The Age of Abundance

mustache_tom-selleck

Magnum PI. About as far from London and a cup of tea as you can get.

What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August, 1914! The greater part of the population, it is true, worked hard and lived at a low standard of comfort, yet were, to all appearances, reasonably contented with this lot. But escape was possible, for any man of capacity or character at all exceeding the average, into the middle and upper classes, for whom life offered, at a low cost and with the least trouble, conveniences, comforts, and amenities beyond the compass of the richest and most powerful monarchs of other ages. The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend. He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could despatch his servant to the neighbouring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference. But, most important of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable. The projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper, and appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of social and economic life, the internationalisation of which was nearly complete in practice.

The Economic Consequences of the Peace
John Maynard Keynes

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2 thoughts on “The Age of Abundance

  1. 1. Man was happy in his poverty, aka really they wanted to be poor
    2. Hard work could free man from his poverty, aka Daily Mail circa 2014 bloody scroungers
    3. Women don’t exist, aka women don’t exist
    4. Could dispatch his servant, aka points 1, 2 & 3
    5. Serpent of colonialism in the paradise, aka how he had received all those advantages and made the world easy to travel around in the first place

    This ludicrously uncritical thinking will not stand, man!

  2. Dear Rusty Rockets,

    I think this quote is excellent in many ways, but also shows up just how much has changed since it was written too. Yes, Keynes was a well-off member of the ruling class and made himself even wealthier through a series of shrewd investments on the stock market; and yes, his tone can be somewhat condescending to modern ears more sensitive to equality. And yes, he doesn’t mention women at all. That said, I think it’s harsh to judge someone writing close to a hundred years ago with the moral standards we hold today. I have to admit to not knowing enough about Keynes to defend him against your colonialism jab, but as an economist I doubt he would have held the view that colonialism was a good thing: the view that colonies were of benefit to either the colonised or the coloniser was already being debunked back in 1776 by Adam Smith. Indeed he even rejects imperialism himself within the above quote as a “serpent within paradise”.

    What I find interesting about this is both the parallels and improvements we see between now and then. Then it was only the privileged few who could access this kind of instant commerce over the telephone, whereas today that now applies to the vast majority in the developed world. And with the arrival of low fares airlines, the ability to travel overseas is now open to all too. Even investing in the stock market is within reach of anyone with even a few savings to hand and a bank account.

    So, in short, what this demonstrates is progress. The world has evolved and moved on, and now many of the issues raised by you – and Keynes – have been moved centre stage. Meanwhile, we can all order anything from any part of the world whilst tapping on our iPad and sipping a cup of tea. We can even do it from the beach.

    Michael

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