Write in English, Stupid!

Who is the founder of Keynesian economics? Of course, it is John Maynard Keynes. And when did his theory see the light of day? In 1936, of course, when Keynes published his main work, “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”. Rooted in the experiences of the Great Depression, Keynesianism has called for deep engagement of the State in economic activity, mainly through fiscal policy (i.e., government spending). The goal should be (and this is what politicians who claim to be Keynesians often forget about) to smooth business cycles – spending in times of busts, but saving during booms. All this should be known to everybody who has at least a slight idea about the history of economics. But I bet that not many know that Keynes’s theory was not new when he published it. It was new to him, and it was new to the biggest part of the public – but there had been somebody who had developed a highly similar theory a few years earlier.

In 1933 a Polish economist, working at the Research Institute of Business Cycles and Prices in Warsaw, published a small book being a summary of his own macroeconomic theory – “Próba teorii koniunktury” (in English: “An Essay on the Theory of the Business Cycle”). The conclusions he arrived at were very similar to what John Maynard Keynes was to publish 3 years later in his “General Theory”.

Michał Kalecki (as was the name of this Polish researcher) was born in 1899 in the Polish city of Łódź (then part of Russia). He studied engineering in Warsaw and Gdańsk, but didn’t complete his degree. He was an autodidact in the area of economics. Nevertheless, he soon got a job at the Research Institute in Warsaw, and after having published his first papers and books during the 1930s, he became an acknowledged researcher. He worked for a while in the United Kingdom (at the London School of Economics, in Oxford and Cambridge) and then in the US (for the UN) and in Canada (in Montreal). (for a short biography, check Wikipedia)

So, it is clear (and was acknowledged by Keynesian economists of that time, e.g. by Joan Robinson) that it was Kalecki who actually developed Keynesianism. Why do we learn then that Keynesianism (and not “Kaleckism”) was the great theoretical framework dominating economic thinking between World War II and the 1970s? The answer is highly prosaic: when publishing his first papers, Kalecki made one big mistake – he wrote them only in Polish – but not in English. His books were translated into English with years of delay, when Keynes were already “the man”.

For the history and development of economics this issue – whether Kalecki’s or Keynes’s theory was prior to the other’s – does not really matter (just as it does not matter for literature whether Shakespeare was one person or for the history of philosophy whether Socrates really existed). It is just a curiosity, though an interesting one. Nevertheless, it does teach us something: If you want to be heard (read), write in English. Or, paraphrasing a slogan of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign: Write in English, stupid!


5 thoughts on “Write in English, Stupid!

  1. I am back after a short holiday. I have known about Kalecki’s works but this doesn’t matter. The point is somewhere else. The world has been “unequal” for many reasons. Language could be one of them but not the major one. It is the feeling of superiority by some nations, nothing more, nothing less.


  2. It is the feeling of superiority by some nations

    In the case of Kalecki I wouldn’t draw such dramatic conclusions. English has become the new “lingua franca”, and one should accept that. I wouldn’t see it as an expression of a feeling of superiority by anyone – in the end, it is good that there is such a “bridge language”.

  3. There is nothing wrong with English. However, English speaking people tend to be not interested in non-English works. Based on my professional experience the level of ignorance, in that respect, is rather amazing.


  4. That may be right (though I heard about it repeatedly, I myself have no experiences in this context). Although, in my field at least, they simply don’t need to – first, because almost all “important” works by non-English speakers are nonetheless written in English, and second, because most significant research is done at US-American and British institutions. So it was in the past as well – Kalecki could only blame himself.

  5. If I may conclude our discussion with one important observation. In the first half of the XX century English was not the most popular language – it was French. The process of change started after the II world war but took some time before French or German have been replaced by English. My father, an example of the old generation, knows French and German. In later years he has become a self taught reader of English – a sign of shift in popularity of the languages.



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