Keynes says you don’t know what’s about to hit you

2012-02-04 (Saturday) § Leave a comment

The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or be could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend. He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could despatch his servant to the neighboring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference. But, most important of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable. The projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper, and appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of social and economic life, the internationalization of which was nearly complete in practice.

from the introduction of The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes, describing the privileged lives of middle- and upper-class Londoners in the early 20th century.

Bold added.  Most of this excerpt at a glance strikes me as true of my own people today, Americans of the early 21st century.  I think, or I hope, that the bold part is untrue of at least a significant minority of us.  We have a considerable awareness of the influence of politics, military conflict and trade policy on our daily lives.  I’m not sure how much comfort that should be if it’s true, though.  It depends on what the dangers are.

This book is Keynes’ warning that the Treaty of Versailles would bring disaster on Europe, and WWII proved him right.  Maybe as I continue through the book I’ll find out that his reasons for thinking so don’t have parallels in my own country and time.  I’m pretty sure that even if the unwise actions of those Europeans do have parallels today, the dangers today will be different.  A global or even a continental war between great powers is hard to imagine today.  There are too many interests threatened by such a prospect and too few served.  Whatever dangers we face, they’re likely to be international in origin and not driven by a few specific governments.

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