Keynes Prediction: A 15 hour Work Week

John Maynard Keynes Predicted Most of us would only Work 15hrs a Week

In his essay, “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”, written in 1930, Keynes predicted that in a hundred years (or by 2030), people would only need to work about 15 hours a week. He predicted the economy would grow nearly 8-fold by that time. It turns out his prediction for economic growth was correct but obviously we are no where close his work week prediction. Where did he go wrong?

Why are we Working Much Longer Hours?

There were 2 things Keynes apparently did not foresee. The first was that women would enter the labor force in large numbers in in the 1960s and 1970s. But, wait, let’s stop and think about that for a second. That means many household became 2 income households instead of one. In that case, we ought to have reached the predicted work week 50 years sooner. As household incomes grew, we should need to work less to meet our needs. So what actually happened?

What actually happened was what social scientists call the phenomena of social comparison but what you and I know better as “Keeping up with the Joneses”. We spent more and more to consume more goods and services. Now, there need not necessarily be anything wrong with this. If say, by keeping up with each other more and having more goods and services available to us we enhanced our well-being and our happiness then perhaps that justifies the consumption and the longer work hours (40hrs or more a week instead of 15hrs a week). But that is not what happened as you can see here:

Happiness is Declining in America

If anything we have become less happy in spite of consistent and significant GDP growth. This graph was taken from the 2018 World Happiness Report. Among the reasons cited for the decline in happiness over the last few decades is the rise of chronic disease among Americans. That rise, as those who have read Health in Flames will know, is due to the very consumerism that has led to increased productivity. In other words, consumerism drives GDP growth. The only problem is we are a people not a machine. We’ve never been interested in increasing productivity for the sake of productivity. Rather we’re interested in our health, our well-being and ultimately our happiness. The data is clear and it’s an indictment of our way of living.


Happier. Healthier. Wealthier... Video Series