Friday, May 23, 2014

Yes – People Need to Work Less and Live More!

Read that header again. It has often been said that those who retire early are more likely to die within months of such a choice. Of course, this is nonsense spun by proto-Calvinist  Neoliberal morons. The fact is that so long as one is committed to an enduring activity, or hobby or objective, he or she will remain active and far from croaking due to aimless laziness. It is the ones who are unfocused and just sit in front of their TVs 12 hours a day that have much to worry about.

But we aren’t talking retirement here, but rather enhancing the life quality of American workers, so that family life can be more rationally balanced with work. In an earlier blog post, indeed, I had pointed out that the problem of work-life balance could equitably be solved along with the current entrenched under-employment and unemployment. (And the BLS has forecast millions FEWER jobs over the next 20 years owing to automation, out-sourcing overseas, especially if the TPP goes through etc.) I call the current tendency and condition Neoliberal-incited job "anorexia" and it requires a “supply side labor” solution. What it means basically is reducing everyone’s work hours to enable more people to be hired – while raising the minimum wage to $20 an hour at the same time.

Let us say there are 25 million unemployed or under-employed and 40 million full time employed. By use of the supply side labor solution we can increase the jobs to at least 80 million by halving all work hours across the board (from the executive level – say 66-70 hrs. week to 33- 35) to the ordinary worker (say 40-44 hours a week to 20  -22).  Then pay everyone a starting base scale of $20 an hour, with increased pay for those workers who display increased talents.  Thus, for example, a high profile computer engineer or programmer would earn more than a file clerk or secretary – the increase coming by way of adding the non-committed hours to their work week.

For example, if 80 million jobs can be created by initially halving work hours, and 25 million were initially unemployed or under-employed, then the practical spare job capacity would be: 80 million -  (40 million + 25 million) = 15 million. These  spare ‘jobs’ units can then be parceled out according to providing more of them to the workers who display higher skill levels, say like computer programmers or engineers.  In this way greater talent or skill would be rewarded in a pared down work wage per hour system.

As startling as this sounds, it’s on the minds of more people – influential people—than just me. Consider then the book, Time on Our Side: Why We Need A Shorter Working Week, by The New Economics Foundation.   The change to a shorter work week will no doubt be fought tooth and nail, especially by those who already feel secure and hence have the least reason to change, but change they must. As per a review in the March/April issue of SIERRA:

In the last century public opinion has shifted from deeming a 40-hour work week scandalously short to hailing it a triumph of modern labor. Now, with a faltering global economy and human population projections creeping toward 10 billion by 2050, some researchers are calling for a change that might be considered blasphemous: a 20 to 30 hour full time work week.”

This is in reference to the NEF book. But the numbers don’t lie and whether anyone thinks the prescription is “blasphemous” or "insane" – the fact remains it is realistic. An 80 million increase in human population per year is far beyond the job replacement level by at least three times, maybe closer to four.  Meanwhile, problems of low aggregate demand continue to plague the global economy and even in the most productive companies fewer and fewer jobs are being created – especially with benefits. This is just a numerical fact of life, as companies opt to go with more automation and fewer flesh and blood workers.

Given these conditions the only solution is to manufacture more jobs by the process of division. You may rail at it, scream 'Loopy!' but it will come….hopefully sooner than later.  As U.S. World watch senior fellow Erik Assadourian puts it:

If we had a livable wage and could each work a 20-hour week, we’d have time to choose more sustainable options that are also better for ourselves.”

Anna Coote, one of the co-authors of the NEF book concurs, and notes that we should work less and “use that time to find a more joyful life.”  She asks:

Why do we work? What do we do with the money we earn? Can we begin to think differently about how much we need?”

She has a point, since Juliette Schorr earlier showed how much we just waste on junk to fill up our homes to the point we need to rent out storage huts. Whereas with fewer work hours and less money to blow, we’d be forced to spend less on throwaway crap and do the environment a huge favor.

Of course the whole problem of affordable housing remains and that must be solved before we can consider chopping work hours.  Communal style living situations are possible, but also there will have to be much more clever thinking about sustainable housing.

Erick Assaodourian notes we also will need:

-        A more progressive income tax

-        A much higher minimum wage (a no brainer)

-        Healthcare not dependent on a 40-hour work week

The last is coming onstream with Obamacare and we need to implement the first two. We also need, as another no-brainer, to cease trying to be cop of the planet and starting wars of choice which eat up our resources along with criminal defense budgets.

It also goes without saying this new world of work will benefit young people, who now find themselves mainly looking from without as older workers stay at it to try to make up for money and time lost after the 2008 financial meltdown.

Stay tuned!


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