The future of work as previously predicted


Thousands of newspaper column inches have been written about the current state of work/jobs (eg excessive working hours) and likely future scenarios. One thing usually missing is the historic perception that technology would free us from labour. Perhaps this perception is uncomfortable to bear, as it implies massive failure of our economic system to distribute the benefits of technology.

• In the late 1700s, Benjamin Franklin predicted we'd soon work a 4-hour week.

• George Bernard Shaw predicted we'd work a 2-hour day by 2000.

• In 1933, the US Senate passed a bill for an official 30-hour work week. (President Roosevelt killed it.)

• In 1935, W.K. Kellogg introduced a scheme to cut 2 hours from the working day, yet pay the same wages. It was cost-effective – morale and productivity rose; accident and insurance rates fell.

• In 1956, Richard Nixon predicted a 4-day work week in the "not too distant future".

• In 1965, a US Senate subcommittee predicted a 22-hour work week by 1985, 14 hours by 2000.

• In the 1960s, Paul and Percival Goodman estimated that just 5% of the work being done would satisfy our food, clothing and shelter needs.

• In 1981, Buckminster Fuller claimed that 70% of US jobs were unnecessary: "inspectors of inspectors, reunderwriters of insurance reinsurers, Obnoxico promoters, spies and counterspies…"

See also: The end of work >