Japan, the country that gave us the word “karoshi” for “death from overwork,” is thinking about introducing an optional four-day workweek. The idea has also come up in Iceland, New Zealand, Spain and other places. It’s in fact so obvious, some wise people in the past would be gobsmacked to learn that we’re only just starting to talk about it now.
One such sage was the economist John Maynard Keynes. In 1930, just as the Great Depression was threatening his and the world’s prosperity, he penned a classic essay on the “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren.” The longer-term economic and technological trends, he argued counterintuitively, in fact suggested that within a century — that is, right about now — we could meet all our needs so efficiently, we’d only work out of habit or for fun, and even then probably no more than 15 hours a week.