I wrote in the first post of this series, which is now called "Life After Economics," that the only document a student of economics in an advanced capitalist country needs to read (and read deeply and closely) is John Maynard Keynes' "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren." It was written in 1930, it's short, and it essentially states that when scarcity is resolved, the problem for society will be this: What will people do with the free time? Keynes:
Thus for the first time since his creation, man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well....
Keynes predicated (correctly) that the citizens of a society that had solved the problem of scarcity would on average only need to work 15 hours a week. So the question is this: We have solved the sole problem of economics ("pressing... cares") and yet there has been no decline in the average working time in nearly 30 years. 40 hours a week is the standard we are stuck in. How did this come to be? The anthropologist David Graeber provides an excellent sketch of an answer in his short essay "Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs":
In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.
For Graeber, bullshit jobs are usually the least useful and the most highly rewarded on the job market (corporate lawyer, for example). But my point is this: You will get more actual economic substance from this little paper than in all the Econ courses offered at even the most prestigious institutions. Why? Because Graeber's thoughts begin with the only text that you need to grasp if you are a student of economics in a developed country, "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren." What is taught in Econ 101 is not the real world; what you find in Keynes' piece of science fiction is precisely the First World that Econ 101 obscures.