Thursday, October 13, 2016

Rod O’Donnell — Keynes: the partly-known Colossus of economics

Alongside Smith and Marx, Keynes is one of the triumvirate of economists on whom more ink has been expended than on any others. And, as the most recent of the three, he speaks more directly to our times and our troubles. His multi-sidedness also makes him a fascinating figure for non-economists. But more expended ink does not more knowledge guarantee, especially if the information sources being used are seriously incomplete. It is the aim of my JMK Writings Project to remedy this situation.
A grave misapprehension pervades the discussion of Keynes’s many contributions. It is widely believed that the Royal Economic Society edition, The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, in its 30 volumes, contains everything that Keynes wrote that is important in understanding his thought and activities.
This, however, is far from the truth. Although that edition was enormously valuable in promoting Keynes scholarship, it only made accessible a relatively small proportion of the total amount of his unpublished writings as a result of its narrow terms of reference, limited budget and largely single-archive focus. Only about 40% of the edition (11-12 volumes) contained new material, the rest being reproductions of already published output.
The terms of reference, “Keynes as an economist and public figure”, for example, excluded vast domains in his writings, including all his unpublished philosophical output and most of his huge private correspondences. And the focus on only one primary archive, that at King’s College Cambridge (albeit supplemented by some selections from the UK National Archives) meant that vast swathes of documents held elsewhere in the UK and other countries were excluded.
Discoveries by a small band of hardy Keynes archive explorers over recent decades have revealed that huge amounts of Keynes’s academically significant writings remain unpublished. In the UK, large portions of even the Keynes Papers at King’s College Cambridge languish unpublished, not to mention the extensive holdings of other archives, both large (the National Archives and the British Library), and small (various university archives). Outside the UK, at least four countries have important holdings. The US has many medium to small collections, followed by Japan with a smaller number of key holdings resulting from its purchases of Harrod’s Papers. (Why portions of Keynes’s writings finished up in Harrod’s personal papers is a story for another day, but their existence remained entirely unknown until the latter’s international auction in the early 1990s). Australia has five archival holdings, Canada has at least one, and there may be one or two holdings in France and Germany. My current estimate is that approximately 60 archives world-wide have valuable unpublished collections.
The object of my JMK Writings Project is to make publicly accessible the treasure trove of information presently tucked away in his scattered unpublished writings. The Further Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, as the supplementary edition will be called, is estimated to run to around 20 to 25 volumes, although the number cannot be accurately predicted. No global catalogue of his writings has been compiled, so that nobody in the world knows their full extent.…
OECD Insights
Keynes: the partly-known Colossus of economics
Rod O’Donnell, Professor, University of Technology Sydney, Australia
ht Mark Thoma at Economist's View

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