The 6 hour work-day

Sounds good, doesn’t it? I know I’d like to spend less hours with my nose to someone else’s grindstone, and I imagine my American readers feel even more strongly than I do, as studies indicate they work even harder (and longer hours) than we British. A post at Our Technological Future got me sparked up; Jan-Willem talks about an article from Australia, where a new report has announced that the secret to happiness is working less. No news to me, but the article he quotes seems to express the opinion that competition and the urge to ‘get ahead’ is so ingrained in us that people who aren’t fussed about money or the promotion ladder are labelled as lazy slackers.

Well, I’ve never doubted my status as a lazy slacker – I’ll work if I have to, or if it’s at something I love to do, but otherwise it’s “helloooo, sofa and sf novel – pass me a beer.” Work to live, don’t live to work, and all that. But I’ve worked with a fair few people who gave the impression that having any interests beyond one’s job was tantamount to having no ambition. I see a huge logical flaw in that position, but what the hell, it’s not my life. You want to chase the corporate handshake for 25 years, go ahead; I hope the money is all you hoped it would be.

But there’s a more important point to consider, which J-W highlights rather well:

“Thanks to exponential acceleration in our technological progression, we are seeing industrial revolutions following up much faster. Soon, we can expect one every few years. And with every revolution, life gets better.

The first revolution we will see in about ten years, is that of nanotechnology which has the potential to make products extremely cheap and outperform our current products by about a factor of thousand. Recent developments suggest robots will soon be entering the mainstream and they will be taking plenty of our jobs away. You’d think this would cause huge economic depression. But keep in mind that if our economy is entirely automized, robots will be doing all the work and we’d be free to party all day singing yippee yippee.”

OK, so it’s a bit of a blue-sky pitch and (having no idea of how economics works) I can’t vouch for the veracity of that last statement. But the basic point is true; automation is chewing the guts out of many traditional employment markets, most notably manufacturing. The UK has hardly any manufacturing industry left whatsoever, but that’s largely due to outsourcing – why pay a British guy who’ll bitch like hell about his poor wages when you can get your stuff built in Asia by people who are only too eager to accept any wage (that being better than none at all)?

But once robots become cheaper and more effective, the tech-sweatshops will drop their staff like hot potatoes. Robots, after all, can work all night as well as all day. Plus, they never start unions or complain to foreign journalists.

So, eventually, there’ll be a lot less formal employment opportunities; we’ll probably all lose hours from our work schedules, and not through our employers being concerned for our wellbeing, but because they won’t need us so much. Some of us won’t be needed at all. Unemployment will explode, even if governments choose to massage the figures like they do here in the UK.

However, it’s not all bad. More time on our hands will enable us to monetise our interests and hobbies. Remember all that recent talk about crowdsourcing? It’ll be much more prevalent when there are greater numbers of talented and educated persons with spare time in their diaries, and those people will be keen to turn their pastimes into money, however little. Earn your beer money for doing something you enjoy, you say? Where do I sign up?

Obviously there will be huge social problems if vast unemployment occurs without major changes in the current social systems of the world. Which is why I was astonished and pleased to see, in a post at Amor Mundi, that some US politicians are actually pushing for a ‘basic income guarantee’ system, whereby the poor get tax breaks that are paid for by the better-off. Once the number of people with no income from work expands, they’re going to need to be fed and housed somehow, and you can’t tell them to go and get jobs that don’t exist. Forgive me for being pessimistic, but I’m sure this will go nowhere in the current political climate. However, the fact that some politicians are actually pushing it publicly has got to be a hopeful sign for the future.

Only time will tell on this matter, I suppose; but unless the march of technology slows or stops (which it shows no signs of doing whatsoever), things are definitely going to change in the world of work. What remains to be seen is how people, and their governments, cope with the changes. It is to be hoped (though not expected) that the quality of people’s lives will be enhanced.

I, for one, look forward to a time when I can spend more time doing the things I really care about, thanks to having to spend less time making other people rich. Maybe I’ll even get some proper writing done! 😉

3 thoughts on “The 6 hour work-day”

  1. One major problem. I suspect with too much free time and income divorced from responsibility, we will have far more social problems. I stronly suspect that a lot of the terrorism in the west is subsidized by the welfare system.
    Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.

  2. That may be the case, but to dismantle welfare in the name of combatting terrorism is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Terrorism may well be subsidised by welfare payments, but it would surely be better to remove the economic inequalities that make terrorism an appealing option, than to make the innocent suffer on the behalf of potential terrorists (which is one way that terrorism gains grass-roots sympathy and support).

    Idle hands are the devil’s workshop? Possibly so, but I believe that people with sufficient money to live contented and disease-free lives are going to find far more enjoyable things to do than fight against a system that makes their lives easier. However, idle people with no resources or income and no chance of getting any, surrounded by an affluent society that denies them the opportunity to enjoy themselves, are much more likely to start thinking about attacking the system.

  3. Terrorism today is religion-motivated, not class struggle oriented. Most of the suicide terrorists of 9/11 were well educated and from well to do families. It’s in Europe that you see a lot of the welfare dependent, hyper-procreating muslims who go to the pro-jihadi mosque regularly. It’s a great gig if you can get it–on welfare with lots of babies at home, but go to the mosque and agitate for a muslim caliphate. Gravy.

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