If we were rational about the new world of work, we would accept the idea that people should work less, since productivity has climbed so much in the past few decades. But will that be accepted doctrine of Western countries? Can we shift to a 20 hour work week?
Heather Stewart via The Observer
A thinktank, the New Economics Foundation (NEF), which has organised the [recent London] event with the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, argues that if everyone worked fewer hours – say, 20 or so a week – there would be more jobs to go round, employees could spend more time with their families and energy-hungry excess consumption would be curbed. Anna Coote, of NEF, said: “There’s a great disequilibrium between people who have got too much paid work, and those who have got too little or none.”
She argued that we need to think again about what constitutes economic success, and whether aiming to boost Britain’s GDP growth rate should be the government’s first priority: “Are we just living to work, and working to earn, and earning to consume? There’s no evidence that if you have shorter working hours as the norm, you have a less successful economy: quite the reverse.” She cited Germany and the Netherlands.
Robert Skidelsky, the Keynesian economist, who has written a forthcoming book with his son, Edward, entitled How Much Is Enough?, argued that rapid technological change means that even when the downturn is over there will be fewer jobs to go around in the years ahead. “The civilised answer should be work-sharing. The government should legislate a maximum working week.”
People would be able to spend more time in community activities and growing their own food, for example.
However, the inherently Calvinist mindset that animates much of the policy discussion around unemployment and the inequitable distribution of income will likely block productive course of action around new work models. The answer will lie in more people dropping out, adopting a freelance lifestyle, and dialing down their consumption: a bottom-up adoption of slow, no-growth lifestyle.