Robert Skidelsky, Baron Skidelsky

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Robert Jacob Alexander, Baron Skidelsky, FBA (born 25 April 1939), is a British economic historian.


John Maynard Keynes: 1883-1946: Economist, Philosopher, Statesman (2003)[edit]


  • I could never take seriously the standard view that historians should take ideas as give, and confine themselves to their effects; or even worse, the Marxist-cum-Freudian view that ideas have no independent effects, but are themselves the effects of economic or psychological causes. If one accepts that ideas shape events, then a historian has to be able to describe the ideas or doctrines relevant to his topic as accurately as can a theologian, a philosopher, or an economist. If that requires a specialised training, so be it. Any account of Keynes's influence that failed to engage with his 'theology' would be seriously incomplete as history.
  • A work of genius is a complex object and there is light to be shed about what went into the making of it. Even in the case of scientific and mathematical achievement we can say a great deal about the existing state of knowledge, the problems it failed to address, why those problems were or had become interesting, the particular capacities which the solver brought to their solution. At the other extreme is a work of art which seems to have much more immediate roots in the personal life of the artist or writer. In between is the area in which Keynes worked, which was partly scientific, partly artistic. This gives a wide justification for a biographical approach. As I put it in the introduction to my first volume: 'If underlying Keynesian theory was Keynes's vision of his age, knowledge of his state of mind and the circumstances which formed it is essential, not only in order to understand how he came to see the world as he did, but also in order to pass judgement on the theory itself.'
  • Born in 1883 and dying in 1946, the bulk of Keynes's professional life was framed by two world wars. At the beginning, he was an Edwardian optimist, convinced that automatic progress was steadily enlarging opportunities for more and more people to live the 'good life', as identified by his mentor, G. E. Moore, and his friends of the Bloomsbury Group. He ended his life bequeathing the world a theory, policies and two international institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) designed to strengthen the foundations of free economy, so as to make it possible again for people to indulge the hopes with which he had grown up. In between, there was catastrophe and retrogression, starting in Europe and spreading to most of the rest of the world.
  • Keynes's economic philosophy is thus made up of three interdependent parts: his technical macroeconomics, his embattled political philosophy and his ultimate ethical purpose.

Ch. 2. Cambridge Civilisation: Sidgwick and Marshall[edit]

  • Maynard Keynes was born into a certain civilisation at a particular moment of history, and was one of its foremost products. He inherited both its aspirations and its tensions. He grew up in the shadow of its great figures, notably Henry Sidgwick and Alfred Marshall, the teachers and colleagues of is father. His style of thought and way of life both bear Cambridge's unmistakable imprint.
  • Through Marshall's life and work the Victorian demand for authoritative social doctrine found one of its most important expressions in the Cambridge School of Economics. Maynard Keynes's relationship to that tradition is one of the central themes of this biography. That relationship was never unproblematic, because Marshall's achievement was incomplete. He had shown how the existing moral code could be made to serve society rather than God. But there was nothing in his work to show how it could be altered so as to make it possible for individuals to lead happier or more civilised lives. Marshall himself seems not to have felt any pressure to do so. But Sidgwick had, as had many other thinking Victorians. It was the reorganisation of personal life rather than the reorganisation of society which seemed the urgent problem for the next generation, especially once the soc ail and economic clouds of the 1880s and 1890s had given way to the bright sunlight of the Edwardian age.

Ch. 21. Monetary Reform[edit]

  • What started Keynes on the road to the Keynesian Revolution was the incomplete British recovery from the depression of 1920 to 1922.

John Maynard Keynes: The Return of the Master (2009)[edit]

  • Keynes's idea was very simple. Monetary and fiscal policy should have a single goal, jointly pursued, of maintaining a full employment level aggregate demand.
    • Ch. 8 : Keynes for Today
  • Keynes is not just for the foxhole, but for the emerging world order.
    • Ch. 8 : Keynes for Today

Quotes about Skidelsky[edit]

  • Let me start with a commercial: Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed, John Maynard Keynes: The Economist as Saviour, and John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Britain are an extraordinarily wonderful set of biographies—everyone, I think, should read them: you should read a 2000 page biography of somebody at least once, and Keynes is at least as good a subject as anyone and better than almost everyone, and Skidelsky is a truly exceptional biographer.
  • Skidelsky's beautifully structured narrative paints a picture of a man seeking to fashion the intellectual and practical tools to rescue the market economy from its own vices.
  • Every economist should read Robert Skidelsky's biography of John May­nard Keynes (he's completed two volumes out of three projected)-even the numerous macroeconomists under age 40 who have not cracked The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money and think them­selves wiser because they have not. Skidelsky's opus is a great bedtime read, reminding you of what a sensationally good economist Keynes was, because he was more. And it makes you think about where economics is going.
    • Deirdre N. McCloskey, "Keynes Was a Sophist, and a Good Thing, Too" (1996)

External links[edit]