Tim Harford on Keynes.1:35 PM, Jul 21, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
The FT has had tons of good stuff lately. Here's columnist Tim Harford on another side of Keynes:
Keynes’s General Theory may well be a work of genius, but I have always been more attracted to his short 1930 essay, Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, in which, in the teeth of the Great Depression, Keynes reminded us that the long-run trend was inexorable growth. “I would predict that the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is to-day,” he wrote. After 80 years, a world war, and a depression, citizens in the US and western Europe are about five times richer than when Keynes was writing. We seem to be on track.
Keynes’s essay explored something his modern disciples often ignore, namely what would happen when “the economic problem” was solved. By the standards of the 1930s, this problem has been solved. But our response has not been what Keynes expected. He acknowledged that human beings had an insatiable desire to feel superior to each other, and that some people would always blindly pursue wealth. But he felt that most of us would adjust, albeit grudgingly, to a life of plenty. We would work less and amuse ourselves in other ways. We have not, and civilisation continues to depend on the production, purchase, consumption and disposal of the kind of stuff you can see anywhere from the shelves of Walmart to the pages of How To Spend It. One of the multiple causes of the crisis, after all, was that so many people wanted to borrow more than they could repay.
It is true that we do choose to work a little less. According to the economists Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, despite a large increase in women’s participation in the workforce, in the US they have at least four hours a week of extra leisure compared with 1965. Men have at least six extra hours. And there is the time we spend studying and travelling before our careers, or in early retirement, to say nothing of the many hours spent goofing off at work and looking at Facebook. But if you want to work a three-day week, your boss and colleagues will assume it is because you are caring for a baby or studying for a PhD, rather than because the weather is lovely at this time of year.
One of Keynes's most famous aphorisms is his observation that, "in the long run, we are all dead." Perhaps we should add to that, "in the long run, we are all better off."
(Cf. Gregg Easterbrook's Sonic Boom.)
Don't worry, be happy?10:44 AM, Apr 7, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Yesterday David Brooks wrote a cheerful column on why the United States, despite everything, remains in a strong position heading into the mid-twenty-first century. Sometime yesterday afternoon, I was struck when I noticed that Brooks's column had received more than 500 comments. Apparently pointing out the good news is controversial!
Here's Brooks's argument: "The U.S. is on the verge of a demographic, economic and social revival, built on its historic strengths. The U.S. has always been good at disruptive change. It’s always excelled at decentralized community-building. It’s always had that moral materialism that creates meaning-rich products. Surely a country with this much going for it is not going to wait around passively and let a rotten political culture drag it down."
Big ideas from the Mercatus Center's Stephen Davies.4:23 PM, Mar 5, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
At some point this weekend, you should settle into an easy chair, crank up the volume, and listen to Stephen Davies's entire talk about historical placement, Western civilization, and what distinguishes modernity from what has come before. The lecture runs about 45 minutes, then there are questions. But as Davies talks you will actually feel your brain getting smarter.
Walter Russell Mead on globalization4:24 PM, Jan 26, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Check out Walter Russell Mead's take on the American future:
The learned professions in the United States — lawyers, doctors, nurses, accountants, educators, journalists, government bureaucrats — are under the gun. The IT revolution is going to put them all through the wringer — the way it has already put blue collar America through the wringer by a combination of automation and outsourcing. The upper middle class did very well in the last generation, even as blue collar incomes stagnated and in many cases fell. The next phase of change will challenge the institutions and the livelihoods of America’s managers, professors, lawyers and others in the same way that it has already thrown journalism into the maelstrom.
These changes are necessary and in the long run benign. Dramatically and thoroughly restructuring the professions will ultimately make the vital services they provide much cheaper and much more widely available — just as the destruction of the old manufacturing guilds in the industrial revolution eventually made manufactured goods much cheaper. But just as the spinners and weavers fought the new machines, so we can expect a lot of our intellectuals and managers to fight the challenges to a system that has worked very well for them.
The whole post is worth reading. And if you are interested in this topic, be sure to read Gregg Easterbrook's Sonic Boom, which treats the coming changes at greater length. I reviewed Sonic Boom here.
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