40-hour work-week as a tool of emiserating economic growth

The author isn’t arguing that, and actually acknowledges organised labour the same way you do.

The idea is that the eight-hour day is over a hundred years old as a concept, while our ability to produce has increased exponentially. Which is part of why so many people can’t find decent work, or in many cases, any work. Factor in all the other stuff we know and the preservation of the 40-hour week can look like a bad decision for society in general.

–edited for typos


It’s a good thing that fitness and tourism aren’t in any way consumer-oriented pastimes!


Ummm. I’m not saying the 8-hour workday is a good thing, but the idea that it’s been “engineered” by big business is ridiculous. TV producers, fast-food vendors, and luxury manufacturers aren’t the ones controlling the length of the workday.

There’s nothing sinister about it; 8 hours is pretty much the amount of time an average worker is willing to stay in place every day in exchange for earning a monthly salary. Industries where they can get people to stay more, they often try to; industries that don’t need it (and are self-aware enough to know it) can have less. “More time == more work” is a fallacy, but it’s a persistent one, and managers still manage by it. (Also, I don’t believe for a second that 3-hour workdays would be as productive as 8 hour ones. People’d waste half of that the same way they waste half their 8-hour day - because you can’t monitor a dozen people in office jobs all day, and you have no clear measure of what’s “productive time” and what’s “non-productive time.”)

And concluding that with more spare time, people would consume less, is spurious. Maybe some people would. Plenty wouldn’t. Do schoolteachers and government employees and housewives spend less money, watch less TV and lead more fulfilled lives?

COULD we shorten the workday? Sure, why not. (As long as you’re willing for salaries to drop or rise corresponding to productivity changes.) Does an 8-hour workday make it tough to lead fulfilling lives? Well, yeah, but so do other factors, like not drawing a paycheck, or simply being an average schmoe who would honest-to-goodness rather watch TV than learn to piano or join the Neighborhood Watch or whatever it is you think people are going to be doing with all their spare time. Is Big Business conspiring with every office in the country to keep us a weary captive audience? Would economy collapse in flames if everyone was equally productive but ALSO had more leisure time for family, sports, hobbies and entrepreneurship? Ummm. No and no, methinks.

I agree that an 8 hour workday is a big improvement over past labor practices. However, I have had a lot of thoughts about how productive it is. It has taken me about twenty years to get to the job I have now, where I am expected to manage my own time, where I am free to take off for a doctor’s appointment without asking permission first, where I can occasionally work from home so I can work without distraction or get my kid shuttled to an appointment. This is despite the fact that my primary occupation has been as a writer and therefore I was the best person ever to do a telecommute or occasional day home.

I have found the need to control my time oppressive; I feel very fortunate to have a great boss and work with a company that has set up everyone’s computer for sharing information with each other no matter where we are located.

People still living off the land probably see 80 hour work weeks as routine and subsistence is often an aspiration.

Planet Money from NPR did a show that touched on this and there was a dairy farmer who was making just above state minimum wage based on his profits and hours worked. Now I’m familiar with farmers and how hard poor they’ll claim to be, but there’s no denying that they put the hours in.


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Modern farmers don’t live off the land. Subsistence agriculture is not industrial agriculture.

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You’ve failed to understand a key feature of societies of any size. It is not necessary for there to be conspiracy in a situation where there are relatively few players and their interests all coincide and the ratio between their ability to choose to do whatever they want and the number of choices they have in pursuing those interests is relatively small.

Big business doesn’t have to get together in secret backroom meetings to discuss how to “keep us a weary captive audience”. In fact, it doesn’t even have to realize that it has this goal. All (a) big business needs to do is to pursue whatever is currently seen as the most effective ways to grow its own economic activity (a choice that will be largely mediated via the current business world sub-culture). In so doing, it will end up more or less the same as every other big business, no conspiracy, just a confluence of purpose and tools.


Good thing all the new jobs are part time!


Work-time reduction reallocates the fruits of increasing labor productivity, resulting in both significant well-being and environmental dividends. More happiness and less consumption are both associated with a steady state economy; a dynamic economy which incorporates innovation, and both social and environmental values, but one that neither grows not shrinks in the aggregate.

See steadystate.org

This sounds backwards. If we kept pay the same, or raised it, and cut the work week to 20 hours, we’d probably see a lot MORE recreational shopping and a lot more time spent developing commercial mechanisms for “using” the additional time. Recreational shopping has been a thing since at least the stone age. How do you think guys like Homer made a living?

" Can you imagine what would happen if all of America stopped buying
so much unnecessary fluff that doesn’t add a lot of lasting value to
our lives? The economy would collapse and never recover. "

Recently heard the same thought from an AP article : AP IMPACT: Families hoard cash 5 yrs after crisis

“The implications are huge: Shunning debt and spending less can be
good for one family’s finances. When hundreds of millions do it
together, it can starve the global economy.”

If families, acting in their own best interests, “Can starve the global economy,” something is very wrong with the global economy.

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For those of us who work in tech industries chained to a computer in a cubicle, there isn’t one damn thing you can accomplish in 8 - 10 hours that you can’t accomplish in 5 hours, working efficiently. The notion that more hours leads to more productivity is complete bullshit. Long hours are just a way to validate and valorize the stupid hours that management spends in ridiculous, unhelpful meetings, I get so irritated when I hear about game developers or whatnot working 60-70 hours a week. .It’s so fucking unnecessary.

After five hours of productive work, you spend the next 3 - 5 hours making mistakes that need to be undone. It’s so stupid.


That additional recreational shopping and those new commercial mechanisms for using the additional time? Contributes to the economy, and creates job opportunities. On a massive scale, if a 20-hour work week became standard.

Not all of those 20+ extra hours everyone has will be devoted to shopping and commercial entertainment, though. As the article, and some of the other commenters, have said - the reason people do so much recreational shopping and commercial entertainment (including TV, restaurants, movies, whatever) is because so much of their time is spent at work, they’re looking for the easiest entertainment fix in their few off-work hours. Many people don’t even feel like they have the energy (mental or physical) to even read the internet, much less a book.

If you have an extra 20 hours a week, eventually you get bored with shopping and TV, and you look for something else to do - and that’s where you find fulfillment. Not everyone, maybe, but that’s not the point. The point is you have that time if you want to use it. Nowadays, few people do.


Let’s see: 150 years back, the work day was often 12 hours or more, you worked six days, maybe five and a half if your employer was progressive and only worked half days on Saturday.

Store clerks often worked the entire time a store was open which might be from seven in the morning until ten at night.

No, I think this guy has got this one so badly wrong as to be laughable. This smells of being locked in an ivory tower for so long you have forgotten the real world entirely.

No one is forced to work an 8 hour day, I understand there’s lots of part time work out there and even day work where you don’t even have to show up tomorrow. Go wild.

But how does a particular firm benefit from its particular workers being better consumers of junk in general? If a firm agreed with raptitude’s premises about productivity and consumption, it seems to me that what it would save by cutting hours (and therefore wasted wages) would far outweigh the tiny dent it would make in the overall economy by its workers buying less junk.

I’m surprised nobody has mentioned France yet. They don’t work a full 40 hour week, as they only work 4 days instead of 5.
I used to work a 4 day week, but 10 hours a day. That extra day was awesome, though I was working Friday nights and saturday mornings (it was either that, or Friday nights and Saturday nights - even worse!).
I really don’t think its some kind of conspiracy to make people buy more.

It benefits by not flouting currently accepted behaviour in ways that could lead to a backlash against it, or business in general. If a company was to ask the question you are asking, and seriously considered telling its employees that they would only be paid for 25hrs a week now, what do you think their forward-looking and sideways-looking analyses would be? Why are their peer businesses not doing the same? What if their peer businesses start doing the same?

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Are you saying that companies are afraid that if they cut hours, other companies will see what a great idea it is and join in, leading to significant damage to the economy as all those workers spend less? If that were how companies approached their labor decisions, wouldn’t more of them pay a living wage? Wouldn’t they expect that to start a trend that would boost the consumer economy?

That doesn’t make any sense.

Leisure, obviously, existed before modern industry. It existed before hominids evolved. Animals rest and play. You can’t simply equate leisure, rest and recreation in general, with recreational shopping, which depends upon urbanization and market economies.

The novel situation is that wealth production has continued to increase at an exponential rate, while mean income has stopped increasing. In the US, per capita production has more than doubled since the mid-1970s, but per capita mean income, which historically followed a similar growth curve, suddenly stopped changing in 1973. Worse, income has been redistributed so that everyone but the very rich have been losing income.

Something very strange is going on, economically. Something unprecedented. There’s immiseration without resistance, and while there’s been a great deal of attention to the mechanics of immiseration, I think that there’s much less attention paid to the lack of resistance. There were plenty of arguments in the 19th century against establishing the eight-hour day, when twelve- and sixteen-hour days were the norm, and yet many ordinary people struggled bravely for the eight-hour day, and won. Why aren’t we fighting for the four-hour day now?

I was reading a discussion, elsewhere, of the artistic development of computer games, which included the comment that while it may be true that even the best computer game narratives remain trapped in adolescent fantasies, it’s striking that in broader popular culture, fantasy, science fiction, and narratives aimed at young adults have become the dominant genres in literature and film, overwhelmingly. The thought that crosses my mind is that the arguments that computer games encourage acts of violence is nearly the opposite of the truth. What’s happening is that fantasies of individual heroism displace visions of collective struggle. We know, even as we play Skyrim or read Harry Potter, that these are wildly implausible, that isolated individuals can’t change the world that way. But we’re imagining what we know is impossible, and not thinking about, or remembering, the sort of popular, collective struggles that have made real change – such as the decades of struggle to build labor movements and win the eight-hour day.


Yeah and 150 years ago you might be a slave too. Things are so much better now, how can anyone complain?!

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