Keynes’ grandchildren – looking for a better future with work and welfare

J M Keynes suggested in a renowned essay around 1930 that his grandchildren, thanks to increasing efficiency at work, would have solved the ”production problem” of satisfying their needs with a few hours of daily work. But we, who could have been his grandchildren, continue to work as hard as ever, while our consumption has trebled in the last fifty years.

Fast growing consumption also creates global warming and other environmental hazards. Keynes’ proposal of easing the burden of work has turned into a condition for ecological survival. Efficiency must be paired with a sense of sufficiency.

The book presents the transition from scarcity to an economy of abundance, now limited by ecological restraints and the outcome of this in terms of progress in society and life satisfaction. It discusses global consumption trends and drivers of consumption, in society and in people. In search of a better future, it analyses employment patterns, advocating work sharing as the ultimate means –  among more conventional ones – for a sustainable future for our grandchildren.


Christer Sanne, MSc, PhD and retired Assistant Professor from KTH (Royal Institute of Technology).  Tel: +46 8 30 47 38


The book (in Swedish) is published by Formas,  174 pp. ISBN 978-91-540-5980-5


CONTENT (in direct translation from Swedish)


1. Despair or brilliant chance?   

Trebled consumption and still not happier – and the earth can take no more!   

A quijotic proposal?   

A more satisfying starting point: the production problem is solved!   

2. How did we get there? – from Adam (Smith) to the Limits of growth   

From social ties to freedom without responsibility   

Consumption from needs to wants   

3. What did we get? – on living standard and the environment

What has happened to consumption?   

The welfare state and the Baumol dilemma   

Lifestyle, income and pollution   

4. How did it work out? – on progress and happiness   

To measure society's progress   

Happiness, consumption and work: what do people say?   

5. Room for everyone? – on global consumption   

The global perspective: incredible gulfs   

Limits to growth?   

A world out of balance   

What will happen next? – the world in 2050   

6. From needs to lifestyle tools – the history of ideas of consumption   

Morals and needs in a stratified society   

New times: production and work in focus   

Consumption as a cultural and social phenomenon   

Back to needs by the back door   

Is it really a question of consumer welfare?   

7. Why do we buy?   

The economic perspective: preferences guiding towards well-being   

Consumption and status   

Consumption and psychology   

The locked-in consumer   

What do consumers say on needs and wants?   

Buying less for the sake of environment?   

8. Living lightly – is it possible?   

How much is enough?   

Environmental policy chasing its own tail   

Sustainable consumption in Swedish politics   

9. Out of the treadmill – to save the environment!   

Work for better or worse   

A sustainable order for employment   

10. A future to look forward to   

Actors and arenas   

The state and the Janus face   

Reflexive consumers and citizens   

Social climate and future politics