Artificial Intelligence in the Age of Leisure

Artificial Intelligence in the Age of Leisure

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Situating AI in the Schumpeterian Framework

In the dynamic narrative of economic development, artificial intelligence (AI) stands as a transformative technological force, holding the potential to redefine economic structures. As we explore this largely uncharted domain, drawing from the insights of prominent economic theorists, like Joseph Schumpeter, could prove invaluable. Schumpeter’s evolutionary economics, with its focus on ‘creative destruction,’ provides a robust framework for understanding potential AI impacts on our economy.

Schumpeter envisaged a dynamic model of capitalism that emphasized the role of technological and process innovation in its cyclical progressions. ‘Creative destruction,’ a term he coined, encapsulates a process of industrial mutation that persistently revolutionizes the economic structure, leading to the demise of old systems and the creation of new ones (Schumpeter, 1942). AI, with its profound disruptive potential, mirrors Schumpeter’s vision of technological change and may drive the process of creative destruction.

Historically, technological advancements have led to more productive societies and improved living standards (Bresnahan and Trajtenberg, 1995). Assuming this pattern holds for AI, we might anticipate a surge in productivity, potentially reshaping the nature of work and leading towards an age of leisure as prophesied by economist John Maynard Keynes, predicting that technological progress would reduce work to just fifteen hours per week (Keynes, 1930). Yet, we must recognize that these are potential scenarios and not certainties, with realization dependent on numerous factors such as regulatory actions, societal adjustments, and the trajectory of AI development.

Graph comparing Productivity in Different Sectors over time

The Implications of AI on Labor and Productivity

The intricate interplay between artificial intelligence (AI) and labor markets, as well as its effect on productivity, constitutes a complex and multifaceted topic of study. Precise outcomes are largely contingent upon several factors, which include the pace of AI’s advancement, the adaptability of society to these technological shifts, and the nature and efficacy of policy responses crafted to mitigate potential disruptions.

The ability of AI to automate routine tasks represents a profound transformative potential, which may significantly disrupt existing job roles and structures. This disruption echoes Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction, wherein old industries are supplanted by new ones in the wake of technological innovation (Arntz, Gregory, and Zierahn, 2016). Yet, it is important to note that this potential disruption is not solely negative in its implications. Indeed, AI might simultaneously catalyze the creation of new roles and occupations, many of which are likely beyond our current conceptual purview (Autor, 2015). Such roles could span a diverse array of areas and sectors, from specialized AI programming and AI ethics to policy-making roles dedicated to managing AI’s societal impacts. Additionally, entirely new industries could be birthed from the disruptive impetus of AI, further contributing to job creation.

Beyond its potential impact on job roles and structures, AI also promises to substantially augment productivity. By assuming responsibility for routine tasks, AI would free up human workers to concentrate on more complex, creativity-driven tasks, thereby potentially enhancing overall productivity (Brynjolfsson and McAfee, 2014). This increased productivity, if appropriately managed and equitably distributed across society, could lead to a profound transformation of societal structures. It could potentially bring us closer to the realization of the ‘age of leisure,’ a prophetic vision outlined by Keynes, wherein individuals enjoy more leisure time as a result of increased productivity. However, such an outcome is far from guaranteed and requires careful and equitable management of the productivity gains derived from AI.

Graph showing AI Job Displacement and Creation (Creative Destruction) over time

Toward Keynes’ Age of Leisure: Is It Feasible?

In his seminal essay, “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” John Maynard Keynes projected a future where the average workweek would be drastically reduced to 15 hours, brought about by advances in technology and gains in productivity (Keynes, 1930). He depicted a society in which the ‘love of money’ is gradually superseded by the ‘art of life.’ As we move towards an increasingly AI-driven future, one may wonder if such a societal transformation could become a reality.

However, the economic community remains divided on this matter. Economists Brynjolfsson and McAfee, in their 2014 work, posit that technological progress, including AI, is likely to catalyze significant productivity enhancements. However, they caution that these gains may not necessarily manifest as increased leisure time unless the appropriate socio-economic infrastructures are in place to facilitate this transition. On the other hand, some scholars contend that the impact of automation, far from universally boosting productivity, may instead amplify income disparities (Autor et al., 2017).

Navigating the transition towards the leisure age envisioned by Keynes would require society to engage with complex questions surrounding wealth redistribution and the implementation of measures such as a universal basic income (UBI). Furthermore, it may necessitate a fundamental reconceptualization of societal value systems, shifting away from the current emphasis on work as a principal source of personal identity and purpose (Bregman, 2017). This potential transformation invites further exploration and discourse on our collective vision for the future.

Graph Comparing Leisure to Productivity Over Time

Policies for Navigating the AI-infused Economy

The role of policy responses in steering the course of AI’s impact on our societal structures will be of paramount importance. Policymakers are faced with the formidable challenge of achieving a fine equilibrium. On the one hand, they must promote and encourage the continued innovation and development of AI technologies. On the other, they have the responsibility to address and ameliorate potential disruptions that AI may introduce into our societies.

Certain policy initiatives might become indispensable as we navigate this complex landscape. For instance, measures such as lifelong learning programs could equip the workforce with the skills necessary to adapt to AI-induced changes in the job market. Comprehensive social safety nets could cushion the impact of potential job displacement due to AI. Furthermore, the implementation of policies like universal basic income could provide an economic buffer for those most affected by the transition (Brynjolfsson, Rock, and Syverson, 2017).

To ensure equitable access to the benefits of AI, policymakers might also need to contemplate significant reforms in various policy domains. These could span a range of areas, from taxation to intellectual property rights and competition policy. Such measures would be aimed at promoting the broad dissemination of AI benefits while preventing undue concentration of wealth and power (Furman and Seamans, 2019).

To chart a course for our AI-enhanced future, it is imperative for all stakeholders – policymakers, technologists, and the wider society – to engage in a robust, inclusive dialogue. The complexities and uncertainties of this future necessitate open discussions and collaborations that welcome a diversity of perspectives and voices.

Toward an AI-integrated Future: Insights and Projections

As we tread into an unpredictable future, we can draw valuable lessons from examining the intersection of Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction and Keynes’ envisioned age of leisure, particularly concerning the progression of AI. The rapid advancement of AI technology has the potential to deeply disrupt labor markets and significantly elevate productivity levels. Nevertheless, these transformations, in isolation, are unlikely to precipitate the transition to Keynes’ prophesied leisure age.

Adaptations at the societal level, encompassing shifts in value systems and the mechanisms for wealth redistribution, will play a pivotal role in this transition. Concurrently, it’s essential to develop and implement rigorous policy responses to effectively harness AI’s potential and temper its disruptive impacts.

The emergence of AI has put forth a unique set of opportunities and challenges for society. By drawing upon the wisdom and foresight of economic thinkers like Schumpeter and Keynes, we can navigate this novel economic terrain more effectively, striving towards an equitable future that offers not just increased productivity, but also enhanced leisure.


Arntz, M., Gregory, T., & Zierahn, U. (2016). The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries: A Comparative Analysis. OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 189, OECD Publishing, Paris. 

Autor, D. (2015). Why are there still so many jobs? The history and future of workplace automation. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 29(3), 3-30. 

Autor, D., Dorn, D., Katz, L. F., Patterson, C., & Reenen, J. V. (2017). The Fall of the Labor Share and the Rise of Superstar Firms. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 135(2), 645–709. 

Bregman, R. (2017). Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World. Little, Brown and Company.

Bresnahan, T. F., & Trajtenberg, M. (1995). General purpose technologies: ‘Engines of growth’? Journal of Econometrics, 65(1), 83–108. 

Brynjolfsson, E., & McAfee, A. (2014). The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. W. W. Norton & Company.

Brynjolfsson, E., Rock, D., & Syverson, C. (2017). Artificial intelligence and the modern productivity paradox: A clash of expectations and statistics. In Economics of Artificial Intelligence (pp. 23–57). University of Chicago Press.

Furman, J., & Seamans, R. (2019). AI and the Economy. Innovation Policy and the Economy, 19(1), 161-191. 

Keynes, J. M. (1930). Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren. In Essays in Persuasion (pp. 358–373). Harcourt, Brace.

Schumpeter, J. A. (1942). Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Harper & Brothers.

Keynes, J. M. (1930). Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren. In J. M. Keynes (Ed.), Essays in Persuasion (pp. 358-373). Harcourt, Brace, and Company.

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