The Value of Less Work

worklifebalanceChris Napier

Businesses across Sweden are moving to a six hour workday with the aim of improving productivity and worker happiness, acknowledging the scientific evidence that these factors are closely related.

It seems a million miles away from the dominant philosophy in the UK, where forty hours a week plus overtime on close to minimum wage is seen by many as the only way to get by, let alone thrive.

This state of affairs is fuelled by chronically low wages, competition for jobs in a depressed economy and employers relentlessly exploiting people’s desperation to earn by compelling them to work harder, for longer, for less.

This leads to a fundamentally unhealthy, society.  It leaves working age people with relatively little time or will to engage in the activities which actually make life worth living such as spending time with family, pursuing academic or creative interests, exercise and rest. Naturally it follows that such a society would be inherently unhappy, experiencing problems with drugs and alcohol as people seek diversion in the limited time they have.

Lastly, when compelled by society to spend forty hours or more a week plus commuting time in a job you hate, that you feel trapped in but had to compete to get in the first place, it tends to promote negative attitudes towards our fellow humans.

Does all that sound familiar?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Advances in technology should be freeing humanity from labour rather than merely shuffling the populace from low paid work in factories and farms into low paid work in call centres and retail.

The concept that a person’s worth is directly connected to the wealth they create (for others) is fundamentally broken, especially when you consider that the vast majority of money is created out of thin air by private banks and what’s more, that money is created as debt.

A banking executive can create more notional wealth with the press of a button than a worker could earn in a lifetime, with the cost of those riches heaped onto the poor strivers who have taken on debt to improve or merely sustain their lives. At the same time, a single far sighted individual can develop a product which creates a thousand jobs, saves innumerable work hours and so on. In a world of such contrasts, what is the point in one human worker ant grinding themselves to nothing in the name of a slightly increased pittance?

The idea of a population which is held in drudgery and ignorance, slaving to both create and afford goods or provide services which are unnecessary or deliberately inefficient is one which seems to belong to dystopian fiction such as Brave New World or 1984, but it is how our current society operates.

It is not a fantasy to imagine a world where human labour is all but defunct, where people mostly do what they are interested in doing, while those with the skills and inclination to administrate society and tend to the machines that do all the heavy lifting do so out of a sense of community, or even just for the challenge rather than for the notion of monetary gain which would, at that point seem quite quaint, even childish.

In this instance, I’m not even suggesting such a utopian idea of ‘fully automated luxury communism’ but an appreciation of the fact that a well rested, happy populace with disposable income and the time to appreciate it would be a good thing.

Such simple ideas as shorter work hours, better wages and a social security net worth the name would be of immense benefit to Scottish society. People would have more time and money while being less fearful, stressed and angry.

From a purely economic point of view, reduced hours means more jobs which means less payments of jobseeker’s allowance and higher income tax receipts as more people earn money.

Higher wages means yet more tax receipts and the creation of new jobs as people with disposable income tend to spend it.

A better social security system leads to less sickness from work, less stress and a happier, healthier population which would reduce policing and healthcare costs to the state.

Imagine that, we can be happier AND richer at the same time if only we can drag ourselves away from the idea that workers are a unit cost to be minimised.

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