Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left by Mark C Taylor - review by John Gray

John Gray

Life in the Fast Lane

Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left


Yale University Press 396pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

There is no country and no people who can look forward to the age of leisure and of abundance without a dread. For we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy. It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person, with no special talents, to occupy himself, especially if he no longer has roots in the soil or in custom or in the beloved conventions of a traditional society.

This passage, which Mark Taylor cites, was written by John Maynard Keynes and appears in his celebrated essay ‘Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren’, published in 1930. Characteristically subtle and paradoxical, Keynes at once welcomed and feared the age of leisure and abundance that he believed was coming. His fear that ordinary people might be unprepared for an age of leisure proved to be unnecessary, since such an age never arrived. When something like abundance was achieved in affluent industrial societies, it wasn’t translated into free time and most people ended up busier than before.

A professor in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, Taylor aims to show how this pervasive busyness came about. He identifies a number of causes, including the Protestant valorisation of hard work and worldly success, which he tells us ‘encouraged privatization, decentralization, and deregulation’; the rise of neoliberal economics,

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