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Wednesday
Nov042009

16-Hour Work Week by Year 2020 (1967)

The idea that advanced 21st century technology would lead to ridiculously short work weeks was incredibly popular in the 20th century. And why not? Improved efficiency meant we'd obviously be working less, right? Seems like common sense.

I don't need to tell you that things didn't quite work out as the futurists had hoped. You're probably working more hours than ever; that is, if you're lucky enough to have a job at all.

The article below ran in the November 26, 1967 Gastonia Gazette (Gastonia, NC). It assumes that people will be working significantly less and raises concerns that all this free time will lead to "boredom, idleness, immorality, and increased personal violence." The piece even proposes the possibility of a guaranteed wage.

Those who hunger for time off from work may take heart from the forecast of political scientist Sebastian de Grazia that the average work week, by the year 2000, will average 31 hours, and perhaps as few as 21. Twenty years later, on-the-job hours may have dwindled to 26, or even 16.

But what will people do with all that free time? The outlook may not be cheery.

As De Grazia sees it: "There is reason to fear, as some do, that free time, forced free time, will bring on the restless tick of boredom, idleness, immorality, and increased personal violence. If the cause is identified as automation and the preference for higher intelligence, nonautomated jobs may increase, but they will carry the stigma of stupidity. Men will prefer not to work rather than to accept them. Those who do accept will increasingly come to be a politically inferior class."

One possible solution: a separation of income from work; perhaps a guaranteed annual wage to provide "the wherewithal for a life of leisure for all those who think they have the temperament."

1967 Nov 26 Gastonia Gazette - Gastonia NC paleofuture

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

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Reader Comments (10)

This is superb insight.
Apparently, the hope is always > the reality where technology is concerned.
Quality of life is simply a choice. Boundaries are not set by the relative and available technology of a culture's time, rather by its inhabitants. If no one sets those boundaries, they become unsustainable.
Cheers for the thoughts. You've made my day with them.
=
c

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterchad calease

America has a class of people living off of inherited fortunes created a century ago, including some political dynasties I could name. They take advantage of guaranteed incomes, patronage and phoney "jobs," while lecturing the rest of us about self reliance and the morally corrupting effects of receiving the unearned. Go figure.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMark Plus

In fact, I "carry the stigma of stupidity" for working 13 hours a day, and not being enough immoral to feel satisfied. :-)

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrunnerfrog

Alas, what they did not contend with was the captialist work ethic which insisted that any time not spent making money was wasted. If the future meant only having to work 16 hours a week to reach current levels of productivity, then imagine how much more productive everything would be if people still worked 40 hours! Or even better, with advances in communications and computer technologies, we can make it so that they never really leave work at all! And if anyone doesn't want to get on board with that, just make sure that inflation forces them to.

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCory Gross

Well, the article's enumeration of problems is actually pretty good. The effective unemployment rate (as opposed to the official rate of people registered as unemployed) in America is currently about 19%. If the mean workweek of employed people is 40 hours (yeah, some people work long hours, but many others are underemployed), then the mean workweek including the unemployed is about 32 hours.

Now, we're in a terrible recession, but the last couple of economic recoveries weren't great for job growth, and some of that was chalked up to "increased employee productivity", that is, to the benefits of automation.

All that's missing is the great socialist or social-democratic rejiggering in which this excess productivity gets harnessed to give everyone a better life instead of just rendering people redundant. People have been predicting that ever since the 1840s, of course, and I suppose social-democratic countries that actually have a functioning welfare state and a strong labor movement have it to some extent. Not here, though.

(As it happens, last week I joined the ranks of really-but-not-yet-officially-unemployed people, so this hits home for me.)

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMatt McIrvin

I gotta say, for once the vision of future fashion was pretty accurate -- albeit for the 1980s, not 2000!

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbuzz

It never ceases to amaze me that socialism not only isn't on the radar for suburban north american zombies -- it isn't even conceived of as a concept. A nullity. No wonder we get these ridiculous projections at every turn.

Read Marx, people (for starters)... THAT's how you make sense of your present and your future. Don't listen to Bull O'Really and the other mass-propaganda fascists: it's their job to lie to you. Look at your Ken and Barbie world falling about your ears.

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergrok

I actually liked the way you have explained the work factor in this blog. when on work be dedicated on work and if not don't disturb others.

r4i

December 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHoly

And now the social-democratic countries that actually have a functioning welfare state and a strong labor movement are running out of other peoples' money. Socialism works only two ways: you either have wealthy people who agree to have their wealth redistributed, or either everyone is a slave to the State. The State being that august body that Karl Marx wanted to own all the property. If you are forced to work for someone other than yourself, you are not free. Freedom from responcibility is not liberty.

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