Why Automation Didn't Result in Increased Leisure in the United States

Back then, many theorists believed that a progressive reduction of work time was the inevitable byproduct of mechanization and increased efficiency. Even John M. Keynes, noted father of modern mass-consumption economics, argued in 1931 that, within two generations, industry would satisfy the real needs of humanity and lead to “three-hour shifts or a 'fifteen-hour week.” This reduction in work time, said Keynes, would allow us to “devote our further energies to non-economic purposes.” Thus “man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem—how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably, and well.” Keynes expected that the new leaders would not be “money makers” but “those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into fuller perfection, the art of life itself . . .

Of course, this didn’t happen. Instead of using increased productivity to free humanity from labor for “wise” and “agreeabl[e]” play, we used it to increase our consumption. Since 1946, as the real incomes of Americans more than doubled, work times have remained stagnant or even increased. Vacations became routine for only about half of American wage earners (up from 5 percent in 1920), and today Americans get an average of just thirteen days vacation per year as compared to thirty-'ve in Germany and forty-two in Italy.

There are a lot of reasons for this di1erence. These include relatively weak trade unions and a lack of a tradition of universal social bene'ts in the United States, making holidays—like health benefits—the choice of employers rather than a right of citizenship. Refusing to abandon entirely the old work ethic, with its disdain for time empty of purpose, more generally Americans have been reluctant to argue for the right and utility of a time completely devoted to recreation and play. In a poll conducted by Expedia in 2004, 30 percent of Americans do not take all of their allotted vacation time, leaving some 415 million annual vacation days unused. When it comes to attitudes toward work and play time, Americans seem to favor using economic abundance to fuel consumption rather than to create free time. The increased cost of maintaining the American standard of consumer spending since the 1970s has reduced the amount of play time available, especially to young couples with children. The old ideal of “family time,” of certain hours and days when all can share meals and activities together, has been frustrated by the spread of shift work and of Sunday and evening shopping, which requires the service of millions of sales workers. As important, the introduction of massive numbers of married women into the workforce—which has reached 60 percent or more in the United States and most European countries—has created double shifts of work for millions of women at home and on the job.

Notes:

Folksonomies: leisure automation

Taxonomies:
/society/work/unemployment (0.971509)
/law, govt and politics/politics (0.852889)
/finance/investing (0.691249)

Concepts:
United States (0.963387): dbpedia_resource
Working time (0.849197): dbpedia_resource
Employment (0.763523): dbpedia_resource
Shift work (0.736288): dbpedia_resource
Consumption (0.720164): dbpedia_resource
Macroeconomics (0.711107): dbpedia_resource
Holiday (0.662231): dbpedia_resource
Leisure (0.613944): dbpedia_resource

 Play in America from Pilgrims and Patriots to Kid Jocks and Joystick Jockeys
Periodicals>Journal Article:  Cross, Gary , Play in America from Pilgrims and Patriots to Kid Jocks and Joystick Jockeys, Journal of Play, Vol 1, Issue 1, Retrieved on 2021-02-28
  • Source Material [www.journalofplay.org]
  • Folksonomies: history play