The global financial crisis has refocused commentators on the life of intellectual/vipra John Maynard Keynes. Hedge fund manager Barton Biggs devotes the closing chapter of a recent book to Keynes’ aesthetics, investment style and economic influence. Ex-World Bank investment manager Liaquat Ahamed zeroes in on how Keynes became so influential in the first chapter of his new book Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke The World (Penguin Press, New York, 2009):
As I began writing of these four central bankers and the role each
played in setting the world on the path toward the Great Depression,
another figure kept appearing, almost intruding into the scene: John
Maynard Keynes, the greatest economist of his generation, though only
thirty-six when he first appears in 1919. During every act of the drama
so painfully being played out, he refused to keep quiet, insisting on
at least one monologue even if it was from offstage. Unlike the others,
he was not a decision maker. In those years, he was simply an
independent observer, a commentator. But at every twist and turn of the
plot, there he was holding forth from the wings, with his irreverent
and playful wit, his luminous and constantly questioning intellect, and
above all his remarkable ability to be right.
Keynes proved to be a useful counterpoint to the other four in
the story that follows. They were all great lords of finance,
standard-bearers of an orthodoxy that seemed to imprison them. By
contrast, Keynes was a gadfly, a Cambridge don, a self-made
millionaire, a publisher, journalist, and best-selling author who was
breaking free from the paralyzing consensus that would lead to such
disaster. Though only a decade younger than the four grandees, he might
have been born into an entirely different generation.
Ahamed offers several lessons here on self-mastery strategies for intellectuals/vipra who desire to influence the objective universe. Keynes mastered a repertoire of roles which developed his intellectual strengths through a boostrap process. Although an establishment outsider, Keynes influenced the frames and contexts of economic decision-makers and political leaders, and in doing so, created the Keynesian school of economics.
Keynes used luck, timing and dramatic situational contexts such as the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919 and the Great Depression in 1929-33 to protest against the establishment, create a reputation for asking difficult questions, and to envision solutions. Through each of these exogenous shocks he used his repertoire to gain influence and public notoriety, despite financial and health setbacks. From his initial antinomian commentary, Keynes’ scale and scope of his solution design expanded to its zenith: the co-design of the Bretton Woods system for international fixed exchange rate and monetary policy management, which lasted from 1944 to the Nixon Shock in 1971.
For consultants and foresight practitioners who wish to cast their influence into the world, Keynes’ career path and strategies illustrates one model of how to achieve this.