The Age of Work

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Jul 10, 1948

The Age of Work

It was a little depressing to learn that the new Czech government is drafting an order making a six-day week compulsory in industry.

Until now a five-day 48-hour week has been the rule in many factories, but apparently “Maximum labor efficiency” calls for something more than that.

How different this sort of thing is from the world of which we dreamed 50 years ago! We then thought that we were making straight for an era of infinite leisure in which, with the help of scientific inventions, we should be able to produce a glut of good things by working a few hours a day or a few days a week, and be left with so much free time on our hands that we should not know what to do with it.

One of the chief problems of the nineteenth century was how to release men from too much work. One of the chief problems of the twentieth century we expected to be how to train ourselves to make use of too much leisure.

Moralists became alarmed lest the rest of us were not sufficiently civilized to make a good use of almost unlimited spare time.

Cricket matches, no doubt, could be extended to six days and all Test matches could be made timeless. Plays could be bumped out to a length of “Back to Metuselah.” Films could become three times as long as “Gone With the Wind.” And novels, compared with which “War and Peace” would seem to be of pigmy bulk, could be provided by the publishers.

Even so, it seemed to many people, human beings were not yet fitted to live in the Utopia of idleness that science was preparing for them and, not being educated for such a paradise, would rapidly degenerate merely through not being compelled to exert themselves.

Most of us, however, were willing to risk this demoralisation, and, in any case, we believed that a greater and greater increase of leisure was inevitable. Besides, if anybody was going to be demoralized, it would not be ourselves but our descendants, who would live in a world in which hardly any work was necessary and luxuries like motor-cars, aeroplanes, television sets and cantaloupe melons were within the reach of every household.

Perhaps, if great wars had not devastated so much of the world, we should by now have been in sight of the fulfillment of this dream. Working hours were becoming shorter; a half-holiday had been inserted into the middle of the week; and increasing numbers of people were able to leave their homes for summer holidays. This was only a hint of what was coming in the Age of Leisure; but it would have seemed and advance into Elysium to thousands of men and women in the nineteenth century.

One would have thought that, with the prospect of still better things—enormously better things—in store for them, human beings would have set about creating a world fit for holiday-makers to live in. Instead of this, however, they—or some millions of them—chose to devote their energies to waging the two most titanic wars in history, and by doing so, destroyed a large part of the materials essential to the foundation of the Age of Leisure.

Instead of abundance of food we have got shortage of food. Instead of a surplus of machines the inventors could have given us, we had factories and railways in ruin, and ships at the bottom of the sea. Instead of a cornucopia of goods at our disposal in the shops, it was made difficult for us to buy even a pair of socks.

And part of the price that has to be paid not only for the ruin left by the war but for food enough to keep us alive after the war is a slowing down of the approach to the Age of Leisure. This, for some time to come and for any nation that intends to survive, will be an Age of Work.

Still, I have always maintained that, if a man has to work at all, hard work is the most enjoyable kind of work, just as hard play is the most enjoyable of play.

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