Pethokoukis

John Maynard Keynes versus Deirdre McCloskey on the gift of work

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We don’t have a 15-hour work week as J.M. Keynes once hopefully and optimistically predicted for the grandchildren of workers in 1930s. And some liberals see that as a problem, as outlined in this Big Think essay, “Why do we still have to work?”

As Keynes wrote in “Economic Possibilities for our grandchildren”:

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.

The strenuous purposeful money-makers may carry all of us along with them into the lap of economic abundance. But it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.

The pursuit of leisure as the ultimate economic goal. As it so happens, this weekend I was rereading Deirdre McCloskey’s “The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce,” the chapters on work, in particular. Does the left really see work as distracting and alienating?  McCloskey quotes a big from Forever Flowing by Vasily Grossman, a Stalinist writer who converted  to anti-Communist:

I used to think freedom was freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience. Here is what it amounts to: you have the right to sow what you wish to sow, to make shoes and coats, to bake into bread the flour ground from the grain you have sown, and to sell it or not sell it as you wish; for the lathe-operator, the steelworker, and the artist it’s a matter being able to live as you wish and work as you wish and not as they order you.

And she quotes this bit from Working by Studs Terkel that describes a job “as a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

And this from McCloskey herself:

It is not merely through the piling up of goods that the market system succeeds. It is through the jobs themselves. Respect for work, I have noted, has been historically rare. Until the quickening of commerce in bourgeois societies, in fact, work except for praying and fighting was despised. … The historical antiwork attitude may been what prevented classical Mediterranean civilization or medieval Chinese society from industrializing. Nowadays, it is a problem for many poor societies. Woman and slaves work. Men smoke.

2 thoughts on “John Maynard Keynes versus Deirdre McCloskey on the gift of work

  1. And some liberals see that as a problem, as outlined in this Big Think essay, “Why do we still have to work?”

    Ain’t that a shocker? Liberals are pissed they still have to work.

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