Three Smart People on Work

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay titled, “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” in which the economist attempted to predict the future during the bottom years of the Great Depression. Keynes wrote that within 100 years (by 2030), humanity would be so much more technologically advanced that the problem of scarcity would already be solved, and we would only have to work 15 hours a week.

Then, the anthropologist James Suzman spent 30 years studying and living with one of the world’s enduring hunter-gatherer societies. His work with the Ju/’hoansi people in southern Africa has provided a unique lens into our modern obsession with work.

As Suzman writes in his new book, Work: A Deep History, From the Stone Age to the Age of Robots, hunter-gatherer societies spent only about 15 hours a week meeting their material needs. Despite being deeply impoverished by modern standards, they considered themselves affluent.

It just so happens that, in our modern urban world, there actually isn’t a whole lot of life outside of work for most people. Some of the hardest working people are actually the ones who should have to work the least. It’s as if the reward for work were more work.

It’s not only you. When Bill Gates was asked about work-life balance at a conference, he said, “I never took a day off in my twenties. Not one.”