The Age of Leisure: Utopia or Dystopia?
Letras ULisboa, Biblioteca
14 / 05 / 2024

In the 1930’s essay “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, in 100 years (i.e., 2030), all economic activities would be so automated as to produce “technological unemployment”. Keynes envisaged the advent of an “age of leisure” characterised by human “freedom from pressing economic cares” and extensive free time. Instead of assuming that the age of leisure is a utopia, Keynes asked: “If the economic problem is solved, mankind will be deprived of its traditional purpose. Will this be a benefit?” The critical evaluation of the potential harms of automation should encompass the central role of wage labour within the social contract as well as the policies tailored to its replacement. The reorganisation of what would be left of the labour market is just one of the epochal political changes that will be needed in the age of leisure: a radical overhaul of the goals of education, of the nature of welfare, of the organisation of the leisure sector etc. will also be necessary. Notwithstanding, we seem to approach the age of leisure acquiescently, if not with downright uncritical connivance. Ultimately, relinquishing the foundational idea that wage labour is essential to human existential fulfilment leaves a vacuum. Unless we find appropriate ways to fill this vacuum, the impending age of leisure remains a dystopia.

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