Home > Keynes, The Economics Profession > Cambridge excludes Keynesians from conference on Keynes.

Cambridge excludes Keynesians from conference on Keynes.

By Ann Pettifor

Director, Prime (Policy Research in Macroeconomics)


Like Catholics organising a conference on Protestantism and excluding Protestants, the Cambridge organisers of a conference  to ‘celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money’, have excluded Keynes scholars. By contrast, most of those who will address the conference subscribe to the ‘classical’ theory that Keynes thought he had defeated.

The one name on the list that is identified with Keynes, at least in the public eye, is Professor Paul Krugman of PrincetonUniversity, who will be giving the ‘Plenary Lecture’. However, in his opening remarks to the conference, Prof. Krugman poses the question: “What am I doing here?” and modestly suggests that:

I’m arguably not qualified to [give this talk]. I am, after all, not a Keynes scholar, nor any kind of serious intellectual historian. Nor have I spent most of my career doing macroeconomics. Until the late 1990s my contributions to that field were limited to international issues; although I kept up with macro research, I avoided getting into the frontline theoretical and empirical disputes.

(Click here  for a pdf of Prof Krugman’s speech to the conference)

Krugman is an extremely controversial figure for Keynes scholars. He champions a mainstream interpretation of Keynes’s work known as the neo-classical synthesis, and seems to have avoided any discussion with those actually working in the field. Many fear that his adherence to a rightly discredited version of Keynes’s theory serves Keynes very badly indeed.

Qualification for participation in this event hosted by the Cambridge Faculty of Economics and Cambridge Finance appears to be complete detachment from scholarly debates about the nature of Keynes’s work. Scholars were hard pushed to recall one contribution to the Keynes literature written by any on the list of participating economists. The UK Post-Keynesian Economics Study Group, a body dedicated to the serious pursuit of these matters since 1988, with an on-line community of over 300 academics, found out about the conference by accident. “Even by the standards of the economics profession, this is staggering”, one member observed.

One wonders why Lord Eatwell, who once wrote a Keynes-oriented textbook with Joan Robinson, one of Keynes’s close collaborators, has consented to be on the Organising Committee for such an event.

The impression created is of an economics profession actively seeking to exclude any Keynesian challenge to an orthodoxy that has so patently failed society. As we seek solutions to rising unemployment, bank and business failures, debt-deflation and sovereign debt crises, the determination of a group of economists at an elite University – Keynes’s University – further to close down debate on alternatives should be a matter of the greatest possible concern to the public at large.

  1. June 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Tribalism is alive and well in the economics profession. It sounds like the organizers have been busy sucking up to the establishment.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    June 20, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    “Friends, Cambridgians, Keynesians: We come to bury Keynes, not to praise him.”

  3. paolo leon
    June 20, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Who are those invited at the conference? we old keynesians would like to identify the culprits
    Paolo Leon

  4. merijnknibbe
    June 20, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    Quote from the website:

    “The conference is sponsored by the Bank of England, European Central Bank, Bank of Italy and Cambridge Finance.”

    • Alice
      June 22, 2011 at 10:00 am

      Well – that says it all.

  5. Peter Radford
    June 21, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Absurd. How about a counter-conference to analyze the end of New Classicism and the lessons to be learned from its failure?

  6. Mike Meeropol
    June 21, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    I wouldn’t rush to judgment just yet. Back in 1981, the CJE organized a conference on “New Orthodoxy In Economics” which brought together people from all over the world and created a decent body of criticism of the (then) rising neo-liberalism (we didn’t have that name yet).

    One of the best participants was Hashem Pesaran, at that point a young Lecturer at Cambridge.

    He is one of the participants at the conference and unless he’s undergone a head transplant, he should give the “new orthodoxy” folks fits.

    Perhaps many of the others at the conference will be quite Keynesian in their presentations, even if they have not made contributions to the recent literature.

    That said, the fact that they chose not to invite any of the well known post-Keynesians and those who seek to utilize Marxian insights as part of the process of making sense of the modern world is troubling.

    People who can physically get there ought to attend.

  7. Edward K ROSS
    June 21, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    although i am only a pensioner who is neither a economist or an academic who has followed the P A E movement since its inception. I find most of the papers and disussions express the need for reexaming economic theory.However they miss the most important problem with neo clasical economics which is their refusal to enter into meaningfull discussions with those who support alternative economic models perticularley those that relate to actual real world conditions. Finally from my lived experience i have found that whenever one refuses to considder other ideas . Not only does ones knowledge becomes isolated from changing conditions it becomes irrelevant. Finaly Paul Davidson’s referal to C S Lewis ” do not argue that something is true or notbut whether it is outmodedsince this is practical propagandathat is more difficult to couneract. “aptly exlains why the neo classical economists and their political compratreiots obfuscate to avoid real issues. Ted Ross

  8. Georg R. Baumann
    June 22, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    :-) Thanks! I needed a laugh.

  9. Philippe Waechter
    June 25, 2011 at 9:08 am

    These remarks are amaizing. You cannot be keynesian if you have references outside of the Collected Writings of JMK.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.