Sunday, August 4, 2013

On a Four-Hour Workday

Stephen Elliott-Buckley echoes Bertrand Russell's idea of the 4-hour workday.  Russell in brief:
Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion. Since men [and women] will not be tired in their spare time, they will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid.
And many of us - maybe half - could do it easily but for our unbridled desire for more stuff.  It's an easy fix for many problems if those who need less money simply worked fewer hours and freed up a job for someone else who needs it to survive.  If all the teachers who are living comfortably worked part-time, we'd be able to hire a bunch of new recruits and get some fresh ideas in the system.

But we won't.  It's too hard to give up something we're used to - or to give up the potential to have more than you need, that security of a bit of cash in your savings account for a rainy day.  Most people, regardless of income, tend to think it would be so nice to just have a little more.  Time, money, and counter space:  no matter how much you have, it feels like you'd be so much better off with just a little more.  But the more counter space we have, the more crap we pile on it.  And the more time I have, the more cat videos I watch.  I can putter for days.  Even though I want more time to myself, I'm not confident that I'll use it well at all.   And money just gets us stuff we really don't need.

The difference with money, however, is that if I work more hours, it prevents others from working at all.

But it's not something that could be legislated because circumstances are so individual.  Some people who make a ton of money still feel poor - still feel like they're struggling even thought they own house with rooms they don't use and a cottage and a couple of cars.  They're the ones that it would be nice to convince to give up a little stuff for more time.  But others have parents and children depending on them to survive.  Some people really need to make $90,000 a year just to get by.  But the rest of us...?  Not so much.  Yet without some legislation, the 4-hour workday won't happen.  We're too greedy.

And, of course, people should be able to have all they want since they worked for it.  But it's clearly unethical to work full-time for some luxuries when others can't find work at all for basic necessities.  Isn't it?

Marx thought we shouldn't be allowed to leave an inheritance to our kids.  And I admit I'm largely saving up for their futures.  If I knew it would be distributed to the state more equitably, rather than to my own kids, I likely wouldn't be squirrelling away so much.  But they're my kids!  From a world-saving perspective, I like the idea.  But from a personal perspective, I'd fight against it.

I'm going part-time next year, but just for a year because I'm a bit worried about sending all my kids to university - especially if they can't find jobs to pay their own way.  And my furnace is going to die soon.  Yet I'm acutely aware of the many people struggling to make their rent payments.  It feels like some primitive survival of the individual (and family - my genes) reigning over survival of the species as a whole.

I'm not sure I'll spend my time on self-improvement and enlightenment as Russell suggest will happen to people less exhausted by the daily grind.  But I might put in a garden out back, and I'm hoping to make better meals for my kids.  I was planning to sit in on another teacher's class - one I'll likely teach after he retires in June, but I'll be teaching at the time.  I'm not sure why my principal couldn't swing that one request, but whatever.  At least it will free up a few sections for someone else.  Briefly.   


  1. As always, Marie, your post is thought-provoking. I find myself in agreement with your observations, but I also think that one of the additional impediments to more people job-sharing, working less so others can have a job, etc. is structural in nature.

    Many companies and unions think in very traditional ways so that, for example, leaves of absences for protracted periods of time are not still the exception, rather than the norm. Even in teaching, most boards may have a four-over-five provision, but the number of leaves a person can take are fairly limited.

    A new way of thinking, as embraced by Germany, is needed. You may find this link of interest, as it decribes how that country avoids laying off people uring times of slow demand:

    In terms of the teaching profession, what has bothered me for a long time is the fact that some teachers, when they retire, go on to do supply work, thereby denying young people an opportunity to get a foothold into the profession. About a year before I retired, i wrote an article in our local teacher publication criticising such behaviour, and i took considerable flack from people for it. Nonetheless, it is still something that I see as largely motivated by selfishness and no regard for others.

  2. You're right about the restrictions. I can only take a part time leave of absence for two consecutive years - and that's for nobody's benefit that I can see. It's just what it's always been. And about retired teachers - absolutely. Right now in Ontario, with the pension teachers get (about 3/4 take-home pay), I don't think any retired teachers should be allowed to supply. But, just like the kids, we're all so uppity about our rights, we forget about our responsibilities.

    The idea at the link look like it could be easily implemented here, right now.


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