Berkeley Flexible Work Time Initiative



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Classic Essays

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Classic Essays on Work, Leisure and Consumption

It is only recently that people began to believe that economic growth should be the central goal of society.

Classically, leisure was considered the basis of the good life. All through history, only a small aristocratic class had the leisure that everyone believed was needed to live well. When the industrial revolution began to increase workers' incomes and shorten working hours, many thinkers began to believe that economic progress would extend the benefits of leisure to everyone.

It was only after World War II that America decided that the gross national product was the key measure of the good life. Since then, we have promoted more growth and more consumption - but not more free time.

These classic essays about work, leisure, and economic growth can help correct our conventional thinking:

  • Aristotle on Economics and the Good Life: Aristotle tells us that it is reasonable to acquire the limited amount of property that is needed to live a good life, but not to acquire unlimited amounts of property.
  • John Stuart Mill on Work-Time Choice : John Stuart Mill tells us that it is impossible to produce more than people want to consume, because workers would shorten their hours if they had everything they wanted. We could change our economy by applying this basic principle of classical market economics.
  • Herbert Spencer on the Gospel of Relaxation: Spencer was one of the greatest supporters of capitalism and progress in nineteenth-century England, but he also believed that progress should bring a world where people have more leisure.
  • Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness: Russell argues for reducing the work day to four hours: "four hours' work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit. ... education should ... should aim, in part, at providing tastes which would enable a man to use leisure intelligently."
  • John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren: Keynes tells us that "mankind is solving its economic problem" and "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."

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