Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Keynes on Eugenics, Race, and Population Control | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on November 16, 2019

Eugenics…it back.

In September 1925, he traveled with the SCR to the Soviet Union and he lectured to the Soviet Politburo. He said, “There is no more important object of deliberate state policy than to secure a balanced budget of population.”

The literature on John Maynard Keynes’s life and ideas is enormous. However, his defenders have neglected his views on population. Why? His ideas in this area are highly problematic. This article provides documentation that shows Keynes advocated extensive government controls on the size and quality of the population.

Keynes was interested in eugenics from the very beginning of his academic career. His first major academic project was his fellowship dissertation, submitted in December 1907. In the dissertation, he refers to Sir Francis Galton’s essay Probability: The Foundation of Eugenics. This shows that Keynes was already interested in eugenics by 1907.1

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The famous British economist Alfred Marshall was extremely close to the Keynes family. Keynes’s biographers note that he and Marshall debated Karl Pearson in 1910, but they suppressed the debate’s relation to eugenics.2 Marshall wrote to Keynes on July 14, 1910, “I am keeping as clear as I can of your ground & urging every one interested in Eugenics to read your paper. It is splendid.”3 In 1911, Keynes became treasurer of the Cambridge University Eugenics Society. On May 18, Marshall sent Keynes payment for lifetime membership in the society.4

On May 2, 1914, Keynes gave a speech called “Population.” This is perhaps his most important work on population. Unfortunately, this inaccessible speech was not included in The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes. A full transcript of the speech is included in the appendix below. After praising Malthus, he declares,

That degree of populousness in the world, which is most to be desired, is not to be expected from the working of natural order. … The natural degree of populousness is likely to exceed the ideal. … In most places the material condition of mankind is inferior to what it might be if their populousness were to be diminished. … In many, if not in most, parts of the world there actually exists at the present time a denser population than is compatible with a high level of economic wellbeing.5

To Keynes’s mind, “there would be more happiness in the world if the population of it were to be diminished.”6 Thus, he advocated government violence to restrict the size of the population. He wanted government to “mould law and custom deliberately to bring about that density of population which there ought to be.”7

Keynes was especially concerned about overpopulation in the East: “India, Egypt and China are gravely overpopulated.”8 He thought his race was facing a “race struggle.”9 He advocated the use of imperialistic government violence against Eastern races to protect the “white population.”

Almost any measures seem to me to be justified in order to protect our standard of life from injury at the hands of more prolific races. Some definite parceling out of the world may well become necessary; and I suppose that this may not improbably provoke racial wars. At any rate such wars will be about a substantial issue.10

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In the early 1920s, Keynes wrote an outline for a book called Essays on the Economic Future of the World. The fourth essay was on “Population” and the tenth essay was on “Education, Eugenics.” Interestingly, the eighth essay was on Keynes’s “Theoretical socialist framework.”

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On January 4, 1923, Keynes wrote an article in the press called “The Underlying Principles.” He advocates restricting the number of births with government violence. But this may be insufficient. He imagines “positive policy” to reduce the population.

In the light of present knowledge I am unable to see any possible method of materially improving the average human lot which does not include a plan for restricting the increase in numbers [of population]. … It may prove sufficient to render the restriction of offspring safe and easy. … Perhaps a more positive policy may be required. … [I] would like to substitute [government] schemes conceived by the mind in place of the undesigned outcome of instinct and individual advantage playing within the pattern of existing institutions.11

On June 8, 1924, Keynes wrote an outline for a book called Prolegomena to a New Socialism. As shown below, he lists “Eugenics, Population” as “Chief Preoccupations of the State.” Clearly, government control over the quantity and quality of the population was key to his new socialism, or “rightly conceived socialism of the future.”12

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In July 1924, Keynes was a founding vice president of the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR (SCR for short). This socialist society was financed and controlled by VOKS, the Soviet government’s international propaganda agency. In September 1925, he traveled with the SCR to the Soviet Union and he lectured to the Soviet Politburo. He said, “There is no more important object of deliberate state policy than to secure a balanced budget of population.”13 He exclaimed,

I believe that there are many other matters, left hitherto to individuals or to chance, which must become in future the subject of deliberate state policy and centralised state control. Let me mention two — (1) the size and quality of the population and (2) the magnitude and direction of employment of the new national savings year by year [that is, socialization of investment].14

Leon Trotsky attended Keynes’s speech, and he observed: “Even the most progressive economist Keynes told us only the other day that the salvation of the British economy lies in Malthusianism! And for England, too, the road of overcoming the contradiction between city and country leads through Socialism.”15

Keynes was the chairman of the Malthusian League. He declared in his 1927 address to the league: “We of this society are neo-Malthusians,” and “I believe that for the future the problem of population will emerge in the much greater problem of Hereditary and Eugenics. Quality must become the preoccupation.”

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Keynes was vice president of the British Eugenics Society from 1937 to 1944. Just 66 days before his death in 1946, he endorsed “the most important, significant and, I would add, genuine branch of sociology which exists, namely eugenics.”16

Keynes’s views on population are central to his politico-economic vision. No doubt, he viewed population as one of the most important problems facing humankind: “The question of population is the first and perhaps the most urgent and important of the problems facing those who seek to improve the material condition of mankind.”17 Keynes’s ideas on population must serve as a warning about Keynesian theory and policy. His Malthusianism indicates that he had a defective understanding of the division of labor and the law of returns. Beyond that, his population policies reveal the totalitarianism inherent in the Keynesian vision.

Appendix: “Population” by John Maynard Kenyes (1914)

Robert Malthus, the first of the Cambridge economists, came up to Jesus [College at Cambridge University] in 1784. He is said to have been fond of cricket and skating, obtained prizes for Latin and English Declamations, graduated as ninth wrangler in 1788 and was admitted Fellow of Jesus in 1793. He resided irregularly up to his marriage in 1804, and had the pleasure of signing an order to cut Coleridge off the kitchens for non-payment of his college bill, an indignity not unavenged afterwards by various members of the Lake School. The grandfather or great-grandfather, in his intellectual associations, of some of our own, Malthus was an original member of that Political Economy Club whose dinners still enliven the first Wednesday of every month, and of the Royal Statistical Society whose teas depress the first Tuesday.

In later life Malthus engaged in the controversy with Ricardo, out of which was hatched the Ricardian law of Rent; and the loss of his fellowship through marriage was the occasion of his becoming the first occupant of the first chair of Political Economy established in this country, the Professorship of History and Political Economy in the East-India College at Haileybury.

What we know of Malthus’s father Daniel must be added to these few details relating to Jesus and Haileybury, to complete a picture of ease, reflection, and gentleness. Daniel Malthus had been a friend and correspondent of Rousseau, and, it is alleged, one of his executors. He spent his life at the Rookery, ‘a small but beautiful estate’ between Guildford and Dorking, and is described as ‘a gentleman of good family and independent fortune attached to a country life, but much occupied in classical and philosophic pursuits, and with a strong bias towards foreign literature.’ Diffidence or idleness had prevented his bringing his powers to fruition; he was conscious of this; and anxious that his son should not suffer a like fate. He spent, therefore, peculiar pains on his son’s education, choosing for one of his instructors Gilbert Wakefield, and kept him under his own immediate supervision, until the time came for him to go to Wakefield’s college Jesus; — a course of action commented on thus by Malthus’s biographer Otter — ‘From some peculiar opinions which his father seems to have entertained respecting education, he was never sent to any public school; and in this respect, is one, amongst many other remarkable instances in the present time, of men who have risen into eminence under the disadvantage of an irregular and desultory education.’

A few letters, which have been preserved, written by Daniel Malthus to his son, when the latter was an undergraduate at Jesus, present the father’s character in a strong and amiable light. I will quote from a letter written by his father to Robert Malthus on his election to a fellowship: —

I heartily congratulate you upon your success; it gives me a sort of pleasure which arises from my own regrets. The things which I have missed in life, I should the more sensibly wish for you. Alas! my dear Bob, I have no right to talk to you of idleness, but when I wrote that letter to you with which you were displeased, I was deeply impressed with my own broken purposes and imperfect pursuits; I thought I foresaw in you, from the memory of my own youth, the same tendency to lose the steps you had gained, with the same disposition to self-reproach, and I wished to make my unfortunate experience of some use to you. It was, indeed, but little that you wanted it, which made me the more eager to give it you, and I wrote to you with more tenderness of heart than I would in general pretend to, and committed myself in a certain manner which made your answer a rough disappointment to me, and it drove me back into myself. You have, as you say, worn out that impression, and you have a good right to have done it; for I have seen in you the most unexceptionable character, the sweetest manners, the most sensible and the kindest conduct, always above throwing little stones into my garden, which you know I don’t easily forgive, and uniformly making everybody easy and amused about you. Nothing can have been wanting to what, if I were the most fretful and fastidious, I could have required in a companion; and nothing even to my wishes for your happiness, but where they were either whimsical, or unreasonable, or most likely mistaken. I have often been on the point of taking hold of your hand and bursting into tears at the time that I was refusing you my affections: my approbation I was precipitate to give you.

Write to me, if I could do anything about your church, and you want any thing to be done for you, such as I am, believe me, dear Bob, yours most affectionately,

Daniel Malthus

Malthus’s first essay in authorship, The Crisis, a View of the Recent Interesting State of Great Britain by a Friend to the Constitution, written in 1796, in his thirtieth year, in criticism of Pitt’s administration, failed to find a publisher. Extracts quoted by Otter and by Empson indicate that his interest was already aroused in the social problems of political economy, and even in the question of population itself:

On the subject of population [he wrote] I cannot agree with Archdeacon Paley; who says, that the quantity of happiness in any country is best measured by the number of people. Increasing population is the most certain possible sign of the happiness and prosperity of a state; but the actual population may be only a sign of the happiness that is past.

In 1798, when Malthus was thirty-two years old, there was published anonymously An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects the future improvement of Society: with remarks on the speculations of Mr Godwin, M. Condorcet, and other writers.

It was in conversation with Daniel Malthus that there occurred to Robert Malthus the generalization which has made him famous. The story is well known on the authority of Bishop Otter who had it from Malthus himself. In 1793 Godwin’s Political Justice had appeared. In frequent discussion the father defended, and the son attacked, the doctrine of a future age of perfect equality and happiness.

And when the question had been often the subject of animated discussion between them, and the son had rested his cause, principally upon the obstacles which the tendency of population, to increase faster than the means of subsistence, would always throw in the way; he was desired to put down in writing, for maturer consideration, the substance of his argument, the consequence of which was the Essay on Population. Whether the father was converted or not we do not know, but certain it is that he was strongly impressed with the importance of the views and the ingenuity of the argument contained in the MS., and recommended his son to submit his labours to the public.

The first edition, an octavo volume of about 50,000 words, is an almost completely different, and for posterity a superior book, to the second edition of five years later in quarto, which by the fifth edition had swollen to some 250,000 words in three volumes. 250,000 by an elaboration of proof and historical research, without any substantial improvement in the author’s clear and striking statement of the fundamental principles involved. Just as the fruitfulness and originality of Cambridge is largely preserved by the deficiencies of the University library, so the first edition of this book is not really the worse from having been written, as Malthus explains in the preface to the second edition, ‘on the impulse of the occasion, and from the few materials which were then within my reach in a country situation.’

Malthus’s Essay is a very great book. The author was deeply conscious of the bigness of the ideas he was elaborating. It is no case of a man of second-rate powers hitting, more by good fortune than desert, on an unexpectedly important generalisation. Indeed his leading idea had been largely anticipated in a clumsier way by other eighteenth century writers without attracting attention.

The high-spirited rhetoric of a young man writing in the last years of the Directory disappears from the late editions, which are quieter, more businesslike, more strictly attentive to the duties of a scientific pioneer in the study of sociological history.

This is how he begins —

the rest here

Be seeing you

Policy Science Kills - Foundation for Economic Education



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