Why a movie about John Maynard Keynes is long overdue?
A Hollywood biopic about John Maynard Keynes is long overdue. Tom Hanks would, no doubt, get the role, but it should go to Sacha Cohen. He has the same eyes and the height that Keynes had. He missed out on Freddie Mercury; he must get Keynes.
The author gets why Henry Ford gets shunned by Hollywood but why has Keynes been overlooked? It is surprising no one has wanted to make a movie about one of the great historical figures of the 20th Century. It feels as if he got “canceled” from the 1980s onwards. The monetarists wanted to act like he never existed.
Shadowlands was about CS Lewis, an Oxford don. The Beautiful Mind was about John Nash, a professor at MIT. John Maynard Keynes, a professor at King’s College, Cambridge, was more able and versatile than both of them put together. If Winston Churchill hadn’t lived, Keynes would have easily been the greatest Briton of the 20th Century.
It’s the sort of flick Harvey Weinstein would have produced. Clint Eastwood is getting too old. It might have to be Mel. The story needs someone big behind it. Not only did Keynes predict the rise of extremism in Germany at Versailles in 1921, but it was also his economic theories that helped the West beat the Nazis! He wrote one of the great economic masterpieces of all time, “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” and was instrumental in the development of econometrics as a discipline.
He wasn’t just book smart. He was also a formidable businessman and was one of the great investors of the age. He is a key reason why Kings College is one of the richest academic institutions in Europe to this day. His investment returns were much better than Warren Buffet’s in the 1960s when Warren, the man of the people, got all his stock tips from his Senator Father. (There’s nothing new about the way Nancy Pelosi allegedly makes her money).
To add a bit of spice to the story, he hung out with the Bloomsbury Set. The avant-garde group that included Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey (look that guy up) embraced the kind of hedonism that is popular today. There would be plenty of naughty scenes to keep today’s movie goers enthralled. The Bloomsbury Set were “woke” before the term existed. Hitler apparently hated them.
A movie about Keynes is important, though, for three main reasons. First, the public, especially the young, need to have a better knowledge of the man. There is a misunderstanding that Keynesianism is socialism. This myth has been promoted by the Conservative elite since the Bloomingdales started sponsoring Reagan in the 1960s for his run at the Presidency. Keynesianism isn’t socialism. Keynes actually hated Marx. He loved making money. It was a mere lever to pull to help the economy get on its feet.
Second, the Milton Friedman faction has spent years discrediting his theories when in reality they worked well for a long time after the second world war and when they went bad, it was because his new followers did things Keynes would never have done.
And third, young people need to appreciate that not everyone who was successful in the past believed in the trickle-down economics thesis of the monetarists. In fact, there was a Christian ideal of noblesse oblige once that meant people like Keynes often demonstrated a degree of humanity and humility that is lacking in say a Peter Thiel or in many of the crypto billionaires. He cared about the unemployed of the 1930s deeply.
The noblesse oblige point is important because when all this inflation hysteria passes, and one day it will, we will have to start talking about the real issues again. Covid has diverted our attention away from long term trends. They have given us a misguided sense of the forces driving the economy.
The global economy was looking pretty grim in December 2019, just a few months before Covid struck. Economic growth was slowing, and deflationary forces were everywhere. These forces haven’t gone away even with a war in Europe and a supply chain crisis in China. It is right we celebrate the employment numbers, but we shouldn’t forget the fact that job creation is WAY below trend.
In the Wall Street Journal, a couple of months back, Biden penned an article (he didn’t write it, of course) talking about his desire for the US to get on a stable and steady growth trajectory. There are two points to be made.
Stable and steady isn’t always the best kind of growth. Periods where the US has grown the most such as the early 1960s were quite volatile. The key is how much the economy has grown over a 10-year period. Stable and steady might mean the economy is not reaching its full potential.
The wording of his essay made him sound like he had the mindset of an administration that wants political stability over wealth creation. It actually sounded very similar to President Xi’s 2017 speech where he talked about China moving away from “growth at any cost to quality growth.” The world needs a US with a more dynamic economy than the mercantile economy of China.
The second point is we might have to get used to growth not coming mainly from the private sector for a period of time this decade. And this is where a keen understanding of Keynes is important. This author believes the monetarist experiment is over. We are going to have government spending at some point at a level we have never seen before. It is the only way to keep the global economy on track. We might even need a New Deal. People are hurting. They have been since 2008. It might get a lot worse now Powell is talking so tough on inflation at what might be the peak. A movie about the life of Keynes might put what’s going to happen into much needed perspective.