Longer working hours, later retirement, lousy pensions - hardly the life of leisure we were promised for the 21st century! So what went wrong and what can we do about it?
This is a book about the Real Economics of real people, written in plain English. It is a book about appalling failings and the appalling ignorance of the people who have been allowed to run our economy. It is also, however, a book about a better future - about what we, as individuals and as a society, could become if only we stopped wasting our resources and our talents. It is a book about a potential economic miracle - but to achieve that miracle, we first need to understand where we are now and how we got here!
Please read this sample chapter to see if this is the sort of book you would enjoy reading:
Whatever Happened to
the Life of Leisure?
The View from the Moon
When I started putting this book together, it was 2009. 40 years had passed since man first landed on the Moon. Naturally, many people back in 1969 had high expectations for the future - and who could blame them? In the blink of a few short decades, mankind had advanced from the propeller planes of the Second World War to rocket ships landing on the Moon. It was an incredible period of technological advance - perhaps the most incredible and rapid advance in all of our history.
If you had asked someone in 1969 to predict the future, they would most probably have predicted that the following decades would see many new scientific and technological developments. We have indeed seen many great advances - but our man from 1969 would almost certainly have expected something else to accompany our technological achievements.
He would have expected that scientific and technological advances would have fundamentally transformed life for the ordinary working man (and woman). He had been led to believe that machines would, certainly by the end of the century, have taken over nearly all the backbreaking and menial tasks, enabling the ordinary working man to have an easier and more rewarding job, work fewer hours, have longer holidays and be able to retire early. "The Life of Leisure" was what he had been promised - if not necessarily for himself, then certainly for his children.
Work, he was told, would no longer dominate our lives - it would all be done so efficiently that we'd have to find other things to do with our time. Rather than it being difficult to find enough time for leisure, we might struggle instead to find enough things to do with our leisure time. We'd all be looking to take up all manner of sports and hobbies and we'd still have plenty of time for culture, art, lifelong learning and plain old relaxation.
If you had told this man from 1969 that actual life in the 21st century would involve people not only working longer hours than ever before, but would see people retiring, not earlier, but later, he would not have believed you. If you had said that even when a man and his wife worked full time all their lives, they might still not be able to afford to retire before they were seventy, he might have thought you were having a joke with him!
So, whatever happened to the "Life of Leisure"? It is certainly not that advances in technology did not materialise - at least, not in a country such as the UK. Visit a modern factory and many ordinary people would still be amazed at the level of automation and the ingenuity and technological sophistication of many of the production processes. Visit a construction site and, instead of men with shovels, you'll see all manner of mechanised diggers and cranes. Visit a typical house and you'll see the very washing machine and vacuum cleaner that were promised. Visit an office and you'll see the ubiquitous computers that are indeed perfectly capable of performing in a split second the thousands of calculations that would once have taken days to work out with pencils and paper.
But something has obviously gone terribly wrong! Somehow, we find that the fruits of our technological advances are unexpectedly unavailable.
Indeed, far from leading the life of leisure, we seem to be struggling to make ends meet. Our pension schemes are becoming increasingly less generous. Schemes that once guaranteed a generous pension and a comfortable retirement now look set to provide little more than a pittance, even though many of the workers who pay into these schemes are making the same or higher contributions whilst having to work ever harder to comply with the neverending "efficiency drives" that are put before them.
The problems aren't just faced by individuals and families: Our public finances are in an appalling state even though we are skimping on essentials. We have hospitals that aren't being cleaned, millions of children who aren't being properly educated and we're sending our soldiers into combat without bothering to provide them with the proper equipment, training and support they deserve.
I believe that, despite our advances in technology, our resources are being squandered on a despicable scale and the purpose of this book is to explore and explain how and why this is happening and suggest what we can do about it.
I also hope that, along the way, ordinary readers will discover how we can get beyond the meaningless babble that so often counts for economic debate in this country. Far too many politicians and media pundits are clueless about real Economics. They witter on about various trivial obsessions, throwing in trendy terms and largely meaningless statistics in a desperate but transparent attempt to hide their incompetence.
I'm a skilled economist, but my arguments are ones that the "ordinary-man-in-the-street" can probably relate to perfectly well. This is not a book of obscure or complicated theories - and, because I actually know what I'm talking about, I don't need to hide behind trendy business terms or statistical babble.
There are very few statistics in this book. Whilst many people's arguments lean heavily on them, we all know that statistics can be chosen to support almost any case one might care to put. They prove very little - but they remain the acceptable way to present an argument. Many of my arguments in this book rely more on examples of how people are known to behave. Considering human nature and the incentives at work, I then argue how widespread such behaviour is likely to be.
Fundamentally, Real Economics is not particularly complicated anyway - you just have to push aside the bullshit from people who pretend that it is! The root causes of our economic problems are actually straightforward and perfectly easy for ordinary people to understand, as are the solutions. We just need the courage to question the rather pathetic excuses for failure that we've heard up till now.
Real Economics is not about "Gross Domestic Product" or the finance-centric obsessions of the media - it is about real people struggling to overcome the very practical resource problems they face in being able to spend time with their families, retire at a reasonable age in reasonable comfort and in generally trying to do something meaningful and worthwhile with their lives!
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I hope you found it interesting and would like to read more!
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