Why We Believe the 15-Hour Work Week is Just a Pipe Dream

Back in 1930 John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay called Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, where he made the prediction that his grandchildren would have a 15-hour work week.  Keynes based this conclusion solely on productivity, which he expected would grow exponentially over the coming years.

But instead of witnessing a reduction in the number of work hours over the decades, we have seen our work hours stagnate to just over 40 hours since the 1970’s. In fact, most of us consider the 40-hour work week to be the gold standard when setting and maintaining our work schedules.

Harvard economist Benjamin M. Friedman believes Keynes has the right idea, however, he’s just off on the timing. According to Friedman, the U.S. economy is on track to reach Keynes’s eight-fold multiple by 2029. Friedman’s theory for the delay is our desire for material goods and possessions, something Keynes had believed would dwindle as we began to crave more leisure time.

Now it is true that the needs of human beings may seem insatiable. But they fall into two classes – those needs which are absolute in the sense that we feel them whatever the situation of our fellow human beings may be, and those which are relative in the sense that we feel superior to, our fellows. Needs of the second class, those which satisfy the desire for superiority, may indeed be insatiable; for the higher the general level, the higher still are they. But this is not so true of the absolute needs – a point may soon be reached, much sooner perhaps than we are all of us aware of, when these needs are satisfied in the sense that we prefer to devote our further energies to non-economic purposes. – John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.

Do we believe the 15-hour work week will become a reality?

Not within the next decade or so. Despite the progress in technology (AI, robotics, etc.), we believe the majority of Americans will remain both status hungry and addicted to consumerism – when the focus should be on increasing our leisure time and life experiences. And we feel the absence of this revelation means the 15-hour work week will forever remain a pipe dream.

Do you believe the 15-hour work week could become a reality? If so, do think we’ll experience it in our lifetime?



4 thoughts on “Why We Believe the 15-Hour Work Week is Just a Pipe Dream

  1. Interesting reference OFE. The politicos of the late 20s and early 30s made some shocking speeches about prosperity and productivity improvements. “Chicken in every pot” anyone?! Hoover and Harding had some especially naive beliefs…..or else they were just good poli-ticks. I think once someone reaches the point where their money is working hard for them, yes they can work 5-15 hours per week in order to live well. This assumes many assumptions in regard to income and spending of course. Do I think that the poor and middle class will get to a point where they can work just 15 hours per week, in the near term? No way. Inflation and stagnant wages will see to that. If inflation wasn’t a game changer, shouldn’t all two income households be rich? Or at least living dramatically better than the one income households of the 1950s and 1960s?


  2. I doubt we’ll have a 15 hour work week in the US unless something cataclysmic happens. Protestant work ethic and capitalism permeates too much.


  3. I think, not within the next 10 years. But good chance within the next 20 years. And absolutely within the next 45 years. You mention artificial intelligence, and that’s exactly the reason why I think this. I believe it’s general consensus within the science community that singularity will happen within that time frame. Might be wrong, but I remember reading something about that.


  4. Very interesting post!! I spend a lot of time thinking about what increasing productivity means to our economy, more specifically I suppose to our society. I have a 9 year old son, he will live in a very different world than we do. A world where technology provides most of the production. What the heck does that mean? My whole life has revolved around my career. Will his? The exponential growth in tech results in a backloaded growth curve. People don’t understand this phenomena, we’re going to see amazing change in the world over the next decade. 15 hour work week… Not for truck drivers in 5 years… Not for retailers either. But, what if instead of economic apocalypse we see overwhelming abundance?? Sorry for the long winded post, I just love this topic. Thanks for a great blog!


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