May Day: Shorter hours — If not now, when?
The litany of shorter work week prophecy is prodigious. Keynes famously predicted a 15-hour work week for “our grandchildren” in 1930. Fifteen years later, in a letter to T.S. Eliot, Keynes parenthetically suggested a 35-hour work week for the U.S. in the immediate post-war period.
In 1961, Clyde Dankert cited a New York Times article from 1949 in which a “well known labor economist” predicted a 20-hour work week by 1990 and a ten hour week by 2050. Eight years later, a vocational educator forecast the 20-hour week by 2000. Also in 1961, Dankert himself suggested 1980 as the year by which, “the thirty-hour workweek should be widely established and some progress made toward the twenty-five-hour week.” Three years later, he was somewhat more circumspect, “In time we should reach the 30-hour week and even the 25-hour week, but despite all the talk about the leisure society, that time is not now and will not be for quite some years.
In a 1957 newsletter, First National City Bank of New York calculated that it would take 31 years to achieve a 32-hour work week if productivity increased at an average of between two and three percent a year and if workers chose to take the benefits in the same proportions of wages and hours as they had from 1909 to 1941. Alternatively, a four-day work week could be attained in eight years if productivity gains were applied exclusively to work time reduction. A similar calculation had been made by Fortune editor, Daniel Seligman in 1954:
A calculation made by Fortune for the years since 1929 suggests that in the past quarter-century U.S. workers have been taking about 60 per cent of the productivity pie in the form of income, about 40 per cent as leisure. Assuming that the four-day week for non-agricultural employees will be attained when the total work week is in the vicinity of 32 hours, that productivity continues to increase at an average of 2 or 3 per cent a year, and that something on the order of the recent 60-40 ratio for income and leisure continues in effect, the 32-hour week should be spread throughout the whole non-farm economy in about 25 years.
As did the City Bank forecast, Seligman noted that the shorter work week could be achieved even sooner if workers were willing to forego wage increases.
In fact, productivity gains from 1954 to 1979 averaged 2.4 percent per year. From 1957 to 1988, annual productivity gains averaged 2.2 percent. Assuming 40 percent of actual historical productivity gains, ten paid holidays, and four weeks annual vacation, a 32-hour workweek should have been realized by around 1990 — aside from the likelihood that progressive reduction of the hours of work would have accelerated productivity gains.
Using the same assumptions, the work week in 2016 should be around 26 hours. Or perhaps people would prefer to continue with the 32-hour week and take three months annual vacation. These calculations overlook the fact that reduction of the hours of work had already stagnated in the early post-war period. If we backdate the 40 percent of productivity reduction to 1950, the 32-hour mark could have been reached seven years earlier.
Edward Denison estimated that 10% of historical productivity gains could be attributed directly to hours reduction. The chart below factors in that additional 10% productivity gain and compares actual average annual hours, 1950 – 2015 with potential hours if reduced according to Seligman’s and Denison’s assumptions:
But you can’t have it now. You just can’t. How about a tax cut for the richest, instead?
Maybe that’s because I wasn’t proposing anything. I was holding up past projections about the future to the evidence of history. What are YOU proposing?
The MALIGNANT lump of DEAD labor.
If workers had been receiving their fair share of the increases in productivity over the period in question, we might have seen either: a) a substantial and steady increase in real wages; or b) a reduction in hours worked for the same pay. Since neither of those things are happening…obviously a tax-cut is needed!!! It is almost as if the have-mores still don’t have enough.
The plowman can now do 10 acres a day which if based on the pre 1974 data, yes, he would get that gain of productivity in his pay as the boss man no longer needed 9 additional people.
With that, the boss man saw an increase in productivity from buying the tractor, but he still needed the plowman to run the tractor. So, where did the productivity gain come from? Both.
Of course, with the new age of digital tech, the plowman will be eliminated as the tractor will follow a digital directive.
Then, who will by the results of this increase in productivity at a level great enough to sustain the capital expense into this new productivity when the plowmen have no pay?
The plowman’s labor produced the surplus that enabled the landowner to buy the tractor.
ONLY labor TRANSFORMS the natural qualities of land into value. ONLY labor. Machines are only “productive” in the sense that they embody the value transformed by labor from land.
The illusion of capital that is inherently productive comes from the compound-interest bearing feature of money capital. In other words, usury. The rationales for interest are interesting, to say the least, and interested. But they are vacuous. “Time preference for money” and “abstinence from consumption” are essentially directionless and could as easily be used to rationalize a negative interest rate as a positive one.
He sat on that tractor. Really, you went there?
The plowman was paid for his labor. The plowman was not the one who took the risk that the crop would fail. The landowner did. That plowman was paid before the return of the harvest. It was not the plowman who invested the money to buy the tractor. If the plowman did own the means of his production, then he would indeed be able to command ten times as much money, because he and his tractor would provide ten times as much to his employers.
The laborer gets his wages — little risk, and a fixed, immediate reward. The capitalist gets the profit (if any) — much risk, and a future, indeterminate reward.
Who told you that, Warren? Ayn Rand? Ludwig von Mises?
You don’t know what those words mean. You really have nothing to contribute to the conversation. Rote repetition of reactionary platitudes is not discussion. Pointing out that your comments are cliches is not “ad hominem.” Try that bullshit again and your comment goes straight into the trash.
Warren, fair means shared. From your side, you think that capital deserves all gains. I think the plowman suggested how to use the plow best in the back 40 and how to mix the grain in the ration for the horse. I am not sure the capital did that. The plowman may have even suggested how to use the tractor more efficiently or that the sandy soils could be broken by an extra bottom on the plow:). And she may have seen the hailstorm coming and raced to harvest before the hail fell.
Fair is shared.
Sandwichman does have editor rights.
Yes, an author has rights for his/her post.
Good-bye, Warren. You have shown you have nothing to contribute but noise. From now on I WILL delete YOUR comments “ad hominem.”
It is just so sad, that there are people who can’t get the simple fact that said tractor does nothing without the plowman.
Then again, same people think the owner of a company get the same 1 person share use of a road as all the employees coming to his place of work. The don’t get that the boss man is getting a share of every employee that used that road to get to his place of work.
This is why business needs to pay taxes. I would suggest, to be radical, in proportion to the number of employees they have.