Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Keynes Quote of the Day

From Britain's Industrial Future:
The notion that the only way to get enough effort out of the brain-worker is to offer him unfettered opportunities of making an unlimited fortune is as baseless as the companion idea that the only way of getting enough effort out of the manual worker is to hold over him the perpetual threat of starvation and misery for himself and those he loves. It has never been even supposed to be true, at all events in England, of the soldier, the statesman, the civil servant, the teacher, the scientist, the technical expert.
And to think this was the Orange Book of 1928! Times have changed.

They sure have. Then, it seemed like the move away from institutions based on material incentives to institutions based on intrinsic motivation was well underway, or at least realizable. While today -- perhaps in Britain even more than the US -- the tide is running strong the other way, with the good and great eager to get teachers and technicians, if not yet soldiers and statesmen, onto the unlimited-fortune/starvation-and-misery plan.

The context of the quote is interesting, too -- it's part of a larger argument for the "more or less comprehensive socialization of investment" Keynes would continue to argue for in the General Theory. Since managers of private firms already work for "a certain salary, plus the hope of promotion or bonus," nothing would change if their businesses were publicly owned: "The performance of functions by Public Concerns in place of privately owned Companies and Corporations would make but little difference to the ordinary man." If soi-disant hard Keynesians read more Keynes, they would find a much more radical vision there than countercyclical fiscal policy.

(via Jim Crotty's unpublished book on Keynes. Encouraging him to get that thing out is high up on my list of life goals. Britain's Industrial Future was officially written by a committee of Liberal grandees headed by Lloyd George. But this passage was written by Keynes, Crotty says, and he would know.)

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