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Economic Possibilities for Our Overworked Grandchildren

Nearly a century ago, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological advances would obviate the need for work, ushering in an age of abundance and leisure. Although his prediction was far off the mark, his idealistic vision of creating a more equitable society is more pertinent than ever.

ITHACA, NEW YORK – In 1930, John Maynard Keynes published his short essay “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” in which he outlined his vision of a future global economy characterized by leisure and abundance. As the rapid advance of artificial intelligence threatens to displace millions of workers, it is worth revisiting this brilliant, passionate work.

Keynes originally wrote his essay in 1928 for a lecture at a boys’ school in Hampshire, England, and spent two years revising it before its publication. Despite being taken aback by the 1929 stock market crash, he encouraged his readers to view it as a “temporary phase of maladjustment.” Demonstrating his characteristic foresight, Keynes avoided making predictions for the next five or ten years, instead focusing on the century to come.

Many of Keynes’s insights were remarkably prescient. Modern society, he observed, had become “afflicted with a new disease,” whereby technological advances had reduced demand for labor. But he viewed this “technological unemployment” as a reason for hope, not despair, predicting that innovation would drive rapid GDP growth and usher in an age of leisure. “The standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence,” he speculated, “will be between four and eight times as high as it is.” Despite the economic ups and downs of the past century, this prediction has proven to be accurate.