Economics bleg

About this nef report on the 21 hour working week. This point:

The economist John Maynard Keynes imagined a 15-hour week by the beginning of the 21st century, because he thought we\’d no longer have to work long hours to meet our material needs.

OK, yes, I know about that and I know where the nef are getting it wrong. They\’re not thinking about the combination of paid and unpaid working hours in home production properly.

But what I want to find out is whether Keynes was making that distinction properly. My intuition (alright, my prejudice then) is that he was far too good an economist not to: so what I\’d like to see is that prediction in situ to see whether he did and whether the likes of the nef are simply skimming over it.

So, anyone know in which essay/book he makes the prediction and anyone got a link to an online version of it?

14 thoughts on “Economics bleg”


    For many ages to come the old Adam will be so strong in us that everybody will need to do some work if he is to be contented. We shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich to-day, only too glad to have small duties and tasks and routines. But beyond this, we shall endeavour to spread the bread thin on the butter-to make what work there is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible. Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem for a great while. For three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!

  2. Brian, follower of Deornoth

    I do have to pay for all my needs on a short working week; not quite fifteen hours, more like twenty. The reason is, of course, that the remaining seventeen hours wage is stolen by the government.

  3. How many office workers actually do work for more than 15 hours a week? Hours of attendance, of course, are different.

  4. As a well-to-do man in the 1920s and 1930s I expect Keynes had no concept that there was such a thing as ‘home production’. Although I guess that’s what he means by the “rich to-day”.

  5. Brian, follower of Deornoth


    I do wonder this myself; sitting through the tedious meetings, adhering to senseless procedures, filling in pointless spreadsheets and forms. But I get paid to do this, and I therefore presume it’s what the management want. They can sell it to the customers because the customers are the Ministry of Defence.

  6. Human desires are limitless, and there will always be work to be done in satisfying the wishes of others. For which we should be endlessly grateful.

    Of course, govt can apply its super-smartness to the issue, and can tax or regulate away the opportunities we have to be of use to each other.

  7. I think Keynes just got this one wrong. It is often famously held up against him. But he was an aesthete, a Renaissance man, and could well imagine people working that little, and spending the rest of the time on poetry and ballet.

    While he was brilliant at anticipating some of the insights of behavioural economics, the herding and so on, I guess he also failed to realise how human beans remain motivated by relative success, and so we keep turning up to work…

  8. fifteen hours a week to provide a decent living by 1930s standards- well the unemployed get nearly that for no hours. The needs of men expand to more than meet the possibilities.

  9. I guess fifteen hours a week for me is enough to clear overheads and the remaining 35 or so keeps me in beer vouchers.

  10. Keynes was making a prediction about how people simpyl wouldn’t need to work as much because we’d get very efficient in production, stop needing to buy new shit and just pootle along quite nicely thank you very much sir, sitting around reading in our leisure time and thus all working part-time (from what I remember; I read it at Uni).

    There is a case for saying that if Alfred Bernays had initiated the consumerist revolution in 1920s American, Keynes might have been less far-off in his prediction then he ended up being. But that’s unfounded counterfactual speculation.

    Either way, NEF are not entitled to quote Keynes because he was making a prediction about a natural reduction in work hours, they are talking for policy that constrains working hours.

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