John Maynard Keynes famously predicted in 1930 that by now we would only be working fifteen hours a week. What is less well-known is that his was nowhere near the only such prediction, nor the first—a wide range of commentators, including Charles Steinmetz and Buckminster Fuller, made similar forecasts. (And even Keynes’s prediction is generally misquoted.)

Why didn’t any of them come true? I recently discussed this with Jason Feifer on his podcast Build for Tomorrow. Here’s some elaboration with more quotes and charts.

The predictions

A 1934 book, The Economy of Abundance, summarizes many of the predictions (Chapter 2):

The technocrats promised every family on the continent of North America $20,000 a year [about $400,000 today], and a sixteen-hour work week. This is perhaps the peak of promises based on an abundance economy. Charles P. Steinmetz saw a two-hour working day on the horizon—he was the scientist who made giant power possible—but he stipulated no family budget total beyond “necessities and comforts.” …

Fred Henderson, in his Economic Consequences of Power Production, is more specific: “Without any further increase in our knowledge of power and of technical processes, or of our available materials, we could multiply production ten times over if the needs of the world were permitted to express themselves in effective demand. … It would not be a question of an eight-hour day or a six-day week, but more probably of a six-months working year—which is already the rule for university dons.”

Buckminster Fuller is still more definite. Modern man, he calculates, is 630 times more able than was Adam. Eliminating wasteful forms of work, four million Americans laboring fifty-two seven-hour days in the year (364 working hours, an average of one per day) “could keep up with every survival need”—meaning basic necessities for the whole population.

Walter N. Polakov announces that “fifty weeks, four days, six hours is enough”—a twenty-four hour week and two weeks’ vacation

Harold Rugg in The Great Technology estimates a possible minimum living standard between ten- and twenty-fold greater than the minimums of 1929, on a sixteen- to twenty-hour work-week. …

One can continue to cite such evidence indefinitely. Fortunately, A. M. Newman has been collecting it for years and saves us the trouble by the following summary: “Among them [such estimates] a substantial agreement is found that by better use of the mechanical facilities at our disposal we could produce many times our present supply of goods at considerably less effort.” The five-hour day tends to be the maximum estimate in Mr. Newman’s collection.

As for Keynes, his essay “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” wasn’t even saying that a fifteen-hour work week would be necessary for production. He thought it would be necessary to satisfy our psychological need for work, implying that our physical needs could be satisfied with less (exactly how much less, he doesn’t estimate):

For many ages to come … everybody will need to do some work if he is to be contented. We shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich today, only too glad to have small duties and tasks and routines. But beyond this, we shall endeavour to spread the bread thin on the butter—to make what work there is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible. Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem for a great while.

Why is the 40-hour work week still standard?

Here are my hypotheses (not mutually exclusive):

The predictions got the elasticity wrong

When labor gets more productive, workers can choose to work less for the same real wage, to make more money by working the same amount, or something in between.

Most of these predictions (if they were meant as predictions—see below) basically assumed the former: that living standards would stay constant, and working hours would be reduced. But as inventions like electricity and the assembly line were boosting labor productivity, inventions like the washing machine and the automobile were improving personal life. Workers wanted to earn more than they used to, to buy all the new products that were just becoming available. Some of the excess labor productivity was used to produce, and to consume, these new goods, rather than all of it going to increased leisure.

And as Jason Feifer pointed out on the podcast, even the new leisure itself required new goods and services to make the most of it, such as sports equipment or flights to vacation destinations.

Work got better

There was a shift from physical labor in farms and factories to mental labor in offices, and from routine work to more mentally challenging work.

Robert Gordon documents this in The Rise and Fall of American Growth. In 1910, 47% of US jobs were what Gordon classifies as “disagreeable” (farming, blue-collar labor, and domestic service), and only 8% of jobs were “non-routine cognitive” (managerial and professional). By 2009, only 3% of jobs were “disagreeable” and over 37% were “non-routine cognitive”:

Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth

This partly explains why, when NPR’s Planet Money set out to check on Keynes’s prediction in 2015, they found people who claimed they worked 50 to 100 hours per week—they were a psychotherapist and a university professor.

Working hours did decrease significantly

Just not as much as some predicted. A 70-hour work week, spread over six days, was once common. Now in France and Spain the average is around 35 hours:

And we got more vacation and holiday time as well:

Total lifetime working hours decreased even more

As family incomes grew, and as social ideas of childhood evolved, child labor waned, and children stayed more years in school.

On the other end of life’s timeline, retirement was invented. Robert Gordon explains:

In the pre-1920 era, there was no concept of “retirement.” Workers “worked until they dropped”—that is, they kept working until they were physically unable to do their jobs, after which they became dependent on their children, or on church charity and other kinds of private welfare programs.

Rising incomes enabled the creation of retirement, which can be seen in falling labor participation rates of older men:

But it gets better—life expectancy was also rising, meaning people had more years of life to actually enjoy their retirement. Here’s a chart to show this—it’s data from England and Wales, but I chose it here to show that the increases were not only in life expectancy at birth, but at older ages as well. For instance, someone retiring at age 60 in 1920 could expect about fifteen more years; by 2013 another nine years had been added to that:

Our World in Data

Putting this all together, Nicholas Crafts came up with these estimates for expected lifetime hours of work for men aged 20:

YearWork hoursOther hours
1881114,491 (49%)119,269 (51%)
195194,343 (33%)191,429 (67%)
201170,612 (20%)276,522 (80%)

A reduction from 49% of an adult life spent working to 20% is almost as great as a reduction from forty hours a week to fifteen.

There is a psychological value to work

People don’t need infinite leisure. They need things to do. Keynes had this right when he said that “everybody will need to do some work if he is to be contented.”

Economist Paul Romer went to Burning Man and pointed out:

… if you ask, what do people do if you put them in a setting where there’s supposed to be no compensation, no quid pro quo, and you just give them a chance to be there for a week. What do they do?

They work.

How seriously were these predictions meant?

A careful reading of The Economy of Abundance, however, makes me wonder whether these estimates were seriously meant as predictions. An alternate interpretation is that they were just illustrations of the potential for productive capacity.

Elided from the block quote above are other estimates, not of the potential for a shorter working week or year, but of how much the production of industry could be increased. For instance:

“It is an open secret,” said Thorstein Veblen in 1919, “that with a reasonably free hand the production experts could readily increase the ordinary output of industry by several fold—variously estimated at some 300 to 1200 percent.”

Veblen was an early promoter of technocracy as an industrial philosophy; I mentioned him in my review of American Genesis. Or take this, which the book attributes to J. A. Hobson:

With existing plant and power, and natural resources, labor and managerial knowledge, the world could produce at least twice as much wealth per capita as it is actually producing, without undue strain upon human energy.

These productivity increases weren’t supposed to come from advanced technology—they were to come from better organization and “scientific management.” The Economy of Abundance was written by Stuart Chase, an economist who coined the term “New Deal.” Ultimately, Chase was arguing that capitalism was wasteful and inefficient, and that with centralized government control, the waste could be eliminated. He cited an earlier study of his that had found millions of workers’ worth of manpower wasted on inefficient production, on distribution, and on “vicious goods and services.” He suggested that “an Industrial General Staff” appointed by the President to direct the economy could double the standard of living.

So it’s not clear how much people actually expected a sixteen-hour work week or whatever. Some of them might have just been saying that productivity could be much higher, regardless of whether that turned into shorter working hours, higher wages, or a combination of both—and regardless of whether they saw that as a miracle of capitalism, or a condemnation of it.

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There is also a tremendous amount of make-work. 

My uni has 2 new layers of management between professor and president (was 2, now it's 4) since 1998. Recently we noticed a scary budget shortfall. They decided to reorganize. After reorgnization...kept those extra 2 layers.

My doc's office joined a big corporation. It was ACA (Obamacare). They would have had to hire another clerical worker to handle the extra paperwork.

This blog post is about something else, but buried in it is the number of clergy for various US denominations. Whether the denomination is growing or shrinking, the administrators' numbers explode. https://www.wmbriggs.com/post/5910/

Many of us have produced dissertations or technical papers that will likely never be used for anything. And there are way more people whose job it is to produce science. Yet scientific innovation continues to decline (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-04577-5). I think it's easy to miss how shocking this is. We have way more people working with way better equipment, with previously unavailable computer support, not just in the West but all over the world. We should have invented flying cars, the Terminator, and the flux capacitor by now. How much of a researcher's time is spent on innovation, and how much on grants, paperwork, and publicizing?

I don't know why we have so much work that didn't need to be done before. My guess is there was always pressure to do this but now we're rich enough we can afford to pour money into things that don't produce benefit. But it's just a guess.

I do not know how to explain this properly, but there is some amount of "non-work" work hours in every job I have done. If I were allowed to do everything that needed to get done and then go home at the end, no question, no raised eyebrows, etc, then most office jobs I have had would have been 2-4 hour work days.

Indeed, it's hard to get more than four solid hours of cognitively intense work done on any given day anyway, and if I have done this, I consider it an especially productive day. I mostly work for myself now and typically do my 2-4 hours of intense cognitive "real production" work starting a half an hour after I wake up, with all the benefits of a night of sleep, good blood sugar, and a fresh pot of coffee. After lunch, I might work on a couple of hours of boring housekeeping type stuff, answering emails, ordering supplies, talking to providers, cash i/o, etc.

But those office jobs, really, most days were spent filling 8 hours and a half with what could have been a single uninterrupted 4 hour block. I think some of the filler is also "meetings." I think a lot of people in broadly "middle level administrative" roles have probably experienced something similar.

Good point, and one of the hypotheses I considered including was “tech workers already only work 4 hours a day…” but decided it was a bit too snarky and cynical.

There may be some truth to this, but note that there has always been some degree of loafing on the job! In factories it used to be called “soldiering”—see the bit on Taylor and scientific management in this essay.

I'm a tech worker.  I work 40-70 hours a week, depending on incident load.  Nobody I work with or see on a regular basis works less than 40 hours a week, and some are substantially more than that.

My most cognitively productive hours are the four hours in the morning, but there's plenty of lower effort important organizational stuff to fill out the afternoons.  I think a good fraction of my coworkers are like me and don't actually need the job anymore, but we still put forth effort.

I think one of the major missing pieces of your article is "social status pressure".  Most people play the status game; they struggle to get ahead of their neighbors, even if it doesn't make any sense. They work extra hours to afford that struggle.  They demand more than the base necessities and comfort, because that's how you signal status.  It's pointless and stupid, but IMO one of the biggest issues.

Status is a zero-sum game, and there is no limit how expensive the zero-sum games can get.

But also, the relation between salary and "time actually worked" is counter-intuitive. Naively, the more you work, the more the employer should pay you. Because, why would anyone choose to pay more for less work, or why would anyone accept lower salary for more work?

If you introduce other variables besides salary and work time, it gets complicated. For example, people with more experience can be paid more, and maybe can also do their work sooner... if they can prevent the employers from giving them as much work as possible, which maybe they can, because their negotiation position is stronger. This could make the correlation between salary and work time smaller, maybe even negative. But at least it sounds fair -- higher salary and less work is your reward for the time having spent learning and practicing your craft.

There are also completely unfair variables. Most obviously, the country you live in. People in poor countries work more and get paid less, duh. But a smaller version of this effect also exists between companies in the same country. The more stingy companies pay less and make sure that their employees work all the time.

There is a related skill, not sure what would be the best name, let's call it "job market savvy". It is the ability to recognize and exploit the fact that the relation between work and salary is not what people might naively expect, even after controlling for skill level (and country). Its minimum version is recognizing when you are in a bad place, and quitting. That alone already lets you can get Pareto-better combination of work and salary than some people without this skill have. A higher version of this skill (I can only guess, because I am not there yet) probably involves actively scanning the job market for imbalances, probably using a network of people who play the same game, and applying for the Pareto-optimal jobs (and quitting when they stop being such).

In other words, I have a strong suspicion that if you are a tech worker who works 40+ hours a week, there is very likely a job that would pay you the same, for less work (though you might still need to spend 40 hours a week in the office), that you could get with the technical skills you currently have.

This seems to go against the "Econ 101" logic, but in my experience, the most exhausting jobs I had were actually not the ones that paid best. Sometimes they actually paid below the market rate (but the people who worked there were often too exhausted to notice, or too exhausted to prepare for a job interview).

The exceptions to what I said above, which are very bad are always the waiting. I hate it when I have 28 minutes of work to do, but it ain't gonna happen until Joe gets that other thing on my desk. Then Supervisor Jake wants me to help him pick up a rental car. The inefficiencies in those two processes in the worst case, might eat a whole day and have me home late. This kind of stuff is demoralizing.

I think in the past, factory workers might savor that. It's variety from the line, and it's "easy." For us management and information worker types, or at least me (lets say it's just me) this makes me want to punch holes in drywall. Between people wanting to have meetings in rooms with chairs, and processes involving waiting, those office jobs can get very taxing. Working for myself I mostly avoid the meetings, but I still have those days of time-eating activities.

Perhaps a common culture here on lesswrong is jobs where "we're gonna be here until everything is done" (including entrepreneurs and consultants) and so waiting is painful. Maybe for something like a government bureaucrat or a factory worker or similar, it would still be a boon.

[-]TAG00

Thats never been my experience, and it doesn't make much sense. Since tech workers are expensive, you could just manage with half as many if everyone is doing 4 hour a day.

Yes. Exactly. Assuming they can actually focus on the work and work for the whole 4h. Which is sort of the whole issue.

If you only have half as many workers, you'll end up with half the amount of work, as they're also only working for 4h/day.

These stats don't seem to account for the working poor somehow? Those who struggle paycheck to paycheck working full time or more, with no savings and expecting to rely on charity when finally unable to work. And no, it's not just a US thing, it happens in Europe, too, let alone in the "developing world".

I think the vast majority of the working poors earnings go towards paying rent, then utilities, both of which are industries which haven't scaled up. Even people on minimum wage can afford a lot of goods with an hour's wages, so long as they pick the cheaper stuff and shop around a bit. Far more than I imagine people could afford a hundred years ago.

I'd guess it's overabundance of working-class workers relative to the need. But recently I'm seeing claims that the elite are overabundant: for example, there aren't enough elite slots for the next generation, so Harvard's acceptance rate has gone from 30-odd% to around 1%; and would-be middle-class young people are having to stay with mom and dad to save on rent while working long hours. How can there be an oversupply of all different classes of workers? If it's that automation makes us all way too efficient, shouldn't that make us rich and leisured rather than overworked and desperate?

As a literal answer to your question: the stats do account for the working poor, but the working poor are a pretty small part of population as a whole and so don't skew the statistics as much as you apparently think.

Reading this article and the comments, it seems like everything in the article is technically true, the problem is that it only selects arguments that support one specific narrative, and ignores the other (also true) arguments.

Which by coincidence is like the thing that Scott Alexander recently wrote about.

Yes, people do not want the same living conditions as 100 years ago; they want better. But the new better things are often surprisingly cheap -- the costs of internet connection and a personal computer (one for each family member) are like 1% of the salary of an IT worker, which hardly justifies the 8-hour (or more) workday.

The missing part is that sometimes the same things (if available) now cost more. Sometimes that happens naturally, sometimes it happens on purpose.

The eight-hour workday was a political achievement (technology made it possible, but not necessary). Politics is another name for coordination. Short story is that employees are in a multi-player Prisoner's Dilemma: those who agree to work for more than 8 hours a day are more likely to get a job as individuals, but as a consequence they make their fellow employees' bargaining positions worse... because there are now more total work-hours available, which according to Econ 101 implies lower wages per hour.

The social pressure on women to have a career rather than stay at home, came first as political liberation, and soon became an economical necessity, as another Econ-101 effect of more total work-hours available. Being a stay-at-home person now either requires a rich partner, or good investment skills ("lean FIRE"). How could the workday not shrink from 8 hours to at least 7 or 6 when the worker pool almost doubled? Could it perhaps be because such things do not happen automatically? And a third instance of the same Econ-101 effect is the strategic use of immigrants and H-1B visa (but no open borders, of course).

We can now spend more years at school. But to add some context, the reason many of us spend the extra years at school is a zero-sum competition to improve our chances at the job market. (In some countries, we also pay handsomely for this privilege.) As a thought experiment, imagine that starting tomorrow each university will require 12 years of study... and if you do not study there for 12 years, you will be treated on the job market as having no university education. Would you consider this an improvement over the status quo? Because it would make the graph "average years in schooling" go even higher.

People don’t need infinite leisure. They need things to do.

Yeah, but those are not necessarily the same things. People who have a hobby understand the difference. (Those folks at Burning Man, how much time do they spend at meetings, and how many JIRA tickets they fill?)

*

...now, I do not want this to make one-sided. Less child labor, better jobs, earlier retirement, those are all valid points and great improvements! And, maybe, all things considered, the year 2023 with 8-hour workday is indeed better than a parallel reality with 7-, 6-, or even 4-hour workdays.

But you only provided evidence for one side of the story. Like the only reason people work 8 hours a day is because they sincerely want to, because it makes their lives better with no tradeoffs, because it gives meaning to their otherwise pathetic empty lives. Which, for many people, is actually not the case.

I think a lot of what you're saying depends on the price of hours of work decreasing as the supply increases, but hours of work don't have a fixed supply in the same way that goods like oranges do (hours of work are constantly traded-off with hours of leisure), and most people raise the price of each additional hour of work.

Working 1 hour total is much easier than working 1 additional after after an 8 hour shift; or looking the other way, having 1 hour free at the end of the day is much more valuable to me than having 1 hour additional free at the end of a period of 8 hours of free time. So even though I'm willing to work an additional hour for some amount of money, a clone of me with no job would be willing to work that hour for less.

So, even if you got rid of the 8-hour work day, we wouldn't all suddenly be working more hours for less money. Companies that tried to raise hours without raising per-hour pay would lose workers to companies that kept the old schedule (and in most cases on the low-end of the pay scale, keeping hours reasonable is a pure-win, since companies would rather have more people working fewer hours for redundancy reasons).

The employer gets a free pick who they hire. If there are a bunch of applicants the one that accepts the lowest salary is the most attractive financially to employ. But if they are okay with small pay because they don't have any leverage. So in order to get any kind of balanced situation the who gets employed should be ambivalent about taking the job or not taking the job. We can directly go for the weakest link who will be rejected from all other employment.

Sure for some educated positions people will leave so ridiciluos offers on the table. Low requirement jobs are a relevant alternative when you consider that you reject all of higher requirement jobs. We can go for the weakest link, the bottom rung of jobs that get the applicants that get rejected from any other level of job. So the most desperate person would need to reject scraps and choose to go without. I guess that is one form of dying with dignity.

If the most desperate person manages to reject then the next desperate person gets checked how many pennies needs to be added for them to grab the offer. Letting simple suppply and demand balance it means companies profit from desperation and have incentive to maintain or create it.

I guess I'm confused how you reconcile the view that this would definitely happen with the fact that we've run the experiment and it doesn't happen. The minimum wage in the United State is $7.25 and overtime pay at that wage would be $10.88, but Walmart doesn't pay anyone less than $11 per hour*. If they actually had the leverage you think they do, they could make all of their employees work huge amounts of overtime and still pay them less than they actually do in reality.

I think the problem is that you're assuming employers don't compete for jobs, but they do, and they also put in effort to retain workers (it's a waste of money to hire someone for low pay and then have them quit and switch to your competitor once they're trained). It's true that there are some people that companies don't want to hire at all, but if a company doesn't want to hire you in the first place, why would they want to hire you for long hours?

I did guess that the state with highest minimum wage would allow for a corporation that wants to operate as one entity in multiple states to be above the local average in some locations (or the global one). Quick search seemed to indicate there are quite a lot of states at 10.8 which is not far off 11.

There would also be some PR costs to literally hit the minimum on the penny which would generate a small margin.

But I have also heard stories that Walmart actively assists its employees to get every benefit and support that they ared entitled to. If a persons pay comes in significant fraction from public money the private forces are not keeping it balanced. The persons are actually half-employed rather than fully employed.

I would also think that having a employee be in working 5 and never getting a raise would be too unbearable. So you allow atleast some progression making the average of go up. That is also one trick. Emphasise that there is going to be good pay in 2 years in order to keep money hopes low for those 2 years. At the very extreme this leads to things like paying with only "exposure".

But yeah there is some tension.

I don't see how any of these things change my point. If Walmart could offer desperate people any wage and hours they want, there would be no reason for them to pay over the minimum wage, offer raises, or help their employees get benefits they're entitled to. They do all of these things because their employees do have other options and they need to do enough to make a job at Walmart at least as attractive as other jobs or non-jobs (going to school, not working).

I think this does not necessarily contradict the Prisoner's Dilemma scenario.

As a thought experiment, to make things simple, imagine that everyone wants the same hourly wage for each of the first 8 hours, but 100% more for the ninth hour, and 200% more for the tenth hour.

So we start with a 8-hour workday for everyone; everyone making 8x per day. (As a thought experiment.)

Now suppose that the 8-hour workday is abolished, and everyone decides to take the extra two hours to make 13x instead (8×1 + 2 + 3), because it seems like a good idea.

But now the total amount of available hours has increased by 25%, which (according to Econ 101) means that work becomes somewhat cheaper, per unit. Instead of the expected 13x the employees will get 13y instead, for some y smaller than x.

If you decide, as an individual, that 13y is not worth ten hours of your time every day, and try to get your original 8-hour workday back, guess what, now you can only get 8y instead of the original 8x. Oops. Now, depending on the exact values of x and y, maybe 8y is still enough to feed your family and pay the mortgage. Or maybe it is not... and then you can only curse the fate and keep working 10 hours a day, because the old choice no longer exists. But now the fact that you keep working 10 hours a day is also preventing other people, as individuals, to get their 8-hour workdays back for 8x.

Note that the exact values of x and y depend on the structure of the market (how flexible is the demand for work). It is not even guaranteed that 13y is necessarily more than 8x.

Companies that tried to raise hours without raising per-hour pay would lose workers to companies that kept the old schedule

The missing part is that the companies that kept the old schedule can now afford to pay less, because now more people want to work for them.

I don't think this works. You're going from a thought experiment with exact numbers that would agree with me, then throwing them away to use a heuristic and saying that somehow pay would go down.

Your thought experiment doesn't really match the current situation, since >8 hour days aren't actually banned, they just cost 50% more, but assuming there was an actual ban...

Specifically, the problem is that when the 8 hour work day is abolished, the supply of hours that cost $x stays exactly the same, while the supply of hours that cost $2x and $3x increases. The additional supply of more expensive hours doesn't help the employers' negotiating position at all. Or to be specific, the fact that Walmart now has a much larger supply of people willing to work for $24 per hour doesn't help them hire people for $12.

One way this could effect things is to increase income inequality, if some people are 4x as productive, it would be better to hire them for as many hours as you can get than to hire additional lower-productivity people, but it's weird to talk about this in terms of businesses exploiting people since total pay would actually go up.

I disagree total working hours have decreased. The number of average weekly hours per person from 1950 to 2000 has been “roughly constant”. Work weeks are shorter but there are more people working.

To be clear, I'm talking about total working hours per person.

Most of the reduction happened before 1950, but as you can see from the Our World in Data chart, there was still some reduction after that.

[-]Dana154

You are not talking about per person, you are talking about per worker. Total working hours per person has increased ~20% from 1950-2000 for ages 25-55.

Oh, I misunderstood. Yes, my stats are per worker. It's interesting to see that per-person has increased a bit. Not sure what to make of that. The early-1900s stats didn't count a lot of housework that was done mostly by housewives.

The per-person numbers are almost certainly due to women entering the workforce and thus getting counted in the numbers for the first time. Decline in fertility also has some effect (though probably smaller), as there are now fewer non-working children per adult.

How about an option of redistribution from payment structures making the top of the pyramid getting the shorter days first to the extent that the bottom gets only trickles?

Say you need 1000 hours of various forms of work and get 1000000 from the rest of the society for it.

Lowest rung of 100 get 10000 from 10 hours.

New technology comes in and you only need 100 hours for 1000000.

Bottom rung gets trickles now the bottom 100 get 10000 from 7 hours.

But that makes the whole lowest tier generate 700 hours to meet a requirement of 100 hours.

Perfectly greedy management might want to deceive that the technolgoy only boosts from 1000 to 700 hours.

But you can also do a "sloppy installment", use up 1 000 000 hours to install the new technology.

That effort needs to come from somewhere, so the management pays or provides it upfront and correspondigly has less of a margin to pay for strictly operation costs. So say bottom rung of 100 works 2 hours to get 10000.

After 100 periods the installing has been successfully amortised.

But the balance of labour supply and demand means that a deal of 2 hours to get 10000 (and the company not going bankcrupt from others competing with us) is a competetive deal.

So you if you keep the wages the same it doesn't rock the boat in any direction. Existence of this is what I want to underline.

(if you were only about amortisiation and paying operating costs you would drop the deal to 1 hour for 10000)

After another 200 periods you have generated 3 000 000 hours worth of value by providing 1 000 000.

Bottom rung has also never experienced any sudden drop in standard of living. Progress of technology has made the company 5 times as profitable and workers do 5 times less work. And because the line always needs to go up only things that have a better ratio than 2 hours for 10 000 get implemented.

yeah - this one. those with the most steering get the benefits first, and can take arbitrarily long to make those below them better. it requires those below them in economic power to demand it to some degree, and those above them in economic power to be altruistic and share scraps. (economic power as in anything you can buy with any form of goods, services, or promises trade. I don't know economics terms of art properly, just a descriptive phrase.)

Some historians claim that pre-industrial workers had much shorter working hours then those common in the 19 century. If that is true, then 8-hour workday is more a return to the historical norm rather than "progress" strictly speaking. Maybe that's why there was widespread support for it, and there isn't much for 4-hour workday now.

Working hours could be reduced by lowering cost of living. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average household spends $5,111 each month on housing and other monthly expenses. $1,784 or 35% of that is for housing and $819 or 16% is for transportation. So those 51% of our working year (~6 months) is spent earning money to pay for housing and transportation - and I believe that's way more that it needs to be.

With people moving closer together into cities property prices seem to naturally skyrocket. The more densely populated an area becomes the more people seem to want to move there. So as housing supply in an area decreases the demand for it in the same area increases. Then we end up paying a lot of rent to landlords or paying a lot of money to buy the property from the previous owner - them earning money for doing basically nothing (rent seeking behavior).

Transportation cost can be reduced, hypothetically to near 0 if you work from home and never leave your home. But a more realistic scenario would be improved city planning with more mixed residential and commercial areas where you have a shorter commute to work and errands. Well working public transport is also more efficient and lower cost than driving. People in the US seem to spend a lot of time driving long distances - a big difference I noticed moving here from Europe.

Charles P. Steinmetz saw a two-hour working day on the horizon—he was the scientist who made giant power possible

What is giant power? I can't figure this out.

It basically means large-scale, widely distributed electrical power generation. More narrowly, it can refer to specific proposals from around the 1920s by the progressives of that era for the buildout of electric power infrastructure: see e.g. “Giant Power: A Progressive Proposal of the Nineteen-Twenties” 

Adding on to the points about elasticity, arguably states with welfare systems already enable people to work very few hours in line with predictions, it just requires navigating benefit programs and being content with living standards that make one low status in the eyes of others. It might not be unreasonable to say that most of elasticity is driven by status needs and a desire to keep up with others rather than be content with less.

The LessWrong Review runs every year to select the posts that have most stood the test of time. This post is not yet eligible for review, but will be at the end of 2024. The top fifty or so posts are featured prominently on the site throughout the year. Will this post make the top fifty?

The ironic thing about the push for the 6 hour work week is that most white collar workers aren't even productive for half the time they are on the job. In addition, fixed effects models controlling for income and occupational status rises suggest that men may actually feel less happy working under 8 hours a week [1].

[1] - https://easthunter.substack.com/p/happiness-1