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Paul Krugman – one of Joan Robinson’s Bastard Keynesians – Editor

Economist Joan Robinson (Wikimedia cc)

An article printed a few years ago in RWER blogs by Lars Syll [1] contains the following extract from an article by Philip Pilkington entitled Paul Krugman and the Fatherless Keynesians [2]

Some decades ago the British economist Joan Robinson – one of J.M. Keynes’ most brilliant students, who helped him draft the original of his General Theory – half-jokingly referred to some of her colleagues as “Bastard Keynesians”. These colleagues were mostly American Keynesians, but there were a few British Bastard Keynesians too – such as John Hicks, who invented the now famous ISLM diagram.

What Robinson was trying to say was that these so-called Keynesians were fatherless in the sense that they should not be recognised as being legitimately part of the Keynesian family. And the Bastard Keynesians, in turn, generally assumed that this criticism implied some sort of Keynesian fundamental- ism on the part of the British school. They seemed to assume that Robinson and her colleagues were just being obscurantist snobs.

Such a misinterpretation exists to this day. The second and third generation Bastard Keynesians – which include many of those who generally collect under the title “New Keynesian” – have reinforced this criticism. Paul Krugman, for example, in response from criticisms that he was misrepresenting the work of Keynes and his follower Hyman Minsky wrote: “So, first of all, my basic reaction to the discussions about what Minsky really meant — and, similarly, to discussions about what Keynes really meant — is, I don’t care. I mean, intellectual history is a fine endeavor. But for working economists the reason to read old books is for insight, not authority; if something Keynes or Minsky said helps crystallize an idea in your mind — and there’s a lot of that in both mens’ writing — that is really good, but if where you take the idea is very different from what the great man said somewhere else in his book, so what? This is economics, not Talmudic scholarship.”

This is a classic misrepresentation of those who accuse Krugman and his ilk of Bastard Keynesianism. When people accuse Krugman and others of distorting the work of others it is not because of some sort of sacredness of the orig- inal text, but instead because Bastard Keynesianism is racked with internal inconsistencies that its adherents can not recognise because, blinded as they are by their neoclassical prejudices, they never get beyond a shallow reading of actual Keynesian economics.

What is more, these inconsistencies are not simply some sort of obscure doctrinal or theoretical nuance that matters only to hard-core theorists; rather they generate concrete policy responses that may well cause a great deal of trouble and, quite possibly, discredit Keynesian economics itself if and when they fail spectacularly should they be implemented.


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