The Economic Eugenicism of John Maynard Keynes

Journal of Markets and Morality, Forthcoming

21 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2017

Date Written: April 23, 2017


Scholars of John Maynard Keynes' life and contributions to economics have tended to approach his involvement in the early 20th century eugenics movement by either:

(1) historicizing it as a regrettable political curiosity with only minor connections to his larger system of economic thought or,

(2) positing an evolutionary turn in Keynes' thinking that led him to abandon his earlier neo-Malthusian principles in the late 1920s.

In this paper, we reexamine the role that eugenicist beliefs played in the formation of Keynesian macroeconomic theory, particularly as it concerned the problem of unemployment. Turning to a historical analysis of Keynes' writings and accompanying archival material, we present evidence of a continuity of eugenicist themes that links his early work on population control to his embrace of state-organized economic design at the mature phase of his career. Taken in sum, eugenics adds a complicated moral dimension to the genesis of Keynesian thought, though one that we also note is highly consistent with the technocratic inclinations of progressive era policymaking.

Keywords: John Maynard Keynes, Eugenics, Neo-Malthusianism

JEL Classification: B31, B22

Suggested Citation

Magness, Phillip and Hernandez, Sean, The Economic Eugenicism of John Maynard Keynes (April 23, 2017). Journal of Markets and Morality, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Phillip Magness (Contact Author)

Independent Institute ( email )

100 Swan Way
Oakland, CA 94621
United States

Sean Hernandez

Independent ( email )

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