Originally published in the November 13, 2017, issue of the Weekly Standard.
Hayek vs. Keynes: A Battle of Ideas
by Thomas Hoerber
University of Chicago Press, 192 pp., $22.50
Robert Skidelsky, whose biography of John Maynard Keynes is unlikely ever to be surpassed, judged that his subject “never needed a Jehovah, because he had never experienced despair.” Skidelsky was speaking of religion and morals, a department where Keynes was a typical Bloomsbury hedonist. In economics, to find a system with no deity, it is necessary to consult not Keynes but his archrival, Friedrich Hayek. There most certainly was a Jehovah in Keynes’s economic system; he saw him every morning when he shaved.
Americans sometimes fail to grasp the full extent of Keynes’s egotism, which underlay all his theories of government by economic experts, because we assume that all aristocrats are like that. They are not. The Cambridge Apostles were notorious for their arrogance throughout Edwardian England, from Westminster Palace to the pages of Punch, and his fellow Apostles considered Keynes exceptionally arrogant even by their standards. Bertrand Russell, who may be considered an authority on the subject, marveled at Keynes’s self-regard.
This is the sort of historical and psychological context that might usefully be provided in yet another book on the Keynes-Hayek debate. Alas, this is not what is offered by Thomas Hoerber’s little book, which has the feel of a think-tank white paper stretched beyond its natural limits. Rather than bring the debate of yesterday to bear on our own time, as the dust jacket promises, he merely retells yesterday’s debate in today’s clichés, in order to support his arguments for greater economic regulation by the state and, especially, the European Union.