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What Jack Ma and John Maynard Keynes Get Wrong about Human Progress

September 1, 2019 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

British economist John Maynard Keynes once said that “[p}ractical men who believe themselves quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” It’s unclear whether Chinese tech billionaire Jack Ma is a Keynes discipline, or considers himself immune to economists’ musings. But in forecasting that technology and automation might deliver a 12-hour working week, Ma certainly echoes Keynesian thinking about economic progress.

Sharing a stage with U.S. entrepreneur Elon Musk in Shanghai, Alibaba founder Ma this week predicted that artificial intelligence and automation will deliver unheard of gains to productivity. Offering an upbeat story of its effects, he suggested that producing more with fewer workers will reduce the desirable working time to just “three days a week, four hours a day.” Instead, we will be able to spend extra time enjoying “being human beings” and going to “karaoke in the evening.”

In a 1930 essay entitled “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” Keynes made a similar prediction. Within a century, he believed we’d be four to eight times as rich. Such would be the technological advances in production driving more output with less labor input, our economic needs could be fulfilled by just working “three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week.” Even working that long would be reflective of our natural human desire to stay occupied, rather than out of necessity. Keynes even mused that people would have more time to sing too!

As we contemplate the long hours we’ll spend at our desks this next week, it’s easy, in retrospect, to dismiss Keynes’ musing as a flight of fancy. But in fact, a lot of what he wrote was prescient. What he got wrong should make us think skeptically about Ma’s musings of what it means to be human.

Keynes’ forecast of our prosperity boom was unnervingly accurate. With a decade to go, the U.S. is already six times as rich in real GDP per capita terms as on the eve of 1930.

Improvements in the technology of domestic appliances has meant that traditional “household work” — the basics of laundry, cooking, and cleaning — have fallen time-wise from being a near full-time occupation (38 hours) in 1930 to just 15 hours in 2015. If Keynes’ prediction had been about chores, he hit the bullseye.

What he got wrong was what technology and innovation would mean for paid working hours. Yes, full-time production …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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World War II Turns 80 Today. The Aftermath Changed America Forever.

September 1, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Eighty Septembers ago the world plunged into the abyss of World
War II. The worst conflict in human history began with Nazi
Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. It was a horrid,
murderous conflict which started at terrible and only got

Adolf Hitler’s attack on Poland, a state resurrected by the
Versailles Treaty two decades before, was but the first act. Having
signed a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, the Nazi
dictator next turned his attention to France, Great Britain, and
assorted countries nearby and in between. Achieving less
battlefield success, Italy plunged the Balkans into war. In June
1941 Germany invaded the USSR, triggering the largest and most
brutal combat of modern history. In December 1941 Japan, deeply
engaged in China for a decade, expanded the battle to the United
States and much of East Asia. Then the world truly was at war.

The consequences of the global conflagration were profound.
Thirty countries were involved and as many as eighty-five million
people died. Germany, Russia, and Japan suffered especially heavy
destruction. The conflict was horrid all around, especially between
Germans and Soviets and between Japanese and both Chinese and
Americans. Anti-Semitism turned genocidal through the Holocaust.
Other groups, including Slavs, Roma, and gays, also were targeted
by the Nazis for murder.

The United States and Soviet Union emerged as the world’s
premier military powers, two contending poles around which other
nations circled. Europe, historically home to the world’s
wealthiest and most influential states, was ravaged. Pre-war
colonial empires survived on life-support, as local residents saw
their one-time overlords humbled. Japan essentially disappeared as
a geopolitical factor while the Chinese Communist Party seized
control of a nation short on power but long on potential.

Korea was divided, triggering an extended civil war. After the
war Jews fled Europe for the lands of the ancient Hebrew Kingdom,
triggering a religious and historic clash which destabilized the
region that became the world’s most important energy source. The
newly created United Nations fell victim to the emerging Cold

The American republic
disappeared long ago, leaving a half-hearted, bungling semi-empire
which views the entire world as its sphere of interest.

Impacts of the war radiated outward. During the fighting in the
British colony of Burma, now Myanmar, Burmans and ethnic minorities
split, backing the Japanese and British, respectively. Japanese
rule spurred nationalist sentiments in such colonies as India,
Vietnam, and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Moscow, which
had largely retreated from Asia after its defeat in the
1904–1905 Russo-Japanese war, regained its lost influence and
more. In the United States the conflict brought women into the
workplace, highlighted discrimination against African-Americans,
and …read more

Source: OP-EDS