History of anxiety and possibility

The developed world faces a new bout of anxiety given the current status of technology development. To understand the anxiety, the historical perspective on the short- and long-run effects of technological progress on labour substitution, post the Great Depression, is traced. The present technological progress stands in contrast to what Keynes called the “Economic Possibilities” of technological unemployment. The probable policies for tackling contemporary issues of technological unemployment are discussed.

The political economy of technological labour substitution is filled with insightful works, but the one that stands in the middle and sweeps across the significant part of history is John Maynard Keynes’s “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren” (1930).1 The essay is futuristic and depicts Keynes’s understanding of the impending technological unemployment. A famous quote from the essay reads

‘As machines continue to invade society, duplicating greater and greater numbers of social tasks, it is human labor itself—at least, as we now think of “labour”—that is gradually rendered redundant. (Keynes 1930: 4)’

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