Thursday, February 22, 2007

What to do with all this leisure time? (1966)

"By 2000, the machines will be producing so much that everyone in the U.S. will, in effect, be independently wealthy. With Government benefits, even nonworking families will have, by one estimate, an annual income of $30,000-$40,000 (in 1966 dollars). How to use leisure meaningfully will be a major problem, and Herman Kahn foresees a pleasure-oriented society full of 'wholesome degeneracy.'"

The entire article from the February 25, 1966 issue of TIME can be read here.

For the record, $40,000 in 1966 dollars is the equivalent of just under $250,000 in 2007 dollars, according to the Inflation Calculator.


Anonymous said...

But in some points the article is quite right:
"..Marshall McLuhan even foresees the possibility that many people will stay at home, doing their work via countrywide telecommunication.."

aluxeterna said...

The part they leave out about all of this additional leisure time is that it would have to be bankrolled by a quite heavy program of taxation. As predicted, in our current "World of the Year 2000", we actually do have robots producing most of our materials (or, failing that, overseas sweatshop labor); we merely lack the taxation and welfare infrastructure which the futurists of the 60's took for granted. They didn't overestimate the importance of robotic labor in the future, only the political will to make up for the loss of human involvement in the productive process. Case in point: Politicians now constantly decry the loss of our (mostly East Coast) manufacturing-based economy. They have all sorts of different reasons why factory work is no longer the upper-middle-class vocation it once was--they blame overseas labor, illegal immigrants, etc. But most of those lost jobs are simply the result of streamlined production processes. And, emotional arguments aside, those jobs are rightfully terminated. It makes no sense for us to reject improved productive technologies just to keep certain jobs viable. The futurists knew that these job losses were inevitable; they responded to this eventuality by proposing a substantially larger welfare state.

Now, is installing this sort of welfare system really the best way to solve these growing economic issues today? Not exactly. The fundamental problem I see with the futurist scenario is that they expect that people would be ok with having lots of leisure time and whatever amount of money they're given. I don't believe that this is the case. Sure, I think everyone would like more vacation time than they get now--but certainly I would not like to simply cease my own productivity after I get to a certain age. I truly believe we Americans are an ambitious people at heart. I don't believe it would be in anyone's best interest to do as the futurists say and limit the productive ages to the middle third of one's life, and force them to sit in a welfare-funded middle-class existence for the rest of their lives.

However, that said, the robot-funded productivity of our own World of Tomorrow still presents a grave problem, one which manifests itself in the increasing gap between the rich and poor in our country. As productivity streamlines, fewer and fewer people are needed to guide this productivity, and they become the only beneficiaries of this productivity. How can we enable others to benefit in such an economy? Quite simply, we do need to put in place a heavier, more progressive taxation system. The taxes in this system, however, should not go simply to an enormously larger welfare program, but on public works and what-have-you which benefit the nation as a whole. Programs such as Eisenhower's highway system have made our country great in the 20th century. Those programs created many, many new jobs. However, we must remember, such programs don't come cheap. In order to realize our truly great world of tomorrow, we must fund such programs through taxation today.