liberal reaction to the French Revolution to their most recent “return”—in an attempt to understand their fundamental assumptions and claims, and why they continue to appeal, especially but not only to those on the Left (in the broadest sense of the term).

For Marx makes one acutely aware of the need for social transformation radical enough to seem quite risky, and therefore quite frightening. While I would not want to suggest that Marx provides us with all the intellectual resources we need, it remains true that taking his work seriously enables Leftists to see that one’s world—especially if one is among the more fortunate—does not match one’s political or moral claims. And the only way to make it do so would be to embrace the kind of change that quite possibly means throwing it all away.

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