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Pethick-Lawrence Papers Keynes, John Maynard (1883–1946), 1st Baron Keynes, economist Imagen Con objetos digitales
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Letter from Lord Keynes to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

Treasury Chambers.—The Commons debate (on monetary co-operation after the war) was characterised by isolationism and anti-Americanism, but he has no doubt that the House will eventually change its mind.

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Transcript

Treasury Chambers, Great George Street, S.W.1
16th May, 1944.

My dear Pethick-Lawrence,

It was very comforting to get your letter. I spent seven hours in the cursed Gallery, lacerated in mind and body, and the only moment of satisfaction came when you rose to speak followed by the Chancellor. I thought both these contributions were first-class. For the rest, apart from another brave speech from Spearman, the whole thing was smeared by this unreasoning wave of isolationism and anti-Americanism which is for no {1} obscure reason passing over us just now. Somewhat superficial perhaps but nevertheless to be reckoned with.

However, I do not feel that any real harm was done. The thing will grind along. We shall produce a further version and when at a later date the House is eventually faced with the alternative of turning their back on all this sort of thing and begin to appreciate what that means, I have not the slightest doubt that they will change their minds.

Sincerely yours,
Keynes

The Rt. Hon. F. W. Pethick-Lawrence, M.P.
House of Commons.

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{1} ‘? an’ written above in pencil, probably by Pethick-Lawrence.

Carbon copy of a letter from F. W. Pethick-Lawrence to J. M. Keynes

His visit to Germany has suggested to him the idea of paying the fixed charges of railways out of taxation, leaving running costs to be borne out of the traffic. Asks whether this idea has been developed by economists. Alludes to French activities in Germany. Refers to Charles Trevelyan’s speech at the Political Economy Club propounding the capital levy.

Carbon copy of a letter from F. W. Pethick-Lawrence to J. M. Keynes

Clarifies his ideas about the provision of free public services, and discusses Pell’s book The Riddle of Unemployment.

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Transcript

20th. February, 1923.

Dear Keynes,

Thank you very much for your letter of the 14th inst. {1} in reply to mine.

I quite understand your point of caution with regard to offering public services to people below cost. This would of course not occur if the public relief was confined to payment of interest on capital already expended. In the case of the road it actually goes beyond this and covers current capital expenditure. I think probably I shall attack the problem in a very general way and consider simply the question of “Prices under National Ownership”. Assuming there is going to be no move in the direction of Socialism this is certainly a very important question.

If I put anything together suitable for “The Economic Journal” I will let you see it in case you care to use it. In the meanwhile if you happen to have in mind the name of any special book on Municipal Finance and Municipal Trading which bears on the subject, you might put it on a postcard and let me have it.

I have just been reading Pell’s book on “The Riddle of Unemployment” {2} which all boils down to his proposal that prices should be kept stabilised through manipulation of the bank rate with an inconvertible paper currency. If you are reviewing it yourself in “The Economic Journal” I shall be interested to see your views about it; if not I should like to know some time what you think of it. It is somewhat arrogantly written but it seemed to me offhand a very valuable suggestion. The two points of criticism that occur to me are, firstly, that there would be considerable opposition among business men to raising the bank rate just at the very time trade began to revive and prices show their first upward tendency, and secondly, whether even this proposal would in fact keep prices stationary or only make the oscillations in prices less intensive than at present. In the metaphor which I used in my little book on prices published by the Oxford Press {3}, would Pell’s machinery produce a completely sensitive governor?

Don’t trouble to reply to this if you are too busy.

Yours sincerely,
[blank]

J. Maynard Keynes Esq.,
46, Gordon Square,
W.C.1.

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{1} PETH 2/198.

{2} The Riddle of Unemployment and its Solution (1922), by Charles Edward Pell.

{3} Why Prices Rise and Fall (1920). A revised edition was issued in 1923.

Carbon copy of a letter from F. W. Pethick-Lawrence to J. M. Keynes

Summarises his recent address to the Free Trade Union Congress on ‘Pitfalls for Free Traders’, which provoked a surprising amount of indignation.

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Transcript

4th. October, 1926.

Dear Keynes,

Your book on “Laissez-Faire” {1} and the paragraphs about it in this week’s “Nation” prompt me to write you a word for your personal interest only, with regard to my visit to the Free Trade Union Congress at Manchester and my address on “Pitfalls for Free Traders” which I delivered to them.

I set out to establish five points:

1) That free traders were unwise if they said without qualifications when a new duty was being imposed that the price of the article would rise. I quoted artificial silk and motor cars as an illustration.

2) I urged them to disentangle free trade meaning free imports, from free trade meaning laissez-faire and unlimited individual competition.

3) I warned them that in opposing Imperial Preference, the argument based on the idea that the preference given to our traders in Australia was quite worthless, was rather a dangerous one to maintain.

4) I warned them that the doctrine of exports balancing imports was only true when invisible exports and imports were taken into consideration, and said I was doubtful whether any economists to-day (when there are pools of unemployment in various countries, unstable and artificial exchanges, and politically created loans, reparations, etc.) would be prepared to put his hand upon his heart and say that the current effect of an order for a million pounds placed abroad, would be identical with the same order placed at home.

5) I warned them that free traders must not be indifferent to labour conditions if they wanted to continue to have the support of the majority of the people of this country, and that though I thought tariffs were the wrong way, some consideration ought to be devoted to the question of production under sweated conditions in other lands.

I was purposely controversial but I was hardly prepared for the storm of indignation which I evoked. Every one of my points was very hotly challenged and had there been more time I should have had a torrent of opposition to meet. All the same, one or two of the best men in the meeting afterwards said that though they did not necessarily agree with everything, they thought there was a great deal of truth in what I had said.

Do not trouble to reply to this letter: I thought you would be amused to know how little some of the Manchester free traders have moved with the times.

Yours sincerely,
[blank]

J. Maynard Keynes Esq.,
46, Gordon Square,
W.C.1.

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{1} The End of Laissez-Faire (1926).

Carbon copy of a letter from F. W. Pethick-Lawrence to J. M. Keynes

Has returned from India. Encloses a letter summarising his views of the situation in that country (see 6/135), and two others describing the Indian National Congress (wanting) and his meeting with Gandhi, Tagore, and Bose (see 6/133). His wife is recovering from the illness she suffered on board ship. Refers to adverse reactions to his recent pronouncements on the subject of free trade.

Carbon copy of a letter from F. W. Pethick-Lawrence to J. M. Keynes

Explains why he opposes the introduction of compulsory saving.

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Transcript

22nd. November, 1939.

Dear Keynes,

Thank you for your letter. I am glad you like the speech I sent to you.

Of course I read with great interest your articles in The Times on compulsory saving as indeed I do everything of yours that gets into the public press, and I have thought about your proposal a great deal. I have not read Greenwood’s article so I do not know the line he took with regard to them.

I fully appreciate the motives that underlie your scheme and I recognise that if we have inflation during the present war the people who will be hardest hit will be the very poor who have tiny fixed incomes. At the same time I should not be frank with you if I did not add that I do not favour compulsory saving if it can possibly be avoided. The cirsumstances† of individual people are so different that what would be too small a modicum for some of them would be an impossible burden for others and would lead in my opinion to very great difficulty for them and give rise to much unemployment.

In any case you will probably agree that the time for the adoption of any compulsory scheme has not yet arrived while there are still a million and a half industrial workers unemployed as well as large numbers of people in the middle classes who are not included in this figure.

I therefore for the present prefer to see voluntary saving going forward. If the time should ever come when this proves inadequate some scheme of compulsory saving may have to be adopted. But it seems to me that such a scheme would have to include much more drastic proposals even than yours to prevent persons with other means selling capital and so evading the effective control of spending that you wish to enforce. Would it not be necessary for instance to close the Stock Exchange and prohibit other forms of realising capital? These in turn would create fresh difficulties of their own.

With regard to your suggestion that you should come to discuss this with myself and others at the House of Commons some day in the middle of the week, I have not had an opportunity yet of mentioning this to my colleagues; but for my own part and I am sure for some of them, it would be a very interesting experience as you have always so much light to throw on economic problems.

Yours sincerely,
[blank]

Professor J,† Maynard Keynes,
King’s College,
Cambridge.

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† Sic.

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