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Retrospectives: Who Said “Debauch the Currency”: Keynes or Lenin?

Authors: White, Michael V.; Schuler, Kurt

Source: The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 23, Number 2, Spring 2009 , pp. 213-222(10)

Publisher: American Economic Association

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Abstract:

One frequently quoted passage from the work of John Maynard Keynes is that “the best way to destroy the capitalist system [is] to debauch the currency.” The passage, attributed to Vladimir Illyich Lenin, appears in Keynes' book The Economic Consequences of the Peace, which became an international bestseller when it was published in 1919. Economic historian Frank W. Fetter and others have expressed doubt that Keynes was really quoting Lenin because they found no such statement in Lenin's collected published writings. Fetter suggested that Keynes based his remark on stories about what the Soviets were supposed to be saying that he heard at the Paris peace conference of 1919. It is now possible to show that Keynes based his remark on a report of an interview with Lenin published by London and New York newspapers in April 1919. Keynes' discussion of inflation in the Economic Consequences can then be read as an extended commentary on the remarks attributed to Lenin in the interview. While the report of the interview was not reprinted after 1919, it will be also shown here that Lenin responded to Keynes in a speech that was reprinted in his Collected Works.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/089533009788430553

Publication date: March 1, 2009

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  • The Journal of Economic Perspectives (JEP) attempts to fill a gap between the general interest press and most other academic economics journals. The journal aims to publish articles that will serve several goals: to synthesize and integrate lessons learned from active lines of economic research; to provide economic analysis of public policy issues; to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas among the fields of thinking; to offer readers an accessible source for state-of-the-art economic thinking; to suggest directions for future research; to provide insights and readings for classroom use; and to address issues relating to the economics profession.
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