Mar 192013

I hadn’t planned on starting my birthday reading economic history, but that’s what happened. And the exercise ended happily indeed. Here is John Maynard Keynes on thought, feelings and action from the final paragraph of his essay:

…We need by an effort of the mind to elucidate our own feelings. At present our sympathy and our judgement are liable to be on different sides, which is a painful and paralysing state of mind. … We need a new set of convictions which spring naturally from a candid examination of our own inner feelings in relation to the outside facts.

Keynes is talking about the conflicting fears and incentives that hamper economic reforms the United States and Europe, but the observation has a wider reach. And it hit a nerve. Earlier in the essay he quotes an equally insightful (and provocative) line from David Hume:

‘Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.’ ‘Tis not contrary to reason for me to choose my total ruin to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian, or person totally unknown to me … Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.’

Both are from “The End of Laissez-faire” (1926).

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