Work is in decline. More and more people drop out of the work force, more or less permanently, and live without a steady job – this apart from unemployment, which is a separate issue.
Leisure time is spreading from the bottom up. Long hours are increasingly the province of the rich.
The rich have less leisure time than the rest of society.
From those who have dropped out of the work force – whether by compulsion or by choice – one hears few complaints that they have too much leisure. The reason is that in fact they have little leisure; the “post-work time” is spent finding ways to make money needed to maintain their standard of living.
Even at a disappointing growth rate, our society will be richer in 2050 than it is now.
The decline in work carries a grave psychological cost. Jobs provide structure to people’s lives. Still, we have gained a world where steady work is less necessary for human survival than ever before.
The demand for manual labour is shrinking, the demand for skilled labour is increasing.
Leisure was not a problem on which Karl Marx concentrated. Work was. He was not looking forward to a post-work society. For Marx, to be human was to work. But under capitalism, labour was necessarily estranged, foreign to one’s existence; too many people had to spend too many hours every week doing something stupid and meaningless.
Marx could not anticipate the decline of work we are witnessing today, but he did understand that fulfillment, rather than the satisfaction of appetites, should be our main objective.
Sources: The Leisure Riots, a novel by Eric Koch; World Without Work, by Ross Douthat, in The New York Times (February 23); Karl Marx and the Semantics of a “Post-Work Left”, by Eva Burger, published in Jacobin and cited in Salon, March 2