Hayek and Keynes debating in Wonderland

Classic economists John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich August Hayek have a spirited policy debate, in the style of Lewis Carroll.

By , Guest blogger

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    If Alice had wanted to tell Wonderland about Hayek and Keynes, would she have recounted something like this?
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Here’s what Alice might have recited to the Caterpillar, had Charles Dodgson been a 20th century economist of sorts:

You are old, Maynard Keynes, and your theory’s askew,
It’s easy for one to see through it –
Yet everyone thinks that you’ve said something new.
Just how did you manage to do it?

In my youth, said the sage, I dabbled in stock,
For serious profits contesting,
And it wasn’t too long but I saw what a crock
Was the classical take on investing.

But my colleague, you’re making a dreadful mistake
By invoking such wild aggregation.
Why, these quantities hide what is really at stake –
Doesn’t that give you some aggravation?

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Why, dear Hayek, it’s simple! Investors will quail,
And we’re stuck with a dearth of employment.
With liquidity valued, consumption is frail
And needs government’s clever deployment.

You are wrong, my dear Keynes, and annoying me so
With your markets that fail by assumption.
You forget the incentives for knowledge to flow –
Do you think all investors lack gumption?

At Cambridge, Keynes countered, I sought out the Good,
And nowhere in commerce did find it.
Economy never could work as it should
If there weren’t public servants to mind it.

You’re mistaken, my friend, and a little naïve
You’re assuming that planners can’t sin, right?
But even if sainthood you thought they’d achieve
Pray, how would they learn such good insight?

In my youth, Keynes replied, at my father’s behest
I learned from the good and the mighty.
With proper intentions, the brightest and best
Can be certain of getting it right, see?

You’re a fox, wily Maynard, and slippery too,
Your justifications wide-ranging.
So, how can I possibly deal with your view
If your tracts for the times keep a-changing?

My secret, dear Hayek, is having appeal
To both rulers and dull academics.
You’re quite out of touch, sir! You don’t have the feel –
You think theory’s not helped by polemics!

But enough of your questions! I’ve troubles my own:
My disciples, they don’t understand me.
Their naïve mathematics! It just makes me groan.
Still, I’m famous, a sage, and a grandee!

(Based on Lewis Carroll’s “You are Old, Father William” from Alice in Wonderland – which itself is a parody of “The Old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them” by Robert Southey.)

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