Our Economic Anxiety


Today, the Acton Institute carries an article I co-wrote with Victor Claar on our age of economic anxiety:

This is not a mere selfish concern about who gets how much of what. It is a moral anxiety, a concern about what kind of people we are becoming. Is America still a country where it pays to “work hard and play by the rules,” in Bill Clinton’s famous phrase? Or have we become the kind of place where cheaters consistently get ahead and slackers get a free ride—where working hard and playing by the rules is for chumps?

The essay is adapted from a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Markets and Morality Victor and I co-edited on the legacy of the Keynesian Revolution:

We are all Keynesians now, in a chilling sense. Through the cultural effects of the Keynesian Revolution, we have been taught to think of ourselves fundamentally as consumers, as bundles of desires striving to be satisfied, rather than as producers of good things that improve the world and serve humanity. We have been taught to think only of what satisfies present desires, not to build up good things over time so our grandchildren inherit a better world. “In the long run we are all dead,” Keynes said, banishing from our horizons any concern for what kind of world we leave our descendants when we go. And we have been taught to think of ourselves as cogs in a vast machine, under the control of managerial experts. To accommodate the experts’ demands we must all be ready to reorder our lives down to their very roots—since taking control of the economy necessarily involves exercising ever-greater control of all areas of human life.

There is a sense in which even the anti-Keynesians are all Keynesians now. The major schools of economic thought that have emerged to challenge Keynesianism—the Chicago and Austrian schools—developed within the amoral discourse incubated in the neoclassical period and consolidated by Keynes. They share, in a somewhat mitigated but essentially similar form, Keynesianism’s privileging of consumptive preferences over productive purposes, and its reductive inability to think cross-generationally. And while they strive to resist the Keynesian tendency to justify the encroaching powers of managerial technocracy, their acceptance of Keynesianism’s materialistic anthropology and morally shallow categories for thinking about economic activity leaves them unable to offer the effective resistance to creeping totalitarianism that is one of their primary goals.

Check it out!

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