An escape from what Keynes called ‘the tunnel of economic necessity’ is still open to us. Yet it will require radical changes in the economic structures that drive the chase for money and in the attitudes shaped by a culture of consumption. After decades of finance-driven capitalism, it takes an effort to recall that such changes ever seemed possible.A more efficient marketplace is not the same thing as a better social order. Today we are guided by different stars, and it's naive to think we are still traveling towards the same place.
Yet it is now clear that market liberalism has failed in its own terms. It promised that if markets were set free, everyone would benefit in the long run.The goal of maximizing profits while minimizing costs will not ultimately square with the ideal of a decent wage.
The glaring presumption that there ever has been, or ever will be, a traversible road to utopia ought not be counted among those things to admire in the article. Whether we imagine that road to be paved by material progress, moral discipline, social planning, or technological development, the skeptical regard which Thomas More bore his own Utopia is a salutary reminder to denizens of the genre. Quiggin suggests there will be a point in the near future, given present material and technological progress, when no one will 'need' to be poor. The choice of terminology is telling. The suggestion seems to be, should poverty still exist beyond that point, it will be because humanity has perversely stood in the way of what was otherwise inevitable. Here is a prime example of a hopeful monster if there ever was one. If it can be thought, the hope says, it can also be accomplished, but the monstrous means would have need to be employed to achieve the supposedly inevitable end tell a cautionary tale. Utopia is quite literally no place, or not a place, so no road will ever get you there.
Humanity is made from crooked, knotty stuff, which does not conform to abstractions so easily as someone intellectually inclined might like to think. Not without good reason did Plato consign his Republic to the realm of ideas only vaguely approximated through great effort in bodily reality. Nor was Augustine merely giving voice to a unjustified pessimism regarding human nature when he placed the New Jerusalem at the conclusion of the present age. Hopeful monsters, like the one Quiggin proposes, are rather the progeny of an intemperate impatience. It is a trap not easily avoided by modern liberals, who profess love for humanity in enlightened abstraction, but are severely disappointed by its colourful exemplars.