John Maynard Keynes, H.G. Wells, and a Problematic Utopia

History of Political Economy, Forthcoming

34 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2019 Last revised: 7 Aug 2019

See all articles by Phillip Magness

Phillip Magness

American Institute for Economic Research

James Harrigan

University of Arizona - College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Date Written: July 11, 2019

Abstract

John Maynard Keynes’s 1930 essay ‘Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren’ is celebrated today as both an important transitional work in his economic theory and for its famously optimistic prediction of a distant future age of leisure, made against the backdrop of the Great Depression. Despite the essay’s acclaim and subsequent scholarly analysis of its arguments, comparatively little attention has been given to the history and context of its composition.

In this paper we explore the intellectual origins of ‘Economic Possibilities’ by introducing evidence of its parallels to a similar utopian message in H.G. Wells’s obscure didactic novel, The World of William Clissold (1926). Drawing upon archival evidence from Keynes and Wells’s own contemporary exchanges, we bring to light a largely unnoticed intellectual dialogue between the two authors that took place from roughly 1926 to 1934 through their published works, letters, and public and private conversations. The context provided by this dialogue sheds light upon the authors’ shared interests in the “scientific” ordering of society, and in particular a vision of the future that relied heavily upon proactive eugenic planning. These findings point to an under-acknowledged eugenic dimension to Keynes’s essay that emerges more openly from his contemporary exchanges with Wells as well as in several unpublished works and letters by both men. In addition to contextualizing a number of the intentionally vague predictions and prescriptions in ‘Economic Possibilities,’ these findings establish deeper eugenic commitments in Keynes’s beliefs than previously thought and extend them into the mature phase of his economic writing.

Keywords: John Maynard Keynes, H.G. Wells, Eugenics

JEL Classification: B31

Suggested Citation

Magness, Phillip and Harrigan, James, John Maynard Keynes, H.G. Wells, and a Problematic Utopia (July 11, 2019). History of Political Economy, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3418380 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3418380

Phillip Magness (Contact Author)

American Institute for Economic Research ( email )

PO Box 1000
Great Barrington, MA 01230
United States

James Harrigan

University of Arizona - College of Social and Behavioral Sciences ( email )

Douglass Building
Room 200W
Tucson, AZ 85721
United States

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