In 1929 John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2029 people in the developed nations could enjoy a perfectly civilised standard of living while working for 16 hours a week. His hope was for our precious hours of extra leisure to be devoted to such edifying pursuits as playing Grand Theft Auto and watching kittens skateboarding on YouTube. (Actually he didn’t predict that bit — he suggested we’d be listening to string quartets and attending poetry recitals but, hey, that was the Bloomsbury Group for you.) Today, however, not only has the work week stayed constant but, in direct contradiction of the theory, the better-paid now work disproportionately longer hours.
In 2008 some of the world’s leading economists contributed to a series of essays (Revisiting Keynes, MIT) discussing why Keynes’s dream now seems so wide of the mark. Between them, they furnished a number of competing theories. Some posited that people like working and that being busy now has the kind of social cachet that being leisured used to.