I try my best not to let my articles go over 1,000 words because excessively long-winded articles tend to turn readers off. In addition, my previous discussion about how I believe society is due for a shift back to single-earner households and then eventually a sub-40-hour workweek seems to be worth expanding on.
Last time, I left you with a basic idea that a societal shift will take place as a result of technological unemployment. I believe the advancement of technology is going to continue eliminating jobs to the extent that families will be forced to find ways to get by on a single income, and then eventually the 40-hour workweek will be challenged.
Are there signs of this already? I believe there are. A lot of political buzz is made about today’s unemployment rate. While the rate has come very close to reaching the pre-recession level, many are quick to point out that this has been accomplished partially because so many people couldn’t find jobs and were discouraged from continuing to seek them. As a result, they fall off the balance of unemployed individuals. This is generally considered a negative thing, but is that always the case? How many of these “discouraged job-seekers” simply realized that their household could get by just fine without their income? Is it reasonable to accept or believe that someone would simply stop looking for a job if their livelihood and standard of living depended on the income?
Many discouraged job-seekers (not all, but many) may have discovered that the income they contributed to their household budget was more complementary than critical. They may have found out that by tweaking their household budget a bit, they can get by on just their spouse’s income and perhaps even pursue some supplemental income with their free time. I don’t mean to minimize the struggle of the unemployed, but I am rather trying to express the non-political viewpoint on the matter.
It is also worth noting that the two newest generations in the workforce, Generation X (1965-1979) and Generation Y (1980-2000) are showing a bigger desire for work/life balance than did their parents and grandparents. We’re starting to see workers who would rather have more vacation time than a raise, which is very contrary to earlier generations. Young workers are also fearful of being able to retire, due to pessimism regarding the future trajectory of the American economy as well as fears about Social Security’s future – mixed with the rapidly decreasing availability of pension plans that their parents and grandparents have enjoyed.
Matched with the potential for a greater pace of technological unemployment, the future is ripe with possibility for John Maynard Keynes’ 1930 proclamation to eventually be reality. That is, perhaps a 15 or 20-hour workweek being considered full-time for many or even most individuals, leaving society to pursue new things to occupy their waking hours.
Who Benefits During Transition?
While this transition is slowly taking place, who benefits? We’ve previously established that technological unemployment represents at least a temporary displacement of the working class as they find their jobs and skills replaced by technology that can perform their job for cheaper and without human error. The clear benefactors to this transitional phase are the stockholders and executives of the firms pursuing technology.
How does the working class receive their slice of the pie? By becoming stockholders, of course! Diversification of income is going to become a major buzz-topic over the next several decades as we start to realize the folly of relying on a single source of income. Today’s affluent generally represent a group who has already figured this out. They spread their investments across a broad and diverse portfolio so they cannot be broken by the failing of a single source of income. At a much smaller scale, this is still a feasible concept for the working class. A diversified portfolio of investments, mixed in with income or revenue generated during one’s free time could be leveraged to both minimize risk associated with technological unemployment as well as to benefit from it.
Again, I caution reading these words with a tone of pessimism or fear – at a macro-level this is a great thing that we’re discussing. What if you could make a living wage only spending 15 hours per week confined to a cubicle, and you had the freedom of pursuing whatever you’d like with your remaining free time? Perhaps you use your free time to pursue wealth through entrepreneurship, or perhaps you’re comfortable with a living wage and choose to pursue arts or science. The concept is about a future of freedom and choices.
Keep in mind that this is just one man’s idea (John Maynard Keynes), altered and then perpetuated by me. What really will happen is largely dependent on legislation as well as how society chooses to shift. Perhaps jobs lost to technology will continue to be forever replaced by new jobs as has been the pattern for centuries – that will depend on factors that nobody could possibly foresee.
What do you think? Would you be open to an economic future where 15 hours was a full-time workweek? What would you do with your spare time if this were the case?