Friday, 10 May 2013

Keynes and our grandchildren

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I noticed in yesterday's Guardian that Professor John Adams of UCL had a letter published about Niall Ferguson's recent comments about Keynes. Ferguson had suggested that because Keynes was gay and had no children or grandchildren he didn't care about what happened in the long run. This, of course, is as ridiculous as saying that when you are ill and are focusing on trying to get better you don't look forward to the time when you are well again. When the economy is in a prolonged recession the priority is to get out of it and restore some growth. Indeed, as Adams pointed out, Keynes was far from uninterested about what would happen well into the future. In his essay "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren", written in 1930 and published as part of his book "Essays in Persuasion" (1931) (which is available online) Keynes wrote "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?"

Because of the growth of capital and technological progress we would be able to look forward to times of great prosperity in the future. "All this means in the long run that mankind is solving its economic problem." However in 1930 the priority was to deal with what he referred to as technological unemployment, which needed to be only a "temporary phase of maladjustment". After that problem had been suitably addressed "I would predict that the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is to-day. There would be nothing surprising in this even in the light of our present knowledge. It would not be foolish to contemplate the possibility of a far greater progress still."

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