The first Keynesian?

It is the fate of famous thinkers to be reduced to caricature. Those outside the limelight at least keep their nuance.

Since reading Zachary Carter’s biography of Keynes earlier this year, I’ve been exploring more of the great man’s nuance. ‘Keynesian’ is now synonymous with massive crisis spending programs, but this characterisation both fails to adequately describe the practicalities of a Keynesian program, while omitting entirely the Keynesian political project.

A more complete interrogation is the goal of this 2018 book review in the LRB by Adam Tooze. This passage in particular was striking:


Cycling and population density

From this piece in the LRB on the history of tennis comes a fascinating fact about cycling:

One reason road cycling has historically been so much more important in France, Spain and Italy than in the UK is that in those more sparsely populated countries getting a crowd together in one place to watch a match was difficult, whereas during a Grand Tour your sporting heroes could come to you

Today’s Grand Tour

Through the 17th to 19th centuries it was common for the wealthy children of the European (especially English) elite to go on a ‘Grand Tour;’ a proto-elite package tour through the great centers of culture and power in Europe. The goal was to absorb classical culture – travelers were often accompanied by a learned guide – and presumably hobnob with familiar networks of elites abroad.

In a piece on the botanist and early scientist Joseph Banks (of Banksia and Botany Bay fame), Steven Shapin quotes Banks sneering at the Grand Tour in the same tone used for ‘all-inclusive’ package tours today:

The usual late 18th-century itinerary for polite travelling and collecting was the Grand Tour, but the young Banks had a different idea. (‘Every blockhead does that,’ he said. ‘My grand tour shall be one round the whole globe.’)

Today the Grand Tour has been replaced by the gap-year backpacking trip. Although I’m not sure comparisons are workable in an age of mass travel.

A hard sell

In a wonderful piece for the LRB, Tim Parks retraces the steps of Garibaldi as he fled Rome in 1849 during the long wars for Italian unification.

(Garibaldi, nor the many wars of national liberation in which he made his name, is not as well known outside Europe [or even Italy] as he should be. I highly recommend even a cursory look through his wikipedia page.)

Garibaldi was an enemy of the Church, the reactionary force that stood in the way of Italian unification and exerted enormous control over the Italian peasantry. Tim recounts that:

In all his years of campaigning for a united Italy, Garibaldi later reflected, not a single peasant volunteered to fight with him.

At a time when nationalism is ascendant, and claims legitimacy by championing the long ignored lower rungs of society, a world where nationalistic appeals fall deaf on the ears of the downtrodden comes as a shock. Perspective is everything.