New Dream freshly spoke with labor chronicler Benjamin Hunnicutt, author of the brand-new book complimentary Time: The forgotten American Dream. In the book, Hunnicutt explains how Americans have increasingly distanced us from their historical yearning for leisure and complimentary time, in favor of a society of overwork—but the the dynamic may again it is in shifting.

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Can friend briefly amount up the gist of your latest book, cost-free Time?

The publication is about a mystery in U.S. Labor history that I’ve to be trying come unravel because that 40 years. In the beforehand 20th century, over there was solid support for the “shorter hours” movement, and working hrs were essentially reduced in fifty percent as people started to adopt the possibilities the life past everyday work. In the 1920s and 1930s, civilization like Keynes said that by the mid 20th century—and absolutely by the 1980s—we’d it is in working much more like 2.5 hours a day!

No one predicted that this process would stop. Yet after the an excellent Depression, working hrs stabilized, and there has actually been no increase in recreation since. Even in the 1960s and 70s, there to be predictions that the process would begin again—that there would certainly be a return of quick hours and also increased leisure. Yet instead, there’s been a reversal. In 2005, americans were working on average 5 weeks longer than in the 1970s.

So what happened? Why go something that looked so unpreventable stop? Why are we now working 10 hrs a day quite than 10 hours a week? In the book, I check out various means to describe this phenomenon, looking at the duty of things prefer consumerism, federal government policies to stimulate the economy, and machines and an innovation in contributing to much longer hours and also reduced leisure.

You talk a many about changing views the “progress.” What was taken into consideration progress historically, and how has actually that view changed much more recently?

Before the 1960s, world talked about progress in state of higher wages and shorter working hours. Americans would certainly have more of the good things in life, and much more time to reap them. Yet we observed the finishing of that dream, overshadowed by a new dream that “full-time work and also full employment for all.” much more recently, we room again see a glimpse of the old dream, with efforts to restart a shorter-hour process, yet it is definitely not the leading paradigm.

In the book, ns go v U.S. Background to show how perspectives on progress have actually changed. It’s simply the start of an effort to catalog what human being were predicting would certainly be feasible if Americans functioned less and also had more free time and also leisure.

Can you provide some particular examples?

In colonial days, religious folks favor Jonathan Edwards and also Samuel Hopkins were among the an initial to have actually this new vision that progress—they saw science and modern technology as bringing human reason to manage nature, to complimentary ourselves from her bonds, and to invest devices to perform our work-related for us. Edwards, as part of the great Awakening, talked about machines bringing human being a “new freedom” to live a much more humane existence, to establish our true humanity. There would certainly be an appreciation of nature, a present of the delight of community and of spiritual celebration.

Similarly, Hopkins wrote about how working less would create the potential because that “disinterested benevolence”—in other words, in their brand-new freedom, human being would have much more time come take joy in the delight of others.

In the at an early stage 19th century, arranged labor took some of these ideas to produce its very own vision that progress. The American job Movement, in the 1820s and also 30s, began to connect the dots and also initiated a movement for much shorter hours. The typical work work at that time was dawn come dusk. So historically, the first demand from arranged labor was the desire for leisure, for more time through family and also friends—which is really different indigenous their focus today.

Was it mainly men that were talking about much shorter hours and complimentary time, or were women also involved in the movement at an early stage on?

Women, such as those who functioned in the woolen mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, were amongst the best spokespeople because that this vision. They articulated a dream of coming to be educated, that having an ext leisure, as a method to supplement the disruptions caused through industrialization—such as broken-up families.

They posited shorter hours as being the “unselfish” device that would permit time for community, sharing, and also talking through each other, together opposed come the “selfish” system of capitalism. In your view, an ext time equaled a moral and humane existence. Human being would have the ability to get follow me better, and also to develop successful human relationships.

One writer at the time, Hulda Stone, available a vision the a future that was not so much defined by “technology together progress,” however rather was an ext humane—of effective families, engaging communities, the share of stays together. With free time, human being would learn how to live together better. Castle would have time to read and communicate—to use their indigenous to develop community and relationships.

Even v the 20th century, many of the voices for shorter hours were women. They presented a critique of work-related itself, emphasizing the view that “working to live” was preferable come “living come work.” occupational was not the totality of life, and recreation could lead the means to higher progress.

Did these perspectives ever reach the mainstream of society?

Many bourgeois pundits were inspired by the job movement. It had actually supporters choose Walt Whitman, that felt that shorter hours would certainly lead to more life, less work, and an ext energy come be invested in human relationships. Robert Maynard Hutchins the the college of Chicago was likewise concerned v the brand-new leisure, together were craftsmen, architects, etc. Plenty of were preparing because that a new recreation and freedom, and building the infrastructure to accommodate it. Even Frank Lloyd wright designed through the premise of structure spaces where human being could yes, really appreciate and also enjoy the new freedom that was coming.

There was wide support for the shorter working hours movement, as world were drawn to the vision the a country that was not so busy, whereby they would have an ext time to live their lives past the economy, past politics, and also could occupational toward “higher progress”—a place where we can be fully human in our freedom.

So what has actually changed—and why?

The biggest adjust is the today, development is no much longer seen as shorter hours and higher wages—the American Dream is currently “full-time work and full employment because that all.” Having totally free time is not perceived as a positive, but rather as a negative: cost-free time equals unemployment. It is currently a leading financial indicator, with shorter working hours being one indication of lack of work, not visibility of leisure.

What resulted in this an essential shift? because that one, FDR opposed the law to alleviate working hours to 30 hrs a week. Complete employment was characterized for the an initial time as being 40 hours (or better) of work-related per week. The federal government took top top the duty of gift responsible because that finding enough new work for human being to do, to take it the ar of unemployment.

Another element was the 1920s company community. Lock opposed much shorter hours, due to the fact that they observed the eight-hour day as being much more productive, more beneficial come the bottom line. They didn’t want civilization paying fist to values and lives that were outside the economy. Henry Ford and also others spoke of the must promote the brand-new economic gospel that consumption, and also to encourage world to “not take this terrific leisure.”

Proponents that productivity started to propagandize work-related as the center of life, building on Max Weber’s influential book The good news Ethic and also The heart of Capitalism. Work-related was seen progressively as an end in itself. In this new ideology, people’s complete humanity might be establish in your jobs, and not through cost-free time and also leisure. This was yes, really a 20th century development. That stemmed indigenous the danger of leisure—it to be a an answer to keep company going, to keep world at work. And also it came to be the dominant imperative. Recreation became trivialized.

In one of your previously books, Kellogg’s Six-Hour Day, you describe how the above cereal company bucked this trend and also held on come a six-hour occupational day till as recently as 1985. Why go they finally change to the an ext standard eight-hour day?

In a nutshell, belief systems changed, and values changed. Work came to be glorified, and many male workers and managers began to trivialize and also feminize recreation and much shorter hours.

Female workers often tended to choose the much shorter hours—women had actually been outside the rectal for therefore long, and also they were used to having the interaction networks and cost-free associations external of work and also men. But for men, increased recreation meant that they would be at residence more, sharing the residence more, and also many males didn’t prefer this; castle felt uncomfortable providing up status and also control. They knew their role at work, however they didn’t have actually a clear sense of their place at home, so plenty of welcomed the switch to longer hrs that would likewise increase productivity and also bring higher incomes.

In the 1950s, there was also rising concern around the “problem the leisure”—the idea that people would have actually too much time on their hands, i beg your pardon would reason stresses in the economy and in relationships. Even anthropologist Margaret Mead talked around the difficulties that would certainly arise from men being at house too much! The problem of leisure sparked the should create an ext parks and also recreational opportunities, to build the infrastructure and also community centers to accommodate increased free time. There is no the infrastructure, that was thought that people would obtain into trouble.

But this day we have actually the the contrary problem, one of “overwork” rather than too lot leisure. Can you explain?

Today, the concern has gone to the various other extreme. The difficulty now is that civilization work too much, together opposed to having too much totally free time. Plenty of of united state don’t have the time come use every one of that wonderful facilities that was emerged in anticipation of the coming leisure, and also as a an outcome much of it has entered disrepair or is underprioritized and also underfunded.

In addition to overwork, us are additionally faced through the trouble of unsustainable economic growth. In the book, ns conclude that full-time, complete employment is no sustainable. It depends on ongoing economic growth, and the fact is that economic climates can’t grow fast enough to save up with full employment. It’s likewise not sustainable for the environment, culture, relationships, and equality.

Unfortunately, the fact is that advancements in technology are walk to lug “free time” to numerous Americans, even if it is we choose it or not. Us are already seeing this, in the form of rising unemployment. For this reason our choice is even if it is we desire to view this totally free time as “unemployment” or as “leisure.” If us don’t address the difficulty of boosting leisure, we will have actually to resolve the effects of chronic unemployment and also unrest.

Is over there a solution?

A reasonable equipment would it is in to replace chronic joblessness with much shorter working hours for those who have actually jobs. Quite than the federal government imposing this, ns think the will more likely need to originate in the free market. In other words, the may end up being increasingly agree for civilization to willingly choose to “buy their leisure” through cutting back their hrs or not working (if they can afford to execute so). Another option is job-related sharing, which pipeline room come employ much more people.

For plenty of Americans today, the possibility of greater complimentary time have to be attractive, as it to be historically. To modern-day proponents that leisure, economic “progress” method having the flexibility to live out our lives. The society of Rome’s conclusion is that economic progress is much shorter hours and higher progress. In various other words, people seeking greater progress will revolve to forms of leisure that are time extensive (although no expensive) and less consumptive (requiring less disposable income). This would be much more sustainable and enable for much more freedom.

What did you hope to achieve in writing the book?

What I try to do in the book is to show civilization the old dream, of the great life, so human being will make the an option to be “free” and to embrace recreation as a optimistic rather than a negative. It needs to be complimentary choice, not government imposed. But the government has an important role come play in building up the infrastructure—the parks, ar centers, etc.—to accommodate people’s regained totally free time.

The bottom heat is that our expectations about work room not payment off. They room not enabling us to realize our full humanity. Because that too countless of us, job-related is drudgery, and also it drops well quick of what we room led to believe as the be-all and end-all. In light of this, we require to take on other choices for work and life.

Are friend optimistic about a societal transition to increased cost-free time?

Belief systems and also values concerning work and leisure have readjusted dramatically in the unified States. The inquiry is, have the right to they change back? I see the future going either way. Indigenous the pessimistic viewpoint, the religion of work is so strong today, and we space so invested in it, the our principle of humanity has actually shifted.

Yet there are cracks in the surface. This cracks stand for the old dream the is an ext healthy, that offers us through a method out of the ecological crisis. The idea the life deserve to become more rich and also less dependent on technology to express our humanity and progress. The idea the we have the right to have viable ar institutions that assistance our initiatives to achieve greater progress. We need to recall that noble vision the what our nation can be.

I finish the publication with a discussion about efforts like new Dream’s, and the principles of civilization like man de Graaf and also Juliet Schor: The idea the we need to “find time.” increasing concerns around overwork matches leisure. The motion to regain old worths of community and time. The politics of much shorter hours. Also Hillary Clinton had ideas about increased family time, calling because that a “family-friendly workplace” that would allow parents time to take it off.

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We also see encouraging signs in talk around the “experience economy”—the buying and selling the experiences, rather than products. I’m considering this together the focus of my following book, top top the economic situation of experience and also “saving work.”

Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt is an historian and also professor at the college of Iowa. That is additionally the author of Kellogg’s Six-Hour Day and also Work without End: Abandoning much shorter Hours for the right to Work.