The Dream Of Leisure
April 9, 2018 1:14 AM   Subscribe

Who Stole The Four-Hour Workday? A four-hour workday could solve a lot of our problems. If everyone worked fewer hours, there would be more jobs for the unemployed to fill. The economy wouldn't be able to produce quite as much, which means it wouldn't be able to pollute as much. (Vice)
posted by The Whelk (75 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
fully automated luxury communism: but that's still TWENTY hours a week
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 1:56 AM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


I'd rather work 2 days one week, 3 days the next week than show up for 5 days for 4 hours. Hell, some people have 2 hours of commuting each day.

Anyway, if we're giving away ponies, I want a blue one.
posted by el io at 2:18 AM on April 9, 2018 [29 favorites]


I think the answer to ‘who stole’ is nearly always ‘unregulated capitalism with concentration of wealth as a goal and individual maximisation as the mechanism’. It’s a society wide prisoner’s dilemma.

Change the goals, you change the outcome.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:21 AM on April 9, 2018 [97 favorites]


Hell, some people have 2 hours of commuting each day.

... or, in my case, 2 hours each way.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:28 AM on April 9, 2018 [10 favorites]


Get a self-driving car and just work for 4 hours while it drives in one big loop. Snowpiercer.
posted by Phssthpok at 2:53 AM on April 9, 2018 [76 favorites]


A liberal arts education, originally meant to prepare people to use their free time wisely, has been repackaged as an expensive and inefficient job-training program.


Worse than that - a tick box on computerized job applications.

I spoke to a recruiter last week about a full time local position but said I had”other commitments” that would necessitate leaving at 4pm every day (most recruiters and companies hang up or ghost me at that point). She asked if those commitments would interfere with the position otherwise... she assumed, despite my presentation as a freelancer looking to go perm, that it was a part time job. Nope, neighborhood carpool ... because all the other parents of these kids work “40” hours a week (40 + 5 for lunch + 10 for commute).

That’s why I went freelance. The 50+ hour weeks are unsustainable to a functioning life. The LAST job I took (and resigned) was supposed to be a decent wage for an eventual 30 hour week. And yep, I was counting on Obamacare when I quit to go freelance.

And is so much worse for folks stringing together heavy labor jobs on shitty wages ... I’m just a soft office drone.

But with a 6 hour work day, you have early and late shift overlapping and still get stuff done in an office 10 hours a day .... but that assumes a level of coordination that may be impossible without traffic managers who come on two hours in and leave six hours later to overlap and coordinate both shifts.
posted by tilde at 3:26 AM on April 9, 2018 [22 favorites]


A four-hour workday could solve a lot of our problems. If everyone worked fewer hours, there would be more jobs for the unemployed to fill. The economy wouldn't be able to produce quite as much, which means it wouldn't be able to pollute as much.

The problem with this idea is - people will want pay commensurate with their current lifestyle and thus creating 2x the jobs will create something approaching 2x the wages. Either that or people being paid today will have to accept a big change in their lifestyle and consumption patterns. You couple that with decreased production (and potentially increased demand due to 2x the people getting paid) and goods and services will get a lot more expensive and we'll see a significant reduction in the purchasing power of those same dollars.

There are also oodles of jobs (health care in particular but most professions) where you actually want people working more in order to get better at their craft - imagine your doctor with half their experience and time to keep up with medical research. Pilots, engineers, plumbers, etc. all get better over time as they accumulate experience.

The bottom line is - no matter how you slice it, working and producing less will have a big impact on the average middle-class or above's lifestyle. I'm confident that many of us would indeed love to work 1/2 to 1/3 as much as we do, but I am less confident that the sacrifices required to actually make that happen are more tolerable than the status quo.
posted by notorious medium at 3:58 AM on April 9, 2018 [21 favorites]


I have a four-hour workday now. I will have to find another job that fits around it to cover the bills, though.
posted by Miss Cellania at 4:06 AM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


I don't know if this proposal is feasible (I suspect it's not) but definitely I feel like less work and more leisure is a goal that we should be working toward as a society. It's a shame that we seem to be going in the opposite direction—really feels like a step backward.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:10 AM on April 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


There's a lot of behavior that needs to be controlled anyway, to combat climate change. It's a tough sell, but we both need to consume less and should allow for less time spent making consumables.
posted by tychotesla at 4:14 AM on April 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


The problem with this idea is - people will want pay commensurate with their current lifestyle and thus creating 2x the jobs will create something approaching 2x the wages. Either that or people being paid today will have to accept a big change in their lifestyle and consumption patterns. You couple that with decreased production (and potentially increased demand due to 2x the people getting paid) and goods and services will get a lot more expensive and we'll see a significant reduction in the purchasing power of those same dollars.

Production of goods is much more automated than it used to be (hence the disappearance of a mass industrial working class of the sort that existed in the early 20th century). The amount of human labour going into each item has been decreasing.

This has been seen in price deflation in the costs of goods. Though the one thing that has been going up to fill the gap has been the cost of buying or renting a place to live. Which is to an extent a matter of policy (“property values must be a one-way ratchet otherwise all hell breaks loose”) and/or regulatory capture by a landlord/rentier class, depending on how one looks at it.
posted by acb at 4:21 AM on April 9, 2018 [12 favorites]


Though the one thing that has been going up to fill the gap has been the cost of buying or renting a place to live.

That's only aggressively true in the increasingly fewer places around the country where the jobs are concentrating. There's hundreds of small and medium sized cities across the country with beautiful houses at reasonable prices. The problem is that the factories closed and the businesses left. Network effects are causing real issues. It's particularly crazy because there's less need to be physically proximate to most jobs than ever before.

If this keeps up, we'll be like Judge Dredd (but without the nuclear war); Megacities with folk piled on top of each other and huge uninhabited tracts between them.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:04 AM on April 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


I'm surprised the author doesn't mention The Right to be Lazy. I haven't read the book since college, but I vaguely remember that it had a similar premise (despite being written in 1883).
posted by Drab_Parts at 5:08 AM on April 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


I could go for this. All employers have to do is simply double what they pay in wages. That way, my 8 hour work load cold be divided among two people with no loss in productivity. If it weren't something about late stage capitalism, or fiat money, or the 1%, wages could double, or more, overnight. and there'd be full employment.

I know, pie in the sky. How 'bout we just go half way... I'll let my pay double, and still work an 8 hour day. Baby steps toward eliminating this slavery, right?


Jeez, people.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:11 AM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


There's so much that's unnatural about a working lifestyle in a modern, industrialized economy. You have to force yourself awake with alarms and caffeine, rather than allowing your body to waken naturally. You have to find/schedule time to get outside and exercise, instead of that just being a natural part of your daily life. By the time you're done with the workday (if you're anything like me), you don't have time or energy left to do anything creative, maintain social bonds, or travel (especially here in the US, where we don't, like, get vacations). And that's just for starters.

And, even typing that, I feel slightly guilty. I can hear the capitalist devil on my shoulder saying: "oh, so you want to be creeeaaative and just hang out instead of contributing to the economy, do you? Well, wouldn't it be nice if we could all just sit around playing bongos all day!"

Well, yeah, I do – and yeah, it would. Creativity and leisure seem frivolous because we, as a society, have deemed them to be frivolous. Leisure isn't just a luxury, or something for spoiled lazy people – it's essential to being a sane and healthy human being. We need to be free to pursue our own passions. Otherwise we become dead and fucked-up inside.

But capitalism has taught us otherwise. Capitalism has taught us that, if satisfying the demands of the almighty market means becoming dead and fucked-up, that's just the price we have to pay. Because satisfying those demands is the Most Important Thing. It's our responsibility. (Or maybe you're just weak and irresponsible for needing leisure and freedom in the first place.)

So, yeah. As we've developed more efficient technologies to accomplish more work with less effort, we've consistently chosen to fill the time thus saved with more work, rather than leisure. Or, rather, capitalism has compelled us to make that choice.

Shorten the work week. Mandate vacation time. Scale back all of the industries that exist primarily to address the mental and physical sicknesses that come from being a cog in this machine – thus eliminating even more work.

There's no reason, technologically speaking, that we couldn't have a 20-hour work week, and still enjoy a decent standard of living. It's primarily a social and political problem.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:14 AM on April 9, 2018 [110 favorites]


I know many who would simply like an 8 hour day.

First step is basically eliminate the concept of an exempt employee (or limit it drastically--less than 1% of a company). Make all companies pay for every hour worked, regardless of position. Aside from offering workers respect by assigning objective value to their time, it would provide companies a way to see the true cost and effort associated with delivering their goods or services.
posted by MrGuilt at 5:26 AM on April 9, 2018 [31 favorites]


First let's eliminate open-ended scheduling, abuse of exempt employee status, wage theft, and the irrational fear of telecommuting. Reducing hours below 40/week is a stretch goal. We're nowhere near that point yet.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:32 AM on April 9, 2018 [26 favorites]


All employers have to do is simply double what they pay in wages.

My work has involved budgets at the last three places I've worked, so I can see how much is going as salaries, how much on overhead, how much to profit, etc. At least in my field the only way to double salaries would be to fire between 1/3 and 1/2 the staff; doubling the staff by going to a 4-hour work day would mean cutting wages or having the clients willing to pay twice as much for the same services.

At the societal level, I'm sure we could manage a change to a 4-hour day one way or the other, but it mostly isn't possible at the company level. And if you are cutting hours, 4/day seems really inefficient. You'd get more useful work out of three 7 hour shifts than you would five 4 hour shifts, just because people always lose time restarting tasks.

Having said all that, if there was a way for me to keep my full benefits while going to half time and half salary, I'd take it in a heartbeat. Having health care, etc, mostly tied to employment makes that a much riskier transition than it should be.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:36 AM on April 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


I'm just happy that there was a distinct lack of Tim Ferriss in this article.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 5:55 AM on April 9, 2018 [16 favorites]


In my area, there's one class that enjoys this as a perk - judges. After a certain number of years on the bench, they get to keep their current salary and benefits while halving their hours. They do have to give up their chambers, though, and work from home.
posted by Mogur at 6:06 AM on April 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


If this keeps up, we'll be like Judge Dredd (but without the nuclear war); Megacities with folk piled on top of each other and huge uninhabited tracts between them.

I've long been amused by the tendency of what we all like to think of as intelligent, reasoning human beings to mimic, with uncanny accuracy, the organizational forms of humble slime mold amoebae.
posted by flabdablet at 6:06 AM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


fings' pony plan:

1. $15/hr full-time minimum wage (for jobs that are 35 hour/week or more), indexed to inflation
2. $22.50/hour part-time minimum wage, indexed to inflation
3. Time-and-a-half for all work over 35 hours/week, no exceptions
4. 15 days/year (minimum) paid vacation time, tracked federally and moves with you between jobs
5. Universal health care
posted by fings at 6:34 AM on April 9, 2018 [34 favorites]


I do this now. Who works more than 20 hours a week? I mean, I show up for 40, but working more than 20...is for retail.

Seriously though, I could get the same amount of work done in a 20 hour workweek. I'm lucky in that my workload is finite. Stuff comes up, and there are consistent tasks, but I could (and do) get most my work done in the last 2 or 3 hours of the day. As long as I go home on a Friday without tickets in the queue, and all of my servers are running, I don't really worry about what else I do during the day.

A lot of what I do could be considered work, just as a lot of my leisure activity could also be considered work. It all blends together. My hobbies inform my work, my work informs my hobbies. I guess I am fortunate this way.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:36 AM on April 9, 2018 [14 favorites]


One thing that could make a big difference to lots of people, including in my family, is implementing a law like France's Right to Disconnect, prohibiting ongoing work emails and calls outside of the office.

Quoth a French legislator: without the law, many employees can "leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash—like a dog."

They're trying to do in New York right now. Bosses would get fined $250 for each case of noncompliance.
posted by Beardman at 6:49 AM on April 9, 2018 [25 favorites]


I do this now. Who works more than 20 hours a week? I mean, I show up for 40, but working more than 20...is for retail.

I'm old enough to remember when "they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work" was a Soviet Union joke, not an American one.
posted by flabdablet at 7:05 AM on April 9, 2018 [27 favorites]


I'm not very smart when it comes to number things so I'm sure I'm dumb and missing something, but every time I read some shit like this I still don't see how I am going to make enough money to pay rent and live after paying rent on four hours a day at only one job. Unless this is in with the UBI idea (i.e. something else never ever happening), I don't get it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:17 AM on April 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


I just started a part-time (thus far in theory) job at a hospital. It's a bananas kind of job which I perversely dig, but the hours are, no surprise, all over the place. There are some jobs that won't work as 4 hour days; chiefly, anything medical. I see the burn-out, the shift refusal, the constant calling in sick of medical workers. Maybe reducing them to 8 hour days only instead of the usual 12 would work.

I am currently having huge internal angst about the fact this job was supposed to be a supplement to my household income--my partner has the much better paying job--while I got my own passion/side hustle off the ground, but this place is already consuming me enough where I am too tired to work on my own stuff. I don't like it but as long as I need the money, I am not sure what the hell to do.
posted by Kitteh at 7:27 AM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


The self driving cars will allow for an easy 3-5 hour commute so you can afford a domicile in a less expensive semi-rural area. Three hours each way easily allows for a 4 hour work day.
posted by sammyo at 7:27 AM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


I do this now. Who works more than 20 hours a week? I mean, I show up for 40, but working more than 20...is for retail.

I'd say in a give week I only do about 15 hours of real, actual work

True for so many white-collar workers. When Basecamp moved to a four day week (same hours) they found people just focused more during the remaining days. Less online shopping or checking personal emails, fewer coffee breaks.

There are also oodles of jobs (health care in particular but most professions) where you actually want people working more in order to get better at their craft - imagine your doctor with half their experience and time to keep up with medical research. Pilots, engineers, plumbers, etc. all get better over time as they accumulate experience.

Of course people get better at their jobs through doing them but that only applies to hours of focused effort, not through their mere presence. Office jobs are unusual in that it is often extremely unclear whether what you're doing is meaningfully contributing or just busywork.

I think what the linked article is talking about though is not doing the same amount of work in fewer hours but actually reducing the "normal" working day for everyone to spread employment around.
posted by atrazine at 7:28 AM on April 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


or people being paid today will have to accept a big change in their lifestyle and consumption patterns.

This, I think obviously. There will be fewer goods and services on the market so of course the average level of those things will be less.

It also obviously needs to be combined with changes in how wealth is distributed; more of it needs to go to labor, so the pool for workers is bigger. There are an awful lot of people in the world who *could* live easily with half of what they have.

But also the decline doesn't need to be that extreme. I spent a couple years working part time at a professional job mid-career. I was super efficient. I swear half my time now is meetings bloating to fill up the day. People weren't using my time that way when I was on a stricter clock, and I was super-focused when i worked (plus had energy to study outside work.) So I don't think you lose half the production.

And on the consumer side some expenses go down. Some of your free time goes back to unpaid labor, but you don't need to pay massive amounts to childcare if you're at work only 20 hours a day.
posted by mark k at 7:28 AM on April 9, 2018 [10 favorites]


I am 100% for this... or at least the values underpinning this cause. Whether it's the 4 hour workday, and/or UBI, and/or fully automated luxury gay space communism. The worker needs to be able to share in their productivity. We can't keep on building our society on amassing as much power and property as possible in a smaller and smaller number of people.
posted by LegallyBread at 7:30 AM on April 9, 2018 [8 favorites]


Mark K is making a great point. I've worked part-time in my profession before and the billables didn't change that much at all. And you get to actually live your own life, instead of paying people to live it for you.
posted by LegallyBread at 7:31 AM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


I spent a couple years working part time at a professional job mid-career. I was super efficient. ... I was super-focused ... So I don't think you lose half the production.
Yeah, that's part of what smacked me around as part of a recent contract ... I'd work my ass off all of the hours I was there, and burned myself the frack out (it was 10 hour billable hours and hourlong commute each way). The other half was a team lead who couldn't budget time to save their life - they'd budget three hours for something that took me six but expected me to finish in two. ("I'm putting three hours but it should take you two, log it as three, even if it only takes one.") Which is a whole other level of crap.

But again, that's white collar work. For assembly and manufacturing work, part of the issue is also paying a livable wage, and coordinating a reasonable transition and handover from shift to shift (which should work for the fast food and retail as well, no?) Cranking back to 8 hours for medical seems reasonable, but they've got a lot of other systemic issues around wages and patient violence that need resolution as well.
posted by tilde at 7:41 AM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


As atrazine points out, the notion that anyone toiling in a standard office environment for 40 hours a week does anything close to 40 hours of actual work just ain't true.

I work for myself and used to feel bad when I only put in part of a day on my official efforts. Then I paid a bit of attention to the people in the bland skyscraper outside my own office window and was reminded how much office time is spent strolling the halls, at the coffee machine, online shopping, and generally, um, not working. Now I feel just fine whenever my work is done mid-afternoon and I decide to cakewalk out of the office...
posted by PhineasGage at 7:44 AM on April 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


I do this now. Who works more than 20 hours a week? I mean, I show up for 40, but working more than 20...is for retail.
Hah, retail. When I worked on a store from 1 to 7pm, on a lot of days during the Summer I actually worked like 2 out of those 6 hours and often had to keep myself busy and do minor improvements around the place. Some of those resulted in actually doing the same (or more) work in less time, because fuck yeah efficiency. I turned updating stock lists from something that was painfully slow and took like one hour to a breeze in 20 minutes.
posted by lmfsilva at 7:51 AM on April 9, 2018


Hell, some people have 2 hours of commuting each day.

This. So, I was looking up some historical labor stuff, as one does, and found the original slogan for the eight hour workday was, “eight hours of labor, eight hours of recreation, eight hours of rest.” And like - that would be fucking fantastic! If I just had to wake up after an eight hour sleep at 7:30, put clothes on, and go (quickly) to work at 8, get home shortly after 4, and be able to do fun things until 11:30 when I got to sleep, I would be dancing for fucking joy. But I can’t, because commutes exist, and parking, or waiting for buses. So I get up at 5:30 AM, and get home at 8 PM. And because one salary is no longer enough to feed a family, that means household chores still need to be done after that. Which means I’m lucky if I get two hours of recreation a day and I have to take them out of the time I need for sleep.

I feel like if you want to start with difficult-to-achieve ideas, why not decree the work day starts when you leave your house to start traveling to work and ends when you get home? So employers either have to pay you enough to live in the city where the job exists, or pay for a faster commute for you, or pay you overtime for the time you spend getting home?
posted by corb at 7:59 AM on April 9, 2018 [43 favorites]


I am pretty skeptical that people would take the ~50% pay cut that they would necessarily need to take in order to achieve a 4-hour work day and increase employment. Some people just flat-out couldn't afford to take an economic haircut like that without becoming destitute, and others wouldn't want to because it would require moving down the socioeconomic ladder, which our culture treats as a personal failure of the worst kind (outside of some very specific scenarios like empty-nesters).

Although the way benefits are handled in the US creates huge pressure to work "full time" hours, there are a fair number of people who could get some sort of arrangement like this for themselves, but... don't. E.g.: lots of people have benefits via their spouses, for instance, so the need to work a FT schedule to avoid death by uninsurance often doesn't apply to them directly. But you don't—or at least I don't—see a ton of people trying to negotiate their hours and pay down when seeking new jobs. Occasionally you see it for childcare-related reasons or as a gradual career wind-down prior to retirement, but that's basically the only time I've run into it.

I'm just not sure that the underlying bargain of "work half as much, get paid half as much", would have a ton of uptake. Also, even if you set aside the benefits / health insurance thing and imagine we live in Europe a civilized country single-payer fantasyland, there are still carrying costs for each employee, such that two people working 4 hour shifts are more expensive to maintain than one person working a single eight hour shift. So it might actually be more like "work half as much, get paid 45% as much". I'm making up the 5% overhead figure, but I think that might actually be on the low end—it wouldn't be hard to figure out using data from countries with decent social insurance systems.

Going to a 6-hour workday (or 4-day x 8-hour workweek) would probably be possible, in some professions anyway, while keeping the same salary if it was met by a compensatory productivity increase. (Basically, do the same amount of real work, less "fake work" on the clock, so output remains constant.) This is what Basecamp did, and what a lot of small business owners / independent contractors / freelancers aim to do — minimize the "butt in seat" time in favor of less time in the office, during which you do nothing but heads-down work. My guess is that this approach doesn't work well for a lot of professions; there are jobs where being there is the point, including customer service, lots of service jobs, public safety, etc. One supposes those jobs would become more highly-compensated over time if this became the dominant model for work, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:07 AM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'd like to see exempt status scrapped entirely, salaried or not. But then there has to be either more money for the overtime or for hiring to share the (Big Crunchified) load. And that money is there, it's just tied up in big salaries. So then we need a maximum yearly income (5mil? 3mil? Less?) to drive that money back down into the actual operating bits of companies. But then we need to retool the IRS to prosecute people dodging max income through shells and other frauds, and... and... and...

I think maximizing leisure is doable in our lifetimes but would require a titanic effort to start. And it would need to be a top down directive, companies won't just adopt the new culture, maximum wage or no.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:22 AM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


UBI still seems better. I blew my conservative brother's mind by mentioning UBI this weekend. He was worried about rewarding people for not working so I asked him, ok: what if there are 500 people needing work, but only 400 jobs? Do we let those 100 people die in the street, or do something else?

"Well you could still flip burgers."

"What if there weren't even burger flipping jobs, because robots flip burgers now? Because we're headed that way."

Lots of brow-furrowing ensued, and then basically, that he'd need proof that would happen, and I told him lots of very smart people with more degrees than me thought it would, and it had already if you look at auto production and other industries.

He had never imagined a world in which it wasn't actually possible to hard-work your way out of joblessness, in which there simply weren't any jobs to be had. He still doesn't entirely believe me, of course, but it was satisfying to show him one way in which conservative ideology completely fails (or will fail) to deal with reality.
posted by emjaybee at 8:23 AM on April 9, 2018 [18 favorites]


The Ontario government launched a UBI project at two small Ontario towns(I think?). I look forward to seeing the results. So far, the recipients have been positive towards how it is helping them.
posted by Kitteh at 8:36 AM on April 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


I no longer work, though from 2005 to 2017, I never worked more than 28 hours a week over 4 days. From 2005 to 2014 I worked 24 hours over 3 days.

I have not had a 5 hour work week since 2003.

For me, 28 hours was ideal and I found myself very productive both at work and in my private life.

Now that I work 0 hours a week (I owned a store which a competitor bought me out of 2 years ago), I am not very productive at all and am thinking of making myself some sort of work just to find out if my non-work life will be more enjoyable.

But 5 days per week, 8 hours a day? It hinders life too much.

I also used to commute 2 hours per day (2005 - 2014). Fed up with this nonsense, I moved my store an 8 minute walk from my house. Getting back those 2 hours per day was invigorating and I resolve that should I ever work again, a non-walking commute will not be involved.
posted by dobbs at 9:05 AM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


Actually, thinking about it: I wonder if conservative and liberal priorities could be married together with a UBI-lite sort of program. What if instead of being for each citizen, it was a thing that the individual in a house who took on the majority of household labor received? Kind of a way of valuing the (currently) unpaid domestic labor provided all over the nation without which the “productive” work could not be achieved? It would encourage marriage and two-parent households, while also being a way families would be able to earn more of a living wage and enable the person already doing a lot of household labor to simply take a part time job if they want to.
posted by corb at 9:12 AM on April 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


I retired last year, but before doing that I'd spent the previous twelve years being paid about AU$22/hour for a nominal 12 hours/week as an IT technician/netadmin in a local primary school. In fact they consistently got closer to 24 than 12 hours out of me, because they gave me enough autonomy that I really enjoyed the work.

Ms flabdablet has been doing between 16 and 24 hours/week of paid work since 2016, and my retirement was prompted largely by the resulting squeeze on total available parenting time.

We don't do luxury, mainly because we've never really seen the point of pissing money up a gold plated wall. We run two cheap cars between the three adults that live here now, and we use hand-me-down IT. We also don't have anything capable of receiving TV broadcasts, and I've almost completely insulated our home from Internet-based advertising, so we don't suffer hugely from artificially induced "needs" (though young ms flabdablet (13) is currently pining horribly for a Jeep, having spent entirely too many hours soaking up their infomercials).

We are able to swing this because we live in a rural village where property valuations are relatively low and council rates are not completely fucking insane, in a nation where healthcare is a human right rather than a huge commercial scam, and because we have also been receiving what amounts to a basic income in the form of foster carer's reimbursement payments for our three children; it stops when they turn 18 but we're still getting it for the youngest one.

Ms flabdablet has always said you know you're rich if you have four different kinds of cheese in the fridge; we usually have two. But we own our own home thanks mainly to a few years I spent doing programming work paid at IT industry rates instead of primary school service officer rates, and we can still pay our bills - usually even on time. Life is pretty sweet here.

I really wish most people in the world had the opportunity to live similarly sweetly. When I see the obscene amounts that get spent on self-aggrandisement by people who have lost all touch with what's actually necessary for a rich and satisfying life, it makes me sad.

Trickle-down economics is bullshit. What we need is piss-down thunderstorm economics. We need to puncture the market with billions of little pinholes that make part of the wealth flowing through it spray indiscriminately in all directions, instead of tending to concentrate ever further in the hands of those we have already allowed to control most of it; and the more concentrated any identifiable flow of wealth becomes, the more pinholes it ought to acquire. The way the rules work should mean that total economic activity is at least as vibrant as what happens now because there's at least as much wealth in circulation; but any attempt to stock a fridge with sixteen thousand kinds of cheese should actually require four thousand times as much time as I spend on stocking mine with four.
posted by flabdablet at 9:15 AM on April 9, 2018 [17 favorites]


what if there are 500 people needing work, but only 400 jobs? Do we let those 100 people die in the street, or do something else?

My cynical suspicion that lots of Americans would absolutely choose to starve 100 people if they could guarantee they were on the other side of the planet, which is more likely to be the actual devil's bargain.

We'll externalize the pain on some other economy if we need to boost our own employment levels. There's no shortage of levers that we can pull to effect that—monetary policy, trade policy, etc. (And that's all before you get to the old-fashioned but never-truly-out-of-style last argument of kings, which we haven't been exactly shy about going for, either.)

The current administration may be mismanaging it terribly because they're a bunch of drooling morons, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the voting public's disillusionment with global trade and the correspondingly increasing national willingness to pull jobs back to the US from other countries via trade policy if we decide we need them here at home. That we have started to do anything along those lines, given that we're basically at full employment (based on official indicators), should give you a good idea of how hard we'd yank on that lever if there was ever significant unemployment and risk of social unrest.

I could more easily see the US becoming an autarky—with some degradation in real incomes and standards of living as a result, but fundamentally doable, plus or minus some trade-for-me-but-not-for-thee gunboat diplomacy—in order to maintain full employment, than going to a UBI-based system where people get "paid for doing nothing". This is a country where what meager social assistance we do have is a frequent target for cuts. Unless it's through a very subtle backdoor, I can't see how it would happen on a national scale.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:20 AM on April 9, 2018 [8 favorites]


My work has involved budgets at the last three places I've worked, so I can see how much is going as salaries, how much on overhead, how much to profit, etc. At least in my field the only way to double salaries would be to fire between 1/3 and 1/2 the staff; doubling the staff by going to a 4-hour work day would mean cutting wages or having the clients willing to pay twice as much for the same services.

There would be some businesses that could not survive paying out that much more in wages, it is true. But over time, the extra money would allow people to spend more, which would support the creation of more businesses. It all comes down to is, which is more important: the survival of those businesses, or making people work their lives away for the basic right to exist?

Wages have been kept artificially low in the US for decades. One could argue that businesses that rely on those low wages were started falsely.
posted by JHarris at 9:32 AM on April 9, 2018 [10 favorites]


I wonder if conservative and liberal priorities could be married together with a UBI-lite sort of program.

Conservatives generally have no trouble at all accepting that certain people should get paid for sitting on their arses and doing fuck-all except get paid; it's just that they don't generally describe the passive-investor class in those terms.

The only way the UBI is actually going to get up is if there's a slow cultural shift toward recognizing that the richest people in our society do less work to generate their income than your average rent-paying burger flipper; the difference is even more stark if you consider it in terms of actual work done per dollar received. And if it's good enough for them, it should be good enough for everybody.

But as the narrative generally goes today, the rich uniquely deserve to get paid for sitting on their arses. You can tell they're deserving, because they're so rich! They've got way more money than me, so they must have worked really hard for that! So they deserve what they have, because work!

All you have to do is forget the part where they're sitting on their arses for the money they're getting and the idea that wealth and work are inextricably linked, with work being morally necessary in order to create wealth, continues to makes perfect sense.

But as soon as that inextricable conceptual link is broken, UBI starts looking quite completely sane. Because the simple fact is that in 2018, wealth is created not by work per se, but by organization. And organization is something we can and should get serious about tweaking until it screams.
posted by flabdablet at 9:33 AM on April 9, 2018 [18 favorites]


The problem for me isn't the work, necessarily. (Although note that I'm posting from the office here!) My problem is all the ancillary crap that makes your life less enjoyable: the hour-long commute; the uncomfortable desk and chair; the poorly-ventilated, flourescent-lit open plan office; eating lunch either at your desk, in a depressing "break" room, or a lousy fast food restaurant; people constantly walking by and distracting you, whether they intend to or not; the constant notifications from email or Slack; using the restroom with other people. If I could get rid of that, I'd be indescribably more satisfied with my job. (And more productive: the weeks I worked from home as my "paternity leave" were probably the most productive of my career, even though I had a tiny infant to attend to.)

I do think telecommuting is a good first step. Obviously, it's not all that needs to be done, but it would be a nice start. Baby steps.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:34 AM on April 9, 2018 [11 favorites]


If possible, I would just continue to work 8-hour days and squirrel away the difference into vacation time. Half a year off sounds nice.
posted by FJT at 9:40 AM on April 9, 2018


He had never imagined a world in which it wasn't actually possible to hard-work your way out of joblessness

These people need to be asked point-blank what the point of technological advancement is. Because basically every major advance in technology has been aimed at reducing the quantity, speed and hardship of doing work. Women have jobs outside the home now not because suddenly in the mid 20th century we found our bootstraps but because up until that point the amount of hard, manual labor needed in order to feed, clothe, and care for a family itself comprised a full 12-hour day, 7 days a week. That same technological revolution continues to ripple outward from the home. If my dude wants everyone to have a job, he's going to have to consider legislating barriers to what can and cannot be improved upon via technology. I suspect that will not be a terribly popular proposal.

(I find that my life is vastly improved with a 4-day week, mainly because I get a backlog of things that can only be done 9-5 M-F because those are "normal business hours" but with everyone working the same set of "normal business hours" I'm not sure how we're all supposed to do these things that still do need to be done. Also I'd love to be involved with my son's school as a volunteer but that is 100% unpossible when I am required to have my ass in this chair not only during school hours but also 90 minutes before and 90 minutes after school.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:41 AM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


These people need to be asked point-blank what the point of technological advancement is.

Again, I'm old enough to remember an era when instead of saying "technology" the common phrase was "labor-saving devices" and the common wisdom was that all the labor thereby saved would be replaced with leisure.

What changed all that was IT. Since the advent of the business computer, IT has not acted as a net reducer of labor; in a Parkinsonian kind of way, labor has expanded to fill the devices available.

So a vital question becomes: what are we actually doing with all that extra monitoring and recording and tracking and modelling and projecting that business computing makes possible?

As near as I can tell, what we're doing with all that stuff is whatever the hell the owners of that machinery want us to do with it, which by and large comes down to working out ways to funnel ever more money straight into their offshore bank accounts.

We can't un-invent the machines; we'll never get back to some kind of imaginary 70s pre-PC LOAD LETTER arcadia. But there's no reason I can see why we cannot simply demand, using the collective power of our elected representatives, that some of what the machinery does gets devoted to making sure those funnels get way, way leaky.
posted by flabdablet at 9:53 AM on April 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


Who else remembers Jospin and the 35 hour week? (France) He was robbed of that presidency. Eh well, Macron's committed to tearing it down
posted by maiamaia at 11:17 AM on April 9, 2018


One thing I think is interesting is the inverse of the idea that the amount of work expands to fill the allotted time. If you make people work eight hours, and there's not eight hours worth of work, you have to come up with busywork to fill their time ("have to"). (On preview, Parkinson's law.) Is the opposite true? If you only have four hours, can you strip away some of those secondary responsibilities? The Basecamp example suggests so, although Basecamp probably isn't the most representative test case. And would that even be desirable? Maybe busywork is the rest period between intervals? I don't know.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:17 AM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


Remember in The Wire when City Councilman Carcetti decides to hang out with the homicide detectives? He's sitting there in the bullpen and all these cops trying to look like they're doing paperwork and filing and shit, until he says, "guys, I'm not here to tattle on you or whatever. I want to see how this normally works." And so they all just stop. They go to sleep, or build dollhouse furniture, or read comics or whatever. Because there's nothing to do until a murder comes in.

That's the thing about office work, really. We act like we're all on assembly lines. If we're not "working" we're not producing widgets, and so we're not being productive. But that's not really how a lot of work works. I spend a lot of my time working with my feet up and my eyes closed. I'm solving problems, which is a big part of my job. Formalizing those solutions and surfacing them to others is only a small part of that, but that's the only part you can see.
posted by nushustu at 11:30 AM on April 9, 2018 [13 favorites]


Doesn't the working class have a chronic wage problem and a tenuous grasp on reliable employment that would not be solved by a shorter work week? Whose ideal future is this?
posted by Selena777 at 12:11 PM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


I am all in on this. I don't buy the hype that the transition costs will be nearly as high as the naysayers say.

Almost immediately we should see real health care savings. Not artificial ones where people can't afford to spend money on doctors.

We'll have better decision making and fewer mistakes throughout organizations, which will result in real cost savings.

Plus we'll be able to see real diversity in organizations as executives and decision makers don't have to be overachievers who have the health and domestic needs outsourced so they can put work above everything else. And there's study after study showing how that leads to profitability.
posted by politikitty at 12:15 PM on April 9, 2018 [8 favorites]


I do this now. Who works more than 20 hours a week? I mean, I show up for 40, but working more than 20...is for retail.

I am convinced this state of affairs exists to keep middle-class and especially upper-middle-class people from complaining about the 40-hour work week. I'm not even sure part of my dev team actually hits a full 20. I'm constantly frustrated that I look like I'm cutting out early because I skip lunch and work precisely 9-5 so I can go home and do other stuff, but I get done more than two of our other three developers. (And the third has been doing this a decade longer than me.) I'm shocked, constantly, how many people in my place of business spend half their day socializing and just sort of puttering around and then express the view that poor people wouldn't be poor if they worked harder.
posted by Sequence at 12:17 PM on April 9, 2018 [19 favorites]


Ronald Coase gave three lectures discussing the historical thought process behind his paper Theory of the Firm (they're available via JSTOR, or in this book, which is sadly not ebooked.) And I go back to them because I think they hit on so many underappreciated costs of 'efficiency'.

It's difficult to work with contractors. You have to build relationships, you have to carefully agree on scopes of work and build institutional knowledge. You have to go back to the negotiating table as business needs change and evolve. It's much easier to have someone on staff who is readily available - they should have enough work to justify their cost, but they should also have enough flexibility to manage crises and changing duties.

We've been able to mask this cost-benefit analysis by outsourcing to countries with vastly different labor costs or take advantage of marginally attached workers who cannot advocate for better working conditions. After all, the entire lesson is that organizing is expensive. Better to centralize and automate some decisions so we can make space for bigger questions and ideas.

I believe this precarity is why we have firms that are too big to fail now. They've externalized that risk in a race to be more efficient.
posted by politikitty at 1:40 PM on April 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


I am curious how many hours a week a yeoman farmer or individual craftperson worked back in ye olde days. And for contemporary comparison purposes, how many hours does the average stay-at-home parent put in...?
posted by PhineasGage at 1:46 PM on April 9, 2018


My cynical suspicion that lots of Americans would absolutely choose to starve 100 people if they could guarantee they were on the other side of the planet, which is more likely to be the actual devil's bargain.

We'll externalize the pain on some other economy if we need to boost our own employment levels. There's no shortage of levers that we can pull to effect that—monetary policy, trade policy, etc. (And that's all before you get to the old-fashioned but never-truly-out-of-style last argument of kings, which we haven't been exactly shy about going for, either.)

The current administration may be mismanaging it terribly because they're a bunch of drooling morons, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the voting public's disillusionment with global trade and the correspondingly increasing national willingness to pull jobs back to the US from other countries via trade policy if we decide we need them here at home. That we have started to do anything along those lines, given that we're basically at full employment (based on official indicators), should give you a good idea of how hard we'd yank on that lever if there was ever significant unemployment and risk of social unrest.


But I'm talking about un- and underemployment here in the good ol' USA, which has been a thing for a long while now.

And if by having jobs here you mean, bring the sweatshops back here instead of having them in another place, I'm not talking about that; I'm talking about no sweatshops anywhere, just rooms full of automated machines doing what workers used to do. There is no trade policy that will change that. Machines will eventually be cheaper and more efficient than humans at almost any task humans currently do. That's going to affect everyone regardless of geography.
posted by emjaybee at 2:18 PM on April 9, 2018


Context1: I skipped the article and read the first 10-20 comments. You know how we do.
Context2: I work a "part-time" min-wage job which can be 22-38hrs (52 in extremis) distributed across the week as my employer sees fit, in 4-8hr slices (3 or 12 in extremis). I mostly get my 11hrs between shifts, certainly on the weeks when I'm short of hours but still needed near daily. I don't work Xmas Day anymore. Everything else is up for grabs.
Context3: I understand this is not the model to which the 4hr leisure dream aspires, merely my factual, anecdotal one.
Context4: I should have gone to school, I could've learned a trade.
Context5: Other jobs exist, better and worse.

Comment1: ...but I'd really rather be...
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 3:43 PM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


I once saved up enough money to be comfortably unemployed for about a year and the frivolous creativity and leisure was amazing. Escape's excellent comment mirrors almost exactly my own conclusions.

The only nagging thought I had was related to capitalism and access to creative tools. Just to take one example of an artistic tool: a cheap midi keyboard. The keyboard is cheap because we pay a social cost through capitalism to exploit labor and material in other countries. If in the west we were able to limit or remove capitalism what would that mean for the accessibility of creative tools to the lower classes?

Creativity is ultimately free. You can think for free, play for free, entertain yourself in a million ways that are so cheap that they're basically free. But for me the psychological grip of capitalism is that it promises endless choices. Now you can argue the choices that it creates are both unnecessary and artificial but I think that's a hard sell. For some reason most people seem to gravitate toward the toys of capitalism rather than the more free/intrinsic forms of entertainment. In my experience the people who push the latter form of entertainment often do it as a form of moralizing to the lower classes; e.g. put down your gameboy and go write a short story.

I agree capitalism in the broadest sense is responsible for many of our current labor evils. I work a minimum wage job with limited savings and find concepts like UBI very appealing because I know I can entertain myself with "free/intrinsic" things. I don't think a gameboy is worth the slavery of a modern job but then again I don't necessarily agree that a gameboy should either not exist or be out of reach for all but the wealthiest in society. I wish there was a bit more nuance about what we might lose from dropping capitalism besides our chains. Losing the metaphorical gameboy might be nothing but upside for humanity but I think it hasn't happened because the reality is a lot more complicated.
posted by laptolain at 4:04 PM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


If we didn't have addictive web sites, I'm convinced most office workers could get all their work done in 4 hours.

Most of the time I think it's a weird accident that the rise of computers in the office introduced both a massive increase in productivity, and a massive increase in feels-so-urgent time wasting.

In my darker moments I think it was done on purpose.
posted by miyabo at 6:41 PM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


If you make people work eight hours, and there's not eight hours worth of work, you have to come up with busywork to fill their time ("have to").

At a systemic level, combining this effect with the advent of ever more "labor saving" devices is enough to account for the rise in bullshit jobs.

For some reason most people seem to gravitate toward the toys of capitalism rather than the more free/intrinsic forms of entertainment.

You say "for some reason" as if there were any mystery about what that reason might be.
posted by flabdablet at 8:38 PM on April 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


I work in manufacturing in a blue collar job paid by the hour and the fact that what I don't do doesn't get done is one of the reasons I enjoy my job so much. There's a real, visible, physical sense of achievement after I've programmed and soldered and what I'm working on turns on with a cheerful little beep. it's one of the ways my work feels meaningful as work.

I pretty much never hear about any kind of similar job satisfaction-in-the-process from my friends in white collar offices in other companies and I often wonder if the lack of concrete "your work made this possible" is a factor, and whether the amount of filler time involved in these jobs beyond thinking time actively works against the ability to get that validation of the worth of your time/presence/experience at work. It seems to me that it would.
posted by E. Whitehall at 9:49 PM on April 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


I hear that E. Whitehall. One of my favorite jobs was working in a car repair shop. Broken car comes in and working car goes out. There's something deeply satisfying in seeing concrete results of your work.
posted by laptolain at 11:54 PM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


But as the narrative generally goes today, the rich uniquely deserve to get paid for sitting on their arses.

Do We Get Paid What We “Deserve”? (by Nathan J. Robinson ;) - "Do existing pay differences reflect talent and hard work? Of course not."

also btw...
idle theory!
posted by kliuless at 2:40 AM on April 10, 2018


Doesn't the working class have a chronic wage problem and a tenuous grasp on reliable employment that would not be solved by a shorter work week? Whose ideal future is this?


Hence my comments about a livable wage at all levels, including when speaking of the adjustments for retail, fast food, manufacturing. I was fight-for-fifteen but now I’m tilting-for-twenty.
posted by tilde at 3:50 AM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


If we didn't have addictive web sites, I'm convinced most office workers could get all their work done in 4 hours.

The thing is, even having the whole web available and all of its temptations, I'm pretty sure most of my office would be gone by 1pm... if we were allowed to. But we're required to log 40 hours a week. They care that we put in 40 hours a week. The corporation really needs to maintain the idea that 40 hours a week is the number of hours that people work. Even those of us who're salary, we can't just get our work done and walk out; pretending that we're working the full day is a required part of the bargain.
posted by Sequence at 9:13 AM on April 10, 2018 [8 favorites]


Most of the time I think it's a weird accident that the rise of computers in the office introduced both a massive increase in productivity, and a massive increase in feels-so-urgent time wasting.

There's not much evidence that giving office workers computers led to economy wide productivity enhancements. That is staggering in theory, but not surprising to anyone who has ever worked in an office.

There's a story Cal Newport tells about IBM's first internal email system. They sized it based on careful research, how many memos do people send? How often do they stop by other people's offices, how often do they call each other?

Within a week of the system going live, they were way over-capacity. Making something easier to do makes people more likely to do it. If sending an email took as much time as typing a memo or sending an external letter, would anyone send hundreds a day? Definitely not!
posted by atrazine at 9:32 AM on April 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


So a vital question becomes: what are we actually doing with all that extra monitoring and recording and tracking and modelling and projecting that business computing makes possible?

Posting on Metafilter?
posted by atoxyl at 12:39 PM on April 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


Some combination of marketing arms race, incremental improvements to logistics, forecasting, and processes, and selling futuristic snake oil that doesn't actually work better than what came before but is more computery.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:02 PM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


futuristic snake oil that doesn't actually work better than what came before but is more computery

Things that have been ten years away for as long as I can remember:

* Commercial fusion power
* Human-comparable AI
* The paperless office
posted by flabdablet at 7:29 AM on April 11, 2018


Does anyone here have a job like mine? I’m pink collar, work at a non-profit, and the work is never finished. If I stayed chained to my desk until the end of time, there would still be more work. I don’t work the entire 40 hours, because I’m fucking lazy, but there’s definitely 40+ hours work to be had. Same for my best friend working in insurance. Man, MeFites are rich or some shit. That said, yeah, of course I’d love a UBI and a part-time job and universal health care and Matt Bomer and Michael B. Jordan to star in a movie called, “Matt Bomer & Michael B. Jordan Are Shirtless, That’s It, That’s The Whole Movie.”
posted by pelvicsorcery at 12:51 PM on April 11, 2018 [6 favorites]


I’m pink collar, work at a non-profit, and the work is never finished. If I stayed chained to my desk until the end of time, there would still be more work. I don’t work the entire 40 hours, because I’m fucking lazy, but there’s definitely 40+ hours work to be had.

I feel like there's always work to be had in a lot of jobs, but in jobs where people can, they carve out small moments for themselves because it's the only effective rebellion. I feel like when I've been working in jobs I felt appreciated and well paid at, I didn't fuck around nearly as much.
posted by corb at 5:03 PM on April 11, 2018 [4 favorites]


Does anyone here have a job like mine? I’m pink collar, work at a non-profit, and the work is never finished. yeah, thare's also that. :(
posted by tilde at 5:21 AM on April 12, 2018


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