Less than four hundred years ago, the trend was to work ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week. This is what was needed to make a living, to afford housing, food, clothes and small luxuries. Most labor was still manual, and slaves were used to do most of the heavy lifting, ardurous work and toil. The discovery and invention of things like fossil fuel, water mills and steam power began changing this fact.
Less than three hundred years ago, people began moving to cities. Industry slowly began to form, and people began reaping the benefits of simple machines. We were able to produce more in less time. People began having more free time - more leisure time - and dependence on manual labor lessened. Slavery was still rampant and people were still beholden to masters and fiefdoms.
Less than two hundred years ago, the Industrial Revolution had changed everything. A third of the population of the Earth had moved from being sustinence farmers to being workers in mills, factories, sweatshops and tanneries. The average Englishman, who had toiled in the fields from morning to evening every day of the year, could now draw a salary from a factory and find time to relax, think, learn and socialize in his or her ample free time. Child protection laws began to emerge once we were no longer dependent on forced manual labor and most countries abolished slavery.
Less than a hundred years ago, trade and specialization had led us to a financial boom across most of the Western world. People could spend a third of the day, five days a week, providing specialzed labor using highly sophisticated machines in order to greatly improve the lives of thousands of others. By being the person who sowed clothes for eight hours a day, you clothed thousands while drawing a salary that allowed you to benefit from the labors of others.
At the same time, our footprint on the world lessened. Thanks to advances in agricultural technology, especially in new grains and artificial fertilizers, we were able to grow twice the amount of food grains in half the space as we would have a hundred years earlier. Fewer people were needed to sustain the population of Earth and urbanization took off.
Less than fifty years ago, more than half the population of Earth lived in a city. More than half of all of us lived on just seven percent of the Earth's surface. That number is still increasing, leaving more nature to the animals and plants of the world. Due to the increased proximity, pollution lessened, welfare increased, free time increased and labor costs went down. Where governments did not meddle in trade and finance, markets bloomed and people got richer.
Today, most people work five days a week, somewhere between seven and a half to eight hours a day, depending on local labor laws. Many believe this to be the pinnacle of mankind, the highest attainable form of success, but it is only another step in mankind's development.
We're still building smarter and better machines, technology and services; allowing fewer people to do more in less time. Average salaries per person per hour are growing and we've never had the same kinds of freedom to enjoy the surplus produced by others as we have today. Only in countries where people have had the misfortune to grow up with corruption or strictly controlled markets have we seen slow or negative growth. Countries like North Korea starve and deteriorate because they have closed their borders to the outside world, refusing to benefit from the surplus the world creates and not adding to it. Even in newer markets, such as China and India, the Western countries have drawn upon cheap labor and enriched the country by dramatically raising the salaries, standards and benefits of the people who work there. We're not seeing a race to the bottom, as so many pessimistic analysts feared in the eighties, but a gradual raising of what the bottom entails.
Within the next hundred years, we'll have technology that far surpasses anything we can dream of today. Machines and software will be able to perform tasks we all believe can only be performed by people today, and countless thousands, if not millions, will be made redundant thanks to technological advances.
This is why the perspective on work and employment needs to change. So many people believe that employment is a vital part of life, that idle hands are up to no good and that people need to work to draw a salary that can sustain them. If historical trends are to be believed, however, this is not the case. We'll have a massive portion of the population whose livelihood can be sustained by machines that do the work for them, machines that invent, produce, deliver and sell goods and services. A human workforce will become far less relevant.
I believe that we'll see the first all-software corporation, no human employees at all, before the year 2100. Laws need to change to allow for it, of course, but we're coming close to where this is possible, especially with the advent of smart trading algorithms, early success in artificial intelligence and the massive processing power available in computing today. I believe we'll start to see massive profits coming out of automated services, massively reducing the cost of living for humans to the point where we no longer need to work to make a living.
We'll begin to experience a brand new industrial revolution, and - much like in the former revolution - the birth of a new upper middle class defined by their free time and surplus.
This is the reason I believe the current discussion about the six-hour workday is so important. Not because I feel it is relevant yet - at least not in all fields of work - but because we need to remember that the current eight-hour work day is not a final point in our evolution as living, trading, market-reliant human beings.