Your Greed Stops You From Having a 4 Day Work Week

Back in 1930, renowned economist John Maynard Keynes predicted technological advancements would mean we would all eventually work just 15 hours a week. That same year, evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley predicted the two-day work week. Both men warned that someday, we would have so much leisure time, we would be bored out of our minds.”

Can you imagine that? 15 hours per week! Bored out of your mind!

What the hell happened?!

According to a recent article in CNN/Money – we all got really greedy!

“These great thinkers were right about one thing. Technological progress has made workers more productive than ever before.

Yet rather than cutting the work week gradually over time (like the Europeans did), productivity gains have fueled a consumerism boom in the United States. So instead of taking time off, Americans are just buying much more stuff.

Benjamin Hunnicutt, a historian at the University of Iowa, calls the shorter workweek the forgotten American dream.”

In most cases, fewer hours mean workers might have to take a pay cut, and would not be able to buy as much. But in exchange, they’ll get more free time, save on child care costs and likely be healthier and happier in general.

For example, Dutch workers are on par with American workers in terms of productivity per hour. They pay higher taxes and earn less than Americans. But on average, they work roughly 11 weeks less than their American counterparts each year, have access to government-funded health care, pay little or nothing for a college education, and have far more leisure time than the American.

When UNICEF recently ranked 21 industrialized nations by well-being for children, Netherlands was on top and the United States was near the bottom, in 20th place.Guess who also ranked happier with life overall? The Dutch worker.But Americans still labor on.

“The idea that we can grow our economies forever and ensure everyone a full-time job is a myth,” Hunnicutt said. “We have to deliberately choose to work less and therefore buy less.”

So, are you willing to go with less, so you can work less?  I think most people would say – “No.”  I see it far to often, especially in the boom or bust economy of Michigan’s Auto Industry, when times are great and overtime is being worked by all – you see the new cars, the summer cottages being bought, etc.  People work more, to accumulate more, with the thinking at some point they’ll be able to stop and enjoy it all.  Then one day you look up and realize, you have to keep working to keep all that you’ve accumulated.  Consumerism is a bitch!

I wonder what life would be like if I had less.  A number of years ago my family relocated and we were between houses and staying in corporate apartment – all we had was our cars and some clothes.  My wife and I look back at how easy of a life that was!  No yard to mow, no house to constantly take care of, no keeping up with the Jones.  We took the kids to parks, we did more as a family, we were never happier, and we had less.  There’s something to say for less…



3 thoughts on “Your Greed Stops You From Having a 4 Day Work Week

  1. I have spent nearly 40 years of my life trying to answer the question: Why did the shorter hours movement stop? I wish it were that simple – that higher wages correlate directly with shorter hours. This is simply not true considered through time and in light of cross-sectional examination. Indeed, working hours were reduced nearly by half before 1930 when workers were dirt poor, judging by our standards – the period of most rapid reduction of work hours (1900-1920) occurred when wages were fairly stable. The period of hours stabilization (after WW II into the 1970s) was a time of some of the most rapid increases in wages. Moreover, today, some of the best paid people work the longest hours (holding overtime pay constant). PLEASE read my book. I can assure you that the reasons for the ending of shorter hours and the neglect of the Forgotten American Dream were numerous and complex. I argue, and try to substantiate, that the best answer has to do with the rise of “Full-Time, Full Employment” as a national goal and central political imperative, JOBS, JOBS, JOBS (that had its origin in FDR’s New Deal), accompanied by the rise of the modern religion of work — what Robert Hutchins at the U of Chicago called “Salvation by Work” and Jacques Ellul called the “ideology of Work.” “Salvation by Work” is so much a part of how we moderns understand the world and ourselves that we are nearly unable to imagine an alternative. We are blinded by our credo that individual and national progress is simply more work and more wealth forever and forevermore. I hope that my book provides the very real, traditional/conservative, and imminently more practical alternative – of progress as the building of our ability to live together convivially, of the growth of robust communities, functional families and the panoply of meaningful, FREE human relationships and activities– authentic progress that would put all our wonderful technological accomplishments in the shade. Remember the closing lines of “America the Beautiful” — “and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” Work and wealth forever is simply not sustainable on several levels. Benjamin Hunnicutt, author of Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream

    • Benjamin,

      Thank you for your comments – very thought provoking! I’ll make sure to pick up the book. I always tell people they are kidding themselves when they offer up “I’d be willing to make less, if I could work less” – it’s easier said than done, for most.


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