Why We Can't Work Twenty Hour WeeksIf hunter-gatherers could work a 20 hour work week, why can't we? I keep coming back to this. It's not that I don't want to work - a friend once told me that what I call 'play' is somewhere between a term paper and a master's thesis - although as I get closer to retirement, a lot of the stuff that comes across my desk seems more and more unnecessary. The competitive spiral seems built into our society. Maybe it is built in to human beings. Underground capitalism flourished in the so called "socialist" societies of Soviet Russia and China much as they tried to ban it. That's part of the problem in Russia today, since it was underground and lawless, they are having trouble bringing it under control, when they even try. It is definitely built in to our economy. Ever since Henry Ford gave his workers a raise so they could afford automobiles, and probably before, we have been dependent on selling goods and services. I know a number of people who have utopian schemes for making sure that everyone has enough food, shelter and clothing, with a little left over for luxuries, but almost all of them involve either a better brand of human being, or somehow choosing who 'deserves' to get that little left over for luxuries. It's possible, just barely, to work two 40 hour a week jobs. It is not possible, even just barely, to work two 60 hour a week jobs. However, it's definitely possible to work two or even three 20 hour a week jobs. If the supply of workers is enough, the demand will drop which means the pay will drop. For many years, 40 hours a week was an agreed upon equilibrium: workers got enough for a few luxuries and employers were able to make enough for a few more luxuries. But now.... Technology is obsoleting jobs at an increasing rate and our robot slaves are doing more and more of the work. My own particular utopia is wrapped around the idea that we have too many people and not enough jobs. Capitalism does a good job of creating jobs by creating demand for goods and services that didn't exist before; stuff that was once luxury and after a while becomes just average. The trouble is the time frame. In between the time the demand for slide rules goes away and the time pocket calculators turn into smart phones, there is room for a lot of misery among workers trained in one obsoleted profession who can't answer the new demand in another. Technology is also making it possible for the rich-poor gap to get wider. Where once a capitalist made a little money on a few transactions, now they can make a little money on a lot of transactions. Banks and bankers have the greatest ability to do this, but it applies with some force everywhere. No reason to spend that money on salaries, especially when the last recession (made possible by technology), messed up the equilibrium that had worked basically ever since the Depression. Especially because, with some exceptions, the people with money worked hard to get it (which is generally true) and think therefore they deserve it (which may or may not be true). It is rare to hear any of them stop to consider the element of luck, background, or even inheritance. So more and more money is concentrated in the hands of the few. It's all too easy to project this trend until there are only rich people and servants of rich people. I won't call them slaves, but it's a small step away.
30 Sep 2014
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