Waiting for the shorter working week

As recently as 150 years ago we went to bed by candlight — derived rom meat fat — or an oil lamp — derived from whales. The immense potential bonanza of energy — 50-fold? 100-fold? — derivable from underground oil or gas was barely suspected.

Considering that everything we do requires spending energy then it would have been reasonable for someone 150 years ago to forecast that today we needn’t be working for more than an hour or two every day.  It hasn’t worked out like that.  On average each of us works at least twice as much as the average farm worker of 150 years ago and has half the holidays (well over 40 Saints’ Days in previous times).

What has happened?  Have we been exploited by capitalists? Not at all.  The reason has to do with the concomitant explosion in different jobs and specializations brought about by virtually unlimited energy and each of the job-groups raising protective barriers around themselves. These gradually accumulate all sorts of pseudo-credentials and private practices. Altogether, these immediately selfish practices by groups leads to a woefully inefficient economic system.

3 thoughts on “Waiting for the shorter working week

  1. HI, Keith:

    Technology has made possible longer working days and exploitation. When we had to live more by natural light resources, we were limited in what we could do during nighttime hours. (Besides, think of all the fogs and vapors.) I don’t think we could do as much at night by candlelight or even oil lamps, as we can with lots of electric lights. There’s a really neat book about night: At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, by A. Roger Ekirch.


  2. It seems to me that farm workers of the past as well as small scale farmers of the present put in 10-12 hour days, seven days per week. The cows need milking and feeding, and other animals need daily attention too. Chickens require feeding and egg removal. Multiple crops are normal for small scale farmers, with rotating requirements of each one. Holidays don’t eliminate those demands. Even on ‘holy days’ the animals must be tended to.

    In modern times, 40 hour work weeks are normal with 4 weeks of vacation per year. Some countries have 35 hour norms. It is true that some people work multiple jobs, and some push to advance their incomes and careers by working 50-60 hour weeks. But farmers have little choice if they are to thrive other than their 70+ hour weeks. Or so it seems to me.

    1. Steve, Most farming in the history of man has been arable farming when the peasant was subject to the growing season. Growing animals for meat, milk, leather and wool was only profitable at a fairly advanced stage of farming — in Britain only since about 500 years ago. Even then we still had 40 Saints’ Days a years.Keith

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