Save the world, work less - Page 2

With climate change threatening life as we know it, perhaps it's time to revive the forgotten goal of spending less time on our jobs

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What I'm talking about is something more radical, a change that meets the daunting and unaddressed challenge that climate change is presenting. Let's start the discussion in the range of a full day off to cutting our work hours in half — and eliminating half of the wasteful, exploitive, demeaning, make-work jobs that this economy-on-steroids is creating for us, and forcing us to take if we want to meet our basic needs.

Taking even a day back for ourselves and our environment will seem like crazy-talk to many readers, even though our bosses would still command more days each week than we would. But the idea that our machines and other innovations would lead us to work far less than we do now — and that this would be a natural and widely accepted and expected part of economic evolution — has a long and esteemed philosophical history.

Perhaps this forgotten goal is one worth remembering at this critical moment in our economic and environmental development.

 

HISTORY LESSON

Author and historian Chris Carlsson has been beating the "work less" drum in San Francisco since Jimmy Carter was president, when he and his fellow anti-capitalist activists decried the dawning of an age of aggressive business deregulation that continues to this day.

They responded with creative political theater and protests on the streets of the Financial District, and with the founding of a magazine called Processed World, highlighting how new information technologies were making corporations more powerful than ever without improving the lives of workers.

"What do we actually do all day and why? That's the most basic question that you'd think we'd be talking about all the time," Carlsson told us. "We live in an incredibly powerful and overarching propaganda society that tells you to get your joy from work."

But Carlsson isn't buying it, noting that huge swaths of the economy are based on exploiting people or the planet, or just creating unproductive economic churn that wastes energy for its own sake. After all, the Gross Domestic Product measures everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

"The logic of growth that underlies this society is fundamentally flawed," Carlsson said. "It's the logic of the cancer cell — it makes no sense."

What makes more sense is to be smart about how we're using our energy, to create an economy that economizes instead of just consuming everything in its path. He said that we should ask, "What work do we need to do and to what end?"

We used to ask such questions in this country. There was a time when working less was the goal of our technological development.

"Throughout the 19th century, and well into the 20th, the reduction of worktime was one of the nation's most pressing issues," professor Juliet B. Schor wrote in her seminal 1991 book The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. "Through the Depression, hours remained a major social preoccupation. Today these debates and conflicts are long forgotten."

Work hours were steadily reduced as these debates raged, and it was widely assumed that even greater reductions in work hours was all but inevitable. "By today, it was estimated that we could have either a 22-hour week, a six-month workyear, or a standard retirement age of 38," Schor wrote, citing a 1958 study and testimony to Congress in 1967.

But that didn't happen. Instead, declining work hours leveled off in the late 1940s even as worker productivity grew rapidly, increasing an average of 3 percent per year 1948-1968. Then, in the 1970s, workers in the US began to work steadily more hours each week while their European counterparts moved in the opposite direction.

"People tend to think the way things are is the way it's always been," Carlsson said. "Once upon a time, they thought technology would produce more leisure time, but that didn't happen."

Comments

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

Wait just a little - the folding of the SFBG into the SF Weekly is only a matter of time...

Posted by racer さ on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 4:47 am

Perhaps you haven't noticed that our page counts and revenues have been increasing in recent months. The Guardian is here to stay, despite your schizophrenic hopes for the demise of a newspaper that you seem to read with real fervor.

Posted by steven on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 12:25 pm

I don't blame you for talking up your book, and all, but you cannot seriously expect people to believe you are objective on this topic, if on any.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

LOL. I've been reading the SFBG off and on since 1965 (and was even very briefly a Guardian intern, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth).

I can't help myself!

"The Guardian is here to stay"

I wouldn't make that assumption about any alt-weekly paper, let alone an alt-weekly owned by a company that owns two alt-weeklies in the same city.

Posted by racer さ on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 11:38 am
Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

I try to live by it myself. I try to live below my means and keep my work to about what the average Dutch citizen puts in -about 30 hours a week, with plenty of vacation time. The vacations are important too. You do better at your job when you have that mental break.

Some time back I heard a program on KPFA -they were talking about John Maynard Keynes. He made an interesting prediction. He extrapolated the growth in productivity and figured that by this time, we'd be working about 11 hours per week in order to maintain the same living standards. People thought he was crazy at the time, but it turned out that his prediction of productivity growth was spot on. Where he was wrong, was in how society responded to the productivity growth. The problem is that the benefit of the productivity growth has accrued almost entirely to the very top.

It's nice to say that we should try and work less. Nice for those of us who have the means to somewhat pull it off. But the real problem is not cultural. The real problem is this exploitative economic system we live under.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 15, 2014 @ 6:13 pm

move to Holland?

They rejected marcos but you might sneak in.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2014 @ 6:42 pm

"The problem is that the benefit of the productivity growth has accrued almost entirely to the very top. "

And at the very bottom. Every day I walk to work past supportive housing full of residents who are young, fit, and restless, with nothing to do all day but hang out front and see what stirs up. In other words, living my dream of early retirement, but unlike me, they're doing it downtown in one of the greatest cities in the world.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 7:20 am

redistributed to the lazy, the incompetent and the criminal.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 7:31 am

I don't, btw. People "see" what they want to see. You have no idea what the life circumstances of these residents are. Maybe they have a disability you don't know about. Maybe they are among the millions of people who have felony convictions but now can't get jobs because of discrimination against people with criminal records, even though they want to. Maybe it's their day off from work, or they work a 3AM to 11AM shift at some crap job. Maybe they're going to school. You have no right to make a snap judgment about someone you don't know.

But even if I did agree that these people were just lazy bums, I think it's fair to say that the expenditure of resources that the country spends on these folks, is dwarfed by the resources being hoarded by the top 1%. A few dozen people are now worth as much as one half of the entire United States put together. This is unconscionable, and ultimately unsustainable because it is unconscionable.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 7:58 am

Sure, at the very top there is insane amounts of money. But don't underestimate what it costs to support a person for a lifetime in housing, health care, and living expenses. A few million, I'm sure.

So we have stupidity and unsustainability at both ends. But, in our political system, it's the extremes of the spectrum that get serviced, because that's where the reliable vote are. All at the cost of the middle class.

By the way, it's proximity that has colored my what was once -- like your's -- romanticized notions of the poor.... Check that, I still have romanticized notions of the truly poor in the world... I no longer have a romanticized view of our dependent class here in the U.S.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 8:19 am
Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 9:35 am

not some romanticized ideal. Far from it. Your experiences may be based on "proximity"; mine are based on living it. There was a time in my life when I hit rock bottom -not due to crime or drugs or alcohol or even health (which incidentally is the cause of a whole lot of the poverty out there). No, in my case it was just shitty personal/financial circumstances -call it lousy luck. I was actually living out of my car for a while, which incidentally is how many homeless people live, contrary to the perception. Later I managed to get into residential motel -basically an SRO. The lady who ran the place, who looked like she'd been in similar situations herself at other times in her life, told me the rules. Basically no drugs or alcohol, and rent was to be paid in advance once a week. And once a week we'd get access to the food room, where we could have our pick of donated food items.

The people I met there weren't a bad group of people. Most of them were just hard on their luck like me. And most of them worked. They just didn't make enough to get by, let alone save up for first, last, and security deposit. A construction worker who went through long unemployment spells. A nurse trying to raise two kids on her own. A nurse?, you ask. Yeah, I thought nurses made good money too. Apparently not all of them. Depends on your qualifications, I guess. This one was getting paid $9/hr.

I knew a guy delivering pizzas every night at age 62, even though he was pretty blind at night. Got into two accidents over the course of a year. Probably had cataracts. At 65, he could get them operated on because that's the magic age that the government says you're entitled to healthcare. If you're lucky enough to make it to that age, the government says "Oh, alright, I guess we won't let you die on the street like a dog." That is, if he didn't get killed on the job before then. He worked as a cab driver all his life before, but never managed to save for retirement. No medical and no pension. He planned on working till the day he died. Unfortunately driving is his only skill, and not a good one at that! Of course someone like that is not only at risk himself, but also a risk to others. Who knows, one night this guy might be trying to get back to the store in time to take one more run because an extra $2 tip could really come in handy, and crash his car into the Mercedes of some CFO who doesn't believe in socialized medicine and government handouts to the poor -someone who thinks the poor are lazy bums who need to work harder. Now wouldn't that be an irony of fate!

But I digress. For me, dire poverty wasn't a long-term circumstance. Just enough to get a good understanding of what it's like. I had education and skill sets I could fall back on. And more importantly, I didn't have a lot of disadvantages that make it all but impossible for some to climb out of poverty, like an ongoing addiction, health issues, or a felony conviction. But even with those advantages, I think back and realize that as financially successful as I am today, I nearly fell through the cracks. If it could happen to me, it can happen to anyone.

That's why I don't begrudge anyone their meager assistance. Most of them pay their way anyway. And the ones that don't are a drop in the bucket compared to the billions we spend to maintain the top 1% in the lifestyle that they think they're entitled to. Assistance to the poor is something I'm fine with paying for, if nothing else, then at least for the sake of a harmonious society. The wealthy smugly think they are immune to the misery of others, but that is not true.

As for the numbers... the numbers speak for themselves. It cannot be overstated that the Forbes 400 are "worth" -btw, I *hate* that word when used to describe the value of human beings this way, so scratch that -POSSESS more than the bottom 50% of Americans. Combined. This country can surely do better than that.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 10:48 pm

various classes of people that you don't like.

Why the double standard?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 9:32 am

Former climate change believers know science has been 95% certain for 32 years.
Know YOU know.

Get ahead of the curve;
*Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians.
*Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

Posted by mememine69 on Apr. 15, 2014 @ 7:36 pm

Your stream of consciousness rant made up of jumbled thoughts makes absolutely no sense. Try taking your meds before you post next time.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2014 @ 8:43 pm

Another liberal wet dream. But who would pay for all the free stuff?

Posted by Chromefields on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 6:30 am

Sssh... a movement like this will finally complete the transformation of San Francisco into a hard-working, Asian city.

Let Steven and the other gweilos whine that they work too hard, and that they need to work even less, while industrious immigrants steal their lunch.

The more ways they try to stifle competition, they more they will lose.

Posted by racer さ on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 6:56 am

Especially since SFBG cannot whine about that because Asians are colored people of color.

Why can't Asians just be victims, criminals, druggies and welfare queens?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 7:02 am

With one exception, everyone quoted in the article was white (no Asians quoted), and most of them are academics, who of course have turned leisure into an art form already.

Posted by racer さ on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 7:22 am

We already do. We just don't get the fruits of the labor.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 9:25 pm

"By today, it was estimated that we could have either a 22-hour week, a six-month workyear, or a standard retirement age of 38,"

Not to worry - the SEIU continues to work towards that noble goal for its members...

Posted by racer さ on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 6:40 am

Thank god we'll all have more time to make art.

Posted by Chromefields on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 7:37 am

The 1% depend on you!

Posted by Greg on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 8:00 am
Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 9:33 am

It is just busi-ness

Couldn't agree more. I have written both Paul Krugman & Robert Reich on this topic

Unfortunately it is incomprehensible to either.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 9:13 am

Not much bias there then?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 9:37 am

"Bias" in favor of the facts by a Nobel laureate isn't even comparable to bias in favor of damaging economic fallacies by shills for the rich. Krugman and Reich are doing a great service in this country, marshaling solid fact-based arguments to counter the ridiculous propaganda of the rich and their right-wing enablers.

Posted by steven on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

that Krugman (rhymes with Brugmann) and Reich aren't biased.

Hmmmmm.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 12:54 pm

""Bias" in favor of the facts by a Nobel laureate"

LOL. You are aware, Steven, that most Nobel laureates in economics don't agree with Krugman's partisan hackery, right?

But that's OK - I'm more than willing to settle all economic issues by having a vote of Nobel laureates in economics to decide the issue - you would hardly like the results, however.

Bye, bye, rent control!

Posted by racer さ on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 11:42 am

claiming that it really isn't bias at all, on account of the truth being "obvious".

To the point where if you try and argue that, say, global warming is greatly exaggerated, they will argue that you should not be able to argue that because (to them) you are so obviously and self-evidently wrong.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 12:12 pm

The truth isn't always obvious, but it is worth seeking, and when one looks, he or she will often find ample evidence. The IPPC has been a diligent effort to analyze and interpret all available evidence on climate change, a rigorous and peer-reviewed process finding that global warming is happening and that it's being caused by human activity. If you read the report, you'll find it's meticulously documented and quite conservative in its findings, indicating the varying levels of certainty that we can have about each claim and finding -- which is the best the scientific community can do about making predictions based on such complex and unprecedented circumstances. It is the opposite of "greatly exaggerated." Similarly, there has been clear evidence of a concentration of wealth that is inequitable, unproductive, and damaging to many natural and social systems, including capitalism itself, over the long term (read "Capital in the 21st Century" for the most exhaustive study to date). These truth aren't obvious to everyone, but there is far more evidence to support them than the faith-based and self-interested economic and environmental fictions put out there by the rich and the right.

Posted by steven on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 1:00 pm

is over 90%, although of course some of them are paid to research it and so have a conflict of interest.

The percentage of economist who believe that rent control is a bad policy is of a similar order, but in that case you choose to ignore the experts.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

Scientists base their opinions on fact. Economists are pundits with pie charts.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 12:42 am

That's where you're wrong: scientists might get paid for the work they do, but not for arriving at particular outcomes, unless the "science" sponsored by the fossil fuel industry that seeks to sow doubt about climate change for self-interested reasons, which is the epitome of bias. In fact, scientific studies are rigorously peer-reviewed to eliminate not just bias, but also flawed methodology. Economists are not scientists, they simply create theories on human behavior that end up being wrong almost as often as they are right. Economic theories are also heavily influenced by ideology, values, and beliefs -- and they often begin with a conclusion they set out to prove, unless pure science. Climate scientists do studies that can be replicated over and over again, with those results speaking for themselves. Only now, after decades of research into climate change, has the body of evidence been so compelling that most climate scientists are willing to conclude that global warming is happening that it's caused by humans.

Posted by steven on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 10:09 am

I'm impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog that's both educative and interesting,
and let me tell you, you've hit the nail on the head.
The problem is something that not enough men and women are speaking
intelligently about. I'm very happy I came across this in my search for something concerning this.

Posted by optimum blender on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 1:42 pm

dammit

Posted by lillipublicans on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 11:02 am

Nobody seems to address this issue: the standard of living is higher now. Even with a lot of the wealth going to the 1%, we could all work less now if we lived turn of the century lifestyles. If we didn't have to have a cell phone, TV, cars, eat meat nearly every meal, and live in expensive cities. I know some of these things are necessities just to get by in modern society, but not all. People are largely working more hours to have more convenience and material possessions than those philosophers dreaming of 20 hr workweeks could even conceive of.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 10:09 am

Very compelling diagnosis by Steve Jones giving full-throated, and clear-eyed assessment of the current unsustainable zeitgeist. The prescription though is not just work less; it's also redistribute the wealth.
As nice and folksy as cuddly Warren Buffett and George Shultz are, poster-boys for hypercapitalism, nobody should be allowed to accumulate obscene wealth like that; it all needs to be confiscated and redistributed to everyday Janes and Joes.
Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz in his Of the 1%, by the 1% for the 1% piece in Vanity Fair is no fool.
They do it better in Sweden, Australia etc
Our oligarchs and plutocrats here in the good ole USA are second to none. Salute that and take the Pledge of Allegiance: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for the 1% hi-tech and Wall Street rich.
You gotta luv it.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 11:01 am

to have policies in place that reward you for that at the expense of those who are not lazy?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 11:17 am

In other words, you are a crass idiot who would rather level unsupported insults than argue any position connected to my article or this reasonable commenter.

Posted by steven on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 1:04 pm

It was simply a derivative whine at the fact that others succeed in life, and that he feels too precious to want to exert effort to better himself.

I think that there may be some half-decent arguments for wealth redistribution, but the fact that someone just wants an easy life on somebody else's dime isn't one of them.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

Very compelling diagnosis by Steve Jones giving full-throated, and clear-eyed assessment of the current unsustainable zeitgeist. The prescription though is not just work less; it's also redistribute the wealth.
As nice and folksy as cuddly Warren Buffett and George Shultz are, poster-boys for hypercapitalism, nobody should be allowed to accumulate obscene wealth like that; it all needs to be confiscated and redistributed to everyday Janes and Joes.
Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz in his Of the 1%, by the 1% for the 1% piece in Vanity Fair is no fool.
They do it better in Sweden, Australia etc
Our oligarchs and plutocrats here in the good ole USA are second to none. Salute that and take the Pledge of Allegiance: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for the 1% hi-tech and Wall Street rich.
You gotta luv it.

Posted by SFDave4U on Apr. 19, 2014 @ 3:56 am

Life is beautiful. Let's go eat fresh sushi and eat green tea ice cream.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 19, 2014 @ 10:17 am

Well, I'm using electricity from Excel Energy to read this. That might not be green. You're article was probably published on paper which is made from trees. You probably eat food grown by farmers who work. Maybe you use alternative energy like solar or wind. Those forms of energy could only be made possible by PEOPLE WORKING.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 9:48 am

More excuses for people to be lazy and then when they are saving the planet by working less, that will give them more time to whine and complain because they dont' have as much as someone else who works more and then will demand more taxation for income distribution based on the fact that they dont' make as much.

If you want to work less, great go ahead, this is America. But you should pull your own weight and not let other people carry you. One of the problems i have with ACA is that it is based on your income. If you have the ability to but only work 20 hours a week because it meets your needs, you will get a subsidy (paid for by someone else's taxes) to pay for your insurance but if you continue to work 40 hours a week, you would have to pay the full premium, how is that fair when the first person who is capable of working more gets a discount on their premium while the person who continues to work has to pay the full amount. What kind of logic is that?

Posted by John Kessler on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 6:03 pm

I see it as a benefit when people have time to be full citizens. As it is, the very rich have both money an time to fully participate in the political system. Most of the rest are too busy trying to survive, which incidentally is exactly how the rich want it to be. But a true, functioning democracy *requires* that citizens actively participate. What you call "whining" is actually citizens exercising their civic duty. And that requires that they have the time to do something other than work.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 8:20 am

Activism is generally by those with lots of time on their hands, so the results are biased in favor of those with less.

Using money to lobby redresses that imbalance and gives a voice to those who can't spend all day every day protesting and lobbying and agitating.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 8:38 am

The problem with using money as political currency is that it's undemocratic. Very few have the kind of money it takes to meaningfully influence the political system, so you essentially get a system biased in favor of those who have enormous amounts of it -not even the 1%, but the .001%. The capitalists will bleat that this is perfectly fine, because these people must be worth more than thousands of their fellow citizens combined, but that's absurd on its face. And patently undemocratic. You may think that government by and for the elites is fine, but that's an oligarchy, not democracy. I believe in democracy.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 10:27 am

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