In an intervention on a book written by several authors, Ignazio Visco, Governor of the Bank of Italy, reflects on the ideas of John Maynard Keynes who, in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, questioned the future of the United Kingdom and in general future of well-being in advanced countries that had fallen into the trap of fatality and errors that produced the great crisis of that decade.
Visco’s talk – titled “Economic Opportunities for Our Grandchildren by John Maynard Keynes” – is part of the book, “The Future.
Story of an idea “(Laterza) which is coming out in these days and in which a large group of intellectuals are wondering precisely about the idea of the future, today, and to express this idea, they use a work from the past as a guide.
Visco – explains Repubblica who anticipated a part of the text of the Governor of the Bank of Italy – chose to look to the future through the relevance of a great economist of the first half of the twentieth century like John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946).
I would like to underline that Visco’s reflection on Keynes’s thought focuses on two predictions of the latter:
1) the growth of well-being, which Keynes did even in the midst of depression. A forecast that, explains Visco, “was surprisingly accurate, despite the ‘dramatic conflicts’ and the ‘dramatic increase in the population’. Between 1930 and 2019, explains Visco, GDP per capita increased more than five times at the worldwide, around four times in the UK “.
2) The other prediction of Keynes appears to be less appropriate: the reduction of the necessary hours of work. Visco explains that “the tendency to their descent, which was clearly evident before 1930, was in fact abruptly interrupted after World War II”.
Our relationship with work
Yet this “wrong” prediction by Keynes should make us reflect. Because it sits on the crest of our relationship with work. On the one hand, as Visco points out, perhaps Keynes underestimated the role of work in the “realization of individuals”. On the other hand, however, the obsession with work in our societies, technological unemployment, inequality in wages, the permanence of underpaid work activities, the still (too) close link between decent minimum income and work – just look at the debate on the income of citizenship – all this indicates that Keynes was, at least philosophically, on the right track. And on this path, it would be necessary, with optimism, to continue thinking and questioning. Precisely for the future of our children and grandchildren.
“Keynes”, writes Visco, “then looked at the moment when humanity would free itself, thanks to science and technology, from the slavery of work and the question of how to exploit freedom from economic pressures would have to be posed. […] how to live wisely, pleasantly, and healthily ‘”. Exactly.
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