I missed the fact that this Saturday is Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes's shared birthday (Smith's on the old Julian calendar). I was alerted to this by a Cafe Hayek post. I want to be clear that Don held back on his snark, and simply provided an interesting trivia post. But it was definitely there in the comment section. One commenter wrote: "aside from their birthdays they do not have much in common". Another first guessed Smith and Marx, and then followed that up with "I was close... Keynes". A particularly regular and combative commenter wrote "one date to commemorate the beginning of a renaissance, the other its end" (I'll let Jonathan Catalan explain why that is an erroneous statement).
Why does Keynes illicit such a visceral reaction with people? I just don't get it. Lots of people disagree with Hayek, for example - but is there anyone out there that really bad-mouths him? Are there websites or blogs out there that regularly post pieces criticizing him and dragging not just his theories but his character and principles through the mud? Not that I'm aware of. Maybe this Quiggin guy who I'm not particularly familiar with - but what I hear about him is that he critiques Austrian theory without understanding it - not that he challenges Hayek's principles or allegiances. Brad DeLong is often held up as an example too, but his biggest misstep that people cite is claiming that Hayek was a "liquidationist". Again, no character assassination. You'll see people savaging libertarian politicians and otherwise "public figures", but they never savage libertarian theorists or economists. Why do people get this reaction with Keynes? It's bizarre.
Part of it might be due to Keynes himself. He did consciously try to distinguish himself from the Classical tradition. But I think we need to read between the lines (and I really don't think it's that hard to read between the lines). He had some good zingers, but if you read his works it's clear that these cracks on the Classics amounted to a child rebelling against his parents. He wanted to make a break and a distinction. But when he really sat down and worked through his ideas it was clear that he had very specific and well thought through disagreements with the classics, but that he respected them and the legacy they left. Rebellious teenagers grow up and realize that they do have differences with their parents (as Keynes does unequivocally have differences with the Classics), but that those differences emerge out of the context and legacy that their parents imparted to them. Keynes is a liberal. His ideas aren't identical to Smith's, of course, but the vitriol and the stark juxtaposition is just plain bad analysis.
Another comment just popped up on Cafe Hayek:
"Keynes = Marx + camouflage"
I always thought Austrians (1.) placed a high premium on logical claims, and (2.) didn't like equations. Apparently I was wrong on both counts.