In the 1930s the great economist John Maynard Keynes “argued that technological progress at a rate of two per cent per year would be sufficient to multiply our productive capacity nearly eightfold in the space of a century. Allowing for a doubling of output per person, that would be consistent with a reduction of working hours to 15 hours a week or even less.” This is from an excellent and extensive article by John Quiggin, “The Golden Age”, about the age of leisure we should be enjoying—but aren’t.
Keynes predicted “a reduction of working hours
to 15 hours a week or even less.”
According to authors Diamandis and Kotler in their book Abundance, Keynes’ analysis is probably a gross underestimate, because technology has already caused geometric advances far in excess of our expectations. Why, then do we still find some people working excessively long hours, while others can find no work at all, and still others are grossly underpaid for socially valuable work? Why is the level of inequality at record high in the midst of this unprecedented wealth?
It does not take backbreaking contortions to trace the problem back to the question of the distortion of our democracy by the power of accumulated money. Our society is supposed to assist the welfare of all citizens. Unfortunately, that premise is rejected by conservatives, who believe that the purpose of government is to make the rich richer. Given the fact of a finite supply of money, the only possible outcome when money is transferred to the wealthy is to increase inequality. And that it does.
The problem is the distortion of our democracy
by the power of accumulated money.
Democrats believe that the purpose of government is to make life the best possible for the demos, the people. All people. Republicans profess to have the same goal, but they expect to achieve it as a secondary effect. Make the rich richer and eventually that will bring wealth to all, they say. The only problem is that this is pure conjecture, because it has never actually happened. As is abundantly clear today, making the rich richer does exactly that, and nothing else. That is our problem in a nutshell.
So what we have is a class of the super-rich whose fortunes are growing rapidly, while at the same time the wealth and wellbeing of the main mass of American citizens is either arrested in place, or it is actually declining. The Age of Leisure is nowhere to be seen.
It is is abundantly clear today that
making the rich richer does exactly that,
and nothing else. That is our problem in a nutshell.
Unemployment in the global recession remains too high everywhere, and everyone other than the mega-rich are not getting the benefits that modern society should bring. The topic of the work week and hourly pay are intimately tied up in this maladaptive corruption of the golden age of leisure of which Keynes spoke.
Our national wealth is great enough that everyone should be working less and earning more, with far more time to pursue non-earning interests. The world as a whole, the Western world in particular, have reached a point of technological advance that makes this possible. Making this improved condition into a practical norm for the working week is a complex problem, but nothing will change as long as Republicans believe that most of us are lazy misfits who are trying to scam the government, and until the gross imbalance of influence between the mega-rich and everyone else is democratically restored.