Friday, July 19, 2019

Keynes’ Life: 1931

I give an account below of Keynes life in 1931.

January–May 1931
On 27 January 1931, Friedrich Hayek arrived in London at the London School of Economics (LSE). Hayek gave four evening lectures at 5 p.m. from 27 to 30 January 1931 on “Prices and Production” (Howson 2011: 196), and these lectures were later published in England as the book Prices and Production (September 1931), an exposition of the Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT). Hayek himself had returned to Austria by 14 February 1930, but he moved to Britain to take up a visiting professorship at the LSE in October 1931. Keynes did not attend Hayek’s LSE lectures, but Nicholas Kaldor had been at the LSE since April 1927 (to undertake a BSc. in economics), and presumably attended.

From winter 1930–1931 and the spring of 1931, Keynes was involved in drafting the report of the Macmillan Committee (Moggridge 1992: 509). This report was signed by Keynes on 29 May and made available on the 13 July 1931 (Moggridge 1992: 511).

On 15 January 1931, in a radio broadcast, Keynes pointed to the problem of a lack of public and private spending as a major role in causing the depression, and urged increases in public and private spending to lower unemployment (Skidelsky 1992: 383–384).

Keynes helped to organise the merger of the New Statesman and the Nation in January–February 1931, and Keynes himself became chairman of the combined board in February until he died (Moggridge 1992: 508). On the 7 March 1931, Keynes published an article called “Proposals for a Revenue Tariff” in the New Statesman and Nation, which presented the case for protectionism in Britain (Moggridge 1992: 509). Keynes proposed a tariff of 15% on manufactured and semi-manufactured imports and 5% on foodstuff imports, mainly to reduce the need for budget cuts or tax increases (Moggridge 1992: 512–513). Lionel Robbins wrote a reply to Keynes’ case for protectionism, published on 14 March 1931 (Howson 2011: 198).

In late February Keynes became ill with tonsillitis and influenza (Skidelsky 1992: 389).

On 4 May 1931, Piero Sraffa was appointed as Marshall Librarian at Cambridge.

From May to July 1931, Nicholas Kaldor attended the summer term at the University of Vienna as part of his research studentship at the LSE (Thirlwall 1987: 23), and on 1 August 1931, Kaldor was first appointed to a temporary lecturing position at the LSE (Thirlwall 1987: 27; in October 1932, Kaldor became a permanent Assistant Lecturer).

June–11 July 1931: Keynes in America
On 30 May 1931, Keynes sailed for New York with his wife and his visit lasted from June–11 July 1931. Keynes spent two weeks in New York and met numerous officials and bankers including Walter Case and Eugene Meyer (president of the Federal Reserve Board) (Skidelsky 1992: 390).

Keynes had been invited to the Harris Foundation seminars at the University of Chicago (an annual event) where he was to give a talk called “Unemployment as a World Problem” (Moggridge 1992: 518), and he gave three lectures on 22 June, 26 June, 2 July 1931 (Skidelsky 1992: 391).

Keynes was in Chicago from 22 June to 2 July 1931 (Moggridge 1992: 518). Curiously, Keynes, at this stage in his thinking, did not advocate a large-scale public works program in America, but thought interest rate policy should be the main tool for fighting the depression (Moggridge 1992: 518), and Keynes found that some Chicago economists were more supportive of public works programs to bring down unemployment than he was (Skidelsky 1992: 392). Skidelsky has suggested that some Chicago school economists were more “Keynesian than Keynes” in 1931 (Skidelsky 1992: 392).

Keynes spent his last weekend in America in New Hampshire, and on 11 July 1931 Keynes and his wife left New York for England, and during his return voyage Keynes wrote a memorandum called “Economic Conditions in the United States” which was later circulated to the Prime Minister, the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) and the Bank of England (Moggridge 1992: 519).

18 July–December 1931
When Keynes returned to England on 18 July, the 1931 world financial crisis was in progress, and Keynes was generally at Tilton over the months from July to September. On 11 May 1931 (before Keynes had left for America), the Austrian bank Kreditanstalt had collapsed. By late May 1931, the financial crisis had spread to Germany, where the Reichsbank suffered from serious losses of reserves. On 20 June 1931, Herbert Hoover announced the Hoover Moratorium, which was a one year moratorium on German debt re-payments, approved by Congress and, after some initial resistance by France, by fifteen other nations. Hoover also provided $100 million for the Reichsbank. But this did not prove sufficient and by late June and early July a severe external run on foreign exchange hit Germany (Moggridge 1992: 521).

By 13 July 1931, Germany was forced to introduce a two-day bank and stock exchange holiday, after the collapse of the Danat Bank (Moggridge 1992: 521). Britain was also hit by a severe outflow of capital: from July to September the Bank of England lost over £200 million in reserves in its attempt to maintain the pound sterling on the gold exchange standard (Moggridge 1992: 522).

In response to a request for advice from the Prime Minister, Keynes replied on 5 August 1931, and opposed austerity measures and declared that it is “now nearly certain that we shall go off the existing gold parity at no distant date” (Moggridge 1992: 523).

The crisis was so serious that Ramsay MacDonald (British Prime Minister) returned from summer holidays on 11 August, and held emergency meetings and a full Cabinet meeting on 19 August 1931 (Moggridge 1992: 534). Remaining on the gold standard was now impossible for Britain as borrowing in foreign currencies required severe cuts to government spending and tax increases, as the price of borrowing from the Bank of France, the Federal Reserve of New York and J. P. Morgan was their demand to balance the budget (Skidelsky 1992: 395). The conflict within the Labour party also destroyed the Labour government, as the Cabinet voted by 15 to 5 in favour of a revenue tariff, and also a majority would not support more than £56 million of budget cuts (Skidelsky 1992: 395).

In August 1931, there appeared the first of a two-part review of Keynes’ A Treatise on Money by Friedrich von Hayek in the journal Economica. The second part appeared in February 1932. Keynes did reply to Hayek, but the criticisms of Hayek were mostly irrelevant since Keynes soon came to repudiate many of the ideas in the Treatise.

On 24 August 1931, Ramsay MacDonald formed a National Government with the Conservatives, Liberals and a new National Labour group.

The history of governments in Britain in these years can be summarised as follows:
5 June 1929–24 August 1931 – Labour government with Ramsay MacDonald as British Prime Minister
24 August–27 October 1931 – First National Government with Ramsay MacDonald as British Prime Minister with Conservatives, Liberals and a new National Labour group
27 October 1931 – United Kingdom general election
5 November 1931–7 June 1935 – the Second National Government
7 June 1935–28 May 1937 – Stanley Baldwin is Prime Minister of Britain.
On 27 August, the new National coalition government decided to implement a program of austerity, with expenditure cuts and tax increases, and by 10 September 1931 it began to implement these measures.

On 16 September, Keynes addressed a group of MPs in the House of Commons, and he condemned the austerity budget as folly (Skidelsky 1992: 395–396).

But none of the measures adopted by the new National government stopped the capital flight from Britain, and when the Bank of England lost over £18 million on 18 September, it was decided to suspend the gold convertibility of the pound sterling after noon on 19 September 1931 (Moggridge 1992: 527).

On 20 September the government announced that Britain would abandon the gold exchange standard the next day, which then happened on Monday (21 September 1931) when a Gold Standard (Amendment) Bill was passed in Parliament (Moggridge 1992: 527).

Keynes went to London and stayed from 21 September to 10 October 1931, when he attended three meetings of the Economic Advisory Council’s Committee on Economic Information as well as a meeting of the Other Club (Moggridge 1992: 528). Keynes dined with the Prime Minister on 5 October 1931 and then visited Lloyd George at Churt (Skidelsky 1992: 400).

On 30 September, Keynes recorded a British Movietone newsreel, where he defended the suspension of the gold standard and predicted that British trade would benefit from the currency depreciation that resulted (Moggridge 1992: 528). This newsreel was screened in October 1931 and Keynes appeared in many cinemas in Britain, and can be seen here:

It was also in September 1931 that Ludwig von Mises visited London for an annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and Mises attended a dinner held for him at the LSE on 24 September (Howson 2011: 210). In September 1931, Friedrich Hayek also published Prices and Production.

From autumn 1931, a number of students and economists at Cambridge began to meet informally in Richard Kahn’s rooms in King’s College, Cambridge, to analyse and discuss Keynes’ A Treatise on Money. These included Piero Sraffa, Richard Kahn, Austin Robinson, James Meade, Joan Robinson, and Dennis Robertson (Moggridge 1992: 531).

By Lent term 1932 (January–March 1932), these meetings became a formal seminar held in the Old Combination Room of Trinity College, Cambridge, and were known as the “Circus,” though Keynes himself did not attend these meetings and Richard Kahn acted as an intermediary for Keynes (Moggridge 1992: 531–532).

On 5 October 1931, Hayek began teaching at the London School of Economics (LSE) as a visiting professor (Howson 2011: 206). Hayek and his family lived in Constable Close in Hampstead Garden Suburb (Howson 2011: 206).

From late October to November 1931 (in the course of the Michaelmas term at Cambridge), Keynes was ill with heart problems (Skidelsky 1992: 432–433).

Late in the year on 5 November 1931, Philip Snowden stood down as Chancellor of the Exchequer and was replaced by Neville Chamberlain (Chancellor of the Exchequer from November 1931–May 1937). On 27 November 1931, Keynes’ book Essays in Persuasion was published, which included many of his writings and essays from the 1920s onwards.

On 13 December 1931, Keynes addressed a socialist group on “The Dilemma of Modern Socialism.”

Howson, Susan. 2011. Lionel Robbins. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Moggridge, D. E. 1992. Maynard Keynes: An Economist’s Biography. Routledge, London and New York.

Skidelsky, Robert. 1992. John Maynard Keynes: Volume Two. The Economist as Saviour 1920–1937. Macmillan, London.

Thirlwall, A. P. 1987. Nicholas Kaldor. Wheatsheaf, Brighton.

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