Keynes on the Entrepreneur
| Peter Klein |
Robert Solow, in his review of Thomas McCraw’s Shumpeter biography, emphasizes the contrast between Schumpeter and Keynes. Schumpter’s Business Cycles (1939) was long, detailed, convoluted, and mostly ignored. Keynes’s General Theory (1936) was — at least as interpreted by Meade, Hicks, Hansen, etc. — short, straightforward, operational, and hugely popular. (The book itself is a tough read.) Not surprisingly, Solow’s sympathies lie with Keynes. Schumpeter, he writes,
seemed not to understand what Keyensian economics was about, or why it won over the younger [i.e., Solow's] generation. For example, he described Keynes as the apostle of consumer spending (in contrast to his own emphasis on innovational investment). But in fact consumer spending is passive in Keynes’s General Theory. The driving force of the aggregate economy is actually investment spending; and Keynes put great causal weight on “animal spirits” and “the state of long-run expectations,” both of which are much more akin to entrepreneurial drive.
It’s been a while since I’ve read Keynes carefully (and hopefully will be a while before I do so again), but this can’t be right. To be sure, “entrepreneurial behavior,” meaning aggregate investment, is critially important in the Keyensian system. However, it is precisely because entrepreneurs are guided not by reasonable conjectures, but by animal spirits — i.e., because investment is so unstable — that all the action lies with consumption. Central planners have no choice but to manipulate aggregate demand; there is little they can do about (highly volatile) aggregate investment.
More generally, Keyes’s investment theory has little to do with any systematic account of the entrepreneur and his function. Am I wrong?