Thursday, August 6, 2015

NPR Visits Keynes' (Sister's) Grandchildren

One of the pleasures of teaching is the opportunity to re-read the articles I assign to my students; one particular favorite that I look forward to each semester is Keynes' essay "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren."  NPR's Planet Money recently did an episode about it, focusing on Keynes' famously incorrect (thus far) prediction of a 15-hour workweek.  Although Keynes had no progeny, they did check in with his sister's grandchildren, as well as Harvard economist Richard Freeman - all of whom seem to be hard workers. I discussed some ideas about why we're not enjoying so much leisure in a post last year.  Tim Harford also has some thoughts on his blog.

The prediction about leisure was part of Keynes' more general forecast that economic growth would solve the "economic problem" of scarcity (and his guess about the rate of growth was pretty accurate), and speculation about the social change that would result.  In a similar spirit, in his Bloomberg column, Noah Smith suggested that a post-scarcity world might be like Star Trek: The Next Generation.  He concludes:
In other words, the rise of new technology means that all the economic questions will change. Instead of a world defined by scarcity, we will live in a world defined by self-expression. We will be able to decide the kind of people that we want to be, and the kind of lives we want to live, instead of having the world decide for us. The Star Trek utopia will free us from the fetters of the dismal science.
Or, as Keynes put it in 1930:
Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem- how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

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