Friday, May 11, 2007

Work Hours

Bertrand Russell, in his title essay In Praise of Idleness, claims that work (defined as “moving around bits of matter at or near earth’s surface”) if far too often idolized. Russell argues (he was writing in 1935, but this still applies) that machines have enabled us to work less and keep up a decent standard of living. Instead, according to Russell, machines have been used to make us overwork.

Howard Woodhouse, a coordinator for the University of Saskatchewan, gives a new introduction to the book In Praise of Idleness (which contains the essay of the same name). Woodhouse modifies Russell’s definition of work to “moving bits of information around at or near Earth’s surface” to capture the essence of Russell’s argument and apply it to the present day. Woodhouse reiterates Russell’s claim, saying that new information technology was supposed to give use more leisure time, but instead has been used to aid overworking by monitoring our work hours closely.

Rabble columnist Jerry West has written a mean-spirited article against business and government officials who’re against a $10 minimum wage and corporate taxes for extending public services. West makes some good points nonetheless.

West makes note of the increasing gap between rich and poor, as well as how we’ve been working longer as the gap’s increased. Technology, it turns out, didn’t give us more leisure time as those of the 1950s predicted.

While I don’t support Russell’s Utopian prospect of a four-hour work day, I do believe a 35 hour work week is practicable.

France initiated a 35 hour work week. The effect on the economy, I’d say, is negligible. At first, unemployment fell and the economy grow, latter things returned to normal.

The benefit of leisure and family time are the main reasons we should peruse a 35-hour work week, not because of any specific economic goals. Staffing essential public services, like hospitals, must be planned before hand of course, to avoid a fiasco like the one in France.

Working single parents would benefit most, but all of us could use a little more leisure to peruse our interests. Coupled with a public education that encouraged scholarly pursuits for their own shake (as Russell suggested in 1935), a 35 hour work week would result in an enlightened public.

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