Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

Full Employment as a condition of crisis: Kalecki’s critique to Keynes and the Fabians (1942-45)

Lampa Roberto, CONICET, Argentina

A considerable amount of literature has dealt with the life and works of Michał Kalecki, over the years. Within this context, Kalecki’s analysis of full employment in a capitalist economy dated 1942-1945 was inescapably presented and discussed in some seminal publications (Sawyer, 1985; Osiatyński, 1990; López G. and Assous, 2010; Toporowski, 2018). However, the interest towards Kalecki’s reflection on full employment sharply declined in recent times, essentially for two reasons. First, the collapse of socialist countries often implied a damnatio memoriae for those intellectuals who played an active role in the Eastern bloc, particularly Poland. In this sense, Kalecki’s 1940s harsh criticism of capitalist economies and his subsequent plea for a transition to socialism suddenly turned into controversial topics, potentially able to harm his image and being withdrawn accordingly. Second, several Neo-Kaleckian economists (e.g., Lavoie, 2009) have been committed to a unification of the post-Keynesian schools, based on a theoretical synthesis. From this perspective, Kalecki’s 1942-1945 works contained a trenchant critique of Keynes and Keynesianism which certainly made them non-functional to the current research agenda. Consequently, little attention has been paid to some crucial and hitherto unexplored questions raised by Kalecki’s articles on full employment and capitalism. Two issues in particular still deserve a careful consideration. First, it is necessary to clarify the origins and the sources of inspiration of Kalecki’s theory of full employment in order to grasp its implications in both analytical and policy terms. Second, and strictly related to the previous point, it is inescapable to identify to whom the fierce critique raised by Kalecki in his 1942-1945 writings was addressed. Far from being a mere exercise in the history of economic thought, to answer these questions means to add new insights to three open questions, still relevant today: i) the relationship between Kaleckian and Marxian theories, ii) the relationship between Kaleckian and Keynesian theories and iii) the relationship between Kalecki and the British academic and political milieu. In this paper we explore two possible answers to the previous points. First, we re-read Kalecki’s analysis of full employment through a reassessment of Marx’s theories of business cycle contained in his Theories of the Surplus Value and Capital in order to highlight some striking similarities, analytical differences notwithstanding. Second, we compare Kalecki’s works both to the Keynesian concept of full employment and to a 1942 political document by the Fabian Society - from the digital archives of the London School of Economics - in order to clarify whether Kalecki’s 1942 intervention in the Labour Discussion Notes was a reply to these latter.


Keywords: Kalecki; Marx; Full Employment; Crisis; Capitalism

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