Ross Douthat had an op-ed column about leaving work behind in which he points out that Keynes, in 1930, predicted a future 15-hour work week. And he takes issue with other conservatives who reflexively criticized Obamacare because there was a prediction that some people would take advantage of Obamacare to quit their jobs (because they can now obtain health insurance without having a job).Douthat and Lion are smart, conservative thinkers but this is where they show their technocratic blind spots.
But it’s also possible to argue that as a rich, post-scarcity society, we shouldn’t really care that much about whether the poor choose to work. The important thing is just making sure they have a decent standard of living, full stop, and if they choose Keynesian leisure over a low-paying job, that’s their business.The fact that he understand there’s a good argument there shows that Douthat is a much smarter thinker than most conservatives. Note that he uses the phrase “post-scarcity economy.” That sounds like something I would write. It’s like I’m reading my own ideas in the mainstream media.
First, I'm not sure how or why K-selected net producers will decide to keep working 40 to 60 hours per week to support r-selected net consumers and their preference for Keynesian leisure. The r-selected will use their free stuff to breed to the Malthusian limits. When that happens, the K-selected start withdrawing to their upper-caste suburbs and in-town redoubts. When they can no longer withdraw, they shut down. In either event, the idealistic, K-selected civilization that enables this free ride disappears. And when it’s gone, it’s gone.
That's what has been happening in the Middle East for many decades: the K-selected have been leaving; now, they're shutting down. Same thing with Honduras, Peru, Libya, Somalia, Egypt. Or, closer to home, Camden, Detroit, Birmingham. There's no longer a sufficient Smart Fraction to maintain civilization. When the oil runs out, much of the Middle East will revert to nomadic tribes and banditry. When the EBT cards don't work, places like Detroit will be full of starving people. Since there won't be anybody to steal from, they'll die or become itinerant beggars. Detroit will revert to prairie like it's already doing in a lot of areas.
Second, something that Keynes himself overlooked is that inflationary monetary policy leverages future production for present consumption. So when we arrive at the future, we’re still just hustling to maintain our living standards instead of enjoying the fruits of increased productivity. Eventually, we'll run out of future like we did in 2008. The Fed's economists responded by printing up a couple of trillion dollars and handing them out to their friends. Next time they'll have to print up even more. This can't go on forever.