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The Economic Problem

Sometimes referred to as the “problem of scarcity,” the economic problem Keynes referred to is the fundamental principle of most economy theory. It assumes that although people’s desires are limitless, the resources available to satisfy their needs and wants are limited. And as far as Keynes was concerned, the economic problem was nothing less than “the primary, most pressing problem of the human race” from the “beginnings of life in its most primitive forms.”

“We have been expressly evolved by nature — with all our impulses and deepest instincts — for the purpose of solving the economic problem,” he lamented. “If the economic problem is solved, mankind will be deprived of its traditional purpose.” ...

KEYNES WAS ALSO WRONG in imagining that his “golden age of leisure” could come about only through advances in productivity and technology. Convinced that mankind had been on a journey of unrelenting progress since we emerged from the swamp, he believed the 15-hour week to be the culmination of hundreds of generations’ collective ingenuity and effort. Perhaps Keynes would have had a different view had he known that the 15-hour week was a reality for some of the handful of remaining tribes of autonomous hunter-gatherers, and that, in all probability, it was the norm for much of the history of modern Homo sapiens. ...
The possibility that our hunter-gatherer ancestors might not endure an unremitting struggle against the elements first came to public attention in the 1966. It followed a series of studies conducted by a Canadian anthropologist, Richard Borshay Lee, among the Ju/’hoansi “bushmen” of the northeast of southern Africa’s Kalahari. He was surprised to learn that Ju/’hoansi spent only 15 hours a week securing their nutritional requirements. ... It was on the basis of this and subsequent work by anthropoligists — notably Marshall Sahlins in his 1972 book, “Stone Age Economics” — that Ju/hoansi and other similar hunting and gathering people came to be referred to as “the original affluent society.”
- James Suzman, The Bushmen Who Had the Whole Work-Life Thing Figured Out, NYT, JULY 24, 2017


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