And more dreams and nightmares of the future of work.
Dave GilsonJun. 16, 2011 4:54 PM
As long as people have labored, they have dreamed of the day when they might be free of work. With the advent of new, labor- and time-saving technologies, that day has often appeared to be just around the corner. From Karl Marx to Kurt Vonnegut, here are a few modern predictions and fantasies about what our lives might be like in a world where we work less.
In 1857, the father of communism envisioned a day when wealth would be untethered from work and we'd see "the general reduction of the necessary labor of society to a minimum"—freeing up time for pursuits such as art, science, and furthering world proletarian revolution. Photo: International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam
LOOKING BACKWARD: 2000 TO 1887
In this late 19th century bestseller, a man wakes up in a 20th century America where government and corporations have merged and everyone is forced to join the "industrial army." On the bright side, they get to retire at 45.
R.U.R. (ROSSUM'S UNIVERSAL ROBOTS)
Karel Capek's 1921 play is best known for popularizing the word "robot." Plot: An inventor makes a workforce of "artificial people" that are compliant at first but then kill all humans except one, who is asked to reveal the secret of reproduction.
Photo: Library of Congress
JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES
Contemplating the end of the Depression and a coming era of "economic bliss" (PDF) where all material wants will be satisfied without full-time labor, the economist posits that people will still desire to work at least three hours a day.
Photo: International Monetary Fund
In Charlie Chaplin's 1936 comedy, the Little Tramp is mauled by a machine that force-feeds factory workers while they remain at the assembly line.
Meet George Jetson! The animated father of 2062 works just nine hours a week.
Photo: Warner Bros/Hanana Barbera
In this 2003 sci-fi story by Marshall Brain, middle managers are replaced by an artificial-intelligence system that nags service workers to work faster, and fires shirkers. Those low-wage workers are then replaced by robots.
THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK
Timothy Ferriss' 2007 bestselling self-help book appealed to slackers and stress cases by showing "how to outsource your life" while having more money and free time. He assures readers, "My journey from grossly overworked and severely underpaid office worker to member of the NR [New Rich] is...simple to duplicate."
Last year, an artist named R. Luke Dubois joined 20 online dating sites, not in search of love, but data. After sampling more than 19 million profiles, he created "A More Perfect Union," an atlas that remaps America based on how we digitally describe ourselves to potential partners. In this new nation, where place names are dictated by the aggregation of proclivities and personalites, New York has become Now. Chicago is Always. Los Angeles is Acting. Las Vegas is Strip. Richmond, Virginia is Tobacco. St. Petersburg, Flordia is Dieting. Anchorage is Outdoorsy. Omaha is Steak. San Francisco is Gay.
Look closely at the maps and you'll discover more previously uncharted communities. Zooming in on the San Francisco Bay Area reveals new towns and neighborhoods: North Beach and Chinatown are Folksy; Potrero Hill is Silkscreen; the Outer Richmond is Subconcious. Oakland is Hyperactive. Sausalito is Transsexual. The area near San Quentin is Bratty. Surrounded by locales with names like Dateable, Lucious, Unmitigated, and Kitten, the quiet delta burg of Crockett sighs: Whew.
How long should you spend commemorating Memorial Day? It can be accomplished in just 60 seconds if you follow a 2000 presidential memo from Bill Clinton that encouraged Americans "to pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m. (local time) on Memorial Day, to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all." That comes out to 0.0000446 seconds of reflection for each of the approximately 1.3 million Americans who have died in uniform since the earliest days of the republic (according to Wikipedia).
If you have some more time, check out these charts about those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Let's start with a quick review of the biggest conflicts in American history:
Of course, not all Americans who gave all were participants in such memorable campaigns. This list of historic Marine and Navy casualties reminds us that hundreds perished in all but forgotten engagements with Chinese "bandits," Japanese feudal warlords, and even illegal booze makers in Brooklyn. And pirates:
Being a soldier has always been a dangerous job, but fighting on the frontlines has gotten statistically safer. In the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fewer than 10 percent of all casualties are deaths on the battlefield.
A major reason why more soldiers are surviving modern combat is the vast improvement in battlefield medicine (germ theory, antibiotics, medevacs, etc.). If you were wounded in the Civil War, your chances of survival were worse than a coin flip. Compare that with Iraq and Afghanistan, where a wounded soldier's chance of survival are about 85 percent.
Though still relatively low by historical standards, casualty rates are on the rise in Afghanistan as more troops have surged into the country. Meanwhile, the casualty rates have dropped significantly in Iraq as more troops have left (often for Afghanistan).
Not all wartime deaths occur in combat. A look at the top causes of death for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that while IEDs and other weapons have taken the heaviest toll, more mundane incidents such as car crashes are also a risk.
And with that in mind, stay safe out there on this Memorial Day.
Want more rage? We've got 11 charts that show how the superrich spoil it for the rest of us.
In the past 20 years, the US economy has grown nearly 60 percent. This huge increase in productivity is partly due to automation, the internet, and other improvements in efficiency. But it's also the result of Americans working harder—often without a big boost to their bottom lines. Oh, and meanwhile, corporate profits are up 20 percent. (Also read our essay on the great speedup and harrowing first-person tales of overwork.)
You have nothing to lose but your gains
Productivity has surged, but income and wages have stagnated for most Americans. If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000.
Growth is back...
...But jobs aren't
Sorry, not hiring
The sectors that have contributed the most to the country's overall economic growth have lagged when it comes to creating jobs.
The wage freeze
Increase in real value of the minimum wage since 1990: 21%
Increase in cost of living since 1990: 67%
One year's earnings at the minimum wage: $15,080
Income required for a single worker to have real economic security: $30,000
Working 9 to 7
For Americans as a whole, the length of a typical workweek hasn't changed much in years. But for many middle-class workers, job obligations are creeping into free time and family time. For low-income workers, hours have declined due to a shrinking job market, causing underemployment.
Median yearly earnings of:
Union workers: $47,684
Non-union workers: $37,284
Dude, Where's My Job?
More and more, US multinationals are laying off workers at home and hiring overseas.
Proud to be an American
The US is part of a very small club of nations that don't require...
A survey of employed email users finds:
22% are expected to respond to work email when they're not at work.
50% check work email on the weekends.
46% check work email on sick days.
34% check work email while on vacation.
The second shift
Working moms pick up more child care and household duties than working dads—about 80 minutes more every day. Meanwhile, dads enjoy nearly 50 more minutes of watching TV and other leisure activities on a daily basis.
Thanks, guys—you're pitching in more than twice as much as you did in the '70s. But women still get stuck with the majority of work around the house.
The cartoonist talks about his pro-prostitution memoir and the loneliness of the Canadian libertarian.
Dave GilsonMay 26, 2011 6:00 AM
More than a decade ago, Chester Brown decided he was through with romance. Certainly all the crummy stuff—the insecurity, the jealousy, the fights. The only thing he wasn't ready to give up was the physical part. As Brown, an award-winning Canadian cartoonist, explains to an ex at the beginning of his new memoir, "I've got two competing desires—the desire to have sex, versus the desire to not have a girlfriend."
That dilemma lead him to make a radical resolution: To never again have a girlfriend and to start paying for sex. The consequences of that lifestyle choice are the subject of Paying For It, a comic-book chronicle of Brown's experiences as a john. Honest and unashamed, Brown explores all aspects of his foray into prostitution, from furtively cruising for hookers on his bike, friends' reactions of disgust and curiosity, and the challenge of budgeting for sex when you're almost broke.
Brown, best known for his fascinating comic biography of 19th-century Canadian revolutionary Louis Riel, bares all as he draws each of his assignations with23 different womenover 5 years. There's nothing prurient or in-your-face about this. He alters or conceals the features of the women he's with (to protect their identities, he says), and he draws himself with a perpetually blank expression, his eyes hidden behind opaque glasses. Though he insists he's enjoying himself, the sex scenes blur into a monotonous loop—which may be the part of the point. A dedicated libertarian, Brown seeks to convey that there's nothing remarkable about a well-mannered guy like himself mixing business and pleasure. Willing buyer, willing seller—what's the problem? (Just in case his story doesn't convince you, Paying For It has an appendix that takes on 22 anti-prostitution arguments.)