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In the Long Run We Are All Dead: Keynesianism, Political Economy, and Revolution

A groundbreaking debunking of moderate attempts to resolve financial crises

In the ruins of the 2007–2008 financial crisis, self-proclaimed progressives the world over clamoured to resurrect the economic theory of John Maynard Keynes. The crisis seemed to expose the disaster of small-state, free-market liberalization and deregulation. Keynesian political economy, in contrast, could put the state back at the heart of the economy and arm it with the knowledge needed to rescue us. But what it was supposed to rescue us from was not so clear. Was it the end of capitalism or the end of the world? For Keynesianism, the answer is both. Keynesians are not and never have been out to save capitalism, but rather to save civilization from itself. It is political economy, they promise, for the world in which we actually live: a world in which prices are “sticky,” information is “asymmetrical,” and uncertainty inescapable. In this world, things will definitely not take care of themselves in the long run. Poverty is ineradicable, markets fail, and revolutions lead to tyranny. Keynesianism is thus modern liberalism’s most persuasive internal critique, meeting two centuries of crisis with a proposal for capital without capitalism and revolution without revolutionaries.

If our current crises have renewed Keynesianism for so many, it is less because the present is worth saving, than because the future seems out of control. In that situation, Keynesianism is a perfect fit: a faith for the faithless.

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A reader's companion to In the Long Run We Are All Dead, and a beginner’s guide to The General Theory - useful for anyone interested in what the book actually says and does not say; explaining Keynes’s ideas, the reasons he thought they were new, and the older theories he hoped to supplant.

Reviews

  • “A detailed, fast-flowing account of how repeatedly guileful Keynesianism crisis management has saved the elite by reengineering tragedy … rewarding reading.”
  • “Mann’s treatment of Keynes is a very interesting effort to situate his work in a longer political and philosophical debate going back to the French revolution. He treats Keynesianism as the alternative to economic collapse and/or revolution and argues that insofar as leftists have come to embrace it, they have quite explicitly given up hope for an alternative to capitalism.”
  • “Mann makes it clear that Keynes’s critique of liberalism can be found already in Hegel; and that now we need to leave behind the caution of the great philosopher and the great economist, thus realizing a radical alternative to capitalism. This is a provocative, original and brilliant book.”
  • “Urgent and lucid … A bravura inquiry into the intellectual history of the present and the ambiguous vitality of Keynes’s General Theory.
  • “A critical rereading of Keynes, who comes across less as the liberal reformist intent on keeping capitalism (and the bourgeois order) intact, than someone attentive to the tensions within the system and, for all of its flaws, fearful of the grave dangers of leaping toward an unknown revolutionary future. In the Long Run We Are All Dead makes for a startling, bracing and important read.”
  • “They say that we are all Keynesians in a foxhole, but In the long run we are all dead goes much deeper. Profound and provocative, the book turns political and intellectual history inside out, offering nothing short of an original critique of the political economy of liberal government and capitalist modernity. Far from a pedantic discussion of what Keynes really meant, Mann takes us from Hegel to Picketty, and much in between, in search of what Keynes and Keynesianism really mean. His answers are sometimes surprising, occasionally unsettling, and never less than urgently relevant.”

Blog

  • When I Think of France

    First published in Le Monde. Translated by Loren Balhorn.


    via Wikimedia Commons.

    Seen from Germany, it is possible to envy, admire, and feel sorry for France all at the same time. One can envy their freewheeling public debates on topics like “globalisation” and Americanisation, Europeanisation and Germanisation, capitalism, neoliberalism, “competitiveness,” and “structural reforms." This is because, in France, it is still allowed to publicly ask what words like “cosmopolitanism” really mean; what societies have to accept in exchange for this cosmopolitanism, how much thereof a society really needs or wants and, moreover, what sorts of compromises societies must make in a global market characterised by a universalistically diluted form of constitutional patriotism. In Germany, by contrast, those who neglect to drink from society’s daily dose of the cosmopolitan nectar tend to be excommunicated from public discourse. There is no legitimate public discussion of the French questions — not in literature, not in the social sciences, not in the media, and not in the parliament (here, as an institution driven by allegedly eternal and unchanging “Western values," least of all). Such questions are shunned, pushed into the far-right corner. Maybe it has to be this way in Germany, and maybe German expectations that it should be this way in other countries as well are merely an expression of envy.

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  • The Ignored Lessons of the Financial Crisis

    "If I told you eight years ago that America would reverse the great recession, reboot the auto industry, and unleash the greatest stretch of job creation in our history ... you might have said our sights were set a little too high." Thus boasted the former US president Barack Obama in his farewell address. But is the financial crisis really behind us? Has the strategy implemented to save the banks not, on the contrary, created the conditions for the next conflagration? Cédric Durandwrites.

    An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the February 2017 Le Monde diplomatique. Translated by David Broder.

    Figure 1: GDP growth in the advanced economies

    Happy anniversary! On 2 April 2007, New Century Financial Corporation entered into liquidation. The collapse of this US real estate investment company — the second biggest provider of the now-infamous subprime mortgages — fired the starting gun on a financial crisis bigger than any the world had seen since 1929. Ten years on, capitalism is still yet to recover from this major shock. Growth is sluggish, under-employment endemic and the extreme monetary policies implement by central banks are reaching their limits.

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  • The Landing: Fascists without Fascism

    This post first appeared at Research & Destroy.



    We can imagine a person slowly becoming aware that he is the subject of catastrophe. The form of consciousness might be likened to someone peering out the window of a plane. They have been aboard for a long time, years, decades. From cruising altitude the landscape below scrolls past evenly, somewhat abstracted. The stabilizing mechanisms of eye and brain smooth the scene. Perhaps they are somewhere above the upper midwest. Their knowledge of the miseries that have seized flyover country hovers at the periphery of a becalmed boredom. Steady hum of the jet engines, sense of stillness. Borne by prevailing winds the first balloonists detected no wind whatsoever. So this flight. Though the passengers will never travel faster than this they scarcely feel any motion at all.

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Other books by Geoff Mann

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