Kris Feder: "Economists on Past and Future History"

Introduced by Thomas Bartscherer

Part of the ROSTRUM series, hosted by The Language and Thinking Program at Bard College

Kris Feder is an associate professor of economics at Bard College. She spoke on the Bard campus on August 24, 2012.

A common theme among these selections is that of rapid technical change. George (1879) reflects on the unprecedented rate of invention of the past century and asks why the countless labor-saving devices have not eradicated poverty. The average standard of living had risen, but the gap between rich and poor had so widened that the poor were now worse off than before, and the country was mired in depression.

A half century later, Keynes, writing after the onset of the Great Depression, ascribes it to growing pains–to the inability of institutions to adapt quickly enough to rapid technical change. A century hence, he predicts, humanity (at least in “progressive” countries, will have solved “the economic problem”–the struggle for subsistence that has up to now been the lot of all living things.

Hayek (1944) observes that rapid technological (and other) change brings the risk of loss for people who are free to choose their occupations. Spooked by the rise of socialism and Nazism, he warns that efforts to use government to protect individuals from such risks (to guarantee income stability) puts us on the “road to serfdom.”

What accounts for the rapidity of economic growth of recent centuries, after millennia of relative constancy? Keynes’ 100 years have nearly passed (2030). Has humankind just about solved “the economic problem”? Is the Golden Age upon us at last? If not, why not? And what are the prospects for the next 100 years?

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