Australian journalist Mike Dowson has an excellent article asking why the massive wealth and productivity gained through technological innovation in the past 100 years hasn’t translated into a universal 120 days of vacation yearly. [A similar article about the existential socioeconomic dilemma of widespread automation and high worker productivity was posted on disinfo here.]
From the independent journalism site NewMatilda.com:
As long ago as 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by now, people in technologically advanced societies wouldn’t need to work much at all. When Keynes said this, advances in technology were yielding extraordinary increases in productivity. The implications seemed obvious. If it took less time to produce what we needed, surely we’d work less.
What happened? Did technology fail to deliver the gains Keynes expected?
On the contrary. Technological advancement outstripped even the giddy imaginations of futurists from a century ago. We can grow food, dig up minerals, make fridges and bridges, move things and ourselves around the planet and share knowledge and information much faster with a fraction of the workforce it once took.
But if staggering productivity gains haven’t manifested as lower working hours, where did they go?
Gary Becker observed that our appetite for material goods has expanded along with our ability to produce them. Instead of working less hours, we opted for bigger houses with more gadgets, which we replace more often.
This process has been fueled by a deluge of marketing, which persuades us to consume things we previously didn’t recognize a need for.
Does that explain it? Anthropologist David Graeber doesn’t think so. If it continually takes fewer human hours to produce these things, shouldn’t we be able to afford them without working more? What are all these working hours producing?
Graeber argues that, although productive jobs have, in fact, been steadily automated away just as predicted, we have also seen a vast proliferation of new jobs that only seem to exist to keep people working.
…Naturally, the people who’ve done well for themselves are reluctant to sacrifice their advantage. Nevertheless, we have to change the narrative around “wealth creation” from one which is essentially about personal enrichment from gaming the system, to one which is about mutual benefit through innovation and productivity.