Don't Speak Evil of the Dead
Two of America's most eminent economists took issue with Professor Martin S. Feldstein '61 when he called John Maynard Keynes a "defunct scribbler of years past" at a symposium yesterday.
Feldstein, the former head of President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors, also said that using Keynes' theories to steer national economic policy was the reason for most of today's economic woes.
Yale Professor James Tobin '39, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1981, led the counterattack, calling Feldstein's description of Keynes a "caricature and a travesty."
"The fact that Keynesian economics is defunct and has led to bad policy cannot be supported by the record," Tobin said.
Although Godkin Lecturer Paul A. Samuelson was moderating the symposium, entitled "Harvard and Keynesian Economics, 1936-86," he also berated Feldstein for his comment, nothing that it is only by utilizing the tools which Keynes himself invented that economists can now see his shortcomings.
Indeed, the economic revolution which Keynes inspired was "the most significant event in economic scientific history in this century," Samuelson said.
In a brief rebuttal period, Feldstein said that he did not mean to downplay Keynes' importance in economic history but only to suggest that the over-implementation of his theories into public policy led to large deficits and a decline in capital formation.
A related confrontation ensued when Feldstein asserted that Keynes "made a virtue of deficit spending" and didn't believe in a future debt.
Economics Professor Benjamin M. Friedman '66 responded to Feldstein's claim, saying "there is nothing to make one suspect that Keynes supported deficit spending in all cases."
Feldstein said that when he learned who his fellow panelists were, he knew there "would not be unanimity" in the discussion and that he was "outnumbered."