The Four-Hour Workday

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During the heat of the fight for the eight-hour day in the 1930s, the Industrial Workers of the World were already making cartoon handbills for what they considered the next great horizon: a four-hour day, a four-day week, and a wage people can live on. “Why not?” the IWW propaganda asked.

It’s a good question. A four-hour workday with a livable wage could solve a lot of our most nagging problems. If everyone worked fewer hours, for instance, there would be more jobs for the unemployed to fill. The economy wouldn’t be able to produce quite as much, which means it wouldn’t be able to pollute as much, either; rich countries where people work fewer hours tend to have lower carbon footprints. Less work would leave plenty of time for family and for child care, ending the agony over “work-life balance.” Gone would be the plague of overwork, which increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

Nathan Schneider writes about the dying dream of the four-hour work day, which was once a big rallying cry of the Wobblies, and not to be confused with the Four-Hour Work WEEK, or the Four-Hour Body for that matter.

I have been working in very limited capacity post-baby and I keep joking with friends that doing two hours of work a day is VERY IDEAL. I recommend it to everyone and society-at-large. Too bad we need money to live and health insurance to not-die. If not though: something to think about.

Two hours is kind of rushed, though. Not much time for g-chat. What you want, or what I want, is four hours to do two hours of work. This way you have some purpose and somewhere to go, and some way of interacting with the world, but you also get to come home for lunch, then sit in the park and contemplate the void. Or you know, spend like six hours a day breastfeeding an infant and reading Twitter. EITHER WAY!

We have stopped imagining, as Keynes thought it so reasonable to do, that our grandchildren might have it easier than ourselves. We hope that they’ll have jobs, maybe even jobs that they like.

The new dream of overwork has taken hold with remarkable tenacity. Hardly anyone talks about expecting or even deserving shorter workdays anymore; the best we can hope for is the perfect job, one that also happens to be our passion. In the dogged, lonely pursuit of it, we don’t bother organizing with our co-workers. We’re made to think so badly of ourselves as to assume that if we had more free time, we’d squander it.

God that last part is so real. SO, SO REAL.

Image via Wikimedia Communism

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