The General Theory article is largely my own work (for now) and provided the starting point for the Critical Study. About half the expository part (or a quarter of the total) of the Critical Study, and nearly half the diagrams, will be found on Wikipedia.
Mark Hayes’s Economics of Keynes
‘The Economics of Keynes: a New Guide to The General Theory’ is a relatively recent study by Mark Hayes. It is rather specialised in its concerns and I doubt many readers will find it helpful as a first-level guide. Hayes is fully conversant with modern scholarship, which doesn’t change the story from how it was seen 50 years ago, but it’s useful to confirm that the literal reading of Keynes hasn’t been overturned. Available from amazon.co.uk but expensive.
Lawrence Klein’s Keynesian Revolution
A polemical broadside delivered from the Keynesian decks which could easily have sunk the Keynesian ship. According to Klein ‘the principal difference between Keynes and the classics centers around their theories of saving and investment’ (book p86, thesis p98). This is certainly much nearer the truth than Hicks’s explanation, but when Klein criticises the classical acceptance of Say’s Law (book pp44f, thesis pp58f) his argument is either complete nonsense, or else makes the difference rest on Keynes’s theory being a theory of hoarding, which it certainly isn’t (Critical Study, pp57ff).
In his thesis (pp90ff) he shows that classical theory has no difficulty in explaining unemployment from the premise of fixed wages. Keynes spilt endless ink trying to prove the opposite, and might not have been taken seriously had not Pigou, in attempting to refute him, tied himself in worse knots. When he came to reissue his thesis as a book, Klein may have felt that it wasn’t his job to furnish the classics with ammunition: he muted the impact of the passage (p79).
Second-hand copies are cheap and easy to find.
Mr Keynes and the ‘Classics’
This is the sole piece of secondary literature from which I gained significant help in writing for Wikipedia.
I worked mostly from the General Theory itself. The first 9 chapters are plain sailing; Chapter 10 is impenetrable. I made the mistake of turning to the secondary literature at this point (chiefly Kahn’s Making of the General Theory) which only led me astray. Chapters 12 and 13 were again easy. I shouldn’t have had serious difficulty with Chapter 14, but in fact I turned to Hicks who showed me the way through. The rest of the book was manageable.
Fonseca suggests that Harrod has a claim to some of the credit usually given to Hicks:
The equations of the IS-LM model were written down by Harrod (1937), but the (later) drawing of the diagram by Hicks robbed him of his claims to precedence.
Leaving aside the question of how precedence can be lost to a later work (Harrod and Hicks presented their papers at the same seminar in Oxford), I think he protests too much in favour of Harrod. He cannot be credited with the ideas (which were Keynes’s), nor did he add to them as Hicks did; and as an expositor of Keynes’s thought, his own notation was so unhelpful that all he managed was to cast a different shade of darkness.
Mr Keynes and the ‘Classics’ was reprinted in ‘Critical Essays in Monetary Theory’.
To be hurled aside with great force. Printed in forestfuls and accordingly cheap apart from the postage.
Development of Keynesian thought
Many books look at the history of Keynesian ideas. Generally I found them entertaining and useful. They include Robert Dimand’s ‘Origins of the Keynesian Revolution’, Kahn’s ‘The Writing of Keynes’ General Theory’, and Gonçalo Fonseca’s History of Economic Thought website.
Other writings from the Cambridge circle
Joan Robinson’s Theory of Imperfect Competition is a beacon of economic writing. If I express disappointment with other works (including her own ‘Introduction to the Theory of Employment’), consider me to be judging them against this standard.
Sraffa’s 1925/6 papers on diminishing returns are heavy reading (neither he nor his translators had much gift for exposition). Marshall seems to have been aware of the difficulties Sraffa was indicating, and to have tried to evade them by placing weight on ‘external economies’ as a mechanism which allows perfect competition to enjoy the benefits of monopoly. Much of Sraffa’s writing criticises this attempted escape, and since little is heard of external economies nowadays, he was probably successful; but the result is to condemn chunks of his badly written papers to purely historical significance. But I believe Sraffa’s ideas to have been cogent and important.