For much of human history the great majority of people worked 16 hour days, 7 days per week as farmers. About 1875 years after Christs death the majority or people were moving off the farms and into factories to work 12 hour days. Then they started working 5 or 6 days per week instead of 7. Then 10 hour days. Then 8 hour days. Now the average American works about 33 hours per week. I believe this will continue to trend down over time.
I read predictions about the future a lot and people predict that in the future that a tremendous amount of production will come from a small highly productive segment of the population. Isn't it already like that? 1 farmer today can produce what 1,000 did 100 years ago with farm equiptment. 1 expert engineer can come up with a great idea that is mass produced by many. At the same time, how many jobs produce very "little"? Fast food workers, dry cleaners, cashier, etc. etc. etc. How many things are automated, mass produced or made in China now?
The WSJ OPED made me think today. I always assumed Europeans worked less because of their "culture". They just value leisure more than labor? But why do they value time more than money more so than other cultures? Taxes. Europeans didn't always work less than Americans but once those taxes rose hours worked went down. Simple economics. The reason why they want more time off than other cultures is because they get to keep less of their wages than other cultures and they already have everything provided for them.
That is a sneak preview of America. Higher taxes and less hours worked.
"Then 10 hour days. Then 8 hour days. Now the average American works about 33 hours per week. I believe this will continue to trend down over time."
"1 farmer today can produce what 1,000 did 100 years ago with farm equiptment."
The problem is that although part of our improvement in work productivity is due to technology and automation, the real gain has been on the backs of usage of energy. There is a very strong correlation between the amount of energy used per citizen and the amount of gdp that an economy can produce. Furthermore, in the case of the farmer, two other resources have been exploited disproportionally to their renewable potential. Those being water and fertilizer.
The energy problem carries the twin problems of renewability and anthropogenic global warming.
The core of whether we succeed of fail as an economy in the future probably has to do with how well we deal with these two problems.