15 hour working week, where art thou?
September 27, 2012 4:37 PM   Subscribe

The Golden Age, an essay by prominent Australian economist John Quiggin, reflecting on the current relevance and future possibilities of Keynes 1930 essay, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren.
posted by wilful (16 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
We are not living in Keynes' economic future, we are living in Milton Friedman's. And if there is live after death, Friedman is laughing his ass off at us.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:53 PM on September 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is worth reading, thank you.
posted by feckless at 6:23 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Indeed, feckless.

Many years ago I remember writing something to the effect that if we are to continue as a civilization, it will be necessary to put as much of the manual labor as possible onto robotic machines, allowing human effort to be devoted to artistic pursuits and the permanent expansion of the species into space. It's sad that the window for any of that happening is slipping away from us. Perhaps the explanation for Fermi's Paradox is that there's a brief window between industrialization and peak growth wherein a given planet might expand into the stars and therefore be contactable. Just as we appear to have, no planet we've examined has realized that growth must perforce be finite, so they've all failed to capitalize on the singular opportunity.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:46 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

What about the 99.999% of humans who aren't given to artistic pursuits?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:57 PM on September 27, 2012

What about the 99.999% of humans who aren't given to artistic pursuits?

Dunno, how about you RTFA?
posted by wilful at 6:59 PM on September 27, 2012

ZenMasterThis: What about the 99.999% of humans who aren't given to artistic pursuits?
Maybe this is the Vangelis post talking, but I think most people are artistic in some way, they just never have the time or get the encouragement necessary to develop their interests. I have no idea what would happen if we found a way to a beautiful future where toil and worry were completely removed from the burdens people carry. Artistic dreams get crushed early in our current arrangement. If people wanted for nothing, I think we'd be surprised by what they do.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:07 PM on September 27, 2012

What about the 99.999% of humans who aren't given to artistic pursuits?

Everyone is given to artistic pursuits. That only a few are able to actually act on them is an indictment of our society. The fact that hundreds of millions of people still have to do hard physical labour for barely living wages is a bug, not a feature.
posted by vidur at 7:22 PM on September 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

this brings us to the final, really big question. Supposing a Keynesian utopia is feasible, will we want it? Or will we prefer to keep chasing after money to buy more and better things?

Indeed. I was thinking about this the other day, and often think about it in relation to what Marx would make of 20/21st Century Earth where - in the developed world at least - many (most?) workers have access to a level of prosperity and relative freedom he never thought possible in a capitalist framework (we've outsourced the proletariat to the developing world, true, but that's another discussion).

Whilst it would be foolish to hold that the future will follow history, I do think that the public has largely made that choice - our lavish incomes (compared to yesteryear, in real money terms) have largely been put to service in lifestyles with a level of luxury unprecedented to our ancestors (Hell, sometimes I look back and it seems unprecedented to the lifestyle - not one that we ever felt was lacking, I might add - that my own family had in the 1980s).

I think it would take a monumental cultural shift to step off that path, and I find myself increasingly thinking that - in the West at least - the 1950s-70s may represent a high point in terms of equality, class mobility and Gini co-efficient, and that we may never get back to that territory.

Interesting stuff.
posted by smoke at 7:40 PM on September 27, 2012

"I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops." - Stephen Jay Gould
posted by phrontist at 8:15 PM on September 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

the 1950s-70s may represent a high point in terms of equality, class mobility and Gini co-efficient

the 70s were creepy and weird and gross, though. sure, things suck now, and we're overworked and the prisons are overflowing and the very oceans are dying but at least we're not as immoral as they were.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:52 PM on September 27, 2012

What about the 99.999% of humans who aren't given to artistic pursuits?

They're the audience.
posted by ook at 9:01 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this, I like Quiggin's work. I'm halfway to a 15-hour work week myself, and it's already a huge improvement on working full-time. I'm well aware that I'm in a privileged position to be doing this and anticipating shortening my work hours further. But I also see a lot of people who could be working less, who dont even question the necessity to be endlessly improving productivity so that some CEO can rake in the big bucks. They're not that happy with their lives (to hear them tell it) but act like I'm crazy to cut my budget so I can have more time for 'slacking' (their words) or 'non-work-related work' (mine). It's well past time to think about the value and purpose of work.
posted by harriet vane at 3:17 AM on September 28, 2012

The first is that the production of market goods and services needs to become pleasant enough that those doing it don’t mind supporting others who choose not to.
This, a million times this. It's interesting watching Facebook friends and relatives self-sort themselves on the political spectrum based on how they feel about their job. I'm lucky in that I get paid well to do something I enjoy, and I was also lucky to be given a computer that I could drop a Linux distribution on and start hacking. As a consequence, I don't really care that a percentage of my income is being siphoned off to pay for social programs.
posted by ayerarcturus at 1:31 PM on September 28, 2012

...but at least we're not as immoral as they were.

Don't kid yourself.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:48 PM on September 29, 2012

Work isn't Working - "It was the non-payment of debt that brought capitalism to its knees, something that a century of strikes and workplace action has not been able to do."

-The decline or the redefinition of labour?
-Are droids taking our jobs?
-Woz Applying For Australian Citizenship (Wants to Live in New Zealand)
posted by kliuless at 9:01 AM on September 30, 2012

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