Monday, February 2, 2009

Working Less to Stimulate the Economy

We're now all painfully familiar with what happens when the free market runs amok. Markets go unregulated, businesses take on unfathomable risk, corporate execs line their pockets and Americans spend beyond their means. But probably the most unreported outcome of out-of-control capitalism has to be its effects on the American worker.

Today's workers are working longer hours than ever before. Being a work-a-holic in our society is not just a socially-accepted norm, but a badge of honor. Why is that? It's because our free market system run amok dictates that we work as long and as hard as possible. Corporate leaders reward workers for working beyond their human capacity so they can squeeze out every last ounce of productivity to make and sell as much stuff as possible so that we consume as much stuff as possible. And consume more stuff we do because we no longer have leisure time to enjoy our families, our friends or our favorite leisure activities so we need more stuff to fill the dark, empty void in our lives. We need something to show for it. We think, by god, if I'm working harder than ever before I need -- no I deserve -- more stuff to prove it!

It's all about the stuff, people. The evil, evil stuff. And some of that stuff is the green stuff and as a society, we're addicted to it. It's the stuff that makes us sick and not to mention fills our landfills.

The drive to make, sell and buy more stuff is running our workers and our families into the ground. It's taking a toll on our health. Who has time to exercise or cook a healthy meal? Who has time for medical checkup, much less a cancer screening? It's causing parents to spend less time with their families. Who has time to check kids' homework after spending 10 hours in the office? Who has time to monitor who my kid hangs out with after school? It's causing us to "work stupid because we're so tired" as Joan Blades points out in this post. Who has time to think or brain cells left to innovate? It's causing major amounts of stress. Depression, sleep-deprivation and obesity are by-products of this hyper-work environment. All of these effects have gone unmeasured and unnoticed as a consequence of capitalism at its extreme and they all come at a cost to our society and our economy.

So when we look at stimulating the economy, shouldn't we take a look at how to curb the effects of the extreme work environment on American families? I thought this proposal from Dean Baker at The Guardian to, among other things, provide tax incentives to employers that cut work hours or offered more paid vacation time was genius. Covering paid time off time might incent companies to create jobs to account for lost productivity. And it might incent people to spend more time and disposable income on leisure time rather than the stuff. Anyway, go read his article because my addled brain coming off of a 10-hour workday won't do it justice. He makes a great case for why working less would be a boon for our families and for our economy.

1 comment:

PunditMom said...

Wow. This is a great idea ... and I love it when there is new thinking outside the box!