Could A 16-Hour Work Week Save Civilization?

The question is: If Americans wanted to retain compensation and employment gains between 1987 and 2009, how long would the average American be required to work each week?  Answer:  16 Hours.

I was a little reticent to publish this one at first, since it does rather smack of classical Libertarianism (i.e., in the sense of being concerned with “free” time, ergo “liberty”).

But then I thought, “What the Hell?”  It’s only a thought.  If I give the reader access to all the underlying data they could do whatever they wanted with it and make their own decisons.

Would you spend more time at Church?  The average employed American only seems to spend about 45 minutes per week on religious activities.  Imagine how many more God points you could rack up if you had another 23 to play with?

Would you take courses in civics or constitutional history?  Again, the current weekly average spent on education is only 38 minutes, supposedly.  You could probably get a doctorate in the subject in a couple of years.

Then again, maybe that’s not your bag.  Maybe you’re a non-sectarian family type.  If so, you’re only spending a little more than 4 hours per week on year nearest and dearest.  Aren’t they work at least 10?  The numbers suggest you can easily spare them–if you’re willing to plan properly.

What’s YOUR personal priority?

Another diverting digression from Dystopia Diaries

Latest posts by Liam McGonagle (see all)

29 Comments on "Could A 16-Hour Work Week Save Civilization?"

  1. This would leave much more times for drugs and video games.  Yes!

    • No . . that’s the consequence of menial low paying future-less brain dead jobs that only a few lucky college grads now “enjoy” . . the drugs and video games allows them to escape the drudgery . . and reminds them of their youth which they are continuing to lose everyday . . minute by minute . . As for the 16 hour work week fellows . . I’m sure they’ll recognize that they will finally have time to build a “life” surrounded by hobbies, interests, relationships, introspection and more . . for the idiots in the system right now . . they’ll post shit where it denounces the individual to have an identity outside of capitalistic “work” . . . and smears them for even thinking that life is anything but work . .

      • Paintslikebobross | Feb 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm |

        You took my thoughts right out of my head.  Run for office, please.  Oh wait, the whole system is a crock.  Never mind.

  2. Sounds interesting, but I really don’t understand the premise: ‘If Americans wanted to retain compensation and employment gains between
    1987 and 2009, how long would the average American be required to work
    each week?  Answer:  16 Hours.’. Does this mean the average American only has 16 productive hour per week?

    • Sorry if I come over a bit thick Liam, but as Robin has highlighted, can you explain this compensation and employment gains thing? I’m from the UK and I always look out for your posts – they are like a stream of bat’s piss, if you know what I’m talking about (MP). The UK is hand-in-hand with your guys and seem to run on a similar trajectory so I’m just trying to stay on top of things. Like 00005…

      • Liam_McGonagle | Feb 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm |

        Gotchya.  I gave Robin an alternative recap above, but maybe I’ll have another go.

        The U.S. Board of Labor Statistics imply that Americans in 2009 can produce in 1 hour the exact same amount of economic value that it took them 2 1/2 hours to produce in 1987.

        Also, if we had a 40 hour legal work week in 1987 (which we did in the US), and we’re NOT getting paid any more in 2009 than we did in 1987 (which we’re not), why not split the difference and just work 16 hours per week after 2009?  Our economic output could be just the same. 

        It would normalize the supply and demand in the labor market, and it would give a chance for some unemployed people to re-enter society on an equal footing.


        •  Normalizing supply and demand in the labor market is the LAST thing the capitalist class wants.  A normalized labor market takes away all that they’ve won through trickery, outsourcing, union busting, and buying of politicians.  What they want are completely disposable laborers who will work as hard as they are told, for fear of starvation and homelessness. 

          That said, you’re of course right.  We just can’t expect the powers that be to bring this down for us, as it runs entirely contrary to their little tyranny.

        •  Thanks Liam.

    • Liam_McGonagle | Feb 17, 2012 at 2:29 pm |

      I don’t think so.

      Look at the first graph.  It shows that as of 2009 each hour of COMPENSATED labor has become 2 1/2 times more productive than it was in 1987.

      Why would anyone work longer than they have to?  If capitalism has made us 2 1/2 times more productive per hour since 1987, doesn’t that mean that we should consider working about 1/2 as long? 

      I’ve got plenty I could do with my time, believe me.  And 1987 isn’t so bad a benchmark from a standard of living point of view.  In America anyhow.

      That’s where I’m coming from.

      But if you’re interested in the related but separate question of who’s benefitting from the UNCOMPENSATED part of the productivity gain . . . Well, that’s a very old question and many people have their notions about that.  I’m more interested in the unasked question.

  3. Kenvallario | Feb 17, 2012 at 11:47 am |

    i have long believed that this is the opportunity we have all missed…and I am thankful to see it here.

    technology has freed us from the need from constant labor…

    if we gave ourselves a lot more time off we would have time to improve our family lives, improve our educations, improve our community environment…and we would have time to rest, and we all need that desperately…

    this would also slow down the consumption that is killing our planet…so i say YES…16 hour work week, let’s do this..

  4. But my job is my identity, and I don’t have any right to live unless I work as hard as possible for money!

    • Liam_McGonagle | Feb 17, 2012 at 3:06 pm |

      Totally agree.

      Next time some dumb*ss manager says, “Work smarter, not harder”, I hope someone emails him this post.

  5. Idle hands will only mean people will spend more on entertainment.  Spending money and consuming goods to try hand stave off boredom.  People will have more time spend and less time to make money.  I don’t know how that will save civilization.

    • Jin The Ninja | Feb 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |

      you really have no idea, do you?

    • Liam_McGonagle | Feb 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |

      Interesting, but incomplete.

      You really cannot imagine doing something that does not boil down to an economic transaction?

      Don’t believe in God or have any particular philosophical axes to grind?  Not really interested in law, history, art, music or any other subject you could study in school?  Maybe.

      But surely you’re not going to tell me that you have to put a Benjamin in the jar beside the bed when you kiss your wife good night.

      God, I hope not.

    • SouledOut | Feb 17, 2012 at 8:21 pm |

      Uncreative work is idleness. The only time I get bored is at work. The truly creative need no schedule or routine, that is for machines, drones. I’m sorry you lost your soul, it’s still there, but you won’t find it at work.

    • Is your free time spent on entertainment? Video games, movies and terrible tv programmes? Next time you have a free afternoon paint a picture, learn a musical instrument, save your money you earn from work and travel overseas… entertainment is there to keep the boring occupied.

  6. Some people wither away and die because they have nothing to do. What will fill the void?

    • Jin The Ninja | Feb 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm |

       perhaps an awakened political and social awareness?

      just a thought.

    • Art, creative pursuits, travel, fishing, community service… Anything you might have an interest in.

  7. I only work 24 hours a week, why?, because I have a LIFE.

  8. Always? Are you sure about that you sad little person? Jin often leaves very insightfull and well written comments.

  9. Jin The Ninja | Feb 18, 2012 at 2:24 am |

    worthless ass? yeah coming from he whom is too chickensh*t to post under his main screen name. don’t think i don’t know who this is.

  10. You’re not the first with this great idea. Peter Kropotkin proposed a very similar idea in 1892: full employment, and six, 5-hour workdays to provide for a family of five. 

    How many hours a day will man have to work to produce nourishing food, a comfortable home, and necessary clothing for his family? This question has often preoccupied Socialists, and they generally came to the conclusion that four or five hours a day would suffice, on condition, be it well understood, that all men work. At the end of last century, Benjamin Franklin fixed the limit at five hours; and if the need of comfort is greater now, the power of production has augmented too, and far more rapidly.” (“The Conquest of Bread”, Ch. VIII,
    It’s incredible and a little disheartening that after all this time, the numbers have barely changed.

  11. Ajsilver42 | Feb 18, 2012 at 11:08 pm |

    As I recall from ‘the decline of the west’, it is in fact culture that must be resurrected, not civilzation that must be “saved”.
    But yes, let us bring back culture!

  12. I’d have to make about $37 an hour to get a $30,000 salary.

  13. I don’t think anyone in power wants
    people to have more time to do their own things. The more time people have, the
    more likely they’ll think about things that actually affect their lives. If you
    keep people preoccupied with just worrying things like whether or not they can
    keep their job, they’re not going to think about the big picture. They won’t
    have the time to think about things like why is it I have to rely on food
    stamps yet my boss makes 300 times what I do? Or why is it that I pay more in
    taxes than some millionaires do?


     Also people will have more time to research
    things on their own rather than relying on what the corporate owned media and
    politicians say. People might even find out that in other advanced countries
    many businesses are either worker controlled or even have democratically
    elected CEOs. Instead people are supposed to be ignorant and meek. Workers
    should fear what will happen if they question their “magnificent and benevolent”
    boss. They could lose their job and thus been unable to support their family.


     If enough workers get together, the company
    may even threaten to outsource their jobs to some third world country. Just
    keep your mouths shut and hope you don’t anger your “benevolent and
    great” leader.

  14. maybe then people have time to do the touted write to your representative and get mad at how the world is for once as the last time this to do this because it was forced onto them in 2007

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