Keynes on the Power of Ideas

” . . . the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.”

The last half of the last paragraph in John Maynard Keynes’s book General Theory of Employment Interest and Money. That quote has to be read and re-read slowly, reflectively, savoring the language, and the thoughts. Just read this: “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.” Pure delight, like a sip of very fine cognac.

4 thoughts on “Keynes on the Power of Ideas

  1. Atanu,
    I had a question for you. And your bloggers, if they care…

    Which is the State that is most friendly to Business in India? Which State should Indian entrepreneurs look to setup their business?

    Which State has the least beaureacratic red-tape? A robust police-force, fast resolution of legal disputes?

    Don’t you think we need a ranking? Why aren’t the major media and television outlets talking about it? Don’t you think we need a yearly poll of the “Best States for Business” and the “Worst States for Business.”??

    Interested in your thoughts, dude.

    Note: let’s assume the business does not involve natural resources, and there is easy access to labor of all skill-levels.


  2. I don’t agree with Keynes in that I think that ideas anyway float all around and above us, and whereas the intellectual the economist or the philosopher put them on paper, the practical businessman or politician captures them unconsciously from the general atmosphere and lives them in life as it suits him. I mean that the philosophers and the economists dont influence the practical man somehow or the other, but IDEAS influence the philosopher, the economist, the worker, the businessman, the powermonger you-name-it in their own way.


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