Dance of the Hours


Article from Issue 282/2024

Sometimes the data points in the news come in pairs, or at least they converge into pairs when you stop to think about them. I noticed a story this month on the many layoffs in the tech industry.

Dear Reader,

Sometimes the data points in the news come in pairs, or at least they converge into pairs when you stop to think about them. I noticed a story this month on the many layoffs in the tech industry. According to the report, 50,000 tech employees have lost their jobs so far in 2024. 2023 saw 260,000 lose their jobs, the biggest total since the bust in the wake of the dot-com era [1].

The other story that caught my eye was about a bill in the US Senate to mandate a 32-hour work week instead of the customary 40-hour week [2]. I'm not exactly sure why I think these stories belong together, other than the fact that the rise of AI is often cited as a reason for some of the house clearing. AI reduces the need for human workers. Of course, all companies are always in search of greater efficiency, and efficiency means doing more in fewer hours. Another story in the news notes that Mercedes has entered into a plan to replace humans with robots for "low skill, physically challenging, manual labor" [3].

A full analysis of the economics of human versus machine is not possible in a one-page welcome column – in fact, even the economists writing 1,000-page books don't agree on what is happening and what to do about it. But I really wonder if maybe we should be asking where we're going to be in, say, 20 or 30 years if we keep replacing human jobs with machine labor. If there are fewer total human work hours to share among a constant supply of workers, we'll all either have to work fewer hours, or else a great many of us will have no work at all. A free market optimist, of course, would say that we can make up the difference by simply expanding the economy, which could work in theory – then you just have to decide whether it is reasonable to expect that the economy will expand at a rate that will keep pace with the advances we are making in AI. It seems possible that a 32-hour work week could provide a more orderly transition to an AI-based future, in which case, it might be better for business than slowly driving down wages and dealing later with droves of unemployed or underemployed workers who can't afford to buy the consumer products that fuel the economy.

As of now, it doesn't appear that the bill for a 32-hour work week will pass. This kind of bold proposal will need much more momentum if it is ever going to make it into law. But the idea isn't going anywhere, so expect to hear more about a shorter work week as time goes on.

And speaking of time going on, I want to give a big thanks to our columnist Graham Morrison, whose final installment of FOSSPicks appears in this month's issue. Graham was the cofounder of the excellent Linux Voice magazine, which merged with Linux Magazine back in 2016, and he's been with us ever since. It has been a pleasure to work with Graham for all these years. He gets his copy in on time, and we rarely have to edit it. But beyond that, his energy, wit, omnivorous interests, and deep knowledge of open source are a bright light. He will be difficult to replace – but rest assured we'll try. Best of luck Graham! We tune up our soft synths to play a fond song of farewell.

Joe Casad, Editor in Chief


  1. "Laid-Off Techies Face 'Sense of Impending Doom' with Job Cuts at the Highest Since Dot-Com Crash" by Alex Koller, CNBC, March 15, 2024:
  2. "Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders Introduces Four-Day Workweek Bill" by Martin Pengelly, The Guardian, March 15, 2024:
  3. "Mercedes Is Trialing Humanoid Robots for Low-Skill Repetitive Tasks" by Jess Weatherbed, The Verge, March 15, 2024:

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