On Keynes\’ economic opportunities for our grandchildren

You know, that essay saying we should all be working 4 hours a day by now? The question is, why aren\’t we?

When my grandmother was growing up in the 1920s, the average woman spent about 30 hours a week preparing food and cleaning up. By the 1950s, when she was raising her family, that number had fallen to about 20 hours a week. Now, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, women average just 5.5 hours—and those who are employed, like me, spend less than 4.4 hours a week.

Actually, we are.

Or at least the hours of labour have fallen dramatically, the hours of leisure risen so.

The bit that Keynes left out (not unusually for a man of his time and class, I would be amazed if his inter-war household had fewer than three servants in it) was domestic labour.

Both the domestic labour done by women and that done by servants. Even mens\’ domestic labour has declined, although not so sharply. And we have substituted market labour for that domestic labour….in part. The rise in lesiure time is that we\’ve substituted market work for only some of that no longer extant domestic, taking some of the time as leisure.

Now to detail: is there anyone out there who actually knows what the size of Keynes\’ household was? Cook, housemaid, general dogsbody? Or valet, butler and all?

Or even some good resources on the general set ups of midle and upper class households in the inter war years? Might be fun to have a more detailed look at this…..unless there\’s a pointer to someone who has already done so?

13 comments on “On Keynes\’ economic opportunities for our grandchildren

  1. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUkeynes.htm

    As a child his biographer, Alec Cairncross, has pointed out: “The family kept three servants – a cook, a parlour maid, and a nursery maid – and there was a German governess.

    From Wikipedia:

    Keynes was a successful investor, building up a substantial private fortune. He was nearly wiped out following the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which he failed to foresee, but he soon recouped his fortune. At Keynes’ death, in 1946, his worth stood just short of £500,000 – equivalent to about £11 million ($16.5 million) in 2009. The sum had been amassed despite lavish support for various causes and his personal ethics which made him reluctant to sell on a falling market as he believed if too many did that it could deepen a slump.
    Keynes built up a significant collection of fine art, including works by Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Amadeo Modigliani, Georges Braque, Picasso, and Georges-Pierre Seurat.[10] He enjoyed collecting books: for example, he collected and protected many of Isaac Newton’s papers.

    So more than likely he had a bit of staff helping out.

  2. Hmm, not entirely sure of this. I don’t think many people are turning the reduced domestic labour into leisure; they’re turning it into paid work. That’s good for overall economic production, and good for family-unit production (if you’re in a couple) but not really answering the point about increased leisure time. Keynes’s posh circumstances tied up workers as domestics, who can now be deployed making widgets (or, more than likely inspecting rubbish bins, hunting down smokers or circulating money in the City to no useful purpose) but effectively you’ve now got a family unit doing 80 person hours of free market work, instead of 40, which means it remains a mystery why we aren’t all feeling rather wealthier.

    In a post of yours a while back Tim, you said something about how you can live a 1950s life if you live a 1950s lifestyle. But if we are all now much more economically productive, we ought to be able to live a 2011 life on a single wage, because we ought to be producing much more and be duly recompensed.

    So if we need two wages to live a significantly better than 1950 lifestyle, we have to ask, where has all our productivity been swallowed up to? It seems that reduced domestic labour has been turned into market labour and… disappeared off somewhere. That’s the mystery of where the 4 hour day went. Isn’t it?

  3. Hmm, not entirely sure of this. I don’t think many people are turning the reduced domestic labour into leisure; they’re turning it into paid work. That’s good for overall economic production, and good for family-unit production (if you’re in a couple)

    Is it? It strikes me that all that has happened is that women’s productive time is used to pay for the hike in house prices cause by having two incomes chasing a fixed supply.

  4. “It seems that reduced domestic labour has been turned into market labour and… disappeared off somewhere. That’s the mystery of where the 4 hour day went. Isn’t it?”

    Surely, the answer is it’s been turned into taxes which are vastly more than they were in the 50’s. So’s the state. The result of all that extra labour’s supporting the army of non-productive drones “inspecting rubbish bins, hunting down smokers” & more particularly administering each other.

  5. Don’t forget the army of people on ‘the sick’, single mums, asylum seekers, early retirees from the State sector etc. There’s a heck of a lot of hours of leisure there that the rest of us are working to support. They didn’t exist in the 30s.

    There are 2.6m people on incapacity benefit. Add in single mums and all the other non working people (not including the unemployed) and you’ve probably got over 3m. At 40 hrs a week they are not working, thats 120m hrs of leisure per week. There’s approx 28m people working in the UK. By my maths that makes every working person down about 4 hours of leisure per week, or half a days work.

  6. Karl Marx certainly had servants, cos he got one up the duff when his wife was expecting, and then, to save face, got his poor abused patron and acolyte Engels to pretend it was his kid.

  7. Our house was built in the 1920s for sale, I suspect, to a Cambridge don: as might be, one of Keynes’s college colleagues . There is a bedroom for one live-in servant – you can tell because it’s the smallest and has neither a fireplace nor a bellpush (mind you, the “one” is a guess). Whether there would also typically have been daily staff I don’t know, but would guess that that might have depended on the stage in the family’s life – several small children might cause enough extra work to justify a second servant.

  8. Paternal grandparents had a cook, maid, gardener and a chauffeur.
    Maternal grandparents had 8 daughters – each of whom had a particular task – one cooked, one was the dressmaker, one was the cleaner etc etc!! Work that one out if you can!

  9. I am not sure why you are picking on Keynes personally but if he didn’t employ servants – and others like him employed home helps – unemployment would have been a lot higher.
    Such jobs were often sought after.
    I am guessing – but if he did all the cleaning and washing etc himself you might not have heard of him as he wouldn’t have the time to be Keynes.

  10. john malpas, I don’t think anyone here disapproves of Keynes having had servants – I certainly don’t, and in fact I have long thought that a renaissance in the prestige of having servants and being a servant would help our ageing population and many people currently unemployed.

    I think Tim’s point was that Keynes, perhaps through being both a male and fairly rich, does not appear to have thought about domestic labour in the detailed way that he thought about other related topics.

  11. I think this point is perceptive but int he essay Keynes explictly considers a domestic servant:

    There is the traditional epitaph written for herself by the old charwoman:–
    Don’t mourn for me, friends, don’t weep for me never,For I’m going to do nothing for ever and ever.

    He also must have been aware that relatively few women worked (a counterpart of sorts to the domestic service angle) and should have factored that into his calculations?

  12. Even mens’ domestic labour has declined, although not so sharply.

    There was never much of it to decline 🙂

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