Can Less Work be More Fair?
By Natalie Shoemaker
Big Think, January 1, 2017 —
It’s time to acknowledge that the 8-hour day isn’t going to work anymore. We need to stop talking about creating more jobs and start talking about shortening the work week.
The conversation surrounding Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a conversation about how we take our economy to the next level and make life better for everyone, and many believe we get there by having people work less.
“The first thing we have to recognize is that we live within a broken system where there is no necessary connection between hard work and wealth,” writes Godfrey Moase, the Assistant General Branch Secretary at the National Union of Workers in Melbourne, Australia. “Our future prosperity won’t come from us individually working harder and longer—some of the poorest people in the world endure lives of unceasing toil.”
[Click on: “Can Less Work be More Fair: a discussion paper on Universal Basic Income and Shorter Working Week” at www.greenagenda.org.au.]
Moase points out in his essay “On Shorter Working Hours” that it’s not just that the division of labor is unbalanced, it’s that the future of work is changing. The automation of transportation and manufacturing will edge out workers, and those wheels have been in motion for some time already. Many in America’s heartland voted for President-elect Donald Trump because he promised to bring the factories back from China. Here’s the reality: China is a scapegoat. The factories have been coming back, and the jobs? Not quite as much. Because of the rise of automation, factories have been hiring only a fraction of the workers.
It’s here we must come to accept that technology, if we’re open to it, will make a future of less work possible. However, we have to rid ourselves of the idea that we need to work 40-hours a week in order to be accomplished.
We have to stop asking for more jobs to be created and start demanding a reform—8 hours of work a day isn’t feasible anymore, according to Juliet Schor, a sociologist and economist at Boston College:
“If you don’t have reductions in hours, it’s almost impossible to keep your population fully employed. If we had shorter hours of work, if we were able to take productivity growth, overtime in the form of shorter hours, we could re-employ those 26 million under- and unemployed people much more rapidly.”
What’s more, we need to realize there’s also value in leisure from a health and environmental standpoint. Leisure is time to create, invent, educate, care for our family, and more. Leisure—a better life—is what our parents and grandparents have been working towards.