Geoff Harcourt on Keynesian theory

In this enlightening video, Professor Geoff Harcourt, who was a distinguished pupil and colleague of Joan Robinson at Cambridge University, discusses a range of issues in Keynesian and post-Keynesian economics.

He covers the need for pluralism in economics; his definition of post-Keynesianism; the work of some of its key protagonists; uncertainty and its impact on business and the economy; the capital theory debates; and finally his vision for analysing a modern capitalist economy, and his most enduring intellectual influences.

2 thoughts on “Geoff Harcourt on Keynesian theory

  1. Welcome to the year 2020, Nick. I’ve been waiting with impatience for new posts from my favourite blog.

    The Harcourt interview makes for a buoyant start into another year of economics, bringing up a range of issues that inspire me to comment:

    I met Harcourt when I was studying economics at Cambridge — quiet a cheeky fellow then, dominant in a jovial, perhaps sometimes patronising way, always happy to take centre, always ready for a fight.

    Pluralism cannot be stressed enough — good point, Geoff.

    I have never understood what the capital controversy was about, nor have I ever grasped the significance of Sraffa.

    In a comment in this blog on Joan Robinson — —, I raised the question: have her economic insights ever been adopted by policymakers, has she ever had an impact on the real world?

    I feel, I should extend the question to Harcourt and his clique, including John Eatwell, who then struck me as vain more than anything else. They certainly were good at nurturing a certain mystique, but what have they achieved other than that?

    Harcourt’s last remark about multinationals is a welcome talking point, reminding me of the need to challenge anti-capitalist preconceptions, and recognise that understanding the “real life” of multinationals demands a highly differentiated and open-minded approach.

    Which brings to mind another memory of Cambridge. The best teacher I ever had, John Sender, made us look at the facts of the Third World, constantly insisting on empirical evidence to back up our conclusions.

    This made life difficult for us students as we were prone to regurgitate dependency theories and other popular stock views about the exploitation of LDCs.

    Exposed to facts and differing views, one day, I found myself writing an essay about MNCs, in which I concluded that in a number of cases “the fuckor had become the fuckee” (a quote from the literature on which my research was based).

    • Thanks for this Georg. I have to admit that I was one of the ‘unlucky’ ones who applied to Cambridge to study economics and didn’t get in.

      Still, this reinforced my determination to study non-mainstream views in economics, which I thought I would have been exposed to at Cambridge more than elsewhere.

      I have since learned that even in the 1990s, and certainly today, heterodox economics (which often means leftist though not always cf the Austrian school) and its practitioners have, as in many universities around the world, been driven out of economics departments to business schools, development studies departments and the like. Ultimately a year at SOAS was then the best that I could have hoped for as the economics department there is pretty heterodox, with a focus on political economy, though it tries to expose students to mainstream theories as well, in order to critique them.

      John Sender was at SOAS and taught me a little bit. However, the convener of my course was Mushtaq Khan, whose research includes the political economy of industrial policy in late developers and the role of state in helping to foster dynamic learning by doing processes and the accumulation of ‘capabilities’ in organisations, firms, the state etc in countries trying to catch up economically with the rich world. Few have managed it, so learning the lessons of successes and failures is a vital issue. He also focuses very much on corruption in poor countries and the role this plays in relation to development.

      Re Geoff Harcourt, there are some long interviews on youtube (Part 1 is at ) in which he recounts his life and work, which I found quite entertaining, as he knows how to recount a good story, especially if you are interested in some of the Cambridge figures in economics.

      Institutionalist economist Geoffrey Hodgson has recently brought out a very interesting book “Is There a Future for Heterodox Economics” in which he is critical of some modern heterodox thinking, much of which has evolved from work of figures on the left at the economics department at Cambridge such as Joan Robinson, but which, he argues, has not made much impact in the world at large, as you mention. Hodgson himself is heterodox, and of the centre-left, but is willing to criticise heterodoxy from within, which is refreshing.

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