Mandate Less Work or Redistribute Wealth or What?
The 25-Hour Work Week
We work for money, not output, but is work the only fair way to get money? This 2012 excerpt is from TruthOut, Dec 13, from Chapter Seventeen of America beyond Capitalism. The author is at the University of Maryland.
by Gar AlperovitzIn the United States, the typical workweek declined from roughly seventy hours in 1850, to sixty hours in 1900, to fifty hours in 1920, and—allowing for variation during the Depression and World War II—stabilized at a little over forty hours by the middle of the century. After that, further diminution of work-time largely ceased. Indeed, hours worked per week and per year have increased very substantially for large numbers of Americans in recent years.
The pattern is different in Europe: although most Western industrialized nations once lagged behind U.S. developments, in recent years most forged ahead while the United States fell back. In 2000, 76 percent of American workers put in forty or more hours a week—an increase from 73 percent in 1983. In England only about 50 percent worked forty or more hours a week, and in France the share of the employed working that many hours decreased from 36 percent to 22 percent between 1983 and 2000. The reduction in the workweek was even more pronounced in Germany: only 43 percent of the workforce worked forty or more hours in 2000, down sharply from 85 percent in 1983.
In much of Europe four to six weeks of annual vacation is also now mandated by law for all workers (including newly hired workers). In the United States most workers don’t receive four weeks of vacation until they’ve reached twenty years of service. France and Germany reduced work enormously, compared to their American counterparts—between 1979 and 2000, they cut six and a half forty-hour-weeks out of the work year!
In 2003 the U.S. economy produced just over $38,000 for each individual, or just over $152,000 for every group or family of four. Per capita production in the United States increased more than sixfold during the twentieth century. Productivity gains of 2 percent per year could cut seven hours off the workweek in only one decade.
In larger historical perspective what is important is whether individuals confront the emerging logic that suggests that either economic pain and social decay will continue, perhaps indefinitely—or that a new approach must at some point be clarified that allows diverse groups to come together around different strategies aimed at achieving long-term system-wide change.
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JJS: Advocates for a shorter work week usually urge either a new law that fines companies for working employees for more than 35 or 25 hours, whatever, and/or a new tax that takes from the owners and gives to the workers. But there might be a better way.
Note that progress pushes up land values, the neo-classical example being the computer chip pushing up site values in Silicon Valley. Since location value is socially-generated, society (via government) could recover the worth of Earth -- via a tax, fee, dues, whatever -- then share the revenue out as a dividend, a la Alaska’s oil dividend. With an extra income apart from their labor, people could work as much or as little as they wanted, when they wanted, where they wanted, and with whom they wanted.
You could even abolish laws limiting workweeks and minimum wages and those taxing the rich. None of that complexity would be needed. Not as long as everyone got a fair share of Earth’s worth. Bye-bye both big government and onerous, over-long workweeks. Hello play-weeks and one work day!
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .
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