Will Our Grandchildren Work Only Four Hours Per Day?

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Chinese billionaire and Alibaba founder Jack Ma predicted this week that in 30 years, people will be working less than they do now. According to NBC:

“I think in the next 30 years, people only work four hours a day and maybe four days a week,” Ma said.

“My grandfather worked 16 hours a day in the farmland and [thought he was] very busy. We work eight hours, five days a week and think we are very busy.”

Only time will tell if Ma’s prediction will come true in terms of its time horizon and magnitude. But, if the next century follows the pattern of the previous 150 years, we could be looking at continued and significant reductions in total working hours. 

For many Americans, at least, comments such as Ma’s may cause them to scoff. Remarkably, there still seems to be an impression among many Americans that they are working more hours now than their grandparents did. 

This is no doubt true in some specific cases, but overall, the evidence is clear that people are working less now than in the past — with the possible exception of the recent past.

Indeed, if we look at a survey or total work hours conducted by Michael Huberman and Chris Minns, we find that total hours worked have declined over time: In Germany, for example, total hours worked declined from 3,284 hours in 1870 to 1,463 in 2000. In Canada, work hours declined over the same period from 2,845 to 1,835.

The overall trend is obvious, and only the US, Sweden, and Canada in this sampling of wealthy countries shows something other than a decline from 1980 to 2000.

From 1870 to 2000, though, total work hours declined 39 percent in the United States, 40 percent in the UK, and 55 percent in Germany. While it’s certainly possible that some Americans may be working as much as their great-grandparents did, overall, most of us work more than a third less time than they did.

Other studies have shown similar results.

Today, not only are modern workers working fewer hours in many cases, but fewer workers are necessary to produce at least as much wealth. 

This is especially true when we look at these trends through a global lens. As Powell notes, child labor declines the most in those countries where real incomes exceed $12,000. The number of countries where this is actually the case continues to expand, just as poverty continues to decline in the developing world.

This isn’t to say that everything is perfect or getting better in every way all the time. Nor are the gains evenly distributed. The relative gains being made in recent decades in the US, for example, have slowed as American workers face greater competition from foreign workers. Gone are the days when the European competition was still digging out from the rubble of World War II. Also gone are the days when workers in places like India and Latin America and China offered little competition. Workers in the Western world once had a near monopoly on the benefits of being in close proximity to the world’s best capital — including the best factories and the best technology. Nowadays, highly advanced production facilities can be found throughout the world. And this means more competition from workers in the developed world.

Time will tell if war, unchecked government regulation, or some other disaster may put a halt to the declines in working hours we’ve been enjoying for so long. If not, our descendants will be looking back on five-day weeks the way we should now look at the grueling work schedules of our great-grandparents.

Full article: Will Our Grandchildren Work Only Four Hours Per Day? (ZeroHedge)

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