Technology was supposed to give people increased leisure, yet everyone is working harder than ever. Via Chronicle of Higher Education, Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky on the utopia which never came to pass:
Imagine a world in which most people worked only 15 hours a week. They would be paid as much as, or even more than, they now are, because the fruits of their labor would be distributed more evenly across society. Leisure would occupy far more of their waking hours than work. It was exactly this prospect that John Maynard Keynes conjured up in a little essay published in 1930 called “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.”
Its thesis was simple. As technological progress made possible an increase in the output of goods per hour worked, people would have to work less and less to satisfy their needs, until in the end they would have to work hardly at all. Keynes thought this condition might be reached in about 100 years—that is, by 2030.
He asked something hardly discussed today: What is wealth for? How much money do we need to lead a good life? Making money cannot be an end in itself—at least for anyone not suffering from acute mental disorder. Making money cannot be the permanent business of humanity, for the simple reason that there is nothing to do with money except spend it. And we cannot just go on spending. There will come a point when we will be satiated or disgusted or both. Or will we?
Let’s begin by pondering the reasons for the failure of Keynes’s prophecy. Why, despite the surprising accuracy of his growth forecasts, are most of us, almost 100 years on, still working about as hard as we were when he wrote his futuristic essay? The answer is that a free-market economy both gives employers the power to dictate hours and terms of work and inflames our innate tendency toward competitive, status-driven consumption. Keynes was well aware of the evils of capitalism but assumed that they would wither away once their work of wealth creation was done. He did not foresee that they might become permanently entrenched, obscuring the very ideal they were initially intended to serve.
Read the rest at the Chronicle of Higher Education
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