Joan Robinson On Michal Kalecki’s Claim To Priority
Keynesian policy is popular again. Many fiscal hawks are now arguing for stimulus, although they want to do it only temporarily. I came across this 1976 article Michal Kalecki: A Neglected Prophet by Joan Robinson where she argued once again for Michal Kalecki’s originality.
He told me that he had taken a year’s leave from the institute where he was working in Warsaw to write his own General Theory. (When his early Polish essays were published in English, it became clear that he had worked out the main points by 1933.) In Stockholm someone gave him Keynes’s book. He began to read it—it was the book that he had intended to write. He thought, perhaps further on there will be something different. No, it was his book all the way. He said: “I confess, I became ill. Three days I lay in bed. Then I thought—Keynes is better known than I am. These ideas will get across much quicker with him and then we can get on to the interesting question, which is of course the application of these theoretical ideas to policy-making. Then I got up.”
Kalecki did not make any public claim to his independent discovery of what became known as Keynes’s General Theory. I made it my business to blow his trumpet for him, but I was often met with skepticism. In the US, only Lawrence Klein recognized (in The Keynesian Revolution, 1947) that Kalecki’s system of analysis was as complete as Keynes’s and in some respects superior to it.
At the end of his life Michal told me that he felt he had done right not to make any claim to priority over Keynes. It would only have led to a tiresome kind of argument. Perhaps people have been skeptical of Kalecki’s contribution to the history of economic theory precisely because he did not demand recognition himself. Such dignified behavior is rare in this degenerate age. The only reference Kalecki ever made to the question is in the preface to a selection of essays, published, alas, posthumously. “The first part includes three papers published in 1933, 1934, and 1935 in Polish before Keynes’ General Theory appeared, and containing, I believe, its essentials.”3
3 Michal Kalecki, Selected Essays on the Dynamics of the Capitalist Economy, 1933-1970 (Cambridge University Press, 1971), p. vii.
There are many other by Joan Robinson where she argued this, especially this.
Kalecki and Keynes
Michal Kalecki swam into my ken just after the publication of the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, in 1936. The small group who had been working with Maynard Keynes during the gestation of the book understood what it was about, but amongst the public as a whole it was still a mystery. Kalecki, however, knew it all. He had taken a year’s leave from the institute where he was working in Warsaw to write the theory of employment but Keynes’ book came out, and got all the glory. Michal never made any claim for himself and I made it my business to blow his trumpet for him, but most of the profession (including Keynes) just thought that I was being kind to a lame duck. Only since the publication of his essays written in Polish from 1933 to 1935 has it been generally recognized that he had already worked out all the essentials of what became known as Keynes’ theory (Selected Essays on the Dynamics of the Capitalist Economy, Cambridge University Press, 1971). He showed that it is investment, not private saving, that brings about capital accumulation; that a government deficit, in a slump, will increase employment; that cutting wages only makes the slump worse; that the rate of interest depends upon supply and demand of the stock of money, not on the flow of saving, and that it is the forward-looking expectation of profits that induces firms to accumulate.
The question of glory did not seem to me to be important. As Michal was the first to admit, his ideas would have taken a long time to establish while with Keynes they burst upon the world as a revolution. But I was deeply impressed by the fact that two thinkers of such different background and habits of thought could arrive at the same diagnosis of the economic situation. Logic is the same for everybody; the same logical structure, if it is not fudged, can support quite different ideologies, but for most social scientists ideology leaks into the logic and corrupts it.
In the natural sciences, it is common enough for the same discovery to come almost simultaneously from two independent sources. The general development of a subject throws up a new problem and two equally original minds find the same answer, which turns out to be validated by further work. In the history of economic thought, the case of the discovery of the theory of employment by Keynes and Kalecki is unique.
– Joan Robinson in PORTRAIT: Michal Kalecki, Challenge, Vol. 20, No. 5, November/December, 1977, pp. 67-69, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40719591
Kalecki and Keynes, Part 2
Continuing from the previous post, Kalecki And Keynes …
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was published in January, 1936.
Meanwhile, … , Michal Kalecki had found the same solution.
His book, Essays in the Theory of Business Cycles, published in Polish in 1933, clearly states the principle of effective demand in mathematical form. At the same time he was already exploring the implications of the analysis for the problem of a country’s balance of trade, along the same lines that I followed in drawing riders from the General Theory in essays published in 1937.
The version of his theory set out in prose (published in ‘Polska Gospodarcza’ No. 43, X, 1935) could very well be used today as an introduction to the theory of employment.
He opens by attacking the orthodox theory at the most vital point – the view that unemployment could be reduced by cutting money wage rates. And he shows (a point that Keynesians came to much later, and under his influence) that , of monopolistic influences prevent prices from falling when wage costs are lowered, the situation is still worse, because reduced purchasing power causes a fall in sales on consumption goods …
Michal Kalecki’s claim to priority of publication is indisputable.
– Joan Robinson, Kalecki And Keynes in Essays In Honour Of Michal Kalecki, 1964.