One Advantage of the Recession Is That Our Lives Will Be Worse

More

The Economist lists the cons and pros of the American recession:

But has the Great Recession made things worse? In theory, it could do. Slumping investment may slow the pace of innovation. Soaring government debt could raise interest rates. Higher taxes, designed to reduce the debt, might dull incentives to work and invest. More regulation, in finance and beyond, could deter innovation. Workers' skills may atrophy as a result of joblessness. On the plus side, well-targeted government spending on, say, infrastructure or education could boost potential output, while the huge wealth that Americans have lost may induce more of them to work for longer.

That's one of the more spectacularly unconvincing silver linings I've read! The bit about infrastructure is all well and good -- it's conceivable that the recession has created the political will for previously unfeasible public investment projects -- but how can it be true that the recession will make us better off by inducing "more of [us] to work for longer"?


I could imagine some complicated argument about how the recession might induce a kind of cultural shift regarding the retirement age, and how this relates to the long-term solvency of the social security fund. But as one's legal claims to social security money remain the same, that's hard to imagine. A cultural shift about retirement would not amount to the same thing as raising the retirement age.

No, the Economist really seems to suggest that, ceteris paribus, we Americans will be better off working longer. But why? Americans already work more than, say, the citizens of the country in which the Economist is published. And it cannot be the case that we will be better off spending a greater portion of lives in toil for an amount of wealth equiavlent to what we had before the recession.

The basic questions about standards of living -- how much free time do you give up in exchange for how much wealth? -- are still the most important ones. If work were a good unto itself, you could imagine various governments making the world a better place before periodically destroying large quantities of their citizens' wealth.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is the Greatest Story Ever Told?

A panel of storytellers share their favorite tales, from the Bible to Charlotte's Web.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In