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ARTIFICIAL SCARCITY

How a game of musical chairs can help explain our broken economy

Contestants play musical chairs in New York
Reuters/Eric Thayer
Except if you don’t get a chair, you lose your house, your kids go hungry, and you don’t get medical care.
  • Charles Eisenstein
By Charles Eisenstein

Author, "Sacred Economics"

At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, futurists predicted an imminent paradise of leisure thanks to new machines that could “do the work of a thousand men.” If productivity rises a thousand-fold, it stands to reason that eventually, we will have to work only one-thousandth as hard. Right?

Oops. In fact, hours worked have actually increased since the 1970s (not to mention commuting hours). In those days, a single wage-earner with a high-school education could support a family. Personal debt proportional to income was half of what it is today. Higher education was nearly free, public services robust, and health care cost less than half of present levels.

Why are we so much less wealthy? Is it that the machines have stopped working? Is it that technology has regressed? Is it that it takes more time to produce the same number of goods?

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