Friday, April 28, 2006

At the movies

In 1930, legendary economist John Maynard Keynes published an essay called "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren." Keynes surmised that the main problem of Americans today would be what to do with our copious leisure time.
Keynes figured productivity would surge (correct), wages would rise (of course), and people could do more in less time (yes). We'd wind up with all this time to hang around. This would lead to pool halls, Hummers and Hooters restaurants. I'm telling you, the man was uncanny.
However, the central claim of Keynes’s essay failed to come true, even though it rested on logic as simple as one plus one equals two: The little work that needed to be done would be spread out among the population in portions of perhaps fifteen hours per week, because “everybody needs to do some work if he is to be contented.” Keynes spent a large part of the essay discussing the promise and difficulty of adjusting to life when we are freed from the struggle for subsistence, but this prospect sounds as much like the distant future to us today as it did to readers in 1930. read more "Leisure Overload? Nothing Doing."By Neely Tucker

Quite a few articles and books have been written on Keyens' famous essay and most of them seem to conclude that Keynes was right in predicting that economic growth could free society from the constant struggle for survival, but that he was wrong in predicting that it would, that he did not foresee that society could fail to take advantage of these possibilities even if the economy succeeded in creating them.
Well, in Friends with Money you'll actually meet a few women (played by the very talented Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack and Catherine Keener) and their insignificant others (the film was written and directed by a female, Nicole Holofcener, so most men here are either sexual predators or sort-of-gay, or just cold and stupid)who apparently have been freed from the constant stuggle for subsistence. Indeed, just as Keynes had predicted, the main problem that these super-successul/rich L.A. types are facing in their lives is "what to do with our copious leisure time," winding up with all this time to hang around. It's not surprising the Francis Fukuyama had written his End of History while working at the Rand Corporation's headquarters in Santa Monica. Although these gals, guys, and gays are approaching middle age and beyond they don't seem to have to deal with, say, pressure at work, irritating kids, aging parents, this or that disease (I won't even mention relatives fighting in Iraq). What can I say? I really, really didn't care about these characters who kvetch, and kvecth, and kvetch all the time and hated the movie which is basically "about nothing" meeting Neurosis; but unlike "Seinfeld" and Woody Allen it's not funny at all. I recall seeing in the early 1990's a boring movie about the boring life in boring L.A. called L.A. Story with Steve Martin which wasn't as bad a this movie. That had a certain humanity that seems to be missing from "Friends." If these is the kind of friends you end up in L.A., I'd rather be in Philadelphia, friendless, poor, and with no time to hang around.


Steve Sailer said...

The entertainment industry in LA requires a huge surplus capacity of local residents who work only intermittently. For example, a sit-com producer gave me an example. One afternoon they decided they needed a ukelele player for filming the next afternoon. They put the word out to agents and the next morning there were five guys with ukeleles in their waiting room ready to audition. "And each one was great!" he recalled in amazement at LA's abundance of the talented underemployed.

Global Paradigms said...

One could probably make the argument that Hollywood, like the rest of the entertainment industry is an example of a "winner take all" market which allows the top earners to corner a large proportion of total income. The criticism of such markets has been that they push the salaries of the winners into the stratosphere while the rest remain far behind. But I think that what happens in Hollywood and other of these markets (also in arts, sport, etc.) is that at some point the "losers" recognize their status and adjust to that by doing part-time work, teaching, free-lancing, etc. The fact is that they prefer to be "underemployed" because they enjoy what they're doing and are paid per hour more than they would have done by moving to another non-winner-take-all markets.