Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Rhetorical Consequences of Mr. Keynes: Intellectuals and the Communication of Economic Ideas

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posted on 2021-11-10, 22:59 authored by Lepper, Larry

Economists interested in the communication of ideas often turn their attention to the importance of information to the economic exchange process and in so doing often focus on specific aspects of an economy. For example, economists who highlight the importance of institutions see information as an institution’s lifeblood, while economists interested in technology often see information as key to technological advances and economic development. This dissertation takes a broader view of information, by analysing Maynard Keynes’ The Economic Consequences of the Peace and focusing on the processes and ways in which economists successfully communicate their ideas, especially to non-economists. Keynes was particularly effective in communicating his ideas, especially following the publication of Economic Consequences in December 1919. At this time Keynes was already regarded as an eminent economist and his book helped cement his reputation and established him as a public intellectual. Despite its success, the book was a controversial work, critics often accusing Keynes of being more a political propagandist than a serious economist. Keynes was stung by the criticism and consistently maintained Economic Consequences was a serious work of economics. The conclusion of this dissertation is that Keynes was correct in his assertion. The key to this understanding can be largely attributed to his rhetoric. First, he provided a wide range of statistics, many from official sources, to support his central argument that if the terms of the Versailles Treaty were imposed on Germany, not only would Germany suffer, but all Europe would be reduced to an economic dark age and likely face further destructive warfare. Furthermore, his inductive and descriptive use of statistics was rhetorically successful as it provided a “factual, objective and neutral” authority for his arguments. The second way Keynes communicated his economic arguments was with his frequent and rich use of metaphors. By using the tools of literary criticism it is demonstrated that all Keynes’ arguments have an economic focus. His use of metaphors enabled him to reach a wide audience with persuasive rhetoric, unusual in a serious work of economics. The third indicator that Economic Consequences was a serious work of economics can be found in the economic and cultural contexts that surrounded Keynes. His writing style was influenced by his friendships in the Cambridge Apostles and Bloomsbury circles, especially those of Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf. These, and other influences such as Eton, Moore’s philosophy and psychological realism, help explain Keynes’ unique style of writing and why his explicit attempts at persuasion were often successful. The examination presented here of Keynes’ activities as a public intellectual, his use of statistics, a literary criticism of his prose, and the influences on his writing style, allow a re-reading of Economic Consequences and adds to our understanding of how economists can successfully communicate their ideas.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Economic History

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Economics and Finance


Singleton, John; Ferrall, Charles