Is It Time For A Four Day Working Week ?

The Sydney Morning Herald recently had an editorial calling for consideration of a 4 day working week as a response to economic contraction and alternative to making employees redundant.

The idea of a 4 day working week isn't an entirely abstract one for me, as my current employer has been significantly cutting back on staff levels over the past 6 months. The manager of my team took the approach of offering us all reduced work hours rather than having to let anyone go, which we've all accepted, so I'm now seeing what a 4 day week is like (and having just come back from a 4 day weekend hiking in the Snowy Mountains I can't say I have any complaints so far).

In this post I'll look at various proposals to reduce the amount of time we spend at work, as a way of addressing energy, environmental and other issues facing us.

DECIMATE. This word used to have a highly specific meaning: the killing of every 10th person, chosen by lot, as punishment by the Roman army for mutinous legions. The same concept comes to mind in the present economic contraction, as one in every 10 people employed by the private sector could lose their jobs as companies cut costs to survive in a credit freeze. Private enterprises are the lifeblood of the Australian economy but are also the least insulated from the rolling shocks of the highest single-year decline ever recorded on the Australian sharemarket, and the sharpest downturn in Australian wealth ever recorded. The number of job ads is in free-fall. Anecdotal evidence is pouring in that job ads are generally being swamped by job applicants. ...

So how to ease the pain and share the burden? In order to minimise the trauma of involuntary redundancies, we believe inadequate consideration is being given to the non-voluntary four-day week as an alternative to redundancy. This may be administratively difficult. We are under no illusions about the workplace legislation imposed on employers by federal and state governments, which is ridiculously complex and burdensome. This idea may also be opposed by unions paranoid about a Trojan horse of lower pay and more onerous conditions. But surely a four-day week, either voluntary or imposed, is preferable to involuntary redundancies.

Australia isn't the only country considering reducing standard working hours - The Independent recently had an article titled "Britain is facing return of three-day week", quoting government sources as saying "Shorter hours would be preferable to mass unemployment". Car manufacturer Jaguar is currently considering a 4 day week to reduce costs.

Japan is also adopting the approach of reducing employee working hours in preference to firing people as they deal with their slump in exports and consumption, with the practice known locally as "work-sharing".

While the usual reason for adopting a shorter work week is economic, there is also an argument that working less hours reduces consumption and waste and can thus be justified on environmental and health grounds.

One country that shifted to a shorter work week some time ago was France, with their 35 hour week. In recent years this has been rolled back by President Sarkozy, sparking a lot of resentment by affected workers. The New York Times had an article on this, pointing out that relaxed working hours have long been part of French culture:

President Sarkozy’s 19th-century predecessors would have been amazed that such comparatively small adjustments are treated as matters of economic life and death. They, too, were worried by the snail-like progress of the French economy, and wondered how to compete with the industrial powerhouse of Britain. But they were faced with something far more ruinous than unemployment.

Economists and bureaucrats who ventured out into the countryside after the Revolution were horrified to find that the work force disappeared between fall and spring. The fields were deserted from Flanders to Provence. Villages and even small towns were silent, with barely a column of smoke to reveal a human presence. As soon as the weather turned cold, people all over France shut themselves away and practiced the forgotten art of doing nothing at all for months on end.

In the mountains, the tradition of seasonal sloth was ancient and pervasive. “Seven months of winter, five months of hell,” they said in the Alps. When the “hell” of unremitting toil was over, the human beings settled in with their cows and pigs. They lowered their metabolic rate to prevent hunger from exhausting supplies. If someone died during the seven months of winter, the corpse was stored on the roof under a blanket of snow until spring thawed the ground, allowing a grave to be dug and a priest to reach the village.

The same mass dormancy was practiced in other chilly parts. In 1900, The British Medical Journal reported that peasants of the Pskov region in northwestern Russia “adopt the economical expedient” of spending one-half of the year in sleep: “At the first fall of snow the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep. Once a day every one wakes up to eat a piece of hard bread. ... The members of the family take it in turn to watch and keep the fire alight. After six months of this reposeful existence the family wakes up, shakes itself” and “goes out to see if the grass is growing.” ...

In September, at the General Assembly of the United Nations, President Sarkozy proposed “un New Deal écologique et économique,” but without explaining how economic growth can be reconciled with conservation. If he is serious about saving the planet, and if he wants to reassure the unions that workers will still have time with their families, he should consider introducing tax incentives for hibernation. The long-term benefits of reduced energy consumption would counterbalance the economic loss. There has never been a better time to stay in bed.

Reducing Energy Use Through A Shorter Working Week

One institution that has recently adopted a shorter week for all workers is the Utah state government in the US, which switched to a four-day week last year primarily to save money on electricity, gasoline and other energy expenses.

Similar schemes seem to be under consideration throughout the US, with Google News throwing up examples in Florida, North Carolina and Minnesota.

Reducing the working week is an approach for reducing energy consumption recommended by a number of peak oil observers - both recent ones like Aaron Newton and older ones like Bucky Fuller, who argued that many people worked in jobs that did not produce sufficient value to justify the expense of energy required to do them.

The computer will also have verified both of the important findings of the brilliant Denver, Colorado oil geologist, Francois de Chardenedes ... regarding the amount of energy employed as heat and pressure, for the length of time initially that it took nature to photosynthetically process Sun radiation into the myriad of hydrocarbon molecules that comprise all the vegetation and algae ... a large percentage of which Sun-energy-nurtured-and-multiplied molecules are ultimately processed into petroleum.

The script of de Chardenedes' "Scenario of petroleum Production" makes it clear that, with all the cosmic energy processing (as rain, wind and gravitational pressure) and processing time (paid for at the rates you and I pay for household electricity), it costs nature well over a million dollars to produce each gallon of petroleum. To say "I didn't know that" doesn't alter the inexorable energy accounting of eternally-regenerative, 100-per-cent efficient - ergo, 100-pr-cent concerned - physical energy Universe.

We find all the no-life-support-wealth-producing people going to their 1980 jobs in their cars or buses, spending trillions of dollars' worth of petroleum daily to get to their no-wealth producing jobs. It doesn't take a computer to tell you that it will save both Universe and humanity trillions of dollars a day to pay them handsomely to stay at home. - Buckminster Fuller - Critical Path

The Society Of Sloth

One figure who should be familiar to most peak observers that has considered working less as a solution of sorts to peak oil is Jay Hanson. One of Jay's "thought experiments" that is less Malthusian than usual for him (albeit quite coercive) is one he dubbed "The Society Of Sloth".

The society of sloth adopts a technocrat style energy based currency is is distributed equally amongst all by a global government with a mandate to protect the global commons. Jay (echoing Hubbert and Fuller) says that:

With modern technology, probably less than 5% of the population could produce all the goods we really “need”. A certain number of “producers” could be drafted and trained by society to produce for two years. The rest can stay home and sleep, sing, dance, paint, read, write, pray, play, do minor repairs, work in the garden, and practice birth control.

In Praise Of Idleness

There is a large body of work justifying working less not on energy or environmental grounds, but purely on the basis that long working hours are simply not necessary, and that idleness is a virtue in and of itself.

One classic example of this is Bertrand Ruseell's 1932 essay, "In Praise Of Idleness", in which he describes the work ethic (be it the feudal variety manifested in the Protestant work ethic or the modern - at the time of writing - worship of manual work by the Marxists) as a relic of a bygone age and shorter working hours as the natural way for dealing with increased industrial productivity.

This theme continues to appear with some regularity, with some examples that caught my eye in recent years including Jason Godesky's "In praise of laziness (looking at the issue from a primitivist point of view), Gene Longsdon's "The lovely, life-saving virtue of laziness" (small scale farming) and Mark Slouka's "Quitting the paint factory: On the virtues of idleness" (idleness as the foundation of democracy). One writer even went so far as to recommend "idle parenting", declaring it results in "happy children" who have learnt how to fend for themselves.

Sometimes the idolisation of idleness is more a product of cynicism and disengagement from seemingly meaningless work, as in this French example celebrating the "sloth ethic", as documented in Corinne Maier's book "Hello Laziness!: Why Hard Work Doesn't Pay".

The Onion once summed up this line of thinking (perhaps not entirely seriously) in "180 Trillion Leisure Hours Lost To Work Last Year":

According to a report released Monday by Boston University's School of Lifestyle Management, more than 180 trillion leisure hours were lost to work in 2004.

"The majority of American adults find work cutting into the middle of their days—exactly when leisure is most effective," said Adam Bernhardt, the Boston University sociology professor who headed the study. "The hours between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. are ideally suited to browsing stores, dozing in front of the television, and finishing the morning paper. Daytime hours are also the warmest and sunniest of the day, making them perfect for outdoor activities. Unfortunately, most Americans can't enjoy leisure during this time, for the simple reason that they're 'at work.'"

There is a dormant site called "Why Work: Creating Livable Alternatives To Wage Slavery" which has collected essays, book excerpts and articles by Bob Black (such as The Abolition of Work), Robert Anton Wilson, Bertrand Russell, Buckminster Fuller, Jean Liedloff and others on the theme of virtuous laziness.

While most advocates of laziness seem to come from the left (Karl Marx's son-in-law Paul Lafarge, for example, wrote a tract called "The Right To Be Lazy" during a period of enforced semi-idleness at Saint Pélagie Prison, though apparently he couldn't help but put his time to a form of productive endeavour), the more anarchically inclined denizens tend to regard the socialists and communists as being just as work obsessed as the capitalists.

This essay on "Bob Black: Abolitionist and Archestrator of the Slack Revolution" sums up the view of the anti-marxists:

After all these years, and after reading Bob Black's The Abolition of Work, I have finally realized just what was wrong with Marxism. Oh, the Marxists talked a good game - working in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, lounging around to watch the sunset; 20-hour workweeks; month-long vacations; etc. But when you get down to it, they are still drawing from the same poisoned well that has parched Western civilization for the last 500 years: the Protestant Ethic, which freed Europe from Catholic voodoo only to feed its heads with doodoo, such as "work is the outward sign of moral perfection." While Luther was telling people that what counted was faith and the Holy Spirit, not work and deeds, Calvin helped spread silly ideas, like the one that people had to be at constant physical labor or idleness would tempt them to sin. Deep down, this is the root of the Puritan Ethic: why even today the neo-Puritans hate Hollywood with such passion: they feel that if we are not kept busy with mindless, rote work, then we will be seized by the carnal passions and led to sin.

Marxists claim that workers are overexploited. So what is their solution? Have the workers take over the factory to "restore the dignity of work." Make everybody do manual labor, like the Pol Pot regime did in Cambodia and the Incas did in Peru - as Mao said, "let there be no separation between the work of the hands and the work of the mind." Our goal should be to increase production. Deep down Marxists, while despising capitalism, only want to hijack what they see as its main notable achievement, accomplished through the Industrial Revolution: mass production. They do not want to abolish the assembly line, only bring more of us to its trough. Let the elite fat cats sweat with the so-called "working class." Rather than wanting us to all enjoy the life of leisure led by the fat cats, the Marxists' main goal is motivated by envy - they want to force the fat cats to suffer as the "working class" has suffered. ...

Bakunin, Kropotkin, Proudhon, and other anarcho-syndicalists, libertarian-socialists, and anti-technocrats at the International realized that this was the fatal flaw of Marxism. "Work" as we know it should be abolished - that is, the requirement that all of us "mass produce" things that other people need - and taken over by robot labor. This is the promise of post-industrial society, and yet some Marxists greet it with horror. After all, even capitalist industrialism raised the standard of living of the working class to an incredible degree. Yet, things like nanotechnology and the miniaturization revolution have abolished the fundamental assumptions of Marxism and of economics in general. There will be no more scarcity. More and more can be produced with less and less - of energy, capital, resources, and, yes, human labor as well. People can and always will produce the things they or those they know want with their own hands, or, if they are skilled artisans, the things that others want, but with time, precision, and care. But there will be no more mass production. If you understand Black, Bookchin, Fuller, Henderson, or others, then you know that the industrial revolution is at an end. ...

The truly humane, post-Marxist society will be one in which no one needs to have a "job." The idea is an obsolete concept. For the so-called "middle class" the idea is an especial absurdity. These people get in their polluting cars, wait in traffic jams, and search frenetically for parking, all so they can go to an "office" where they do things that could just as easily be done at home with a computer and a modem. But we seem fixated on this idea, that we must go somewhere else, "work" for eight hours, and then come home again. The "work" of the middle class may not be as physically exhausting as that of the "working class," but it is as equally rote, boring, repetitive, and unoriginal, focusing on the copying and recopying of information. That is something that could be done much better by artificially intelligent computers. As one writer once put it, 95% of people move matter from one place on earth to another, and 5% keep track of where they put it. In our post-industrial society, there is no need for either "labor" or "management." Both have become equally obsolete.

The Economics Of Abundance

The idea of a post-scarcity society, where industrial processes are so well automated that little human labour is require to produce all our material needs, isn't a particularly well studied one, though obviously both Bucky Fuller and the technocracy people have promoted it versions of it in the past.

The primary exception is information production, where the rise of the internet and the ability to copy and distribute information at negligible cost has made it a topic of interest for thinkers like Chris Anderson and his theory of "The Long Tail", who suggest the "Tragically Neglected Economics of Abundance" are worthy of greater attention.

The economics of abundance do get quite a bit of attention amongst science fiction authors however (mainstream economists preferring to dwell in the present, and perhaps the past, as much as possible).

There are some signs that even in the world of material goods some parts of the world are approaching a post scarcity-economy with most people in the developed world have few material wants that they cannot satisfy (and you could make the case that the reason that this could be true for everyone, if not for the way society and the economy is currently structured) - countries like Japan have long needed to export unwanted second hand cars to places like New Zealand, for example.

One person who has made an attempt to try and describe what abundance looks like is Walt Frazier, in his essay "A World Based On Abundance", though this seems overly-utopian in many ways and I'm not sure human nature is such that all the characteristics specified could ever be met (conflict isn't always based on economics / survival and some things will always remain "scarce" - large houses facing onto Palm Beach, for example).

Whether or not we ever reach a global, post scarcity economy is a matter for debate, though I'd like to think that it is possible or at the very least a useful "target" of sorts.

I'll close with a quote from Robert Anton Wilson's paper "The RICH economy":

If there is one proposition which currently wins the assent of nearly everybody, it is that we need more jobs. "A cure for unemployment" is promised, or earnestly sought, by every Heavy Thinker from Jimmy Carter to the Communist Party USA, from Ronald Reagan to the head of the economics department at the local university, from the Birchers to the New Left.

I would like to challenge that idea. I don't think there is, or ever again can be, a cure for unemployment. I propose that unemployment is not a disease, but the natural, healthy functioning of an advanced technological society.

The inevitable direction of any technology, and of any rational species such as Homo sap., is toward what Buckminster Fuller calls ephemeralization, or doing-more-with-less. For instance, a modern computer does more (handles more bits of information) with less hardware than the proto-computers of the late '40's and '50's. One worker with a modern teletype machine does more in an hour than a thousand medieval monks painstakingly copying scrolls for a century. ...

Unemployment is not a disease; so it has no "cure." ...

Unemployment is directly caused by this technological capacity to do more-with-less. Thousands of monks were technologically unemployed by Gutenberg. Thousands of blacksmiths were technologically unemployed by Ford's Model T. Each device that does-more-with-less makes human labor that much less necessary.

Aristotle said that slavery could only be abolished when machines were built that could operate themselves. Working for wages, the modern equivalent of slavery -- very accurately called "wage slavery" by social critics -- is in the process of being abolished by just such self-programming machines. In fact, Norbert Wiener, one of the creators of cybernetics, foresaw this as early as 1947 and warned that we would have massive unemployment once the computer revolution really got moving.

It is arguable, and I for one would argue, that the only reason Wiener's prediction has not totally been realized yet -- although we do have ever-increasing unemployment -- is that big unions, the corporations, and government have all tacitly agreed to slow down the pace of cybernation, to drag their feet and run the economy with the brakes on. This is because they all, still, regard unemployment as a "disease" and cannot imagine a "cure" for the nearly total unemployment that full cybernation will create.

Suppose, for a moment, we challenge this Calvinistic mind-set. Let us regard wage-work -- as most people do, in fact, regard it -- as a curse, a drag, a nuisance, a barrier that stands between us and what we really want to do. In that case, your job is the disease, and unemployment is the cure.

"But without working for wages we'll all starve to death!?! Won't we?"

Not at all. Many farseeing social thinkers have suggested intelligent and plausible plans for adapting to a society of rising unemployment. Here are some examples.

1. The National Dividend. This was invented by engineer C. H. Douglas and has been revived with some modifications by poet Ezra Pound and designer Buckminster Fuller. The basic idea (although Douglas, Pound, and Fuller differ on the details) is that every citizen should be declared a shareholder in the nation, and should receive dividends on the Gross National Product for the year. ...

2. The Guaranteed Annual Income. This has been urged by economist Robert Theobald and others. The government would simply establish an income level above the poverty line and guarantee that no citizen would receive less; if your wages fall below that level, or you have no wages, the government makes up the difference. ...

3. The Negative Income Tax. This was first devised by Nobel economist Milton Friedman and is a less radical variation on the above ideas. The Negative Income Tax would establish a minimum income for every citizen; anyone whose income fell below that level would receive the amount necessary to bring them up to that standard. ...

What I am proposing, in brief, is that the Work Ethic (find a Master to employ you for wages, or live in squalid poverty) is obsolete. Delivered from the role of things and robots, people will learn to become fully developed persons, in the sense of the Human Potential movement. They will not seek work out of economic necessity, but out of psychological necessity—as an outlet for their creative potential.

As Bucky Fuller says, the first thought of people, once they are delivered from wage slavery, will be, “What was it that I was so interested in as a youth, before I was told I had to earn a living?”

The answer to that question, coming from millions and then billions of persons liberated from mechanical toil, will make the Renaissance look like a high school science fair or a Greenwich Village art show.


This post is the second in a 4 part series that began with my review of Bucky Fuller's book "Critical Path".

Next up I'll look at at how Bucky's ideas influenced modern day techie culture, via the cold war technocrats and the hippie "back to the landers" of the 60s and 70s, with a review of Fred Turner's book "From Counterculture To Cyberculture".

I'll conclude with an in-depth look at progress towards the global energy grid Bucky advocated, and why its become an increasingly good idea.

Cross-posted from Peak Energy.

Feel free to give this one a vote at reddit, if you are so inlined...

I like this idea. (And I'm reminded of Orlov's recommendation to those who still have jobs, that they should do as little work as possible, because all that productivity is bad for the planet.)

The bad economy will likely take care of one of the biggest criticisms of the shorter work week in the past: that people would use the extra time off to increase their consumption, whether traveling to the mountains for a long weekend or spending the day shopping at the mall.

Globalization might still be a problem, though. India, China, etc., are reeling, and I imagine a lot of people in those countries would be happy to work six or seven days a week for much less than Americans, Japanese, or Australians.

Actually, Chinese workers are willing to work quite a bit more than 7 days a week x 8 hours a day. How do 80 hour work weeks sound? This is for a computer keyboard factory.

I expect with computer sales in the tank, the pressure on Chinese factories to produce so much will ease. The political pressure to keep that huge Chinese population employed in the face of declining demand will also put a dent in those 80 hour work weeks.

There could be no better investment in America than to invest in America becoming energy independent! We need to utilize everything in out power to reduce our dependence on foreign oil including using our own natural resources.Create cheap clean energy, new badly needed green jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.The high cost of fuel this past year seriously damaged our economy and society. The cost of fuel effects every facet of consumer goods from production to shipping costs. After a brief reprieve gas is inching back up.OPEC will continue to cut production until they achieve their desired 80-100. per barrel.If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV's instead had plug-in electric drive trainsthe amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota.There is a really good new book out by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence Now.

This isn't really on topic and you've posted it many times before - in future I'll be deleting these comments.

If we aim to be a fair society then we should implement a cascading working hours scheme that allows part time workers to increase hours (if tey so wish) while full time workers reduce hours untill partity is gained then all decrease together.

We should be able to use our GDP figures as a base and any decrease as a percentage should be mirrored in the allowable working hours - so when our GDP is 50% lower then all will be working a 18 hour week.

Why do you think GDP must necessarily reduce ?

One of the points of the idleness advocates is that we increase efficiency of industrial production (and thus presumably GDP) we need less work to be expended by people.

I think GDP must decrease because our consumption must decrease (due to peak oil and other resource constraints).

Yes, we could produce all we need while working less. But if we only produced what we need, our GDP would plummet, like sheep that roost in trees. The whole point of our current economic system is to encourage people to buy stuff they don't need.

The Gospel of Consumption

In a 1927 interview with the magazine Nation’s Business, Secretary of Labor James J. Davis provided some numbers to illustrate a problem that the New York Times called “need saturation.” Davis noted that “the textile mills of this country can produce all the cloth needed in six months’ operation each year” and that 14 percent of the American shoe factories could produce a year’s supply of footwear. The magazine went on to suggest, “It may be that the world’s needs ultimately will be produced by three days’ work a week.”

Business leaders were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of a society no longer centered on the production of goods. For them, the new “labor-saving” machinery presented not a vision of liberation but a threat to their position at the center of power. John E. Edgerton, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, typified their response when he declared: “I am for everything that will make work happier but against everything that will further subordinate its importance. The emphasis should be put on work—more work and better work.” “Nothing,” he claimed, “breeds radicalism more than unhappiness unless it is leisure.”

By the late 1920s, America’s business and political elite had found a way to defuse the dual threat of stagnating economic growth and a radicalized working class in what one industrial consultant called “the gospel of consumption”—the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn’t enough. President Herbert Hoover’s 1929 Committee on Recent Economic Changes observed in glowing terms the results: “By advertising and other promotional devices . . . a measurable pull on production has been created which releases capital otherwise tied up.” They celebrated the conceptual breakthrough: “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.”

This is not off topic. I think.
First the population will have to crash. If we are lucky it will be a gentle decline as in the "Business as Usual" run in the Report to the Club of Rome. Unfortunatly I see no evidence of non-linear (chaos theory) in their model.So there will be a lot of detail in the curve. (It won't be smooth).
Gaia needs brains, and she is developing them modeled on how she creates smaller brains. First you take an unlikely entity, say a skin cell. Then it is modified into a nerve cell. It is allowed to proliforate. Then the un-connected and unused cells are subject to aptosis.
Sound familiar? The unlikely entity in this case is an ape.
We are about to go into the aptosis thingy. So stay connected and on-line!
So first the population will decrease,then we get used to the idea that work is for machines.
Why must the population crash? Because there is not enough energy for all those cells. Brains are real energy glutons.

That's a good link Leanan (a similar tale is told in Adam Curtis' "Century of the Self") but its more a criticism of our political and economic system than proof that GDP must decrease.

I still don't share he view that peak oil = peak energy = peak consumption - there is far more renewable energy available than we currently get from fossil fuel sources (over 10,000 times as much) and I still contend its perfectly possible for us to switch to use these energy sources instead.

As for causing GDP to plummet by only producing what we need, what if everyone has a standard of living similar to the avergae Japanese or European (with cleaned up, no waste manufacturing systems of course) and the population increase to 9.5 billion then stabilises - why couldn't GDP continue to increase and eventually flatten out ?

The thing is that if not oil, some other depleting resource will run short, which by definition limits consumption. Sure, we can recycle, but there's always entropy - you never get out quite as much as you put.

And there are practical limits to just how much we can get our shit together. We'll never see Staniford's "global supergrid" he wrote about on TOD once. Most important are physical limits, but after those are the political and cultural limits. We humans tend to muddle our way through our problems, so we never have things tank completely; but then, we never have things go brilliantly, either.

This "muddling through" factor places a limit on our future consumption in a world without cheap fossil fuels, or cheap labour.

Other than fossil fuels and perhaps phosphorus (perhaps) I've struggled to identify any depleting resources (OK - maybe groundwater - but water itself isn't depleting.

I don't see why Staniford's (actually Bucky's) global grid isn't possible.

If you'd told people a century ago that Europe would have a common government and have a continent wide grid and highway system they probably would have said it was impossible too. I'm sure we'll have a global grid before this century is out.

So other than fossil fuels, phosphorus and water, we should be fine? As long as crops don't need to be fertilized, irrigated, harvested or transported, everything should be cool. Why don't I feel reassured?

"Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"

Errrr - we don't need fossil fuels, I'm yet to be convinced by the phosphorus arguments and there isn't a water shortage, we just need to change the way we are using the stuff (and in particular, reform the whole agricultural system).

But don't let me pick you up - go ahead and wallow...

I'm yet to be convinced by the phosphorus arguments

What is it that you are not convinced of? That phosphorous is necessary for high crop yields? That concentrated mineral forms of phosphorous are in finite supply? Or are you simply not convinced that peak phosphorous is near at hand, so that we can eat drink and be merry in the present and leave some other generation holding the bag when the peak arrives?

I am not convinced that peak phosphorous is near at hand either, but that does not mean that we should not start acting today to create food producing systems which recycle nutrients. A strategy of "Let's assume phosphorous supplies are adequate until a price explosion proves otherwise." strikes me as less than brilliant.
If recyling nutrients increases the labor intensity of food production (I do not say for certain that it will, but the sooner we get busy developing these systems the sooner we will know what the labor requirements are.) or requires a redistribution of the human population so that our wastes can more cheaply be returned to the soil, then the economic consequences of creating a sustainable food production system may be significant.

The problem with the strategy of assuming that vigorous short term economic growth is possible until the contrary has been proved is that long term ecological systems thinking is strongly discouraged.

why couldn't GDP continue to increase and eventually flatten out ?

Because our financial systems and our currency, by its very nature, cannot handle flat GDP. Which is to say that our problems are economic ones, not engineering. (I think you're with me on this anyway..)

We'll have found the solution to today's problems at about exactly the same point in time as when we stop measuring GDP.

"Because our financial systems and our currency, by its very nature, cannot handle flat GDP."

I often see this idea, and so far haven't been able to get a clear discussion as to why this would be the case. It seems to be based on the idea that no one would provide credit if interest rates fell to zero.

I'm not sure why they think that: Japan had zero interest rates, and people still lent.

I don't know why modest inflation (1% or so) wouldn't allow modest interest rates to savers of the same amount, to encourage people to keep their money in institutions; then institutions could charge, say, 1.1%, with the extra .1% representing a service charge for providing a service (just as any service provider charges).

Is there anyone who presents themselves as an expert on this? A website which provides a detailed argument with evidence/data?

It's the way we create our money in the West - with debt.

The US government never simply prints a US dollar. The print a (for example) $100 bond, promising to pay the bearer (say) $5 each year they hold that bond. The banks then buy the bonds, and on the basis of these bonds as assets, they lend out money at interest.

The banks lend (say) $1,000 as debt on the basis of their $100 bond "asset", and charge (say) $100 interest on that debt annually. That is, they created $1,000 of money and gave it to someone, who then owed $1,100.

That is, money is only created through debt, and the debt always exceeds the money supply which could pay that debt.

Because the debt always exceeds the money supply, people try to get money from outside the system, from another country, ie get imports. This works fine except that other countries create money with debt, too. So some people must go bust, with their debts written off.

Because $110 of debt is always chasing $100 of money supply, people get desperate. It's like musical chairs, there's not enough for everyone to pay back their debts, so you have to make sure you're not left standing when the music stops.

Thus, the debt-burdened money supply drives economic growth. I expand my business to grab more cash to pay off the debts.

Sure, I personally might have no debts in my business, but what about the people who paid me, where did their money come from? Or the money of the people who paid them? Ultimately it all comes from a debt and must be paid back or written off some day.

We don't have to create money this way, but we choose to because it lets us create a lot of money without insane inflation. If you or I have $5, we can only lend someone else $5. But if the bank has $5, it can lend out $100 or more. When you put money into circulation people buy and sell things, when you take money out of circulation people buy and sell less things. If you just print money then people don't trust it, and you get Zimbabwe or Weimar Germany.

But by having a debt-burdened money supply, we get to have lots of money circulating around. We also get economic booms when people forget that debts have to be repaid, and economic booms when they suddenly remember, and we get people owning property and enjoying a life they can't really afford, or people going bust and ending up homeless.

Just as a manic-depressive doesn't feel they have an illness in their happy manic phase, but only in their depressive phase, so too do we not question the system during booms, only during busts.


But, how does that explain how "our financial systems and our currency, by its very nature, cannot handle flat GDP."

And, again, what if interest rates fell to zero?

Could modest inflation (1% or so) allow modest interest rates to savers of the same amount, to encourage people to keep their money in institutions; with institutions then charging, say, 1.1%, with the extra .1% representing a service charge for providing a service (just as any service provider charges)?

Wouldn't such a change help prevent the volatility you describe?

Is this explanation yours alone? Is there anyone who presents themselves as an expert on this? A website which provides an extended argument with evidence/data?

That's certainly true. The problem is so much money is tied up in consumption, and more importantly, was lent out in anticipation of future consumption. Even if we agreed on the need to reach a more modest level of consumption, we can't unwind all those financial positions without crashing everything. And yes, I mean crashing things worse than they have crashed now.

I think a distinction has to be made between "a job" and "work". "A job" is something you do to earn money or otherwise keep a roof over your head and food on the table, "work" is something you do which makes full use of your creative powers and fulfils you.

If you're lucky the two are the same, but for most people they're not.

As Gav put it,

Paul Lafarge, for example, wrote a tract called "The Right To Be Lazy" during a period of enforced semi-idleness at Saint Pélagie Prison, though apparently he couldn't help but put his time to a form of productive endeavour

When Lafarge had no job, he still had work he wanted to do. Being a parent is never a job, but it is work, something most parents are glad to do. We also see unemployed and retired people do volunteer work; those who are genuinely idle have much higher rates of mental and physical problems than those who aren't.

The confusion between "a job" and "work" comes about because of that Protestant work ethic, the communist idea of forcing the lazy to work, the capitalist idea of "deserving" rewards you get in life. But we've created a society in which jobs are valued, but not work, in which most people's jobs are not also their work. Most of us are in jobs which are quite alienating, we don't see a finished product, just part of it, we're compelled to work certain hours, and so on.

Because we're compelled to do "jobs", and because we confuse those jobs with "work", we resent the compulsion, and say things like "work is a four letter word", or imagine that people are innately lazy.

Nothing is further from the truth. People have an urge to be creative and productive. Thus even a man in prison writes an essay - ironically, on laziness. A child left alone begins to make things with blocks or sand. A man tired from work comes home and goes to his garage and makes a bookshelf. A woman tired from work goes to her volleyball game.

The work we choose for ourselves is different to the jobs we're forced to do. We choose complete processes that'll let us see finished products. So for example many people enjoy cooking a meal, but no-one enjoys cutting up a 20kg bag of carrots. There's no difference in the motions required, really - the difference is whether you get to see a complete product at the end. Farmer, miner, factory or office worker, few of us get to see something from start to finish, we're just cogs in a machine.

People enjoy being creative, productive, and exerting themselves. They don't enjoy being simply a part of someone else's means for ends not their own.

Yes - a good distinction to make.

I didn't try to focus on the difference in the post (you caught my one glancing reference to it though) but I hope it was clear from the people I was quoting that they didn't necessarily want to do nothing with all their free time - they wanted to do whatever they felt like.

Ideally we'd all find jobs that are fulfilling and enjoyable and are things we'd want to do even if we had so much money that we would never need to 'work".

But if that was true we'd probably find there was no one around to clean the streets, keep the sewerage plants running and do all sorts of other vital but rather unpleasant tasks - so we'll always need the population spending some portion of its time doing "jobs".

The goal is to minimise this.

There's a difference between doing "whatever you feel like" and doing what you feel is a productive use of your creative powers. There's the whim of the moment, and there's what we know is deep within us the thing which will fulfill us.

Thus for example being faithful to our spouses. If I did "whatever I feel like" then I would have screwed around a zillion times. But I know that long-term fulfilment for me comes from fidelity, from focusing on just one woman.

Much the same goes for riding a cycle to work rather than driving, going to the gym, cooking dinner instead of getting takeout all the time, reading to your kid instead of plonking them in front of the telly, and so on.

Likewise with what I called "work" rather than "a job". You do it because it fulfils you, not because it matches the whim of the moment. And that's another part of the distinction between "a job" and "work." Because so many of us do jobs which are miserable and alienating, we jump to the other extreme, thinking that happiness would lie in following the whim of the moment, going from constant supervision to a childlike state of short attention, things picked up, then forgotten and dropped.

It's not true that nobody will be fulfilled cleaning the streets. That's a very middle-classed view of the world. Someone recently described one of the fundamental divides as being between those who shower before work and those who shower after work. Those who shower before work imagine those who shower after it must be degraded by their work. And it's just not true.

The degradation comes not from the work or job itself, but from whether the work/job is an end in itself for you, or a means to some other end of your choosing - or whether you're the means for someone else's ends, with no ends yourself.

That is, if you're fulfilled by that particular work, or if doing that job gets you money to achieve other goals, then the work/job is not degrading to you, but actually uplifting. But if you're doing the thing because your boss or spouse or parent is making you, if you get nothing from it, if money earned is spent merely on survival, then the work is degrading to you.

Thus I have known IT workers, accountants, doctors and engineers who were miserable and squashed, and labourers and cleaners of public toilets who were happy and fulfilled. As Thoreau said, the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. We see this desperation in the reams of "self-help" books, chronic gambling, drug addiction and the like, people desperately searching for meaning and fulfilment in their lives. Whether they are scrubbing strangers' shit or looking down columns of numbers doesn't really matter.

Why stop at four? I like three days a week :-)

Of course it wouldn't work if I wanted a mortgage, but that doesn't seem like a priority these days..

Nothing wrong with 3 days a week if we can produce all we need with that amount of labour.

I Imagine if you automate and optimise everything, and the population reaches a plateau around 9 billion, that we could all work 3 or even less days.

And your mortgage problem goes away (or at least reduces) if everyone is working similar amounts.

Hi gav,
Since about 3million people are in part-time jobs in Australia, you could say we already have a considerable number of people on 2 or 3 day weeks.
The comments about guaranteed income already apply in Australia at least to family income; Centerlink

I have occasionally wondered if we are already drifting towards Fuller's recommendation of only those who really want to work having jobs, while everyone else just does the bare minimum (part time and informal work) or uses the social welfare net to provide basic life support.

As we go post-scarcity and you can get everything you need (bar housing and health-care - the final frontiers) pretty cheaply - be it from local markets selling knock-offs from China or online flea-markets like eBay and the Freecycling networks, it would seem that for people in developed countires, work is becoming optional (as long as the conservatives don't stuff it up by forcing people into make-work schemes).

I don't see that we're going "post-scarcity" at all. The real reason we in the West don't have to work much to get stuff is that we don't have to bother producing the stuff we need and want.

Our Western prosperity relies on two things: cheap fossil fuels, and cheap Third World labour. Take either of those away and our material prosperity falls on its arse. And both of them are going away. That cheap fossil fuels are going away I shouldn't need to explain here. But the labour - well Japan's labour was cheap and when their wage price rose we got things from Korea instead. When their wages rose we went to Taiwan. And now to China and India.

After China and India, who then? The Africans? While there were enough Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Chinese and Indians to keep the West in cheap manufactured goods, there simply aren't enough Africans to keep the EU, US, Japan, China and so on in cheap goods.

Add in the fact that rising prosperity in the Third World means lower birth rates, an ageing population, less of that mass of desperate poor people who'll work for a dollar a day.

So at some point the cheap labour will dry up, too. Even should we have a renewable revolution which despite being a revolution gives us no troubles, we'll still have to face the lack of cheap labour.

"Our Western prosperity relies on two things: cheap fossil fuels, and cheap Third World labour. "

And I was under the delusion that high living standards had something to do with; skilled managers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, bankers( possibly not them), skilled construction workers trades people, skilled farm managers.

Now I understand why Nigerians have such a high living standard, lots of oil and lots of cheap labor to build all those Mercedes, jet aircraft, construct reliable water, electricity, sewerage and of course construct the oil drilling platforms, drill pipe, nuclear reactors, gas turbines to extract Africa's energy wealth! Don't forget all that land( x4 larger than US or Australia) all that water(Nile, Niger, Congo) that Africa has on which to grow cheap food to compete with expensive US, EU and Australian farm labor and managers.

Too bad I live in Australia we only have cheap FF( and not much oil at that) and all that expensive labor that prices us out of selling iron ore, and other minerals, or providing engineering skills worldwide that can compete with low African labor . ( disclaimer I have a few shares in Worley Parsons Ltd)

And I was under the delusion that high living standards had something to do with; skilled managers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, bankers( possibly not them), skilled construction workers trades people, skilled farm managers.

Well, it depends on what you call "high living standards". Most people think of it in material terms: we have a lot of nice stuff. Look at the "made in" label on things you buy - there's very little "Made in Australia", and even if it is, it's "- from local and imported ingredients." Well, on food anyway - there's no requirement to say where the plastic, tantalum, silicon, wood and so on came from.

When we think of things like margarine, coffee, chocolate, computers, tvs, dvd players, blue jeans, and so on - these are all things which, if people can't afford them, they won't feel well-off. But why can we afford them? Why are they cheap? Because they're produced in countries where people get $1-$10 a day. If the people got $100-$200 a day, as we do, well forget about your $2 margarine, $10 instant coffee, $3 chocolate bars, $500 computers, $100 CRT TVs, $20 jeans, and so on.

Prices wouldn't multiply by ten along with the wages, it's just that those Third Worlders would be replaced by machines using fossil fuels. A Ghanan on $2 a day can compete with a tractor burning $1/litre diesel; if he gets even $20 a day, that tractor starts looking more attractive. But then if the diesel is $10/lt we reassess it.

Our Western material prosperity relies entirely on cheap Third World labour and cheap fossil fuels. Take one of them away and we'll still be well-off, though not so much as today. Take both away, and we might actually have to start producing finished products in our country again, instead of just digging stuff up or paying people to supervise the digging, count the digs, make contracts about the digs, and make coffee for all those people.

"Well, it depends on what you call "high living standards". Most people think of it in material terms:"

We all have access to the same manufactured goods either in Australia or Africa, what makes Australia a "high living standard" country is not it's manufacturing industry or access to cheap manufactured goods it is services and infrastructure; the ability to turn on a tap and have clean, hot or cold water, 99% of the time, turn on a light switch and have light 99% of the time, not 1 or 2 hours per day. Regular garbage pick up, roads maintained.
Access to free health care, with clean syringes, access to free high schooling and funding for tertiary education. If you are stopped by a police car, its to pay a speeding ticket or be checked for drinking, not to pay a bribe. If you want to buy a house, or car long term financing is available. We have a reliable banking system.

"Our Western material prosperity relies entirely on cheap Third World labour and cheap fossil fuels"

Why again is Nigeria not as prosperous as Australia? or Indonesia not as prosperous?

We do import most of our coffee, and chocolate, a $3 chocolate bar would have <20 cents of coca beans, a $3 cup of coffee 2cents of coffee beans. Since >80% of our economy is service based not manufacturing goods, most of the costs of living, including many imported products is labor costs IN Australia.
In Eastern Australia, most electricity is from cheap coal, so wholesale costs are low, in WA most is from more expensive NG, so wholesale prices are X2, but not a big issue at retail level( a few cents/kWh). Infrastructure and service costs are much more important to individuals prosperity, an educated professional work force absolutely essential for the prosperity of the nation.
Our other big energy inputs are oil and NG, neither are cheap at retail level by world standards( for example in US or Indonesia), but less expensive than in Japan and yet Japan has a higher standard of living than Australia.

I have worked 12 hr shifts and like them very much.
The only thing that I would have liked better then what I had, was a 36 hr week.
Less hours would have been even better.
We had a 40 hr week averaged out and so had to add another shift into the schedule.
I liked the time off between switching from day shifts, to the shift nights.

When you have enough money for your needs, free time becomes more important.

When you have enough money for your needs, free time becomes more important.

It's all about needs in the end.
Personally, I chose to work in a University precisely because it offered lots of free time (and not much pay). Since most of my free time is devoted to walking in the forest, I don't really need much money, mostly food, rent and bus pass. I never really got into the whole consumer thing anyway.

However, there are lots of people who are happy to work days, nights and weekends in banks and trading rooms just so that they can buy an expensive suit with the bonus at the end of the year.

I remember reading somewhere that the tribes of Papua New Guinea were amongst the happiest people on earth because they didn't have any needs. The forest provides them with food and housing for little work.

I remember reading somewhere that the tribes of Papua New Guinea were amongst the happiest people on earth because they didn't have any needs.

At least, until we gave them 'Democracy', guns, and ammunition.

"Of course it wouldn't work if I wanted a mortgage" I got and paid off my mortgage on a four-day week back in the 1980s and 1990s.

I was on four-day 10-hour shift from 1979 to 1999, and since then have been on weekend (F-S-S) three-day 12-hour shift with a 12-hour make-up day every sixth week. The pay works out the same as a five-day job, and I have lots of time to go hiking in the Rockies adjacent to Calgary or deal with my personal investments in oil. Life can be beautiful!

I look at the managers or wanna-bes who put in unpaid overtime every week, come in on weekends, and desperately schmooze in the hope that someday they might make Director or some other position in the high command. They say they will relax and enjoy life when they retire; I'm doing it now (age 53). My house is a 1950s bungalow, but who needs a manor? My cars are both Honda Civics; who needs a Porsche? No expensive vacations to Mexico or Hawaii, because every week I can go vacationing in the Rockies (one hour drive from Calgary, no need for motels, cost is a tank of gas).

Yes, but like my (shift)work - you are still working full time. I don't know if the 3 or 4 day work week paradigm intends us to work the "standard" 40 hours in less time. My impression is that we just plain work fewer hours. ie. 24 hours in 3 days or 32 in 4



The only trouble is that the extra day off is another whole day to shop shop shop.

Jevons strikes again...

I think the shoppers are limited by credit card maximums, not hours available to shop, shops are open 12 hours, 7days a week lots of time between working hours.

Personally, I think I would use my time off to reconnect with some friends I haven't seen much in the last 3 years b/c I've been working my tail off. Or invite some neighbors over for dinner that I've only gotten to know casually.

I also have several unfinished craft and repair projects around my house and I would love to expand and upgrade my garden. I also would like to learn how to make my own bow and arrow set. I could think of a thousand things to do with my time off except shop.

Good post,Gav,and Kiashu,thanks for your comments.

I was brought up in a farming family which valued hard work,and for good reason.I don't denigrate this upbringinging but it has resulted in a mindset which is focused on doing more than reflecting or just relaxing and enjoying the scene.

It has taken me a lifetime to modify this mindset and I am still working on it.It is a relief to be less driven.A question that should always be asked very early in the piece - what are we driving for? And is it worth the effort and cost?

Re working hours - I have been a shift worker most of my working life.The best roster I have worked is the 10/14 - 10 hour days and 14 hour nights which resulted in mega days off.Great for bush walking trips,home projects or whatever the doctor ordered.
My point is - the 9 to 5,5 day week is not set in stone and never has been.As long as the necessary work gets done who the hell cares what the hours are?

Well - I've never been a believer in 9-5 (as all my employers will attest) and I've always believed in optimising my work-income ratio in order to do the things I want to do without burning myself out at work.

I've never really been into relaxing though (and I have to try hard to find time to reflect) - basically I'd rather be busy doing stuff I like to do...

Being busy doing stuff you like to do is a form of relaxation.

Reflection takes a litle more effort.Personally,I find walking is a good time for reflection.The payoff is,hopefully,a more balanced attitude to life.

Here in the Evil Empire, the USA, most people are landless peasants. And without a job, they're homeless landless peasants. And with the criminalization of poverty here, they end up homeless landless peasants in prison, working for 20c an hour.

The Empire has to be destroyed first.

The Empire has to be destroyed first.

I'll second that motion, oh it's already happening.

How about we give everyone 4000 square feet of arable land.

Do we have 2.8 X 10E13 sq ft of arable land on the planet?

Great thread, thanks all.

Small time farming might come as a bit of shock to those looking for leisure, I believe Wyoming had a post about his operation a couple of months back.

Places with cheap land always look inviting, but they always have the same drawback, extremely low wages if you can find work at all. Travelling and working away happens in those locales a lot and that can be a tough road to go. The farmland in those places was always marginal to start with so don't look to make it pay your way. You might find the ERoEI you get on your time unsatifactory, I certainly did. This could be the standard scenario with crumbling empire though

Good management and building your own place where short season high wage work is available might be the best bet for getting adequate time off. It has worked for me. Of course you might have to give up some of the best times to be off because those are the best time to make a buck and have to put up with a few more months winter than you thought could ever be stacked in row every year. Tradeoffs are inevitable. But it still can be done in the empire, if you know when and where to look and aren't afraid to shred your body from time to time. Could be a tough time to start with nothing though, you need one good season's stake to get started.

I work 3 days a week, and i love it. but then i put in 32hrs per week. the french work 36 i think. as i recall thats the law in france, i stand to be corrected. i also have a mortgage. it can be done. my time off is consumed with repairs around the house. i'd pay for the repairs, but like the saying goes: if you want it done right, then do it yourself. i refuse to pay full price for a half ass job. the quality isn't there. so, i do it myself. if i muck it up, i start the project all over. next project on the side is wind power and solar power for the house. i am a DIY kinda guy.

If i didn't have to worry about taxes, i'd probably consider a second job, in something i like to do. but instead it's all about the quality of life. i love my job and my company. when i go to work, i am early by 30 mins or more. and i have been with my company for 17 yrs. but 2 years ago, i started working 3 days week instead of 5. and it refreshing.

Of course it's time. But, at least in the USA, it has precisely a snowball's chance in Hell. Who do you think owns and runs this country? It's not a reasonable committee or even a free and fair market. It's corporate capital, institutionalized market totalitarianism, the unrestrained and out-of-control rich. 4-day weeks cost business owners cash (and the top 1 percent own 62 percent of all business assets in the USA), and set a terrible ideological precedent. Hence, they are "not on the table," unless and until the commoners awake from their TV coma. A great idea, though...

We're doing it here. I work for county government and we are now all working 4 day work weeks as funds to pay us for 5 have run short. So far I like it. The house is cleaner, I have more time to paint (artistic) and I can even volunteer at my daughter's school.

Split the difference, as I am on a 9/80 (4 day + 5 day rotating) schedule. Definitely a good idea.

Isn't the problem with a reduced work week (for reduced pay) that most people have quite a few fixed expenses, like a mortgage and car payments and perhaps a student loan. With less income, they either default on one of these, or have much less left over to spend on all the other things that keep the economy going. If they try to sell the house and move to a less expensive one, they suddenly add to the housing glut.

If you lay off one worker in five, you have one-fifth of the economy doing very poorly. If you cut everyone's pay by 20%, you have everyone doing poorly, at least from the point of view of paying back loans. In some way this system is not as bad, but in some ways it is worse.

I think if the majority of the workforce are budgetted that tight then the economy is going to tank anyway.

I think a reduced working week is a good idea. A recession is conservation and powering down. This is the answer we were looking for.

I think you are certainly right, but that problem will only exist for so long. No matter what there is going to be pain when adjusting from the current fossil fuel economy to a sustainable one. It would probably be a step in the right direction towards a life with less frivolous consumer stuff. It seems that most people will spend right up to the brink of what they can afford regardless of what their income is.

Several of my friends back home in Belper, Derbyshire (UK) have already implimented a 4 day working week for their staff. Another friend has been put on a 4 day week pending possible plant closure. Business activity is a lot lower than this time last year and it costs money to lay people off...


The idea of a 4 day working week isn't an entirely abstract one for me, as my current employer has been significantly cutting back on staff levels over the past 6 months. The manager of my team took the approach of offering us all reduced work hours rather than having to let anyone go, which we've all accepted, so I'm now seeing what a 4 day week is like (and having just come back from a 4 day weekend hiking in the Snowy Mountains I can't say I have any complaints so far).

The owner of our company called a company wide meeting (we are pretty small) last week and offered a 20% across the board pay cut to everyone in Lieu of laying people off. Since I have been powering down for at least the last four years I was one of the few people who was neither shocked by the offer nor in panic mode. I also took advantage of the opportunity to open a few minds that may have suddenly become more receptive to a new reality.

I'm glad to read this post and will send a company wide email with a link to it. Maybe we can do this as well or at least institute a more flexible work schedule. We are a software company and all of us can work quite efficiently from home and are already pretty much set up to do this.

I could see myself doing more Kayak diving out on the reef and less time in front of a computer screen.

The French 35-hour week is a bit of a myth that Anglos love. (I don’t myself live in France, some other poster may want to be more precise.)

It doesn’t apply to cadres, to the professions, to many state employees, to independents, medicos, etc. There are legal ways around it (two jobs, overtime, etc.) I know a lot of French ppl, the only ones who work 35 hours are those who want to, they are all mothers.

Productivity in France -- G.D.P. per hour worked -- is actually a bit higher than in the United States.

Krugman, in the NY times. PDF: Krugman, French Family Values (I myself am not a Krugman fan, but this article seems apropos.)

The French, always metrically minded, have tended to measure ‘work’ in hours spent on the job, perhaps more so than in other countries. A measure in days, following the natural cycle, is better in some ways; it takes commuting, time for travel, energy, into account. All depending on the type of work, of course: a factory open 24/24, an administration with lazy ppl in it, a supermarket chain, a hospital, etc. etc. all are adjusted to the time of day, and the day night cycle, and ‘hours worked’ in different ways.

The Swiss system is yet different. Employees may work ‘full time’ which would be defined variously in different jobs in terms of hours: medical intern, 100 or more, worker in a factory, 40, 42, or more with overtime; secretary, supermarket cashier, possibly 39, night watchman with compensation for night work, less, etc. - and then reducing working time in tens of %.

People work 80, 60, 50, 30 % jobs, seen as: not full time, I have a day off, a little more than half time, half time, a third time. In short, the standard used is what represents a full time job in terms of tasks/pay, and reducing that linearly by tasks/pay. The hours themselves are sometimes totted up, often not.

This system arose from the bottom up and is now accepted, as it permits flexibility.

What about a day off when the moon is full? Or free time on the job measured in minutes, as it often is for breaks?

What measure is to be used in what circumstance?

So many places, like financial institutions, are only open on weekdays when I am at work. To get any personal business done requires taking time off - a hassle, and I hate using up precious leave time. It would be great to have a free weekday to get various errands and personal business done. Just my luck, though, the places I would need to get to would probably be all closed that day . . . because they would be giving their employees the day off, too!

There must be some sort of law - a corollary to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, no doubt - to the effect that "You just can't win".

Maybe that's a corollary of Murphy's law.

However - I imagine many places can have workers on 4 day weeks while still staying open 5 days (my employer for example).

When I was younger I recall hearing the idea that technology was indeed going to reduce our working hours. It hasn't happened, sadly. Why not? Essentially because (a) we can't control our population growth and (b) globalization has made it far too tempting for business to increase profits for themselves by outsourcing jobs where labor is cheaper. And since there are so many of us globally chasing a shrinking pie of resources, we can't work less because we can't earn enough to make ends meet.

It would be possible in principle for us all to work less in a closed self-sufficient society with rules on outsourcing labor. But even then the capitalists would have to be reined in to avoid the wealth being creamed off and thereby requiring workers to work longer to earn enough. But in the current global system so many people are prepared to work arbitrary hours for peanuts (by western standards) just to survive, that it impossible for even the west to make progress, Indeed we are all on a treadmill towards 3rd world living standards. Globalization is the great equalizer. Unfortunately the equilibrium state is low income not high. A lot less people and the story would be different.

Having said that, it is far preferable IMHO for all of us to work less hours for less pay, i.e. get closer to average world pay levels, than for 10-20% of the population to suffer with naught while the other 80-90 keep their high standards.

In a globalized cheap energy consumerist world the cheap labour available in Asia combined with cheap energy(coal, oil, NG) for manufacture of finished goods from imported steel, aluminium, copper, oil(plastics) for export to industrial economies won't exist in this form.

The pyramid falls apart in a localized low energy world. The distribution of gas molecules in a room is uniform given perfect conditions. This principle has been attempted with regards to capital and goods and wages. Now when oil is no longer available to mine and deliver(cargo ships) copper and aluminium (from South Africa, Chile, Indonesia) to coal powered Chinese factories where 130 million excess migratory workers (cheap NG/coal based fertilizers plus pumped aquifer water allows leaving farm) turn this into cheap consumer goods to be bought on credit in USA/Europe then we have no more equal downward pressure on wages globally and no virtually infinite availability of cheap finished goods, energy and credit.

Local situations become then possible as during 1946-1980 dominated by unionism, local banks and local manufactures int eh West and communism in China, Eastern Europe. IIRC the high point of Pre WWI trade was only reached again in our current period, as % of global production/GDP. The income disparities are agin moving in the direction of those times.

Protectionism and sealing off of the various markets is perhaps not necessary to acheive a more relaxed market for labour if a serious collapse does our work for us allowing very localized rules to protect from external influences(capital and labour movements). However this entire problematic is the reason it was necessary to restrict travel from communist countries. The control of the marketplace was such in the communist countries that profit and consumption were not the primary motivation but rather equality in living standards (education, medicine)as in GINI index in a broader sense. So after the end of communism the end of moderate capitalism became inevitable as both sides in the bipolar world eliminated their restrictions on capital, goods and labour movements(some elements more than others as in Eastern Europeans coming to Western Europe freely as opposed to just Chinese goods).

The call for controls on capital flows(Offshore, etc.) or criticisms of an unbalanced financial system(US indebtedness vs. massive TBill ownership abroad) shows that a New World Order was just going on its own steam without a sensible framework. The computerized derivatives trading and massive currency trade exceeded daily the Global GDP more than likely. Trillionaires could hide their wealth somewhere and work and live in various places without worrying about tax obligations while exploiting tens of millions of factory workers and causing a massive extinction event and presumably Climate Change.

Marx said capitalism would be its own undoing once it went truly global and was completely free. He seems to have benn correct. Global free trade of goods and capital requires regulation of work (union wages, environmental protection in all countries at a similar level) and of capital (no tax havens,etc.) Where greed is king nobody wins in the end. The global libertarian model allows that no government is the best government. In the end you are on your own and the fastest raptor wins the evolutionary chase. This might be a Chinese engineer (or car company) an indian software developer or a globalized mafia dealing in arms and drugs financing and washing profit in the currency and derivatives and legitimate business enterprises. Criminal energy will always find a gap in laws within a country and very easily between countries.

We see how the worst case scenario happened in Russia. A regulated isolated system disintegrated to be replaced by a 3rd world chaos. The backlash was swift, an authoritarian regime rolled back the robber baron capitalist takeover internally as externally. In America that same backlash situation is just now playing out. Although Geithner and co. seem to be on the one hand on The Dark Side Of The Force trying to scrap the last bits of power together from a declining system, while playing superficially White Hats their days are numbered as the collapse of an old system cannot be hindered forever. What will come afterwards is anybody's call. These things seem to have a natural rhythym. Socialism breeds cpaitalism breeds socialism breeds ... (with intermittent war).

something about that sits about right with my world view.. oscillating perception

Big Gav,

This is a nice post. It's always a good idea to examine life, and how one lives it. I agree that someday we'll want to learn how to manage our lives and economy without this emphasis on jobs and working all the time. On the other hand, I don't think we're all that close to a "mature" economy:

1) There's a lot more to life than goods. That includes services like child care, education, eldercare, healthcare, etc etc, that we need a whole heck of a lot more of. Until all children, elderly and disabled are taken care of well, we're not there yet. Until medical research has eliminated all disease and disability, and eliminated aging (or come close to it, like the One Horse Shay), we're not there yet.

2) There's more to the world than the OECD. Until there's no more poverty in the world, we're not there yet. We bemoan globalization in the US and complain about losing jobs in exchange for our cheap goods, but in some ways it's really a process of helping the 3rd world. Hard on some of us, but good for them.

Thanks Nick.

I agree on all points - I'm certainly not saying no one needs to work, just that we could work less (especially in the developed world) and there would be a number of benefits that we could attain.

I agree. Many activities that aren't "work" are enormously valuable, and under-appreciated: rest, relating to others, meditation, creative work, etc, etc. Paradoxically, many people would be not only happier, but more productive if they did more of those things.

I wanted to clarify for some readers that we're far from the point where increasing labor productivity really allows us to relax. That's from an ideal point of view, in which we take responsibility for the whole world. Is that taking on too much? I don't know.

Another general world task that occurred to me: elimination of ongoing human ecological damage, and then remediation of all the damage previously done.

That'll keep us busy for a while.

Maybe another way to look at it is most of our "jobs" and "careers" aren't
doing much to address the issues you mention. Just an endless treadmill
might not really be getting us anywhere. And the point that a lot of what
we do is just make-work people control seems valid to me.

Yeah, there's a fair amount of unproductive work in the world. The most obvious is the production of unnecessary "fashion" items (vehicles, clothes, etc, etc).

OTOH, we may overestimate this kind of effect. For instance, used cars don't go away: they get used by someone else, pretty much until they die (often in other countries, like S America). On the 3rd hand, used cars in the US sometimes die prematurely, due to excessively high depreciation which makes repairs uneconomic. It's complex - it would be interesting to see an analysis.

Very complex. Maybe it's more of a Psychological/Philosophical thing then
something you can measure with hard data. We haven't heard the last of this
discussion. We have lagged adjusting to the productivity explosion for the last
150 years.

Most people work in the service industry, providing services to others; retailing, haircuts, meals,health care, or council workers, road repairs, building homes etc etc. We could do a lot of those "jobs" ourselves, but probably not as efficiently. These jobs are still productive work. Are paper shufflers unproductive? Not if you need that insurance policy, or drivers license, or bank draft, or building permit. They can be unproductive if they are a make work for extended family scheme we see in some countries.
This is one of the things that separates us form a 3rd world country. The excess "efficiency " allows us to buy and use more energy, bigger houses, buy imported manufactured goods etc, it also allows legal process, legal title, insurance from disasters.

We could spend all day growing food, house and clothing repairs, cutting grass, many of the things "retired" people do, and what "housewives" did, but it's still "work". We would miss out on the vital "paper shuffling roles" if we did all of our own services.

"These jobs are still productive work. Are paper shufflers unproductive? "

I agree. I'm just pointing to obvious over-consumption by people who seem to be pursuing emotional needs through compulsive shopping: too many shoes, unneeded SUV's, overly large houses, etc.

I live in the northern Great Lakes area which is wonderful except January and February.
Today on my early morning walk I was thinking I wasted the last two months. Instead
of thrashing about I could have gone into a semi-hibernation and now with spring here I
would be rejuvenated mentally physically and in spirit. Then I got home and read this
article. Quite the coincidence.

To me nature says hibernate or migrate for two months and my nature leans towards hibernate.

And here is a recent ABC opinion piece on a related topic, which basically says that with so many people being sacked and the ones left behind putting in more than full-time hours, people are saying, "well what's the point anyway?"

If we choose to, we could jump off the treadmill of consumption and work. If we choose to, we could redefine our workplaces, homes and communities. If we choose to, we could stop running, and start living.

I've seen this for years in commercial construction, albeit on a small scale. There is sometimes an incremental cost to having an employee beyond their wage benefit package but I don't think that is always the basis work force/hours change. The supervisors (and the rest right up the chain) own those they keep a little more after a layoff, and the whole arrangement (hourly workers getting OT after others have been sacked ) makes those kept more complicit in the layoffs that have occured. That is something I have observed close up and I believe it can be generalized. Of course if the positions are salaried with no extra pay for the hours the reduced workforce is flat out cheaper for the company which merely counts on the fear of getting sacked to keep individual production up.

I liked your short and sweet explanation of the monetary system. I seem to recall that the reserve amount (govt. IOUs) the banks had to hold per loan dollar was a major factor in determining the size of the money supply as well. That was the case back when I studied it anyhow back in the last few days of at least a nominal gold standard.

I already do a four day working week, although I'm still doing 40 hours a week. In doing so, I lower the GDP of the Nation, by travelling to work one less day a week (be it by car, PT, walking, whatever you may do). Since I'm almost always working overtime (due to being a member of the only part of the company that actually earn their wages) to cover the laziness of the other shifts, I benefit, somewhat, by earning more while spending less. I've even offered to work eight days straight (and why not, as I previously worked eight of nine days anyway), which would afford me a six day weekend every fortnight. It would have been live having a holiday every other week!
Obviously, since it benefited me and not the company, the offer was nixed...
And yes, I have a bit of the Protestant Work Ethic about me (my current Manager said that when he noticed I wouldn't stand still long enough to make eye contact, he knew he was on a winner). I counter that by the fact I'm keeping fit at work, rather than going to the gym. ;)
At the moment, I need the money (for hobbies, and post-peak planning and implementation), but in the future, I expect I'll be wanting the leisure more.
My other half ahs already given away prt of her job, cutting back to 25-30 hours a week, and being more relaxed for it. Now, if I can just convince her to go back to her hobbies instead of spending hours each day on the computer...