John Maynard Keynes: The College Years

02. 11. 2017

I recently read the first volume of Robert Skidelsky's biography of John Maynard Keynes. The book covered his life up until the end of World War I. Like so many college students today, John Maynard Keynes didn't know what he wanted to do after graduation. In school he surrounded himself with artists and writers, and lived a bohemian lifestyle. He read philosophy and pondered the deeper meaning of things. In 1905 he graduated from Cambridge with a B.A. In Mathematics. Keynes took that major largely because it came easy to him.

After school he got a job with the Civil Service working on Indian currency and trade issues. He got the job with the help of his father, an administrator at Cambridge. It was a job, but not necessarily a calling at this point in his life. Soon, Keynes brilliance as an economist was recognized. He was asked to provide columns for newspapers and lecture at Cambridge.

During World War One he became an economic advisor to the government war council. This had put him at odds with his old friends who opposed the war. During the war Keynes viewed the work he was doing as important for the survival of the country. He weathered the criticism, and even defended many of his friends in court for being objectors to the war.

During the Paris peace conference Keynes was an important advisor to the government. He meet for long hours with all of the parties on the economic dimensions of ending the war. The experience was life changing. He viewed the parties involved as feckless and more interested in politics then doing the right thing. Keynes thought the reparations from Germany would be impossible to pay. He correctly predicted that the consequences of the peace would be more war. He wrote a best selling book based on his impressions of the conference. Keynes went from being someone known among British economists to a great thinker know the world over.

In the next two decades of his life he would go on to write a number of papers and books, including the General Theory, that changed how we think about economics. The Civil Service position he took straight out of college set him on a path he hadn't planned. He was open enough in his life to find something interesting in a job that might seem boring to most college graduates, and turn it into a lifelong passion.

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