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 The General Theory
of Employment,interest,and money, 
    ´ The General Theory of
Employment, Interest and Money´ was written by the British economist John Maynard Keynes.
The book, generally considered to be his magnum opus, is largely credited with creating the
terminology and shape of modern macroeconomics. Published in February 1936 it sought to
bring about a revolution, commonly referred to as the ³Keynesian Revolution´, in the way
economists thought ± especially in relation to the proposition that a market economy tends
naturally to restore itself to full employment after temporary shocks. Regarded widely as the
cornerstone of Keynesian thought, the book challenged the established classical economics and
introduced important concepts such as the consumption function, the multiplier, the marginal
efficiency of capital and liquidity preference.

„
 

Although The General Theory was written in the aftermath of the Great Depression and was
taken by many to justify the assumption by government of the responsibility for the achievement
and maintenance of full employment, it is for the most part a highly abstract work of theory and
by no means a tract on policy. Its full meaning and significance continues to be debated even
today. As a book, it is a difficult read for a modern student of economics, although it is enlivened
by some brilliant rhetorical passages, including the description of the stock market in Chapter
12 and the concluding chapter 24 on the (rather tentative) policy implications Keynes derived
from his theory.

Contrary to popular belief, Keynes was by no means the first to advocate public works or deficit
spending in a depression, but his book provides the theoretical framework within which
temporary measures like the New Deal can be justified against the ³Treasury View´ that public
borrowing simply crowds out private investment so that government should always balance its
annual budget. Keynes himself placed equal emphasis on redistributive taxation and a monetary
policy of µcheap money¶ as well as fiscal policy, and he did not believe governments should run
deficits for current consumption, as opposed to public investment. The book provides the basis
for a longer term commitment to the welfare state but Keynes was by no means a socialist in the
usual sense and did not advocate big government for its own sake.

The central argument of the book is that the level of employment is determined, not by the price
of labour as in neoclassical economics, but by the spending of money (aggregate demand). He
argues that it is wrong to assume that competitive markets will, in the long run, deliver full
employment or that full employment is the natural, self-righting, equilibrium state of a monetary
economy. On the contrary, under-employment and under-investment are likely to be the natural
state unless active measures are taken. Although few modern economists would disagree with the
need for at least some intervention, policies such as labour market flexibility are underpinned by
the neoclassical notion of equilibrium in the long run. One implication of The General Theory is
that a lack of competition is not the fundamental problem and measures to reduce unemployment
by cutting wages or benefits are not only hard-hearted but ultimately futile. Keynes does not set
out a detailed policy program in The General Theory, but he went on in practice to place great
emphasis on the reduction of long-term interest rates and the reform of the international
monetary system as structural measures needed to encourage both investment and consumption
by the private sector.

Just as the reception of The General Theory was encouraged by the 1930s experience of mass
unemployment, its fall from favour was associated with the µstagflation¶ of the 1970s. Although
Keynes explicitly addresses inflation, The General Theory does not treat it as an essentially
monetary phenomenon nor suggest that control of the money supply or interest rates is the key
remedy for inflation. This conflicts both with neoclassical theory and with the experience of
pragmatic policy-makers. Furthermore the main Keynesian prescription for inflation, incomes
policy, has lost credibility.
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