by Sydney J. Chapman (translated and condensed by the Sandwichman)
The road of economic advance proceeds by specialization. Just as there has been specialization in tools and in division of labor, so has there been a specialization of labor during working hours and of leisure and social intercourse in non-working hours. Specialization on the one side implies the elimination of waste, whether of means or of time and it has therefore meant to the laborer the partial or occasionally complete elimination of the leisure that used to be interspersed within working hours. In a modern workshop, noise, the necessity of discipline, or of a continuously absorbed state of the attention, frequently reduce the possibilities of conversation to the barest limits. Humanity has no doubt been relieved of the heaviest burden of toil by inventions relating to the mechanism of production, but their application has been accompanied on the whole by the closer concentration of some kind of effort in time. The intensification of labor in a more confined sphere of activity may, as Professor Münsterberg argues, exercise more fully the higher human faculties and thereby bring with it a deeper interest, but it will almost certainly prove more exhausting, even apart from the elimination of change, leisure, and social intercourse. Decade-by-decade, with the speeding up of machinery, we can expect to find more nervous strain accompanying the process of production. That industrial functioning has become a severer tax on the energy of the workman is fully borne out by the evidence of numerous reports on industrial conditions.
Although it is not the only possible explanation, the increasing nervous strain of industrial work would account sufficiently for the curious circumstance that there is apparently no finality about any solution of the ever-recurring problem of the normal working day. The workman whose day has been reduced soon demands even shorter hours. Pessimists infer from this that the establishment of shorter hours leads the community down a slippery slope descending from competition, striving, achievement and progress toward economic stagnation. They deplore the indolence and apathy of the present generation. But an examination of the effects that work-time reduction has on output suggests the pessimists are wrong.
A mass of material for a study of this question exists in official and other reports in more than one advanced industrial country. Beginning with the writings of Robert Owen and Daniel le Grand, both of whom stressed moral and social elements, an investigator would find an almost unbroken sequence of evidence. Mr. John Rae collected a volume of facts in 1894, and these may now be supplemented by the experiences of yet another half generation. Limitations of space forbid that I should quote examples, but I may at least roughly generalize from the recorded facts. I have found no instance in which an abbreviation of hours has resulted in a proportionate curtailment of output. There is every reason to suppose that the production in the shorter hours has seldom fallen short by any very appreciable amount of the production in the longer hours. In some cases, the product, or the value of the product, has actually been augmented after a short interval. In a few cases, the reaction of the shorter hours on the output per week has been instantaneously noticeable and the new level of production has surpassed the old before mechanical methods could be improved. Further, for some industries – for instance, for the Lancashire cotton industry – we have preserved for us the results of a string of observations reaching back about three-quarters of a century. It would appear from them that the beneficial effects wrought upon output by the shortening of hours were substantially repeated, though of course in different degrees, at each successive reduction of the working day.