Keynes, Money and the Arts

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Maynard Keynes was one of the world’s most important economists. He accompanied many of the key events of the 20th century, playing a direct part in the monetary affairs not only of his own country, but of the world as a whole. Alongside all this, Keynes was also strongly linked to the arts. This exhibition parallels his link to money with that to the arts. It traces his journey from World War 1, when he became associated with the Bloomsbury group, his time in Charleston, near Lewes, Sussex, and his contribution particularly to the funding of the arts, both in Cambridge and in the country as a whole.

20th Century Economist

1919 The Economic Consequences of the Peace

A masterful, even literary, document that describes the dynamics between Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau and Vittorio Orlando that resulted in a punitive level of reparations charged to Germany after World War One.

1923 A Tract on Monetary Reform

Of Keynes’s many treatises on money – the central topic of his professional life – this is perhaps the most critical. It deals with how to come free of gold, a lesson humanity has still to learn.

1940 International Clearing Union

A touch of brilliance, if in part borrowed, the ICU endeavoured to show how the world’s nations could work together to ensure both balanced trade and balanced books. In 2008, the Chinese premier wondered why, still today, this idea had not been taken up.

1944 Bretton Woods

Representing Britain, Keynes took part in the discussions to create a viable and stable world economy after World War Two. His leanings were towards global commonwealth, but the US Congress sought hegemony. Abandoned in 1973, the Bretton Woods Agreements have yet to find a viable successor, the twin institutions of the World Bank and the IMF being lesser creatures compared to what Keynes had in mind.

Joan Bakewell’s Hero

Keynes was a man of prodigious intellectual gifts, who straddled the worlds of banking, politics, the City, journalism and the arts, playing a significant role in all of them. But that doesn’t express the nub of his attitude to the world and to human behaviour.

What I admire is his belief in the moral responsibility of society towards its members, an attitude he brought to bear on his economic theories. His 1919 book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, he rightly predicted that the revenge-crazed impulse among the victors to extract punitive reparations from Germany would have disastrous consequences…

But it is the rounded man I admire most: a member of the Bloomsbury set, he managed to outrage them all – including former lovers (male) – by marrying Lydia Lopokova, a star of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

He loved the arts and did loads to help them, creating the Arts Council of Great Britain, and seeing to the financial wellbeing of Sadler’s Wells, the Royal Opera House and King’s College, Cambridge. He made money as a speculator and used it to buy paintings – Cézanne,0 Braque, Picasso.

All this, and he managed to be nice, too – witty and always warm-hearted.


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