In a posting at Libertarian Home, Richard Carey quotes the late, great Murray Rothbard criticising Keynes. (And while I’m linking to Carey, see also this recent piece about libertarianism by Carey, which is very fine.)
Better yet, Carey also supplies, as a mere comment added later to the Rothbard posting, a recording of a talk by Rothbard, in which Rothbard also lays into Keynes, way back in April 1989. The talk begins with these words:
First of all I want to launch a pre-emptive strike against any critics who might accuse this talk of being ad hominem. The ad hominem fallacy is that instead of attacking the doctrine of a person you attack the person, and that is fallacious because that doesn’t refute the argument. I’ve never been in favour of that. I’ve always been in favour of refuting the doctrine and then going on to attack the person.
And the talk ends (and yes I did listen also to everything in between) with these words.
To sum up Keynes: arrogant, sadistic, power besotted bully, a deliberate and systemic liar, intellectually irresponsible, an opponent of principle, in favour of short-term hedonism and a nihilistic opponent of bourgeois morality in all of its areas, a hater of thrift and savings, someone who wanted to liquidate and exterminate the creditor class, an imperialist, an anti-semite and a fascist. Outside of that, I guess he was a great guy.
Good knockabout stuff, then, and I greatly enjoyed it, despite the occasional pauses where Rothbard rootles around in his papers for his next bit of dirt. The performance lasts about forty minutes.
But be clear that this is Rothbard in attack dog mode, not Rothbard the magisterial expounder of Austrianism. He surveys Keynes’s career and character, and he does whatever is the opposite of cherry picking. With regard to Keynes’s “will to power” and general belligerence towards anyone he disapproved of, I got more than a whiff of the feeling that it takes one to know one, so to speak. Rothbard had plenty of will to power himself, even if he never got a fraction as much of it as Keynes had from the start. In addition to his great theoretical works, Rothbard spent much of his life flailing about trying to build rather unconvincing political alliances, so that he could get some power, but it never worked.
But give Rothbard time. Keynes wielded huge power in the short run, the short run being, as Rothard explains, the thing that Keynes cared about far more than he did about the long run. But I think it is at least reasonable to hope that in the longer run, say in about a hundred years time, Rothbard may be held in far higher esteem than Keynes. For Keynes also did more than his fair share of flailing, in his failed attempts at serious thinking about economics. If, in the long run, Keynes eventually becomes famous only for being utterly wrong, it would be the perfect posthumous punishment for him.
If, on the other hand, Keynes is still held in high esteem in centuries to come, then heaven help the human species. We are in for very bad times.
Besides which, I think that Rothbard is basically spot on, not only about the character and career of Keynes, but about the need for at least some of us to get nasty about such things. One of the signs that the Cold War was ending was when anti-Marxists started getting serious about what an immoral piece of shit Karl Marx was. Marx did not “mean well”. He yearned for social catastrophe of a sort that he knew would kill millions. He was not just wrong in the intellectual sense, he was wrong morally. He promised his Grand Theory of Everything, failed to produce it, but pretended for the rest of his life that he had produced it. This was not just a great mistake and a great folly. It was morally wrong, because intellectually corrupt. It was a Big Lie.
Similar things can be said of Keynes, and Rothbard says them. Good for him.