In his diatribe against David Harvey, Brad DeLong called upon the authority of John R. Hicks more than once.
“He (Harvey) doesn’t understand Keynes, probably never read Hicks…”
And most tellingly,
And it is at this point that we draw on neoclassical economics to save us–specifically, John Hicks (1937), “Mr. Keynes and the Classics,” the fons et origo of the neoclassical synthesis. Hicks’s IS curve gives us a menu of combinations of levels of production and interest rates at which private investment spending and public deficit spending are financed out of the flow of savings.
Presenting the J.R. Hicks of “Mr. Keynes and the Classics” and the IS curve as the ultimate authority on Keynes is disingenuous. Hicks himself repudiated in the 1970s his earlier formulation. But meanwhile its adoption by the US proponents of the “Keynesian neo-classical synthesis” could best be seen as an attempt to inoculate economics against the more radical implications of Keynes’s theory. A footnote from an essay by Luigi Pasinetti elaborates:
A simplified didactical tool, a mere device of exposition, had become so widespread as to become misleading — too restrictive a tool for the purpose of accurately conveying Keynes’s complex original message. Hicks kept on re-thinking his theory and slowly moving away from his original IS/LM formulation. In the late 1960s, early 1970s, he courageously took a break-away step. He strongly criticised, and actually, explicitly repudiated his successful little analytical toy. To stress his break-away, he went as far as declaring openly that he had ceased to be a neoclassical economist (in his words: “J.R. Hicks, [is] a ‘neoclassical’ economist now deceased…”). And in order to underline his change of mind, he even ceased to sign his articles by the name of J.R. Hicks and began to sign them by the name of John Hicks (in his words: “Clearly I need to change my name… John Hicks [is] a non-neoclassic who is quite disrespectful towards his ‘uncle’ [J.R.].
Of course, the story is more complex than that, even, and for Pasinetti’s full take on Hick’s Conversion there is no substitute for reading the article if for no other reason than to relish Joan Robinson’s acerbic remark that:
John Hicks noticed the difference between the future and the past and became dissatisfied with the IS/LM but (presumably to save face for his predecessor, J.R.) he argued that Keynes’s analysis was only half in time and half in equilibrium.
So much for “knowing more about Keynesian economics than Joan Robinson”. DeLong thus cites as definitive a “little analytical toy” that the toy-maker himself repudiated and cherry picks quotes from Joan Robinson who elsewhere disparaged the very toy that DeLong upholds as definitive. Sheesh.
I don’t want to belabor Uncle J.R.’s culpability for “little analytical toys” and “simplifying assumptions” that make the neo-classical economist’s work more exciting, more lucrative and less relevant to the real world. But I do want to mention Hicks’s assumption about the hours of work that has displaced an important argument from neo-classical economics that, if widely known, would decisively demonstrate the futility of the tautologies many contemporary neo-classicals amuse themselves with — Sydney Chapman’s theory of the hours of labor. Think of it as the labor version of the Cambridge Capital Controversy.
As Chris Nyland wrote some twenty years ago, Chapman’s theory essentially confirmed Marx’s regarding the extensive and intensive dimensions of the hours of work. Sadly, with few exceptions, Marxists appear no more eager than neo-classicals to examine that compelling — and this year 100-year old — theoretical convergence.