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Progress Means Reduced Working Hours
by Bernhard Schutz and Wolfgang Katzian
Monday Oct 26th, 2015 4:13 AM
More and more people use the free time option and decide for more freedom instead of higher negotiated salaries. Shorter hours can lead to economic growth, higher productivity, greater output, more time sovereignty and better long-term health of workers. Closing one's eyes to these arguments and only thinking of short-term profit is hostile to the future and not only hostile to the economy. That is truly "retro" thinking.

By Bernhard Schutz

[This article published on October 1, 2015 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

More and more employees are deciding for a voluntary reduction of working hours. According to Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes, their actions reflect progress.

In his last article, Michael Schwendinger points out that more and more people use the free time option in their collective agreements and decide for more freedom instead of higher negotiated salaries. The reasons for this decision are varied and extend from “I want to enjoy life” to “I want to spend more time with my children.” For the younger generation, freedom has increasing importance compared to vocational status.

This trend to more free time appears as something new in our contemporary society. However a glance at the history of economic thinking reveals that the idea had very prominent advocates much earlier with Karl Marx (1818-1883) and John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946).


For Karl Marx, the ultimate goal of history was a society where every person could holistically realize his or her nature. For this to succeed, working hours (the “socially necessary work”) should be reduced as much as possible. As soon as this happens, the opposition between work and self-realization is annulled since activities in the remaining time can be chosen out of inner drives and not out of material necessity (Marx/Engels: “Doing this today and that tomorrow, hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, raising animals in the evening and criticizing after dinner as I like without ever being a hunter, fisher, shepherd or critic”).


Like Marx, John Maynard Keynes saw the goal of historical development in a society where technological progress makes possible reducing working hours as far as possible. People could devote themselves in their free time to their own predilection. He saw the transition tot his society as challenging and not easy since a change of values must occur in a society fixated on work. That change of values enables members of society to find a new meaning of life in free time. Work is important for us because it satisfies the human need for daily tasks and routines. To satisfy these needs, Keynes thought a 15-hour week would be sufficient.

Western society according to Keynes cannot ultimately get around reducing working hours. In 1943 he assumed finding suitable investment possibilities would be increasingly difficult after a long growth phase toward the end of the 20th century because of the achieved economic development. The savings inclination will exceed the investment-readiness and unemployment will climb. In this phase, the state has three possibilities in the struggle against unemployment: (i) reducing the savings inclination through redistribution from top to bottom, (ii) constantly increasing state investments (Keynes predicted permanent budget deficits); and (iii) the prioritized gradual reduction of working hours. [1]


For Marx, the collectivization of the means of production and a just distribution of income were prerequisites for a drastic reduction of working hours. The 20th century has shown that gradual reductions of working hours are possible even without this radical system change. The distribution debate cannot be avoided since it is the prerequisite for voluntary reduced working hours becoming an actual option for everyone instead of a privilege of a few. Simultaneously Keynes’ prognosis and his conclusions are more relevant than ever – in a Europe plagued by record unemployment. The growing popularity of the free time option is part of that change of values that Keynes saw as a prerequisite. In this light, reducing working hours is not only possible but desirable for its own sake and from pure pragmatism. The current discussion about this is very timely.

[1] Keynes started from equalizing balances of payments. From a contemporary perspective, this list must be supplemented with the possibility (iv) of permanent export surpluses. This is not a sustainable strategy since all countries cannot simultaneously realize export surpluses.

This article is based on the essay “Progress and Working Hours. A Comparison of the Views of Marx and Keynes and Social Democracy” in the Momentum Quarterly 3 (2), 2014.


John Maynard Keynes, biography on Wikipedia

Paul Mason, “The End of Capitalism,” July 2015

Michael Schwendinger, “Reduced Working Hours as a Socio-Economic Investment,” 2014


This economy condemns and enslaves. Reduced working hours and community centers (as in Vancouver B.C.) could be a third way beyond state and market enabling us to be grateful subjects instead of abject objects. The financial crisis of 2007-8 should lead to shrinking the financial sector, expanding the public sector and freeing ourselves from vulgar materialism, narcissism and environmental destruction.
In his article, Michael Schwendinger emphasizes that reduced working hours could be seen as a socio-economic investment, not as a cost-trap. A 1909 study by Sidney Chapman shows that shorter hours can lead to economic growth, higher productivity and greater output. More time sovereignty and better health of workers could be long-term gains.
Why can’t we experiment with redefining work, health, strength and happiness? Sustainability means not taking resources and possibilities from the rising generation. The economy should be a part of life, not a steamroller crushing creativity and self-determination!


By Wolfgang Katzian

[This blog-article published on October 19, 2015 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Time is one of the most important resources we humans have. Besides remuneration, questions of organizing working hours occupy us most intensively in the daily union routine. We need new and fair models of working hours that give employees more time for life: time for family life, regeneration, sports or continuing education as well as involvement in political and cultural life. Reservations toward reduced working hours can be rightly termed “retro.”


Across all branches, representatives of industry and the economy proffer a magic formula or panacea: work longer, put in more overtime hours, retire later and be more flexible. The club of job loss is regularly brandished so employees do not lose motivation. When the promised positive effect on businesses and the economy does not materialize, the dose in increased without reconsidering the prescription.

We find ourselves again in an absurd situation as a result of this strategy. More and more people work at their absolute personal limit and beyond. An ever-greater work volume should be managed with fewer and fewer personnel. More than 270 million overtime hours were worked in Austria in 2014. Every fifth overtime hour is unpaid. Nearly 320,000 persons without work face this proliferation of overtime hours. But woe to the one who gets the idea of changing anything in the distribution of working hours! He or she will be immediately put in the retro-corner by economic committees and industrial associations and decried as a threat for the economy.


It is retro and a danger to the economy when one doesn’t change his prescription if it is demonstrably unsuccessful. Businesses profit when employees come to work well-rested and do not work to the limit. Working less and having more time for life is not only in the interest of individuals. Permanent pressure to produce results and stress prevent creativity and destroy motivation. That kind of work environment massively damages the business and causes follow-up costs that are not considered in short-term profit thinking.


We need a new fair distribution of working hours and new models of working hours that give employees more time for life, time for family life, regeneration, sports or continuing education as well as participation in political and cultural life. Men and women need more time when they have little children at home or care for a relative. Toward the end of their vocational life, they may want to work less and slower. There can be phases where vocation and careers are important and people like to work intensely. Determining the extent of working hours for the respective phase in life can take away enormous pressure and contribute to mental and physical health.


Reduction of overtime hours is necessary like extension of vacations and a general reduction of weekly working hours to 35 hours. There must be a legal claim to sabbaticals and time outs. All-in-contracts should be challenged. If a third of overtime hours were successfully transformed into more jobs, over 50,000 full time jobs would be created. A shortening of weekly working hours to 35 hours (a 10% reduction) would bring a job growth of around 100,000 new jobs. Closing one’s eyes to these arguments and only thinking of short-term profit is hostile to the future and not only hostile to the economy. That would truly be “retro” thinking.
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