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Why is free time still so elusive?

By Gary Cross

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In fact, one of the most famous economists of the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes, confidently predicted in 1930 that within a century, the normal workweek would decrease to 15 hours. Yet Americans in their prime working age are still on the job 41.7 hours per week.

Why was Keynes wrong?

He was not wrong.

With increases in productivity and automation gains it should have been like this.


But with neo-liberal Reagan-ism and Thatcherism and LDP "new Capitalism" there were massive corporate tax cuts and corporate welfare so all the gains were extracted to an increasingly distant rentier oligarch class.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

dagon is right once again. For 40 years most of the gains in productivity have gone to the top 10% and most of that to the top 1%. Emasculating organised labour and any resemblance of a social contract have been pivotal. Capital, and its needs, has thoroughly infiltrated governments and world financial/trade architecture. Ramping up the hedonic treadmill propaganda has helped propel the endless, fatuous pursuit of tat and, in addition, getting people in debt to do this has captured the worker.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Reality check.

Workweek: According to the US BLS, the average weekly workweek for all employees on US private nonfarm payrolls, was last 34.1 hours. Down from 34.3 the month before, and down from 34.5 YoY.

Productivity. Back to the US BLS, where we find that productivity of non-farm workers, as a measure of output of goods and services per hour worked, increased to 111.76 points in the fourth quarter of 2023. Up from 110.88 points the previous quarter. Productivity in the United States averaged 61.16 points from 1950 until 2023, reaching an all time high of 111.76 points in the fourth quarter of 2023 from a record low of 24.95 points in the first quarter of 1950.

Why the bumps? Reuters told us last year that, according to economists polled, the government revised the data when it revised the methodology. Which it has done a number of times since the metric was first recorded in 1947 (it’s good to be in statistical power, isn’t it . . . especially approaching an election).

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I'm not going to get technical about this because figures can lie. But in my 30s I reduced my work week to four 8-hour days. I reduced spending on everything but the mortgage on the house, which I paid extra to reduce quicker. And I quit work entirely when I was 54, sixteen years ago. I live frugally, but I can still be generous with money when it's needed by family and the occasional charity. And I have lots and lots of 'free' time for volunteering and travel (especially to Japan). It's all possible if you put your mind to it, and dump the desire for new things to replace things that are perfectly good to use. There's no need for a new car every few years. Feed your mind, not your ego. It's a better way to live.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It'd be nice to hear from those who apparently favour this failing and iniquitous system but I guess they have no argument unless part of the 10 or 1 per cent. Wake up to how your lives are being done for you. You are not, as Steinbeck apocryphally said, "temporarily embarrassed millionaires." You are losers, like the rest of us.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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