Nekaj odlomkov iz brilijantne recenzije, ki jo je trenutno zelo “vroč” Adam Tooze, avtor knjige Crashed, naredil o knjigi Geoffa Manna “In the Long Run We Are All Dead“. Knjiga je sicer neke vrste biografija Johna Maynarda Keynesa, vendar pa se ukvarja predvsem z njegovimi filozofskimi pogledi na upravljanje gospodarstva. Ugotavlja seveda, da Keynes ni bil komunist, pač pa nedogmatski privrženec trga in kapitalizma, ki pa se je zavedal, da se trg ne more samoregulirati in zapada v ciklične krize, zato je potrebna intervencija države, da gladi ekonomske cikle in zmanjšuje družbeno škodo ekonomskih kriz. In naprej, knjiga ugotavlja, da je Keynesov “keynesianizem” bistveno bolj demokratičen od starinskega paleoliberalizma in novejšega neoliberalizma, ki sta z glorifikacijo povsem prostega trga v svoji osnovi protidemokratična, saj, prvič, po eni strani temeljita na individualnih pravicah, vezanih na zasebno lastnino, in dogmatsko vztrajata na prostih tržnih transakcijah, kar je treba za vsako ceno zaščititi pred državo in regulacijo. In drugič, vso oblast dajeta trgu oziroma lastnikom kapitala in omejujeta možnost demokratične diskrecije, torej zavestne odločitve večine, da z regulacijo poseže v delovanje trga oziroma v blaženje njegovih negativnih učinkov. Tak dogmatizem je, ob protidemokratičnosti, seveda družbeno škodljiv.
If there was a single figure whose ideas seemed pertinent in that deeply ambiguous moment, it was John Maynard Keynes. The implosion of the financial system vindicated him against his critics, who had declared markets self-stabilising and government intervention counterproductive. With trade, investment and consumption collapsing and millions cast into unemployment, the world was desperate for fiscal stimulus, and there were calls on all sides for greater controls on banking and financial markets. Keynes is the godfather of policy activism, but, as Geoff Mann argues in his brilliant book In the Long Run We Are All Dead, he is also the best hope of those who want to keep the show on the road by whatever means necessary. He promised both the avoidance of disaster and the preservation of the status quo.
[…] Keynesianism was defined in opposition to an ‘old’ or ‘paleo’ liberalism anchored in individual rights organised primarily around property. From that followed a dogmatic insistence on the freedom to transact on markets, which in turn were to be protected against politics and regulation. The liberty of trade was established as something akin to a religion, with Adam Smith and the classical economists as its prophets. In Keynes’s view, such dogmatism, and the rigidity it fostered, were the opposite of what was needed to secure a progressive liberal order.
From today’s standpoint, Keynesianism must also be contrasted with the politics and economics of the market revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, what’s known as neoliberalism. Terminologically speaking, it doesn’t help that Keynes himself would have been quite happy to be described as a ‘new liberal’. In the 1930s and 1940s he engaged in contentious but often friendly exchanges with future luminaries of neoliberalism including Walter Lippmann and Friedrich Hayek. Even on the kindest interpretation, as Keynes saw it, their effort to give new foundations to the market order was a kind of nostalgia, bound to fail in practice. In reality, neoliberalism was more often dishonest, proclaiming its absolute adherence to the rule of the market, only to fall back on massive state intervention. The bank bailouts of 2008 were a case in point. Under modern conditions neoliberalism is, de facto, an anti-democratic politics, which resolves the tension between capitalism and democracy either by limiting the range of democratic discretion or by interfering directly in the democratic process.
Keynes’s purpose, by contrast, was to develop a liberalism that wasn’t retrograde, or held in bad faith or anti-democratic, but squarely faced the problem of making capitalism and democracy work together. One way forward was to widen the scope of politics. Keynes, a key figure in the Bloomsbury Group, was a broad-minded cultural modernist. Among the things he thought a 20th-century liberalism should embrace were drugs, birth control and sexual liberation. But in the aftermath of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, with class conflict as intense as it had ever been, it was clear that cultural liberalism had to be accompanied by new thinking about the economy. It had to be reconceived: no longer a sacrosanct sphere of private rights, but an object of national government.
Keynes and Keynesianism are so routinely identified with the idea of the big state that it is worth emphasising that Keynesianism is not in general an anti-market politics. To the chagrin of the left, it is not a politics of nationalisation or central planning. Clearly, under the right circumstances markets can accomplish remarkable things. But they do not always function well. And when markets affect the entire economy, like the market for capital or the market for labour, then the consequences when things go wrong are not limited to them, but take the form of systemic, macroeconomic effects. Mass involuntary unemployment was an undeniable reality of interwar Britain.
What frustrated Keynes was that the economics of his teachers at Cambridge at the turn of the century had so little to say about it. ‘Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task,’ he said, ‘if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.’ Economics must address the storm as well as the calm: it must account both for full employment and for chronic and persistent unemployment, the norm and the exception. That was what made The General Theory a general theory. It did not take as read the conditions that made for full employment. It insisted on the need to explain them.
In economic terms this involved shifting the focus of analysis away from individual markets towards the circular flow of aggregate demand, production and national income. In political terms it involved undoing assumptions that had become entrenched in the 19th century concerning the proper boundaries between political and civil society, government and the economy. For Keynes, these distinctions were not inevitable. Indeed there was good reason to think that the market economy had an inbuilt tendency to generate mass unemployment, and that under democratic conditions this called the separation of politics and economics into question. Worse, the effort to uphold the old boundaries in the face of economic pressures distorted public discourse and, since it was doomed to failure, risked creating the conditions for revolution. Keynes, as Mann insists, had some sympathy for the advocates of radical change – on occasion he would refer to himself as a Bolshevik – but he was also steeped in the Burkean critique of the French Revolution, which insisted that, however compelling the case for it, revolution must ultimately lead to disaster. The challenge was to steer a course between conservative regression and doomed efforts at revolutionary overthrow.
What terrifies both paleoliberals and neoliberals about Keynesianism is the slippery slope. Once the need for intervention was granted, where did one stop? Keynes, as a true liberal, understood that fear. One tempting solution was to transfer decision-making to a technocratic elite; economics would have achieved its true calling, he joked, if it achieved the status of dentistry. But it would be wrong to see Keynesianism as technocracy pure and simple. As Mann says, the point wasn’t, as is ‘commonly said of bureaucratisation or so-called managerial capitalism … to neutralise politics, in the interests of an apolitical society stripped of debate and public life’.
Keynesians in fact take a sunnier view. Their ideal is that capitalism and democracy should function together without endangering each other. One way of putting the Keynesian question is to ask how much political intervention in the economy is necessary to build a platform of prosperity stable enough to support democratic politics. The answer lies in what Mann calls ‘Machiavellian’ tactics, in which the boundaries of the political are treated as malleable. The art of modern government does not consist in drawing up everlasting constitutions that permanently demarcate the line between the political and the unpolitical, but in continuously defining and redefining what does and does not need to be governed.
A classic instance is Keynes’s argument that if wages are no longer perfectly flexible because of the power of trade unions, and if breaking the trade unions amounts to open class war, then the most convenient means of adjusting real wages to achieve higher employment, and the means least likely to endanger democracy, may be to act indirectly by way of a modest increase in inflation, which reduces the real cost to employers of hiring more labour. Conversely, fixing an exchange rate at an uncompetitive level is dangerous not only because it hampers exports, but because it puts huge pressure on the political system to force through wage cuts.
The situational and tactical awareness in Keynesianism expresses itself in a pragmatic approach to time, which gives Mann’s book its title. Keynesianism doesn’t abandon the progressive worldview of Whiggish liberalism; it doesn’t deny that many of the predictions of classical economics may come good in the long run, under ideal conditions, once the various forces have had time to work themselves out. But it does deny that these verities translate into simple rules for action in the present.
In the long run the basic tendencies of market equilibrium may well show themselves, but ‘in the long run we are all dead.’ As Mann puts it, it is not in the ‘long run’ or even the ‘medium term’, but in the ‘short run’, ‘the infinite moments of deferral in between, that the problem of maintaining “civilisation” must be undertaken’. It is here that the pressures of necessity make themselves felt. And it isn’t by accident that ‘when liberal government comes face to face with necessity, it “goes Keynesian”’; in other words it ‘acknowledges uncertainty and disarticulation, recognises imperfection and indeterminacy, and turns away from the long run to the immediacy of the moment’.
Vir: Adam Tooze, London Review of Books