Masters of Money Review: Keynes!

MASTERS OF MONEY: Monday 17th September, BBC2, 9pm

Part biography, part travelogue and part crash-course in economics; Masters of Money is a new three-part series presented by Stephanie Flanders that considers the influence of eminent economists of yore. This first episode combined an engaging account of John Maynard Keynes’ life with an analysis of how modern day governments are attempting to steer their countries away from the global financial crisis using Keynesian principles.

Flanders explains how Keynes was a maverick economist, flying in the face of politicians who traditionally believed that economies were predictable like the movements of the planets. He argued that economies were unpredictable, like people, and that there was no certainty about what they were going to do in the future. After extreme sanctions were placed on Germany following World War I, Keynes warned that too much austerity could be self-defeating and called for greater unity amongst nations large and small to generate a balanced economy.

Keynes predicted that economies looked most likely to go disastrously wrong when they seemed most predictable. Parallels are drawn between economic crises of the past like the Great Depression offset by the Wall Street Crash of 1929 with the current economic clusterfuck in the Eurozone. Archive footage of a fresh-faced Gordon ‘Nostradamus’ Brown, not yet ravaged by a decade of New Labour infighting, shows the Scot defiantly insisting “No return to Tory boom and bust.â€? Oops.

Keynes believed that recovery was being blocked by pessimism from political leaders, and advocated a way out of fiscal disaster by borrowing money which would lead to people spending more, a rise in confidence and eventual recovery through higher tax revenues. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which led to the construction of the Hoover Dam, is cited as a successful example of this ideology. David Cameron begs to differ, arguing that increased spending leads to more debt.

David Cameron is currently overseeing record levels of unemployment in the UK.

At times during the programme it feels like Stephanie Flanders has been photoshopped on to a highlight reel of discarded clips from a Michael Palin documentary series, as we are taken on a scenic tour of some of Keynes’ old haunts and famous world landmarks. We visit his old university, Kings College, Oxford; Charleston Farmhouse, in Sussex, where Keynes shacked up with the Bloomsbury set of bohemian artsfolk; and even take a trip sailing down the Rhine.

Our host strikes a jovial tone, providing an interesting and informative look at Keynes’ life. Talking head contributions from key economic figures including Sir Mervyn King and Alistair Darling place Keynes’ philosophies in to a modern context.

Based on this opening episode, the BBC’s decision to commission Masters of Money is money well spent.