- Tim Harford discusses John Maynard Keynes' failed prediction that workers would continue to win increased leisure time over the past few decades:
(I)t is worth teasing out the nature and extent of Keynes’s error. He was right to predict that we would be working less. We enter the workforce later, after long and not-always-arduous courses of study. We enjoy longer retirements. The work week itself is getting shorter. In non-agricultural employment in the US, the week was 69 hours in 1830 — the equivalent of working 11 hours a day but only three hours on Sundays. By 1930, a full-time work week was 47 hours; each decade, American workers were working two hours less every week.- Carol Goar laments the Libs' lack of action to build a national child care system. And Alex Steffen observes that the movement toward social progress has run into a well-funded but deeply destructive corporate effort to proclaim that change for the better is impossible.
But Keynes overestimated how rapidly and for how long that trend would continue. By 1970 the work week was down to 39 hours. If the work week had continued to shrink, we would be working 30-hour weeks by now, and perhaps 25-hour weeks by 2030. But by around 1970, the slacking-off stopped. Why?
The gap between the growth of the economy and the growth of median household incomes is explained by a patchwork of factors, including a change in the nature of households themselves, with more income being diverted to healthcare costs, and an increasing share of income accruing to the highest earners. In short, perhaps progress towards the 15-hour work week has stalled because the typical US household’s income has stalled too. Household incomes started to stagnate at the same time as the work week stopped shrinking.
This idea makes good sense but it does not explain what is happening to higher earners. Since their incomes have not stagnated — far from it — one might expect them to be taking some of the benefits of very high hourly earnings in the form of shorter days and longer weekends. Not so. According to research published by economists Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst in 2006 — a nice snapshot of life before the great recession — higher earners were enjoying less leisure.
So the puzzle has taken a different shape. Ordinary people have been enjoying some measure of both the income gains and the leisure gains that Keynes predicted — but rather less of both than we might have hoped.
The economic elites, meanwhile, continue to embody a paradox: all the income gains that Keynes expected and more, but limited leisure.
- In a particularly stark example of the gap between the progress which can obviously be made and the excuses for refusing to make it, Tim Fontaine reports on the connection between poverty, inequality and alarming suicide rates among First Nations children - even as Jorge Barrera exposes the Libs' false claim that there's no money available to keep a promise to better fund education.
- David Roberts examines how solar power is rapidly becoming the cheapest option even compared to subsidized fossil fuels.
- And finally, Desmond Cole questions the indefinite detention of migrants to Canada.