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John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946) was the English founder of the theory of modern governmental economic behaviors. The political problem of mankind is to combine three things: economic efficiency, social justice and individual liberty.

John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes, philosopher of modern economics

Sources for quotes: WikiQuotes, GoodReads, BrainyQuotes,


Quotations from John Maynard Keynes

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.

Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.

If you owe your bank a hundred pounds, you have a problem. But if you owe a million, it has.

It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong.

But my lord, when we addressed this issue a few years ago, didn’t you argue the other side?” He said, “That’s true, but when I get more evidence I sometimes change my mind. What do you do?

When somebody persuades me I am wrong, I change my mind.

There is no harm in being sometimes wrong — especially if one is promptly found out.

Ideas shape the course of history.

Words ought to be a little wild for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.

A study of the history of opinion is a necessary preliminary to the emancipation of the mind.

Education: the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the indifferent by the incompetent.

Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind that looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago.

The avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that carries any reward.

So it is not an accident that the Nazi lads vent a particular fury against (Einstein). He does truly stand for what they most dislike, the opposite of the blond beast intellectualist, individualist, supernationalist, pacifist, inky, plump… How should they know the glory of the free-ranging intellect and soft objective sympathy to whom money and violence, drink and blood and pomp, mean absolutely nothing?

Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.

The political problem of mankind is to combine three things: economic efficiency, social justice and individual liberty.

How can I accept the Communist doctrine, which sets up as its bible, above and beyond criticism, an obsolete textbook which I know not only to be scientifically erroneous but without interest or application to the modern world? How can I adopt a creed which, preferring the mud to the fish, exalts the boorish proletariat above the bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia, who with all their faults, are the quality of life and surely carry the seeds of all human achievement? Even if we need a religion, how can we find it in the turbid rubbish of the red bookshop? It is hard for an educated, decent, intelligent son of Western Europe to find his ideals here, unless he has first suffered some strange and horrid process of conversion which has changed all his values.

How long will it be necessary to pay City men so entirely out of proportion to what other servants of society commonly receive for performing social services not less useful or difficult?

I cannot leave this subject as though its just treatment wholly depended either on our own pledges or economic facts. The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable, – abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe. Some preach it in the name of Justice. In the great events of man’s history, in the unwinding of the complex fates of nations Justice is not so simple. And if it were, nations are not authorized, by religion or by natural morals, to visit on the children of their enemies the misdoings of parents of rulers.

The businessman is only tolerable so long as his gains can be held to bear some relation to what, roughly and in some sense, his activities have contributed to society

When the final result is expected to be a compromise, it is often prudent to start from an extreme position.

The decadent international but individualistic capitalism in the hands of which we found ourselves after the war is not a success. It is not intelligent. It is not beautiful. It is not just. It is not virtuous. And it doesn’t deliver the goods.

Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.

Too large a proportion of recent “mathematical” economics are mere concoctions, as imprecise as the initial assumptions they rest on, which allow the author to lose sight of the complexities and interdependencies of the real world in a maze of pretentious and unhelpful symbols.

This [depression 1930] is a nightmare, which will pass away with the morning. For the resources of nature and men’s devices are just as fertile and productive as they were. The rate of our progress towards solving the material problems of life is not less rapid. We are as capable as before of affording for everyone a high standard of life … and will soon learn to afford a standard higher still. We were not previously deceived. But to-day we have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand. The result is that our possibilities of wealth may run to waste for a time — perhaps for a long time.

When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease … But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.

Most men love money and security more, and creation and construction less, as they get older.

To our generation Einstein has been made to become a double symbol — a symbol of the mind travelling in the cold regions of space, and a symbol of the brave and generous outcast, pure in heart and cheerful of spirit.

The power to become habituated to his surroundings is a marked characteristic of mankind.

The disruptive powers of excessive national fecundity may have played a greater part in bursting the bonds of convention then either the power of ideas or the errors of autocracy.

The duty of “saving” became nine-tenths of virtue and the growth of the cake the object of true religion.

By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.

There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.

To see the British Prime Minister watching the company, with six or seven senses not available to ordinary men, judging character, motive, and subconscious impulse, perceiving what each was thinking and even what each was going to say next, and compounding with telepathic instinct the argument or appeal best suited to the vanity, weakness, or self-interest of his immediate auditor, was to realize that the poor President would be playing blind man’s bluff in that party.

All the political parties alike have their origins in past ideas and not in new ideas — and none more conspicuously so than the Marxists.

Logic, like lyrical poetry, is no employment for the middle-aged,

I don’t feel the least humble before the vastness of the heavens.

The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

All production is for the purpose of ultimately satisfying a consumer.

Professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole.

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.

Successful investing is anticipating the anticipations of others.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done

A study of the history of opinion is a necessary preliminary to the emancipation of the mind.


COMMENTS on the Quotations from John Maynard Keynes

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist. Catching ideas is like catching and entering the right wave at the right time when surfing. It requires the observation, to be in the right position at the right time and then giving total commitment with the right entry.

It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong. Sometimes this is right and sometimes it is wrong, and requires wisdom to choose consistently the right option.
The political problem of mankind is to combine three things: economic efficiency, social justice and individual liberty. The controllers of the market concentrate on efficiency, the workers think in terms of social justice, and creative intellectuals think in terms of individual liberty.

But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. It is approaching a hundred years since Keynes wrote that statement, and we have more individual wealth at all levels, but we appear to be even further from living tranquil lives.

To our generation Einstein has been made to become a double symbol — a symbol of the mind travelling in the cold regions of space, and a symbol of the brave and generous outcast, pure in heart and cheerful of spirit. Before this statement, Einstein was a close friend of Fritz Haber, the man who invented the war gasses of WWI, and shortly after it Einstein co-wrote with Szilard the letter to President Roosevelt which initiated the atomic bomb project. Thus, the two most horrible weapons of the 20th century are closely associated with Einstein, and it is nonsense to label him a pacifist.

The power to become habituated to his surroundings is a marked characteristic of mankind. Of course it is our power of language and communicating how to thrive in an environment that permits our successful adaptation to various difficult surroundings.

The disruptive powers of excessive national fecundity may have played a greater part in bursting the bonds of convention then either the power of ideas or the errors of autocracy. The Malthusian observation of human population expanding to the food supply is still in play, but our technology is still ahead of the growth. This has been acknowledged, but also to be acknowledged is that it can’t continue much longer.

To see the British Prime Minister watching the company [President Wilson], with six or seven senses not available to ordinary men, judging character, motive, and subconscious impulse, perceiving what each was thinking and even what each was going to say next, and compounding with telepathic instinct the argument or appeal best suited to the vanity, weakness, or self-interest of his immediate auditor, was to realize that the poor President would be playing blind man’s bluff in that party. This was written when Britain was still considered master of the world, and her departed offspring an upstart. The Americans must have done something right, because twenty years later, at the end of WWII, the US was the unchallenged master. All the same, I would grant the British leadership are masters of the senses not available to ordinary men.

I don’t feel the least humble before the vastness of the heavens. Why should he feel humbled by mere matter and empty space when he and his friends are the thinking masters over all before them, including all other men, even the President of the United States?


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