Seriously crap newspaper reporting

A report by the organisation says postwar economists promised employees would be working a 15-hour week by now and that polls showed a four-day week would be most people’s preference.

Err, no, the report says:

JM Keynes, the economist who shaped post-war
government policy, suggested we’d be working 15 hours a week by now.

Sigh.

30 thoughts on “Seriously crap newspaper reporting”

  1. 82 years out & Frances O’Grady’s predicting a 4 day week? Remarkably unambitious for the TUC. End C21st? I’m willing to predict regular interplanetary travel, self concious AI, nanotech, a space elevator, a life expectancy in the mid hundreds and, for an outside bet, probationary membership of the Galactic Federation.
    Or a barter economy in the ruins following a full on nuclear exchange.
    Think of trying to predict 2018 in 1938. The phasing out of horse-drawn coal deliveries? The fall of the Third Reich? A fourth BBC radio service.?

  2. How many hours does it now take to produce post-war levels of output? I gues if you are happy with an outside toilet and living off Bovril then you could probably get by on 15 hours?

  3. I’m not sure what’s going to happen but a lot of couples don’t have to be at starvation level going to 4day weeks.

    People spend £300+/month leasing cars. That’s at least a day off a month. Eat out twice a month? Holiday somewhere exotic? Buy Apple garbage? It doesn’t take much to make that 4 days.

  4. Shorter version of report: Give us free shit and make others pay for it.

    Ritchie probably had an orgasm when he heard about this.

  5. Muh, BUT THEY PROMISED!

    Ironically this promise has been realised in many parts of Britain, including the Guardian’s offices.

  6. What I sneeze in threes said.I bet 15hrs a week labour each would produce the same level of output as 1945. Its just as we get richer we want to consume more goods and services, and someone has to provide them.

  7. “Bloke on M4
    September 10, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    I’m not sure what’s going to happen but a lot of couples don’t have to be at starvation level going to 4day weeks.

    People spend £300+/month leasing cars. That’s at least a day off a month. Eat out twice a month? Holiday somewhere exotic? Buy Apple garbage? It doesn’t take much to make that 4 days.”

    That’s the thing these people never take into account – its not that people *couldn’t* be working 4 days a week, or even just 15 hours a week. They absolutely could. And they absolutely could easily maintain a 1950’s lifestyle doing so.

    But no one wants to live like its the 1950’s. So they *choose* to put that 40+ in. Because the money it buys is more valuable to them than the leisure time they would get by not working.

    And its pretty consistent (among those of us who consider working to be ‘normal’ and ‘desirable’) across time and nationality that 40-60 hours of work is ideal. Any less than that and you start to feel under-utilized, any more and you’re overworked.

  8. True, abacab. And beyond that, the 1930s. The appeal of communism is strong when you have double ought nothing.

    My parents’ poverty in the First Great Depression is beyond my comprehension.

  9. A 15 hour week would be nice. Would need to employ 3 or 4 staff to do the work that we currently do in early September.

    Sorry, don’t think there are enough suitable employees in the country to provide goods and services in sufficient numbers to allow 15 hours work a week.
    You’d need about 7 times the workers we have now. And a lot more roads, lots more public transport, lot more houses etc.

  10. A couple of tangential economist-related pet peeves;

    1. Whenever we discuss Keynes can we please refer to him more accurately as “the notorious pederast, Keynes”.
    2. Can we also please always correct any journalist who mentions “the Nobel prize for Economics” by pointing out it’s no such thing and was simply hoping to piggy-back the Nobel prizes for actual science.

  11. All these projections of “in year xxx we’ll only need to work yyy hours per week” that there have been over the years seem to assume a) productivity increases (broadly correct for many jobs) but b) static quality of life.

    Which is why we get the observation up the thread that yes, you could likely still have a 50’s quality of life on 15 hours a week.

    In a similar vein, I could probably have the same standard of living I had aged 22, straight out of university, on 15 hours a week. And a better standard of living than I actually had at university. For some reason, that really doesn’t appeal. Can’t imagine why…..

  12. The maximum time horizon for predictions is about five years, and even that’s pushing it for some things. And of course change is continuous, so it appears slow. But it’s cumulative, so unless you’re honest in your nostalgia it can be hard to see how far we’ve come. Case in point: thirty years ago one of the things I coveted most was my brother’s Encyclopaedia Britannica. I had absolutely no idea I would have a 150g device that was a portal to the bulk of human knowledge and cost me a day’s salary. My other brother used to have 10,000 LPs in his record collection. It was floor to ceiling of all four walls of a decent-sized room. It’s easy to have that much music, and keep it on a $30 SD card the size of your fingernail.

  13. Isn’t there quite a large section of society that lives a better-than-postwar lifestyle on zero hours per week?

  14. People massively underestimate how poor the average person in the 50’s was compared to today…

    I think I read somewhere that in the mid-1960s more than half the houses in Sunderland still only had an outside toilet. That’s the mid-60s, just 50-odd years ago.

  15. Bloke in North Dorset

    I don’t know about Sunderland but the area of Bradford where my auntie lived all had outside toilets in the mid ’60s. Needless to say I hated vising them in winter.

  16. Re the 15 hours a week thing. If you asked anyone actually working in the late 30’s to look at what you’re doing now, they’d no doubt say you were working a 15 hour week. Because, no matter how hard you think you work, it’s not a patch on how hard people used to work.
    My work experience only goes back to the late sixties, but I can appreciate how much things have changed. Then, many manual jobs required considerable physical strength delivered over lengthy periods. Just looking at bagged materials in the building trade. Standard bag was a hundredweight (50kg) & was manually handled, right the way from bagging to point of use. Bags are now 40kg or less & mechanically handled most of the way to PoU.
    My early work experience was clerical & the throughput required for repetitive document processing was phenomenal. Copy typists hammering away at typewriters without break, most of the working day. My tasks required calculations which were ground out on a mechanical calculator until your wrist ached. When was the last time anyone operated an extensive handwritten ledger system?

  17. “But no one wants to live like its the 1950’s. So they *choose* to put that 40+ in. Because the money it buys is more valuable to them than the leisure time they would get by not working”

    Fair. But it’s not as if employers are rushing to offer people the opportunity. There is still an attachment to full working weeks, ideally over core hours at a defined place. Things are changing, but mainly for the people who’ve put the years in to establish a bargaining position. Which I get. But I can see the next 20 years bringing different ideas and attitudes to the tops of companies so that we can give enough people the choice to swap cash for leisure time to see if your point holds true.

  18. “Bags are now 40kg or less”

    25kg max for anything manually handled. Often 20kg these days. All bulk materials would be shifted by forklifts etc in large bags.

    You’re right about the need for people to expend huge amounts of energy for long periods, and how strong they were too. Guys who spent all day digging coal, or shifting sacks of grain, or digging trenches by hand would be like superhuman to us.

    “When was the last time anyone operated an extensive handwritten ledger system?”

    Strangely enough I was talking to friend of mine who started as a company accountant in the early 80s, she said they operated a purely manual ledger system at the company she started at. Once a month the senior management accountant would have his office filled with all the different ledgers from all the different company divisions and be frantically combining them into one set of overall management accounts. All that effort (my friend was just one of a large team of accountants) would now be done by one person on a PC.

  19. @TTG

    I do wonder if the fact people live increasingly virtual lives (count the hours they spend in front of a screen) might eventually reduce the hours people work. If wants are part physical, part virtual, then the physical part can be provided in X hours of wages (which drops over time with productivity rises) while virtual content (music, computer games, tv/films, ebooks, mobile phone apps) has a low marginal cost and an ever-growing back-catalogue.

    One could spend hours reading per day on your kindle and not complete the canon of great literature in your lifetime, let alone all the popular genre stuff. Watch a movie per day and it would take years just to get through all the Oscar nominees. Young people seem happy to spend hours watching youtube videos of their favourite social media stars, produced on a budget of hundreds or even tens of dollars. Screen time is cheap.

    On the flip side, the costs of physical goods and services may be held up by Baumol’s cost disease.

  20. In the 1960s my grandparents were very forward-thinking, and splashed out on central heating, for the *whole* ground floor!

  21. @MBE

    It’s the cost of land that matters. Those extra wages don’t buy food and clothes, they buy houses.

    As long as people are hell bent on buying the best house they can there will be a bias towards working the most hours and earning the most money.

    I feel like my current home is all I need and, thanks to a fair wind so far, I should have it all paid for before I’m 50 (unusual for my generation) so I will be set ok to make choices later on. But something big has to change for that to be a more widely-adopted thing. If I was hoping to trade up a level or two then, absent a windfall, I’d have to commit to big wages until I’m 70.

  22. @TTG

    Actually this is one of the reasons I thought the digital revolution might have big implications, at least on a multi decade timescale – if people become increasingly wrapped up in their virtual existence, will they care so much about having a big house? There are whole worlds (of a kind) to explore on the screens in front of their faces.

    This is very speculative and so long as people continue to accrue physical stuff they’re going to want more space (plus having a nice house is, well, nice, and some of us love our garden or separation from neighbours and so on). But there are people whose homelife consists almost entirely of bathroom, food, sleep and screen time, with the first three sandwiched in to the gaps between bouts of the latter. If that time becomes sufficiently immersive as to represent a serious substitute for being in the “real world” then I can imagine it changing their property desires.

  23. I feel like my current home is all I need and, thanks to a fair wind so far, I should have it all paid for before I’m 50 (unusual for my generation) so I will be set ok to make choices later on.

    Our current home is more than we actually need, the kids having (mostly) moved out (but not taken all their crap with them!) I am currently on track, having had a rather large scare a few years back when Bruinian government had (deliberately?) destroyed spending in all three sectors I usually work for, to finish with the bank within the next couple of years. A bit over 10 years early.

    Unfortunately, already past 50 🙁

  24. “The Thought Gang
    September 11, 2018 at 10:16 am

    Fair. But it’s not as if employers are rushing to offer people the opportunity.”

    Ah, whatchutalkinboutWillis? There is this thing called ‘part time’ work. And, in the US, its actually mandatory now for a lot of people that were at the bottom of the full-time employment ladder. So these people choose multiple jobs to pay for the quality of life they want.

    Then let’s talk professionals – in private practice the vast majority of them still choose to work a 40-60 hours.

  25. Re “This is very speculative and so long as people continue to accrue physical stuff they’re going to want more space”…

    DVD collections, CD collections, VHS collections… I’ve seen people were floor-to-ceiling. Where’s it all gone? The charity shops don’t seem to take this stuff any more so the local dump I guess.

    I don’t like e-readers personally but I can see how replacing walls of bookshelves with a handheld device is tempting. I’ve definitely noticed – anecdatally anyway – that young’uns don’t seem to be amassing as many dead-tree books as old’uns used to when they were young’uns.

    It’s not just that the electronic versions are cheaper than the hard-copies, but all of this saves, potentially, a huge amount of space. What will people fill their houses with instead? Will people be happy with smaller, less cluttered properties – or at least will the rate of growth of living-space-per-person decline?

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