We have three economic problems right now in the industrialized, developed world. First, we have very high unemployment, especially youth unemployment. Second, we are worried in general about automation causing job losses. Third, we face a productivity crisis as the developed world's workforce ages and retires, and we have to support more people with fewer working people.
That all three crises exist is insanity, pure and simple: we have both too many workers and too few workers.
It reminds me of my crazy (and apocryphal) aunt: "I don't have enough money to live on!"
"Why not?" I ask. "You have a good-paying job."
"I have to save all my money, otherwise I won't have enough to live on."
One does not have to have a Ph.D. in economics to see the obvious answer: put people to work, which will increase productivity. We can increase productivity directly by producing more goods and services right now with existing capital. We can indirectly improve productivity by creating more capital (factories, stores, trains, airplanes, etc.), and by improving technological and human-capital productivity with education and training. It's blatantly obvious that we can dramatically increase productivity. If we could not, then it would be true that we are already not only operating our economy at full capacity, but that we are increasing productivity as fast as possible. We are doing neither.
The reason we are in this insane situation is simply this: a prosperous society cannot be controlled, subjugated, and dominated. The capitalist system was created to wrest political power from the feudal, land-owning monarchy. It has stayed in power by keeping the working class dependent and impoverished. The prosperity and improvement of the working class in the late 20th century was due to the temporary ascendance of the professional-managerial class, formerly the middle class under capitalism. But the professional-managerial class has been defeated by the capitalists. The capitalist class objects in principle to a prosperous society: prosperous workers believe that they deserve prosperity, autonomy, dignity, and life itself; prosperous workers believe that they have the right to a good life. The capitalist class believes that life itself is a gift given to the working class, that the working class does not live by right, but by the sufferance, sacrifice, and nobility of the capitalist class. Capitalists are happy enough, I suppose, to give the workers life, but it is insufferable ingratitude and presumption for the working class to demand a gift as a right.
We are not in a real economic crisis. In a real crisis, we would be facing some difficult trade-off imposed by physical circumstances: either trading off consumption now for investment to create consumption later, or trading off consumption by some for consumption by others. But shutting down factories, putting people out of work, and then saying we don't have enough for everyone is insane and immoral. And this is precisely what the capitalist class is doing right now.
We are not in an ordinary political crisis. In an ordinary political crisis, well-intentioned people have sharply differing opinions on public policy.
We are in an ideological crisis. The capitalist class has not only shown itself incapable of creating general prosperity, it has shown itself actively hostile to general prosperity. They are bent on creating conditions of general immiseration, because only a miserable population will be truly grateful to the capitalist class for giving them their lives, however "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" those lives might be.
It is time for something better.