Is the 15-hour work week closer than we think?

Why the 15-hour work week predicted by economist John Maynard Keynes hasn't come to pass -- yet.

You don't work as hard as you say you do, according to the U.S. Labor Department. They just released a study that found the typical worker claims to work 40 hours a week -- while actually working around 37.

But either way, your work week is still a lot longer than the 15-hour work week that economist John Maynard Keynes predicted we'd all be working by now.

So what happened?

Prof. John Quiggin's an economist at Queensland University in Brisbane Australia and author of "Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us." He looked into the 15-hour work week and found that part of the problem lies in an increase in consumption that Keynes hadn't predicted.

Keynes predicted that new technologies would allow workers to become more productive. This would mean they wouldn't have to work as many hours and could devote more time to leisure. Using an equation, he found that eventually, people would be able to work about 15 hours a week and still maintain their standard of living.

But Quiggin says Keynes didn't predict the rise in consumption. And then again, Keynes certainly didn't predict "time wasters" like weeding through spam emails or updating Facebook at work.

Then again, maybe we put too much emphasis on "hard work."

"It turns out that a lot of the things that are most valuable really didn't come from hard work aimed at making money," says Quiggins. "For example, if you look at the Internet, it really...arose because university professors like to chat to each other."

But if your job is something you love or would do anyway, you're probably okay not working a 15-hour work week. You tell us.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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That's a tremendous insight. It's too bad some bosses don't understand the point!

(Of course some cashiers, who spend their time talking on the phone with friends instead of being visibly ready to serve, don't understand it either.)

Instead of asking why we don't have 15 hour weeks, we should be asking why anyone thought that Keynes' prediction was reasonable.

Prof. Quiggin mentioned that one reason we don't work 15 hour weeks is because of increased consumption - which accounts for us working 3X as much as we really have to? I think not. LARGE numbers of people, even before the crash, were NOT suffering from an excess of goods, i.e. they were IMPOVERISHED, and there are more of them today.

Instead, I'd like to propose an explanation that is much more sinister. Have we considered the evidence that GREED has taken over world corporate businesses? How about the fact that corporate business, and especially corporate BIG business, over the last 40 years (since Keynes died), has QUADRUPLED its profits, while keeping wages flat, or even declining? What is that but greed? Instead of giving or at least sharing the benefits of progress (technology) with Labor, which Keynes must have expected (previously traditional ), they have kept them entirely for themselves.

So now, instead of enjoying the benefits of progress, Labor is exploited more and more. The core principal is that this way, by this simple arithmetic, The Rich get richer 4X as fast, while everyone else scrapes to get along. From the capitalist's perspective, this is the perfect arrangement. There is no REAL glut of material goods. Most of it is JUNK.

Prof. Quiggin I propose is an apologist for the corporations, that he would overlook the obvious explanation (for people having to work 3X as hard as John Maynard Keynes thought we would), that a new paradigm, with business no longer seeking a win-win relationship with Labor, but is now seeking to dominate it, break its power (with globalization), force cheap labor, and reap unworldly profits. Now it wants MAXIMUM PROFITS, and a win-lose relationship with Labor is FINE with them.

Increased consumption? I think Americans have been TRICKED, by their corporatist government, at the behest of Corporate, into spending beyond our means. I clearly recall "W" Bush telling America, over and over at one point, that it was our patriotic duty to pull out that CC and spend, Spend, SPEND! We had had the growth rug pulled out from under us, in the midst of dramatic economic growth, all the while being assured that the good times were right around the corner. Growth would cover the debt! Only, because big corporate wasn't sharing that growth with Labor, that DIDN'T happen. People KNEW that wages were not rising, while corporate profits skyrocketed, but chose to ignore the signs. We had been promised! We had CONFIDENCE in the system! We thought "those corporates know what they're doing." Indeed!

Encouraging consumption while keeping wages flat, and providing easy credit to everyone, was a cynical method to squeeze the last few dollars out of People rapidly being made much POORER. I think Globalization, first and foremost, and the Crash of 2008, has killed the American Middle Class OFF, practically speaking. The Working Class is almost gone, to be replaced by The Poor, and there's no end in sight.

We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that we're getting screwed, in the worst possible way (just about).

The 15-hour work: lots of people with no money and lots of time on their hands. Sounds like a recipe for mass revolt.

Or maybe we are starting to see the beginning of the 15 hour work week with all the under-employed and part-time employees? Right now I work or get paid 15 hours just to pay my taxes. I wonder how that figures into his theory?


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