Saturday, 1 September 2007

Keynes and consistency

Michael Skapinker (FT Magazine, 25/26 August) has suggested that Keynes never made the remark popularly attributed to him on the subject of consistency ('When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?'). Perhaps not, but he did make a number of analagous remarks, for example in a speech to the Fabian Society on 21 February 1940. 'I am a highly teachable person', he said. 'I learn from criticism and before now have laid myself open to the reproof that my second thoughts are are often better then my first thoughts - which is an indication, some people think, of a dangerous instability of character'.

Keynes may have been inspired by an observation Lord Macmillan made when interrogating him in front of his committee on financial questions in 1930. 'The scientific person is never inconsistent;' Macmillan said, 'he merely progresses by changing his views; but in the political world you lay yourself open to the charge of inconsistency.' To this Keynes replied: 'And also it makes one hesitate to express one's views.'

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