Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Time Horizons and Leisure

Last night, FLG read Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (PDF) for bazillionth time.  The juxtaposition of the time horizons still fascinates him.

At the outset, more or less, Keynes writes:
My purpose in this essay, however, is not to examine the present or the near future, but to disembarrass myself of short views and take wings into the future. What can we reasonably expect the level of our economic life to be a  hundred years hence? What are the economic possibilities for our grandchildren?
So, he's taking a long view, and, in fact, proceeds to look back at basically all of known history very quickly. FLG will fast forward to:
The modern age opened; I think, with the accumulation of capital which began in the sixteenth century
And looking forward to the year 2030 he thinks we will have solved the problem of how to produce enough to satisfy our basic wants as a race:
I draw the conclusion that, assuming no important wars and no important increase in population, the economic problem may be solved, or be at least within sight of solution, within a hundred years. This means that the economic problem is not-if we look into the future-the permanent problem of the human race. 
And then a little later:

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.
He then goes on to criticize the long time horizons that come with and are necessary for the accumulation of capital:
purposiveness means that we are more concerned with the remote future results of our actions than with their own quality or their immediate effects on our own environment. The “purposive” man is always trying to secure a spurious and delusive immortality for his acts by pushing his interest in them forward into time. He does not love his cat, but his cat’s kittens; nor, in truth, the kittens, but only the kittens’ kittens, and so on forward forever to the end of cat-dom.
For Keynes this is view is not misguided or problematic, but downright immoral, even if they are necessary to get to the economic land of milk and honey he envisions.  Once there, however, this view must be discarded.
I see us free, therefore, to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue-that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of  usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable, that those walk  most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour  and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of  taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin. 

Here's what so fascinating to FLG.  

First, the juxtaposition between the long time horizon of his analysis, which spans back thousands of years and projects into the future a century with his view of an individual's time horizon.  For the individual, a long time horizon investing for the future is semi-criminal.  Someone who "give the least thought for the morrow" is the ideal.    

Second, that piece is arguably the most concise and coherent expression of the view what FLG considers to be the end goal of liberalism, since at least Marx, which is a misunderstood form of Aristotelian Leisure.  (Besides that one link, FLG wrote a lot about Leisure back then).   This is an entirely present and motivating force even today.  Nancy Pelosi was just one person to make the following argument during and after the healthcare bill passage "Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or, eh, a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance"  

FLG would argue the end goal of liberalism is one in which people can be an artist or photographer or a writer with worrying about any material things.  Health care is but one piece, a large piece, of the broader vision.

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