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The attacks on The General Theory: How Keynes’s theory was lost


  • G.C. Harcourt

    () (School of Economics, UNSW Business School, UNSW)

  • Peter Kriesler

    () (School of Economics, UNSW Business School, UNSW)

  • John Nevile

    () (School of Economics, UNSW Business School, UNSW)


The General Theory showed that the main determinant of the level of output and of employment at any point of time was the level of effective demand. It did so in an environment of uncertainty using analysis in historical time. Unfortunately, most of Keynes’s insights were soon lost to the profession. This paper considers why this occurred. The most concerted and sustained attack on Keynes’s position was by Milton Friedman. Friedman argued that his work on permanent income as the major determinant of consumption invalidated Keynes use of the consumption function in The General Theory, with important implications for the multiplier and the efficacy of fiscal policy. The attack by the conservative right wing in America on Lorie Tarshis’s excellent 1947 Keynesian textbook , also played an important part in the dilution of the Keynesian message as did the resultant rise to dominance of Samuelson’s Economics: An Introductory Analysis. Given the great influence of Samuelson and the increasing tendency of American economics to dominate English language economics this contributed decisively to the undermining of Keynes’s theory and policy.

Suggested Citation

  • G.C. Harcourt & Peter Kriesler & John Nevile, 2014. "The attacks on The General Theory: How Keynes’s theory was lost," Discussion Papers 2016-14, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
  • Handle: RePEc:swe:wpaper:2016-14

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    More about this item


    Macroeconomics; Keynes; Effective demand; Consumption;

    JEL classification:

    • E60 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - General
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • E12 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General Aggregative Models - - - Keynes; Keynesian; Post-Keynesian
    • B22 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - Macroeconomics
    • A20 - General Economics and Teaching - - Economic Education and Teaching of Economics - - - General


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