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The Economic Eugenicism of John Maynard Keynes

Phillip W. Magness, Sean J. Hernandez


Scholars of John Maynard Keyness life and contributions to economics have tended to approach his involvement in the early twentieth-century eugenics movement by either (1) historicizing it as a regrettable political curiosity with only minor connections to his larger system of economic thought or (2) positing an evolutionary turn in Keyness thinking that led him to abandon his earlier neo-Malthusian principles in the late 1920s. In this article, we reexamine the role that eugenicist beliefs played in the formation of Keynesian macroeconomic theory, particularly as it concerned the problem of unemployment. Turning to a historical analysis of Keyness writings and accompanying archival material, we present evidence of a continuity of eugenicist themes that links his early work on population control to his embrace of state-organized economic design at the mature phase of his career. Taken in sum, eugenics adds a complicated moral dimension to the genesis of Keynesian thought, though one that we also note is highly consistent with the technocratic inclinations of progressive era policymaking.

Phillip W. Magness and Sean J. Hernandez, "The Economic Eugenicism of John Maynard Keynes," Journal of Markets & Morality 20, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 79-100

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