The great economist John Maynard Keynes explained in his 1930 essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren how 100 years hence, he predicted a 15 hour working week (and even this more to satisfy our need to feel useful than from necessity). Keynes did not anticipate that productivity increases would be taken mostly in the form of money rather than time, nor did he forsee the growth of consumption possibilities and consumer expectations. And he did not seem to recognise the need for increased living standards in underdeveloped countries. But it is still worth reading his (extracted) words:
“From the sixteenth century, with a cumulative crescendo after the eighteenth, the great age of science and technical inventions began, which since the beginning of the nineteenth century has been in full flood.
What is the result? In spite of an enormous growth in the population of the world, which it has been necessary to equip with houses and machines, the average standard of life in Europe and the United States has been raised.
We may be on the eve of improvements in the efficiency of food production as great as those which have already taken place in mining, manufacture, and transport. In quite a few years-in our own lifetimes I mean-we may be able to perform all the operations of agriculture, mining, and manufacture with a quarter of the human effort to which we have been accustomed.
For the moment the very rapidity of these changes is hurting us and bringing difficult problems to solve. Those countries are suffering relatively which are not in the vanguard of progress. We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come–namely, technological unemployment.
But this is only a temporary phase of maladjustment. All this means in the long run that mankind is solving its economic problem. I would predict that the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is to-day.
I draw the conclusion that… the economic problem may be solved, or be at least within sight of solution, within a hundred years.
Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem-how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.
The strenuous purposeful money-makers may carry all of us along with them into the lap of economic abundance. But it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.
We shall endeavour to spread the bread thin on the butter-to make what work there is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible… three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week …
We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things.”