I tend not to be a fan of memes as most are simplistic at best — what else can they be? Many are just false.
One meme tells readers, "Don't let capitalism put you in an early grave cause you (sic) afraid to be labelled anything but a 'hard worker'". Apparently the author assumed capitalism created work and scarcity, while the pre-capitalist world was one of leisure and abundance.
This isn't far off a claim a modern British Fabian socialist made on BBC World's "Big Ideas." Appearing was Michael Jacobs, general secretary of the Fabian Society who, from their founding in 1884 through both World Wars repeatedly claimed capitalism would starve workers to make a profit and life for the "workers" would continue to become more and more unbearable.
That sort of argument could only last so long. Eventually it was noticed the exploited workers were buying homes, had cars, sent their kids to college, and the like. That would turn the claim into a joke; at the very least it would get people laughing. Mr. Jacobs instead spouted a new socialist claim — capitalism was evil, not because it starved the workers, but because it gave them too much wealth!
Jacobs complained, "We're living in a society which has become very good at, and puts a lot of effort into, getting rich. We consume more and more things every year — new cars, new washing machines; we redecorate our homes; we go on great holidays; and yet, if you look at the evidence, it doesn't seem that people are actually getting any happier."
Let's take a brief ride through history and compare the pre-capitalist world to the capitalist one that arose to replace it.
Before capitalism families tended to live as extended family units where all of them — men, women, children, the elderly, were working from dawn to dusk to eke out an existence.
They relied on the crops they could grow and in bad years they starved. There was no real medical care if they became sick, no technology to save labour, warm their homes, or give them light in the darkness. Everyone worked and that was pretty much all they did. Their lives tended to be very short and difficult.
As various entrepreneurs invented machines to increase the productivity of workers, the industrial revolution came along. These business owners started manufacturing goods and thousands, who barely survived on the farms, flocked to these early capitalists for jobs. Taking those jobs immediately improved their lives. The goods produced also improved the lives of all and lowered living costs. Contrary to the meme, their work hours dropped. They were still high by modern standards, but not as high as previously.
As the industrial methods improved, the productivity of the workers increased and with it came higher incomes. Many started to experience something new — financial surpluses. They worked less but had more. Even as agriculture lost workers, agricultural output increased making food more plentiful.
One of the first things many did was send their children to school instead of to the factories or the fields. Educational levels started to increase as child labour was diminished significantly thanks to the greater productivity of the parents using machinery provided by the entrepreneurs.
Child labour became rare enough making it now safe for politicians to pretend they were accomplishing something by making it illegal. This criminalized a situation that had mostly disappeared by the time they arrived.
Notice what this means; originally all individuals laboured pretty much from dawn to dusk, but with capitalist industrialisation total labour required dropped and children largely stopped labouring entirely, at least in capitalist industrial cultures.
From that point the trend was firmly in place and hours worked per week continued to drop. Many workers reached the point where they decided one parent could stay home to care for the children; the labour of the other alone was enough to sustain the entire family.
This trend continued since the advent of modern capitalism. Yes, workers were now going on holidays and redecorating their houses — emphasis on their houses— as Mr. Jacobs complained. But it wasn't because they were working themselves to death.
In simple terms they worked less because the combination of capitalism and industrialization increased the total sum of human wealth. They earned more in less time. In rough terms the amount of labour per worker, per year, has dropped almost in half since the 1800s. The World Economic Forum put it in a simple sentence: "Productivity increases also entailed decreasing work hours per week."
Some nations, such as the Soviet Union, tried industrialization without capitalism, they failed miserably. Workers tended to work long hours, had fewer returns for their labour and instead of experiencing the abundance the Fabians damned at the turn of this century, experienced the shortages and despair the original Fabians predicted for capitalism. Everything was a state-owned enterprise, which almost always turned out badly.