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? ... Keynes thought that the motivational basis of capitalism was "an intense appeal to the money-making and money-loving instincts of individuals." He thought that with the coming of plenty, this motivational drive would lose its social approbation; that is, that capitalism would abolish itself when its work was done. But so accustomed have we become to regarding scarcity as the norm that few of us think about what motives and principles of conduct would, or should, prevail in a world of plenty...How Much Is Enough? What Is It For? "It was the shift to a market-based philosophy of growth that inflamed the insatiability of wants -- by abandoning any interest in the social outcome of growth. The market was bound by the rule of law, but there was no longer any moral, political or cultural restraint on the individual pursuit of wealth. Keynes's notion of satiety had no place. Such a system cannot work according to plan. It is both economically and morally inefficient. The Anglo-American system of the past 30 years, dominated by the financial-services industry, has been retained for the benefit of a predatory plutocracy that creams off the riches in the name of freedom and globalization. So, what intellectual, moral and political resources still exist in Western societies to reverse the onslaught of insatiability and redirect our purposes toward the good life?"
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... The irony, however, is that now that we have at last achieved abundance, the habits bred into us by capitalism have left us incapable of enjoying it properly...
If scarcity is always with us, then efficiency, the optimal use of scarce resources, and economics, the science that teaches us efficiency, will always be necessary... scarcity, as most people understand it, has diminished greatly in most societies over the last 200 years. People in rich and even medium-rich countries no longer starve to death. All this implies that the social importance of efficiency has declined, and with it the utility of economics... the problem is that a competitive, monetized economy puts us under continual pressure to want more and more. The 'scarcity' discerned by economists is increasingly an artifact of this pressure. Considered in relation to our vital needs, our state is one not of scarcity but rather of extreme abundance.
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