Was Keynes really a conservative?

This question is posed by Bruce Bartlett in Economists View.

The answer depends on how you define a conservative.

  1. Is it someone who believes in small government?
  2. Is it someone with an antiquated, minority philosophical stance – such as on Says Law relative to Keynesianism?
  3. Does it refer to a person with a strong faith in democracy who wants to safeguard the capitalist system against the threat of socialism?
  4. Finally, 4, is it a person who wants to deliver services closer to the people – including hospitals, regional development and welfare reform to all families? This contrasts with prejudiced views such as on gay rights which, as Tony Abbott tells us, are as archaic as the right to own slaves.

Leaving aside the fourth component, views on Keynesianism fall into two camps: those who support the first and second camps but reject the third; and those who embrace the third camp.

Keynes is treated as a conservative in at least three senses. First, by doing nothing to offset the greatest economic crisis since the depression, it encourages a wholesale retreat to socialism and undermine existing traditions and institutions. Second, it helps to minimise unemployment. Thirdly, Hayeks road to serfdom could as easily come from lack of government as from too much.

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Nicholas Gruen
14 years ago

Fred, I don’t know about Bruce Bartlett, but Skidelski paints Keynes as a Burkean conservative (amongst other things) which in many ways he was.

Tony Harris
14 years ago

AS NG intimated, it is impossible to talk usefully about conservatism or liberalism without at least one and probably more qualifying terms. It is really only helpful to talk about specific policies or clusters of policies.