The 15-Hour Workweek

An economist writing in Aeon has an article on the rise of a leisure-based society, long predicted by Keynes and others. He asks, "Are we ready for it?" It's kind of an interesting reading for a notion of where the Left thinks we are.
The social democratic welfare state, supported by Keynesian macroeconomic management, had already smoothed many of the sharp edges of economic life. The ever-present threat that we might be reduced to poverty by unemployment, illness or old age had disappeared from the lives of most people in developed countries. It wasn’t even a memory for the young....

[F]or the first time in history, our productive capacity is such that no one need be poor. In fact, more people are rich, by any reasonable historical standard, than are poor....

If work was distributed more equally, both between households and over time, we could all be better off. But it seems impossible to achieve this without a substantial reduction in the centrality of market work to the achievement of a good life, and without a substantial reduction in the total hours of work. The first step would be to go back to the social democratic agenda associated with postwar Keynesianism. Although that agenda has largely been on hold during the decades of market-liberal dominance, the key institutions of the welfare state have remained both popular and resilient, as shown by the wave of popular resistance to cuts imposed in the name of austerity....

In a post-scarcity society, everyone would be guaranteed an income that yielded a standard of living significantly better than poverty, and this guarantee would be unconditional.
What is most interesting to me about this is that it is unmoored from any discussion of means-to-ends. The assumption is that the means are already in place: the problem is that the market distributes those means to the wrong people. What looks to me like a "Kill the Golden Goose" issue looks to them like an opportunity for golden eggs for everyone, whether they work or not.

In any case, the 15-hour workweek seems to be on its way. Obamacare brutally punishes businesses that have more than 50 full-time workers, where "full-time" is defined as 30 hours a week or more. Whole industries are now pushing low-wage workers onto 15-29 hour schedules, which means that they will be going on food stamps (if they aren't there already). Many of these jobs are no longer paid minimum wage, using the 'seasonal' or 'temporary' loopholes.

You'll have lots of time, I guess, to sit around and worry about how poor you've become. But of course there's a solution for that: the new 'guaranteed income' will ensure that no one is poor. (How will we pay for that when we can't pay for Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid or already-promised pensions? And we, the richest nation on earth?).

1 comment:

E Hines said...

I also didn't see a lot of hard definition of "poverty" other than a nebulous The vast majority of the world’s population could enjoy a living standard comparable, in material terms, to that of the global middle class of today, which implies the continued existence of poverty.

Nor was there a lot discussion of the relationship between poverty and work--by somebody. Apparently, as you intimated, and skipping the intermediary of money, the goods and services representing the condition of not-poverty are just supposed to coalesce out of the æther. Or are those 15-hour work weeks supposed to supply the not-poverty needs of some seven billion people?

And what of those poor, benighted 15-hour laborers? Are they not impoverished by being forced to work?

It occurs to me that Adam Smith's invisible hand, which harnesses human greed to increasing the weal of all, will remain in play. I have stuff. Cool. Now I want more.

Who is poor, who is stinking rich, and who is middle class are moving targets.

Eric Hines