Keynes: The First Mustachian Prophet?

crispydoc Uncategorized 8 Comments

John Maynard Keynes, famed British economist, was a piece of work.  He developed and promoted modern macroeconomic theory. Government monetary policy during the Great Recession of 2008 was based directly on his ideas, which many credit with having prevented a full-blown depression.  He was openly bisexual in the Victorian era (!), and kept diaries in which he tabulated his conquests numerically (In my best Seinfeld voice: What’s the deal with economists…is there anything they won’t count?).

A recent New Yorker article by John Lanchester caught my attention when it quoted a prophecy from Keyne’s 1930 essay, The Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren:“The love of money as a possession – as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life – will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.”

I am a huge fan of the Early Retirement Dude’s history of the FI movement. Still, I might amend it to include a mention of Keynes.  I find a great resonance when examining  Keynes non-traditional lifestyle and predictions for the future and how the current flag-bearers of the FI movement, nearly a century later, pursue their goals:

  1. Critical thinkers unafraid to challenge dogma.
  2. Eccentrics who buck societal norms.
  3. Hopeless optimists.
  4. Faith in the power of compound interest.
  5. Faith that technology will free us from the workplace.
  6. Obsessively track numerical progress.
  7. Channel leisure time into non-economic pursuits.

Others have suggested that Benjamin Franklin (who fits the profile above) was the first early retiree, and he certainly exemplified frugality and enthusiasm in pursuing passion projects with gusto after reaching FI. Where Franklin was a role model, Keynes was a dreamer.

Keynes contribution was a vision of FI sufficiently generous to include everyone, a utopian faith that progress could someday separate the need to generate income from the pursuit of meaning and fulfillment for society as a whole.

I’ll end with a quote from the same essay, which can be found in it’s succinct entirety here.

“Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

The strenuous purposeful money-makers may carry all of us along with them into the lap of economic abundance. But it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.”

Mr. Money Mustache could not have said it better.

Comments 8

  1. I did not know about his conquest journal. Some put a notch in the belt or the bedpost, but he was next level!
    He also figured we’d have a 15-hour workweek by now. If it weren’t for rampant lifestyle inflation since his time, he probably would have been right, or close to it.

    1. A friend from high school used tally marks in a pocket calendar to track liaisons with his girlfriend and display them boastfully to us, his fellow mathletes. When he came out later in life, he ‘fessed up to adopting a “doth protest too much, methinks” approach to coming to terms with his orientation. He’s now a (happily partnered, well-adjusted) psychiatrist.
      From what I’ve read, Keynes indulged his appetites on multiple levels, luxury included. He never let being the poster boy for “More!,” encumber his dream that his grandchildren might lead lives of “Enough!”
      Thanks for your patronage!

  2. “…But it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.”
    Wow, this is powerful! It is exciting to find others (past and present) who realize the importance of life and living well (vs. “stuff” and living enslaved to objects/societal norms).

    1. Hey Mrs. Adventure Rich,
      I agree, there’s a value of feeling part of some greater movement in history about to hit its stride. Mr. Money Mustache and other are fond of mentioning their beliefs as an extension of stoic philosophy in ancient Greece.
      While there’s a great deal of wisdom to be mined from the stoic tradition, I identify more with those responding to Keynes challenge: how will we handle our lives of abundance in a meaningful and important way? How will we use them to make others’ lives less difficult?
      It’s an exhilarating feeling to recognize a fellow eccentric’s words reaching out from the past to shake us by the lapels and remind us not to blow it.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Good stuff here. The financially independent ‘gentry’ of the Victorian era were never concerned with productivity and economic progress because they were long FIRE’d. With their abundant leisure time, they became patrons of fine art, literature, drama, philosophy and music that eventually led to the blooming of those economically “unproductive” disciplines. Then came the modern generation that forgot that these disciplines were to be pursued AFTER reaching FIRE and not as a means to fulfill economic necessity! Thus came a generation of liberal arts majors working in the fast food sector.

    1. There is tremendous irony in the fact that the student who studied philosophy (how to pursue the good and meaningful life) digs herself into college debt that requires her to subsequently live out a meaningless career slinging frappucinos for those who have attained the means to live the good and meaningful life, but who continually defer it because they’ve mistaken the income from the career for an end in itself.
      The beauty of FI is that it scales from blue collar to white collar workers, all of whom suddenly find themselves in the same section of the library re-reading the great philosophers and debating meaning the way informed citizens were meant to do. Leisure is no longer the exclusive domain of the Downton Abbey elite.
      Thanks for the clever insight – few others could persuade me Victorian gentry deserve our admiration!

  4. Dude !!
    Not much else to say other than thanks for sharing those final quotes. I am so using those as a caption for an upcoming photo of mine on facebook. Keep up the great writing and sharing of ideas. ~ Cheers

  5. Chris,
    There’s something incredibly energizing in those words from long ago.
    Appreciate your enthusiasm, and thanks for visiting.

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