originally published March 22, 2013
There are a few topics to which I will almost never turn while searching for fodder for my daily writing regimen. Religion is one, because I don’t feel the need to fuel heated, angry debates any more than I believe I should be pushing my own chosen religion (Jediism, of course) on others. Another is cricket because I still have no idea how the rules of that game function, and I kind of enjoy my ignorance. Lastly there’s economics because I’m usually swatting at my subjects with the flimsy flyswatter of lethargy-inspired humor, and there simply isn’t a whole lot funny about economics.
But today I don’t care. I’m going to stamp my fist repeatedly against my desk and write with passion, with fervor, and with a close eye on my word count because I really might run out of steam before I hit a thousand words.
The first gripe that gets me clenching my hair in furrowed frustration is the concept of the four-day work week.
I think the last time I felt rested and refreshed after a two-day weekend was when I ingested a salt-shaker’s worth of cocaine on a Monday morning. That doesn’t help me this weekend, because I really can’t handle doing that two Mondays in a row. But the fact is, working five days for two days of relief is insane. My Saturday is often a write-off, as we catch up on the trivial matters of suburban life: cleaning the house, mowing the lawn (or, since it doesn’t look like winter will end this year, mourning it), grocery shopping and polishing the wooden shelf in my trophy case where one day my Pulitzer will go. For five blissful months of the year I have a Sunday date with football.
That’s my weekend. Frivolities like taking in a matinee or walking through a corn maze mean that something else is getting bumped. Then I report back to the dreary existence of my Clark Kent day job while my inner Superman gets crammed back into his Fortress of Solitude for five days. It makes no sense!
(much like that metaphor)
I know, a lot of people are working four ten-hour shifts a week, where their job allows for it. But have we not progressed sufficiently as a civilization to allow for four eight-hour days? Can’t we all simply work a little less and enjoy the fruits of our sociological progression a little bit more?
I presently work as a government drone in a bland fluorescent office with humorless industrial carpeting and a beige particle-board desk. I could easily pack my work week into eight fewer hours, losing only a handful of my Reddit hours and one of my mid-afternoon naps. Almost everyone in my building could do the same. I understand, shifting to a 32-hour standard work week would mess with people who get paid by the hour, and the transition would probably kick our economy square in the nuts, but someone out there has to be smart enough to figure this out.
For now the compromise appears to be the ten-hour day. If we can somehow throw in the Spain-style afternoon siesta, I’d say we have a deal.
The state government of Utah agrees with me. Well, not about the siesta thing, but in 2008 all government employees began working ten-hour days, Monday through Thursday. This saves the state money on heating, electricity, and air conditioning, while also reducing the stress level of every employee. It only makes sense – the worst part of any workday is that moment of realization when you first wake up that you have to drag yourself out of bed and deal with the world as a grown-up. Reduce those moments from five to four every week, and lives will change.
And Friday is the right day to donate to the weekend; more holidays show up on Mondays.
Public schools in Hawaii tried out the four-day week in 2010, with positive results. Over one hundred rural school districts around the US have done the same thing, which saves heaps of money on fuelling yellow buses. I’m telling you, it’s time our economy evolves to provide us with more free time. Someone needs to start a movement, maybe print off some t-shirts and hats.
Others have toyed with different creative ways to pop our collective financial structure into a smoother gear. The ‘mincome’ (short for ‘minimum income’) experiment in Dauphin, Manitoba is one example. Back in 1974, the provincial and federal governments used the province as a petri dish. The idea was to test whether or not a guaranteed and unconditional annual income would cause the machinery of society to seize up. Would people stop working? Would there be no incentive to get up in the morning for a day of crushing gravel or threshing wheat? (I assume that’s all there is to do in Dauphin, Manitoba)
Depending on the size of your family, you would receive $3800, $4800 or $5800 annually. That doesn’t sound like much, but it works out to as much as $25,000 in today’s money. Any money earned above and beyond this minimum would be highly taxed, at around 60% – this is free money, but the governments still have to earn somehow.
Perhaps the most astounding thing about this program, which was a bold and ballsy move for governments to actually try out, is the absence of a final report after the experiment wrapped up in 1979. Luckily we have Dr. Evelyn Forget, who got her hands on the raw research and did a little data-crunching for us.
What the financial bottom-line was for the provincial and federal governments, I have no idea. But as to whether a guaranteed income meant that people would become disinterested in working, the answer is a firm no. Some may have worked less – I’d like to think someone was able to live the dream of shifting permanently to a 32-hour week. But people still worked. The wheels kept turning.
The only demographics that saw a solid drop in productivity were new mothers – and I think that’s understandable – and teenagers. The teens may have stopped working because they no longer had to hold a job to help support their families, or maybe the weed just got really good in Manitoba in the mid-70’s. Perhaps Dr. Forget’s research covers this.
I offer no conclusive suggestions. I’m barely qualified to operate a bank machine; I won’t be solving any of the world’s financial problems. But enough with the 5:2 ratio of obligation vs. recreation. Let’s give Friday a promotion. Let’s start thanking god for Thursday instead. Sure, that restaurant chain would have to change its name, but I’m sure they’d be happy to sacrifice for the betterment of humankind.
(new slogan: Got-T’Git TGIT!)