Jack Ma Predicts People Will Work Just 16 Hours Per Week by 2047

Donald Trump and Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba Group, speak to reporters following their meeting at Trump Tower, January 9, 2017 in New York City (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba Group, speak to reporters following their meeting at Trump Tower, January 9, 2017 in New York City (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Jack Ma, the billionaire businessman and chairman of the Alibaba Group, believes that automation will help workers of the future enjoy more leisure time. In fact, he sees a future where people will be working just 16 hours per week by 2047.


“I think in the next 30 years, people only work four hours a day and maybe four days a week,” Ma said this week at a conference in Detroit. “My grandfather worked 16 hours a day in the farmland and [thought he was] very busy. We work eight hours, five days a week and think we are very busy.”

Does that sound familiar? It might, if you’ve heard other predictions for the future of work from the 20th century. In fact, the 16-hour work week was a tremendously popular prediction in the 1960s. Back then, of course, experts said it would arrive by that magical year 2000.

Or, if you were a pessimist, you believed that we’d only cut back to 30-hour work weeks by 2000. Other pessimists of the 20th century believed that we wouldn’t achieve a 16-hour work week until the distant year 2020.

As Walter Cronkite proclaimed in 1967:

Technology is opening a new world of leisure time. One government report projects that by the year 2000, the United States will have a 30-hour work week and month-long vacations as the rule.


Needless to say, none of this has happened. Under capitalism, workers will never get shorter work weeks or more leisure time, because increased productivity only leads to higher profits for companies, not better wages for workers. That is, unless those workers ask for it through some form of collective bargaining agreement obtained through a union.

The American worker today is roughly 25 percent more productive today than she was in the year 2000, and yet inflation-adjusted wages haven’t budged. Some people are indeed working just 30 hours per week, just not through any choice of their own. While the American economy is at what economists consider full employment, underemployment continues to be a major issue and wages are stagnant compared to growth in productivity over the past half-century.


Now don’t get me wrong, 16-hour work weeks are possible in the future. But they’re not realistic under a capitalist system. For a 16-hour work week to be sustainable we’d need nothing short of full communism. And I have a feeling Jack Ma isn’t advocating for that.



Matt Novak is a senior writer at Gizmodo and founder of Paleofuture.com. He's writing a book about the movies U.S. presidents watched at the White House, Camp David, and on Air Force One.



I don’t have a problem with the prediction. Capitalist market or no, automation results in less work for humans so it’s possible there won’t be enough work for enough people to have a full American work-week. What’s offensive to me is trying to paint that possibility as “leisure” time as if we’ll all be paid 40 hours for 16 hours of work and get to spend the non-working hours going to the beach, having barbecues, and drinking mai tais with umbrellas in them. Automation does not bring good times and relaxation. It brings poverty and crime and despair for the vast majority of us.