(Beggs 2012) Keynes jetpack


Beggs, Mike. Keynes’ jetpack. Jacobin. 2012 Spring; 6:18–23. Available from: http://jacobinmag.com/spring-2012/keynes-jetpack/.

Beggs reexamines futurological predictions for the year 2030 made by Keynes in 1930. Keynes was essentially accurate in predicting rates of economic growth for the intervening period, but he had also predicted a resulting drastic decrease in work hours, yielding a 15-hour work week. Beggs explores the reasons why economic growth has not led to a corresponding decrease in work. One reason is that desires for goods are not fixed, but are socially influenced, allowing a consumerist culture to increase desires for goods proportionately to available discretionary income. Another is that the incentive structure of capitalist business is strongly biased toward the use of productivity gains to expand output, and thus competitive market share. Yet another reason is that some highly desired goods (such as real estate, food, energy, and personal services from other people, including healthcare) are inflexibly supplied, causing their prices to rise proportionately with productivity increases and income. The effects of inflexible supply are exacerbated by economic inequality, which allows wealthy individuals to hoard inflexibly supplied goods, thus requiring the majority to work even longer hours to compete for them. Beggs concludes that no future increases in productivity or income are ever likely to lead spontaneously, through purely economic mechanisms, to significant reductions in the work week; any such reduction will require purposeful political intervention.

 

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