Also: Why didn't we get the four-hour workday?
Great stuff, as always. I just wanted to let you know I linked the Szilard story here:
Cheers! 💚 🥃
Very fascinating. So many are fearful that automation will take our jobs, but this is proof they already have, and we just invented new ones. Perhaps we’ll do the same again!
Maybe we’ll continuously eliminate the jobs required for production, the ones no one wants, and enjoy even more leisurely and/or creative work as we do!
Very interesting! Those predictions are fascinating (and a little depressing honestly). I have two other ideas for why working hours didn’t decline as much as predicted:
- Another reason for inelasticity of labor supply: Cognitive-heavy jobs don’t seem to offer many options for working less for a commensurate pay cut. Totally anecdotal and speculative: but I’d guess that part time jobs don’t pay as well on an hourly basis, and I’d guess they lower lifetime earnings even more steeply because it’s harder to build a career. You’d think there’s be diminishing returns to working more but I think employers don’t view it that way - they want full time workers. Perhaps this is because training and supervision is a fixed cost; perhaps this is because cognitive jobs benefit from one’s full attention and immersion in the work. Employers also significantly value experience for cognitive work which you build more slowly working part time (making part time hours less valuable over one’s lifetime).
- People work to buy status, not just directly improve their physical well being. Consider the question: if people have such high real wages now and still work long weeks, what are they spending their extra money on? The answer IMO is “a lot of nonsense”. People will buy fancy new cars when a cheap used one will get the job done. Massive houses. The latest gadgets. Brand name clothes. I think this is largely about signaling status. People unfortunately are hard wired to compete for status which is a zero sum game. I think this might explain different behavior among those who are more/less motivated than others by the kind of status you can purchase. For example, I’d posit that a surfer who lives in a van by the beach vs a partner at a law firm who lives on the Upper East Side have very different values & motivations when it comes to status. (As a corollary: you could make people feel wealthier if you could change their values.)
Also, just a nitpick but if we’re asking the question “why do workers choose to work the amount they do”, it’s not right to compare productivity to hours worked. We should look at real wages instead, which haven’t increased nearly as much as productivity. You mention both but there’s a big difference (which I think is very interesting to explore on its own). Or alternatively you could just say that productivity increases didn’t result in as much of a decline as you’d expect in work hours, because workers haven’t reaped much of those productivity gains.
This is really getting to the core institutional design changes that need focus. Note also that peer review as a wide institution evolved after WWII, more broadly increasing the same effect: https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/09/26/the-rise-of-peer-review-melinda-baldwin-on-the-history-of-refereeing-at-scientific-journals-and-funding-bodies/