Appeal for a Shorter Work Week

Capitalism has much to recommend it. In a fallen world where every system is deeply flawed, capitalism has given us Google, penicillin, and time-delay features for our washing machines. But it exacts a high price—security and time.

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes’ predicted that within a hundred years, per capita income would rise sufficiently to meet people’s basic needs, and no one would need to work more than fifteen hours a week. In light of our failure to realize Keynes’s vision, Robert and Edward Skidelsky wrote, How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life. The Skidelsy’s argue that although income did increase as Keyne’s anticipated, so did an insatiable desire for consumer goods. They explain this as resulting from 1) capitalism’s dependency on the public desire for more goods, for capital to continue to grow, and 2) public failure, both political and personal, to critically examine what the good life might be and how many material goods it would actually require.

Further complications include the consequences of two-earner homes. In The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke, Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi show how today’s two-earner homes are less financially secure than the one-earner homes of the twentieth century. In a number of states today, fixed costs are sufficiently high that if one spouse gets injured, or if an ailing family member needs care, or if the couple divorces, they are often propelled towards bankruptcy. Bankruptcy rates have reached record highs.

A number of researchers study how companies can boost productivity and cut costs through various mixtures of flexible time and telecommuting trying to help both companies and employees (the better the employee work/life balance, the higher their productivity—see