Keynes and his grandchildren: origins of our precarious times

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In his essay Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren (1963a) John Maynard Keynes delineates an economic utopia of work societies where most work is done with the aid of technology. This results in freedom from work, the solution of the economic problem, or what he calls ‘technological unemployment’. Keynes further assumed that the capitalist achievement principle originating in a belief in freedom through work and motivated by a ‘love of money’ is gradually going to be passé. However, today, I argue, a technologically inflicted freedom from work is largely perceived as a dystopia and a threat to the social wellbeing of individuals and the economy alike. And yet, the belief in freedom through work as the way to overcome this threat has solidified for all members of society. The result is a paradox: gainful employment as a cost, and as meaningful activity, is reduced while profits are maximised with the aid of more efficient technologies. At the same time, normative expectations for the everyday person to be employed, be self-sufficient and to contribute to society, intensify. As a result, capitalist work societies are drifting towards growing economic and political precarities. The goal of this article is to recognise what essential ingredients for a well-functioning work society are missing in Keynes’ utopia, namely questions of equality and democracy. With those in mind, we can identify some basic origins of our own politically and economically precarious times, especially about the use of technology, changing work ethics and income distribution.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Economic and Labour Relations Review
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Dec 2020


  • Keynes
  • equality
  • technological unemployment
  • freedom
  • precarity


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