to: Table of Contents
(A Shorter Workweek in the 1980s)
WORKING HOURS AND THE CONSERVATION OF ENERGY
A noted columnist told me once that our nation could no longer afford a shorter workweek. The days of cheap, plentiful energy are over, he said. We are reaching the limits of increased productivity through the use of power-driven machinery and techniques of mass production. In the future, people will have to work harder, not fewer hours, to keep living standards even at their present level. We will need to invest billions of dollars in solar collectors, new forms of transportation, pollution-control equipment, and related technologies, all of which will require vast expenditures of money and labor.
This is one energy-related argument against the shorter workweek. My wife raises another. She says: If there is a shorter workweek, it would ruin the natural environment. More and more people would be racing around the country on their motorcycles or in campers or pick-up trucks littering the roadsides with their empty beer cans, frightening the wild animals, burning up gasoline and causing trouble. It’s better to keep people at work where they are reasonably disciplined and productive than to give them more free time which the majority of workers would not know how to use.
The word “leisure” has a bad connotation from an energy standpoint. Middle-aged men in “leisure suits” are the same kinds of people who drive the big campers or cruise the lakes with 60-horsepower motors. The “leisure” industry offers such products as recreational vehicles, snowmobiles, and waterskis. Their common denominator is high consumption of energy. When energy becomes scarce, the first thought is to curtail recreational consumption such as by closing the gas stations on weekends.
Evidently the financial community regards leisure in this way. The Wall Street Journal reported: “When oil shipments to the U.S. were first embargoed in mid-October 1973, the biggest casualties in the stock market were equity issues related to leisure-time pursuits and travel - automobiles, amusement-park operators, boat makers, and similar enterprises.” But, as the energy scare subsided a year or two later, the big cars and motor homes bounced back. “Some of the best price recoveries from the market’s nadir in late 1974 have been chalked up by stocks most closely tied to the growing consensus that gasoline will be both available and affordable ... (For instance) Disney (an operator of theme parks in Florida and California, whose stock fell from $70 a share in 1973 to $17 a year later) has since rebounded to a 1976 high of $63 a share ... Coachman Industries (a maker of campers, trailers, motor homes, and other recreational vehicles) whose stock plunged from $24 to $2 a share in 1973, has been even more spectacular, climbing early this year (1976) to $33.25 a share, up 1,560% from its late-1973 low.”
leisure and energy consumption
As we head into the decade of the 1980s, everyone must realize that the energy problem is here to stay. What implications does this have for the proposal to reduce work time? By the conventional way of thinking, its impact would have to be negative. Leisure is a luxury which can only lead to increased energy use. Perhaps that is true. If working people are given more free time without any attempt to reduce consumption of energy, then perhaps the critics are right in arguing that our nation cannot afford shorter hours. On the other hand, spending more hours away from work does not necessarily mean that people will use this time operating energy-wasteful gadgets. It is possible that they would develop other pastimes given more opportunity to cultivate these.
American society, it has been argued, is an energy-squandering society. With 6% of the world’s population, we consume 40% of its energy. Also, we are a leisure-starved society. We are victims to that tendency of worldly “success” when, as Emerson observed, possessions begin to own us rather than the other way around. A shorter workweek would change the rhythm of our lives. There is a better-than-average chance that the new habits and activities would be less wasteful of energy than the present ones.
With both the energy and unemployment questions, we should move beyond a fixed mindset which has brought us into the present state of difficulty. Let us probe the question further. It may well be that the battle for the shorter workweek will be won or lost in relation to the energy issue. If that is true, it is important that we consider the matter in more than a casual manner.
A good starting point for our purposes might be the concept of “energy productivity”. An article in ILO Information states: “The concept of energy conservation encompasses much more than simply restraining energy demand. Without improving ‘energy productivity’, that is decreasing the amount of energy per unit of output, there remains the prospect of slower economic growth and possible negative impacts on living standards. In effect, there are really three ways to conserve energy: by performing the same activity in a more energy-efficient manner, by using energy that is now wasted, and by changing lifestyles to reduce the need for energy. While all three approaches may be necessary, the last, involving modifications in housing patterns, transportation systems, and the goods and services we produce, will undoubtedly require more time to implement.”
The energy crisis poses a challenge to economists to develop new methods of measurement and analysis. Labor has always been a scarce commodity, particularly skilled labor. Accordingly, the economy has been oriented toward “saving labor” in various ways. Elaborate statistics have been kept on the productivity of labor. But now labor, both skilled and unskilled, appears to be a glut on the market while energy is in short supply. A recent Secretary of Labor, Ray Marshall, suggested that rising energy costs in the past five years may have persuaded employers to substitute labor for energy. Of the 2 million new jobs created in 1979, he estimated that perhaps 40% to 50% represented such substitution. Beyond the day-to-day decision making, there is a need to perfect the information-gathering systems that relate energy consumption to economic output. We might learn to cost products in BTUs as well as in dollars or man-hours of labor. Perhaps some day the nation’s output per BTU - its “energy productivity” - may be as carefully measured as today its “output per man-hour.”
The question to be considered here is whether to give working people more leisure time which might tend to raise or lower the nation’s energy productivity in the broadest sense. Several studies have been done which suggest that it might be raised.
Admittedly, most of these studies do not directly consider the possibility of shorter hours but, rather, of alternative hours, a less controversial concept. Flexible hours, staggered hours, and the 4-day, 40-hour workweek have been the focus of their investigations. However, these work-time alternatives may be seen as at least “a foot in the door” from the shorter workweek’s standpoint. Both shorter and alternative hours involve breaking an inflexible schedule and, to some extent, working people in shifts. The shorter-workweek proposal overcomes certain of the obstacles in experiences with the 4-day, 40-hour week: employee fatigue at the end of the day, lower productivity in the 9th or 10th hour of daily work, and the violation of labor laws and standards. For these and other reasons, the energy advantages in scheduling alternative hours might ultimately apply to the shorter workweek as well.
some studies of shorter or rearranged workweeks
One study in this area was done by MATHTECH, Inc. of Princeton, New Jersey. Its report entitled “Energy and Environmental Implications of Alternative Work Patterns” was presented at the National Conference on Alternative Work Schedules in Chicago in March 1977. The study evaluated each of the alternatives - flexible hours, staggered hours, and the 4-day workweek - from the standpoint of potential energy savings and reduction of pollution in the nation’s urban areas by the years 1980, 1985, and 1990. Its conclusions about energy are presented in Figure 9-1. In short, the study concluded that the 4-day week offers the greatest potential savings in energy followed by flexible hours and finally by staggered hours. All of these alternative patterns were found to be more energy efficient than what we have now. How did the authors of the report arrive at this conclusion?
figure 9-1 Maximum Estimated Energy Savings per Year through three forms of Alternative Work Schedules as determined by MATHTECH Study (in trillions of BTUs) Work Schedule 1980 1985 1990 4-day workweek 306 367 442 staggered hours 139 166 202 flexible hours 256 298 371
The MATHTECH projections are based upon 1970 data for vehicle miles traveled in the United States. During that year, a total of 412.5 billion vehicle miles were traveled by automobiles and similar vehicles of which roughly one third was for work-related transportation. In that category, the personal transportation vehicles averaging 13.5 miles per gallon traveled a total of 140.5 billion vehicle miles. Their total energy consumption was 1,415 x 10 to the 12th power BTUs. The average was 10,074 BTUs per vehicle mile. Bus transportation in 1970 covered 12.5 billion passenger miles and consumed a total of 21 x 10 to the 12th power BTUs or 1,694 BTUs per passenger mile. Rail transportation covered 10.8 billion passenger miles, consumed 17 x 10 to the 12th power BTUs and averaged 1,541 BTUs per passenger mile. It is evident that, unless each automobile carried at least six or seven passengers, buses and trains were a more energy-efficient means of transporting people.
From this data, the MATHTECH study projected an increase in work-related driving from 140.5 billion vehicle miles in 1970 to 308.2 billion vehicle miles in 1990. New federal standards might raise average gas mileage from 13.5 m.p.g to 15.3 m.p.g during that time. A Department of Transportation study in 1972 showed that 80% of total commuter travel occurs between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Much energy is wasted by rush-hour traffic jams in metropolitan areas and by the inefficient use of public-transportation equipment. Savings might be made by leveling the flow of traffic, encouraging workers to carpool or take the bus instead of driving alone, and by eliminating unnecessary trips.
In that regard, the work-time alternatives were thought to impact energy consumption in the following ways:
(1) The 4-day week would reduce the number of work-related passenger trips each week by 20%.
(2) If ten hours were worked in a day to maintain the 40 hours of work in a week, the earlier starting times or later ending times might help to ease rush-hour traffic.
(3) Staggered hours would ease traffic congestion but they would be an obstacle to carpooling because the segmented work schedules would reduce the pool of workers who might ride together between any two points. Also, the impact upon public transportation might be negative if the lighter traffic made driving more attractive.
(4) Flexible hours, on the other hand, would promote carpooling because workers might choose to work schedules of hours that suited their commuting needs. For the same reason, this might help mass transit. Fuel might be saved because the greater variety of work schedules would reduce traffic congestion.
In conclusion, the MATHTECH study estimated that the 4-day week might save 20.3% of the total energy spent for commuting. Flexible hours might save 16.9%. Staggered hours might save 9.2%. These figures represent maximum potential savings and do not take into account energy consumption for purposes other than work. The study also determined that a reduction in air pollution might take place under these different work-time alternatives.
Another study which relates working hours to energy consumption was conducted by J.C. Denton at the National Center for Energy Management and Power in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His report is entitled “Feasibility Study of a System of Staggered Industry Hours.” Professor Denton’s study focused upon the industrial use of energy and potential savings from staggering the work schedule. Reduced traffic congestion played a part in his calculations but of even greater importance were the savings from flattening the load curve of electric utilities. Denton offered the following figures representing the daily savings of energy for a small chemical manufacturing firm if the work schedule were shifted to to hours earlier:
electrical utility load flattening 42.0 x 10 to the 6th power BTUs
reduced traffic congestion 4.5 x 10 to the 6th power BTUs
lighting and space conditioning 0.3 x 10 to the 6th power BTUs
total 46.8 x 10 to the 6th power BTUs
Staggered work hours might save energy for the following reasons:
(1) As more business firms departed from the standard schedule of hours, the peak demand for electricity might drop which would allow the power companies to operate at a lower volume and discontinue the use of less efficient generating equipment.
(2) Company employees might avoid rush-hour traffic.
(3) Night-time or evening work might increase energy use for lighting and for heating during the winters but it would cut down on the use of electricity for air conditioning in the summers.
Professor Denton’s study considered the energy impact of moderately staggered hours - starting at 6 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. - and of 4-day workweeks running from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. He found that staggering the hours of work by 2 hours had an upper limit of 10% in the gasoline saved for commuting, and of 3% in electrical energy. Staggering by 8 hours might save between 1% and 15% for electricity; 4% might be an average figure. The 4-day week he found to be more attractive still. Its potential energy savings were greatest in the organic and inorganic chemical industries, retail trade, motor freight and warehousing, wholesale trade, and paper manufacturing.
The report stated: “A four-day week yields a gasoline savings for commuting over 20% ... Savings in input energy at the electric utility range up to 25% Lighting savings range upward to 7%. The four-day week pattern gives more of the energy savings directly to the participating firm than any other alternative pattern.”
Staggered work patterns have been successfully employed in many industries including such an unlikely one as agriculture. As an example, Fisher Farms of Riverside County, California, installed a system of florescent lighting in the fields so that workers could pick cantaloupes at night when the temperatures were cooler. For the company’s standpoint, this arrangement saved several thousand dollars per year in electricity for refrigeration. Another company, Clow Corporation of Corona, which manufactures fire hydrants and water valves, introduced a night and early-morning shift to avoid high demand charges for electricity from the power company. Annual savings for utilities were expected to range between $150,000 and $160,000 in 1980.
Despite a few complaints about the night-time work, company officials claimed that “employees have been cooperating” because this schedule allowed them to avoid traffic jams or driving to work during smog alerts in the summer months. It has also been suggested that staggered work hours might make it economically feasible in more cases to install “co-generation” facilities for recycling wasted energy from power plants and factories.
emergency four-day workweeks
During the winter of 1976-77, the 4-day workweek received some attention and support because the nation was facing a shortage of heating oil. Contingency plans were drawn up to handle the crisis at various stages of severity. Some of these plans involved closing schools and public buildings, factories and other places of work for one or more days each week.
In Minnesota, Governor Rudi Perpich ordered state employees on an emergency 4-day, 40-hour week for a 30-day period. His order affected 15,000 employees in state hospitals, prisons, highway patrol, and other agencies. The state legislature, supreme court, and numerous school districts followed this lead. The workweeks were scheduled Monday through Thursday one week, Tuesday through Friday the next, so that the thermostats in state offices could be turned down low on 4-day weekends every other week. This was considered to be the most efficient arrangement for saving energy. By closing its offices one extra day a week, the state expected to save 20,000 barrels of fuel oil.
In reality, the 4-day workweek was only moderately successful in meeting the state’s fuel crisis. Only one third of Minnesota’s fuel-oil supplies were used to heat commercial and public buildings. Half went to heat private homes. Another problem was that legally employers were required to pay overtime after eight hours of work in a day. In Minnesota, the state government persuaded the employees’ union to give up that right in return for a 4-day, 37 1/3 hour week. Few private employers went to that length. Rather than unjustly enrich their employees by the crisis, many employers resorted to a standard remedy: layoffs. The U.S. Department of Labor reported that 225,000 Americans lost their jobs in February 1977 mainly because of energy and weather problems even while the average workweek increased. Because these layoffs were of short duration, most of the affected workers were ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Another crisis occurred in the summer of 1979 involving supplies of gasoline. It began in California. Long lines of cars formed at the service stations, each driver apparently seeking to to “get his” while supplies lasted. The Federal Energy Agency reported that panic buying was largely responsible. Motorists were topping off their tanks more often. For instance, an analysis of credit-card sales by Chevron showed that smaller average purchases of gasoline were being made. In response to weekend closings of the service stations, people were buying and filling up storage containers with gasoline. The owners of recreational vehicles were buying 45-gallon auxiliary fuel tanks so that they might pursue their weekend driving plans without fear of being stranded. Typically, such vehicles have 40-gallon tanks and get about eight miles to the gallon.
Although sales of recreational vehicles were depressed in the spring of 1979, the price of gasoline was not the main reason. According to industry spokesmen, “concern with availability rather than price is a major reason for the depressed market. There isn’t anyone who wants to go on a trip and ‘wonder if they’ll get back home,’ said Thomas H. Corson, chairman and chief executive officer of Coachman Industries.”
Pooh-poohing the energy crisis, the Las Vegas convention authority put on a $224,000 advertising campaign to assure tourists that there would be ample gasoline supplies for the April 27-28 weekend. Their forecast proved incorrect and many motorists were stranded. The authority “has since launched a campaign urging local residents to avoid filling their tanks during the weekend and urging visitors to fly instead of drive,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
With fuel shortages looming, bookings of tours to such places as Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and the Middle East were 10% to 25% higher in 1979 than the year before. Convention business was up as indeed it was during the 1973-74 energy squeeze. An advertisement in Barron’s for the convention and travel industry reassured readers that “during the 1973-74 period of gas shortage, total convention business during that period actually increased by 4.5% over the previous year.” Asking why that had happened, the ad explained: “The shortage of fuel created so may problems in every industry that more seminars and conferences were called to deal with them. Business problems and threats from government regulations always seem to stimulate more meetings.”
If junketing businessmen remained unconcerned with the long-term scarcity of energy, individual people were. During the summer of 1979, many decided on their own that it was right and patriotic to save gasoline wherever possible. Many people did cancel plans for vacations which involved long-distance travel. Car-pooling increased as did the use of mass transit. In a few cases, even, working hours were changed.
In an article that described how Californians were coping with the April 1979 gasoline shortage, the Wall Street Journal mentioned a self-employed hair stylist who worked in Los Angeles but lived 57 miles away on Balboa Island, who “has switched from his comfortable Rolls Royce to a Volkswagen convertible for his commuting, has reduced his work week to four days from five, and stays with friends in town two nights a week. Besides saving gasoline, the new schedule saves his nerves.”
By and large, Americans have not responded to the cost and impending shortage of oil as the Japanese and western Europeans have responded. Although President Carter declared energy conservation to be “the moral equivalent of war”, he was unable to create the proper “Pearl Harbor” mood that would galvanize Congress and the American people to take decisive steps to conserve energy. Instead, the nation’s energy debate has centered around decontrolled oil and natural gas prices while the politicians blast OPEC for its lusty pursuit of profit.
Conservation may be morally equivalent to war but the U.S. military itself burns up an enormous quantity of fuel exercising the giant aircraft carriers and submarines, maintaining preparedness of the fleets of jet fighters and bombers and conducting practice maneuvers. One suspects that the most likely assignment these forces will get if their symbolic postures should become real would be to “defend” the oil fields near the Persian Gulf.
easing traffic jams
There is so much which our government could do and has not done to foster energy conservation. Take, for instance, the problem of traffic jams. This is one of the more senseless aspects of contemporary life. A BLS study in May 1974 found that 38% of U.S. wage-and-salary workers regularly started work at 8 a.m. and 55% ended work at 4 p.m. (Starting and stopping times were reported to the nearest hour and those falling on the half-hour mark were put with the next full hour.) Fully 73% of these workers started work between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 77% ended work between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Rush-hour traffic clogs the highways in and around our large metropolitan areas during these hours, Monday through Friday. In the Los Angeles area, for instance, there are roughly 4 million drivers of whom one in ten lives at least 30 miles away from work. Fifty-thousand persons live 50 or more miles away from their place of work. They all compete for space and gasoline along 714 miles of freeway. Cities such as New York and Chicago have an equally crushing mass of rush-hour traffic. All these motorists, stopping and starting, stalled in traffic jams, burn up an incredible amount of gasoline.
A few cities have begun to fight back through the adoption of staggered work hours. In Manhattan, a program was started in 1970 to encourage employers to schedule work at least one-half hour earlier or later than the traditional 9-to-5 pattern with the result that the proportion of workers who worked the standard schedule dropped from 65% to 40% in five years. Staggered hours have also been introduced to some degree in Madison, WI, Philadelphia, PA, and Washington, D.C. However, these efforts fall short of what has been done abroad. The cities of Metz, Strasbourg, and Dijon began to experiment with staggered hours during the 1950s. Similar efforts have been undertaken in the Japanese cities of Tokyo and Osaka.
With a four-day workweek, this scheme might be carried a step further. Instead of eliminating the same day of the week for all workers, employers might stagger the day evenly through the week so that an equal percentage of workers were off on each of the firm’s work days. In such a way, the employer’s investment in capital equipment might be utilized five or even more days a week while the work schedules of individual employees were limited to four days. If the system were implemented and effectively coordinated within a metropolitan area, traffic congestion might be permanently reduced. In addition, energy would be saved because each worker would be driving to and from work one less day each week. There would be, in theory, a 20% weekly savings in gasoline from not having to go to work on that fifth day.
The Federal Highway Administration reported in 1975 that 40% of private automobile travel in the United States is related to earning a living and 35% is for social or recreational purposes. Although driving to work may have its pleasurable aspects, for the most part this is regarded as a necessity whose requirements should be met as efficiently as possible. As we have discussed, commuting efficiency might be improved by organizing work to eliminate traffic jams and by cutting down on the number of weekly trips.
Those techniques by no means exhaust the list of possibilities. Another approach might be to encourage workers to use more energy-efficient vehicles or transportation devices. Another would be to promote multiple riding. More futuristic concepts might include organizing entire communities so that people live closer to the places where they work or even, through the use of telecommunications equipment placed in the home, live and work in the same place.
The immediate prospects center around the first two strategies. In both cases, the object would be to increase the number of passenger miles per gallon of gasoline. One of the strategies would aim to increase the gas mileage of the vehicle. In that vein, the federal government has required that U.S. automobile manufacturers develop cars which meet certain gas-mileage standards by certain dates. However, much the same end could be achieved by selecting a more energy-efficient type of vehicle. Mopeds, averaging 130 miles per gallon, might be a practical alternative for some workers. Even bicycling or walking would be suitable for some who live close to work.
The other approach, equally effective, would be to increase the number of passengers per vehicle. The manufacturers of motor homes have quite properly pointed out that their gas-guzzling product filled with a half dozen passengers is actually more energy-efficient than a high mileage-rated automobile which carries only the driver. It all depends on the ratio of the fuel consumed by the vehicle to the number of passengers. If a vehicle averages 20 miles per gallon, it will provide 20 passenger miles per gallon with a solitary driver, and 40 passenger miles per gallon if a companion shares the ride. The 3M company-sponsored vans reportedly average 104 passenger miles per gallon of gasoline.
The most common means of increasing passenger miles per gallon include carpooling or vanpooling or use of public transportation. In the United States, only a small percentage of workers avail themselves of this last option. Figures 9-2 gives a breakdown of commuting methods used by U.S. workers in 1975 for those living in the cities, suburbs, and rural or nonmetropolitan areas. Unfortunately, the breakdown does not indicate participation in carpooling or vanpooling arrangements but the pattern is clear. The overwhelming majority of Americans commute to work in automobiles or trucks.
figure 9-2 Principal Mode of Transportation to Work of U.S. Workers by Residence, 1975 Annual Averages central cities suburbs nonmetropolitan areas Mode of transportation total commuting: in thousands of workers 22,546 32,390 24,520 in percent 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% Commuting by: automobile or truck 77.2% 88.6% 86.9% public transportation 13.9% 4.4% 8.1% walking 6.0% 3.4% 5.2% other 1.3% 1.4% 1.3% Working at Home 1.6% 2.2% 6.1%
It would appear that three elements should be present for workers to travel to and from work with others. First, the transportation facility for the shared ride must be available. Second, the commuter should find this arrangement to be less expensive, more convenient, more pleasant, less tiring, or otherwise more desirable than driving to work alone. Third, the hours of work should be regular and such as to accommodate the commuting pattern.
Why do people decide to drive to work alone? It is more convenient. It may also be or seem less expensive considering that the price of the vehicle, license plates, auto insurance, maintenance, etc. has already been paid. It almost always saves time. Convenience, though, is the key. Sometimes carpooling or public transportation are simply not available between the two points where one lives and works. Sometimes they are available but the scheduling is inconvenient. Taking a particular bus might mean arriving at work an hour early or fifteen minutes late. A survey taken by the Associated Press found that “buses, subways, and trains in many major cities already operate at nor near capacity ... While mass transit is usually cheaper than driving, it is almost always slower and more inconvenient and is generally geared to those who work standard hours.”
Public-transportation systems face the serious problem that most of their business occurs during peak hours. There must be adequate fleets of equipment to handle all the passengers at those times. Much of the day, however, the equipment sits idle. The drivers must be paid while they are waiting for runs. But during rush hour the equipment is strained to capacity and many riders have to stand in the aisles. When equipment breaks down at those times, crowds of angry customers are left stranded.
As a result, operating costs are high in relation to the number of passengers and the customers are sometimes inconvenienced. Both factors work to reduce the demand for public-transportation services which, in turn, forces the transit authority to propose fare increases to cover the rising costs or else skimp on offered services which further reduces demand.
A Gallup poll indicted that 11% of the nation’s drivers might switch to mass transit in the event of a severe gasoline crisis. This has some transit officials worried. If any significant number of drivers decided to do that, it would, in the words of former Transportation Secretary Brock Adams, “overwhelm any public transportation that we have.” Secretary Adams warned that “we don’t have the buses, we don’t have the rail systems, we don’t have anything out there” to meet an influx of this magnitude.
Staggered hours would help by stretching out the hours of heavy commuter traffic and reducing the level of peak demand. If the bus company could schedule four or five runs during each “rush hour” instead of two or three, there would be a better recovery of its fixed expense. It could offer better service for as many or more passengers at a lower average cost.
Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reported that “transit managers in Dallas and Los Angeles are working hard to persuade companies to stagger working hours for employes in the belief that this would enable buses to carry 40% more riders.” In Minneapolis-St. Paul, an official of the Metropolitan Transit Commission told a reporter that he saw “the long-term solution in staggered work hours because the commission has many buses running at low patronage during the non-peak times.” He added, though, that “a decision to stagger those hours must come from the private sector.”
the overtime push and economic growth
One practice which is most damaging to the cause of energy-efficient transportation is habitual or frequent overtime. Overtime virtually guarantees that one’s hours will not synchronize with those of coworkers with whom one might share a ride or be compatible with public-transportation schedules. In may own case, I regularly rode the bus to work until my supervisor at a previous job began to pressure me about not working enough overtime. Forced to stay a couple hours later each evening, I fell into the difficult-to-break habit of driving my car alone to and from work.
With that particular employer, a construction-equipment manufacturing company, overtime had a special significance. It was expected that persons who aspired to management positions show up on Saturday mornings when the plant manager made the rounds to inspect ongoing activities. After he went home, most of the others left too. A typical Saturday session might last three or four hour - not a “full day’s work” but equally costly at the gas pump. In previous times, I am told, Saturday work was routine. Sunday was the day when one came in to impress the boss with one’s interest and dedication - and to burn up additional gasoline.
In this age of limited natural resources, it is or ought to be downright unpatriotic for employers to exact from employees such energy-wasteful tokens of their loyalty and dedication as regular weekend work. In an effort to raise our nation’s “energy productivity”, we need to look more carefully at the various elements of economic input and output and think of changing some of them to serve peoples’ needs better. It is largely a matter of leadership. Those who exercise authority in the community should set a new moral tone reflecting current necessities, which may at times conflict with the old sentiment of working long hours to suit someone’s militant self-interest.
Many believe that the only real way to reduce unemployment is to stimulate rapid economic growth. However, economic growth per se carries an energy price tag. For the first three decades following World War II, energy consumption and real GNP followed much the same course, rising together at an annual rate of 3% to 3.75%. In the last several years, thanks to conservation measures, it has been possible to raise GNP with smaller percentage increases in energy consumption.
To economists, the lowered use of use of energy is both good and bad news. Dr. Paul McCracken wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “A major reason for our more moderate consumption of energy in this decade, relative to projections made as the decade opened, is that the economy itself has not performed up to earlier expectations. These early Department of Interior projections had the economy in real terms on a track roughly 10% higher than the one it is actually on ... We do, however, also seem to be making some progress in the more economical and efficient use of energy.”
The philosophy of pushing economic growth to the hilt may appeal to the financial community. It promises to increase their concentrations of wealth, to help government officials balance mismanaged budgets, and bail out Social Security. For the average working person, it does less. It is quite unnecessary to push economic growth to have full employment; a reduction in the workweek could accomplish that. Artificially fast growth usually brings inflation; and this, a lower not higher standard of living for most people.
Rhetorical though it is, there is a need to ask the question whether people should be organized to serve the economy or the economy be organized to serve people? The basic political question is whether economic policy should give weight to such human things as the desire for leisure or cater primarily to the financial community whose compelling interest might be stated: What have you done lately to increase my money?
Lately, the financial managers seem to be the ones calling the tune in questions of energy. A story carried by the Associated Press on June 27, 1980, told of their powerful connections: “A survey of 131 oil and other leading U.S. natural resources companies released Thursday said a small number of employee stock plans, independent pension funds and large banks controls major interests in the energy industry. The report by the New York-based research organization Corporate Data Exchange, Inc. also said oil companies ‘are investing heavily into coal, nuclear and natural gas ‘ ... The organization said financial institutions often control substantial positions in competing companies, either outright or through authority given by shareholders to buy or sell their stock. ‘There’s a relatively small number of these which dominate the securities of the (energy) companies ... The amount of concentration is not generally known’ outside of investment circles ...
“The report said ... Citicorp parent of No. 2 Citibank, has power over 1 to 3 percent of Atlantic Richfield, Conoco, Phillips Petroleum, and Getty Oil Company. Among those with interests in chemical maker E.I DuPont de Nemours & Co. are Citicorp, Manufacturers Hanover Corp. and J.P Morgan & Co., Inc. ... Those controlling 1 to 2.5 percent interests in shares of United States Steel Corp. a major coal producer, include the DuPont family, Morgan and Manufacturers Hanover ...TIAA-CREF, the nationwide teachers’ pension fund, controls 1 to nearly 4 percent interests in 28 energy companies including utilities and oil, gas, and coal producers, the report said.”
There is an obvious conflict of interest here between the short-term economic interests of these financial institutions and humanity’s real, long-term need for energy conservation. Financial managers are duty bound to maximize the dollar return on investment. Energy suppliers make money by selling products, not by promoting conservation. The need for continued economic growth is practically an article of faith with these people.
On the other hand, a scholarly challenge was issued to that position in a report, “Limits to Growth”, which was sponsored by a group of European and Japanese business leaders calling themselves “the Club of Rome”. Its supporting study was based upon computer projections of population growth, industrial production, consumption of raw materials, and environmental pollution, incorporating data pertaining to known reserves of key raw materials and the land available for agricultural production. The report grimly concluded: “All growth projections end in collapse.”
The gist of this report published in 1971 was that the dynamic of growth runs contrary to the economy of the natural environment. Growth requires energy. Much of that energy is nonrenewable and in exhaustible quantities, or it presents long-term health hazards, or it would blight the natural landscape to extract and develop commercially. Even if energy were not a limiting factor in production, fresh water would be. If not water, we would quickly exhaust certain other raw materials that are essential to industry. Even if these existed in abundant supplies, unlimited development of them would engulf the earth in deadly pollution. The entire bundle of problems posed by such a course might overwhelm man’s intelligence and capacity for cooperative action.
defenders of the work ethic
Many have dismissed the themes of this report as “too pessimistic” or “doomsday talk”, apparently believing that our current economic methods can continue indefinitely or, at least, while they are still alive. Technology, they preach, can solve all the technical problems that have to do with shortages of energy, food, water, and land. We must not lose our nerve or the Orientals may inherit the earth. “Reindustrializaion” is the current buzzword used for this philosophy. Such a position assumes that people are demanding higher and higher standards of living and would condone whatever despoliation of the environment is necessary to get this.
As usual, the people are more sensible than the experts. How badly do we Americans want those energy-consuming “higher living standards”? The Wall Street Journal reported not long ago: “A Roper organization poll finds 51% of those interviewed believe the nation ‘must cut way back’ on high production and consumption to conserve resources and keep the economy strong. Only 34% feel traditional lifestyles can continue unchanged ... Rapid depletion of natural resources in coming years is expected by 58% of those checked; many rate it a serious threat to American society.”
Given an “austere” use of materials as the economy scrapes against certain natural limits, would more free time make life richer and more enjoyable; or would it, as some suggest, doom us to a life of poverty? For sure, if all our petroleum resources were used up, agriculture might revert to the horse and plough, transportation might be crippled and mass impoverishment might take place. However, we may be able to husband those dwindling resources so that essential production is maintained as the total consumption of energy is brought under control.
Power-driven tools account for only a fraction of our energy use. We can, if we manage well, continue to enjoy high productivity in manufacturing, agriculture, and other basic industries but cut energy waste in unnecessary transportation, poorly insulated homes and buildings, luxuriant use of air-conditioning systems, and other gadgets and appliances.
The chairman of Tenneco, a gas and oil producer, assures us that “if we properly develop the energy sources we have in the Americas, we could end up in a strong position and have a very exciting two or three decades.” We must think, however, beyond two or three decades to the next generation. What kind of life will these Americans have if we leave them an energy-wasteful culture, without the energy?
Rather than orient ourselves toward a fixed system of production, why could we not first work to develop a humanly satisfying kind of life and then tailor production to meet its requirements? To organize production properly, it is necessary to perceive and anticipate the real patterns of consumption. It is easier, perhaps, to allow consumption to evolve naturally and rearrange production to meet this than to force consumption into patterns determined by production. The whole lifestyle, on other words, needs to be considered.
Loafing is not what has brought us into our current predicament. Wasteful production and consumption have done this. Economic and military competition between nations are responsible for many of the inhumane practices which the world’s people must endure. Bureaucratic empire-building has an insatiable appetite for our money and time. This is what needs to be changed.
People, given the chance, will invent the solutions required to survive our individual and collective economic difficulties. We need to turn away from unnecessarily producing and consuming physical goods toward activities of a more recreational or cultural nature. In short, the American people need to be given more leisure at a fairly early date so that we may begin to cultivate some of those activities that will sustain future generations.
There are experts who are pessimistic about people’s ability to act intelligently with more leisure. If the workers were let off work earlier, they would not know what to do with the additional time. Robert Hutchins, a leading educator, said in a news interview:
“More free time means more time to waste. The worker who used to have only a little time in which to get drunk and beat his wife now has time to get drunk, beat his wife - and watch TV.” John Maynard Keynes, the apostle of increased government spending and strategically unbalanced budgets, likewise doubted that ordinary people could be trusted with more free time.
Keynes wrote an essay entitled “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” in which he wondered: “If the economic problem is solved, mankind will be deprived of its traditional purpose. Will this be a benefit? If one believes at all in the real values of life, the prospect at least opens up the possibility of benefit. Yet, I think with dread of the readjustment of the habits and instincts of the ordinary man, bred into him for countless generations, which he may be asked to discard within a few decades ... Must we not expect a general nervous breakdown?
Taking a poke as well at the ladies, Keynes continued: “We already have a little experience of what I mean ... in England and the United States among the wives of the well-to-do classes, unfortunate women, many of whom have been deprived by their wealth of their traditional tasks and occupations - who cannot find it sufficiently amusing, when deprived of the spur of economic necessity, to cook and clean and mend.”
possible impact of shorter work hours
A man with a more sanguine and wholesome outlook, nevertheless considered a radical in his day, was the American labor leader, Walter P. Reuther. Twenty years ago on the eve of the 1960 election Mr. Reuther gave an interview to Mike Wallace of CBS in which he said: ”The real key, I think, Mike, is the question of what are we going to do with abundance. Now, after we’ve met our basic economic needs of housing and medical care and adequate clothing and education and so forth, we will soon get to that point in American history, because of the onrush of technological progress, when we’ve got to make a very basic decision: Do we want more gadgets or do we want more leisure? I think we need now to begin to prepare for a reduction in the workweek so that, when we do get a shorter workweek because the tools of production are so productive, we can create all the material wealth we need with fewer hours of work, we’ve got to be certain that when we get this increased measure of leisure we can use it constructively and creatively.”
Mike Wallace asked Reuther: “Do you look forward to a 30-hour workweek?” Reuther replied: “Oh, in time - there’s no question about it.” When pressed for an explanation, he said: “When we get to the place in the development of our society where the tools of abundance can take care of the material needs of the outer man with less and less human effort - the real emphasis then has to be shifted to enabling the inner man to grow. In other words, we’ve got to develop new appetites, new interest in the non-material things. And this really, I think means the first opportunity for the great mass of human beings to participate in culture.”
At that time, twenty years ago, energy shortages were not a principal economic concern. Today, no question which relates to the economy can avoid consideration of this. Therefore, the energy implications of increased leisure must be examined. Of what benefit to the human species is more free time if people use that time in energy-wasteful, environmentally damaging pursuits? It would appear that more time off from work, besides being used for wife beating and television watching, would be more time to travel around the country or the world, burning up precious gasoline.
A 4-day workweek might create 3-day weekends every week which are a good excuse for people to drive out of town to distant vacation homes or cruise the nation’s highways in their campers. The big-horsepower motorboat or cabin cruiser which gets used maybe three or four time each summer might get used ten or fifteen times - a typical model consuming, on the average, seven gallons per hour when it runs full blast.
A Wall Street Journal article which considered the possible impact of a 4-day workweek on American living habits speculated: “People may decide to live in barracks-like buildings in the city during the week, commuting on weekends to their distant ‘real’ homes near, say, a favorite fishing hole. ‘You might get some very interesting (housing) patterns,’ says John D. Owen, professor of economics at Wayne State University in Detroit. ‘The second-home movement would get a tremendous boost from the four-day workweek,’ he says. Getting away for the weekend - and going father away - will become more common.
Longer weekends will ‘produce an even greater exodus from urban places into outdoor settings,’ taxing the resources of already overburdened national parks and forests, says Tony A. Mobley, dean of Indiana University’s school of health, public education, and recreation. He also thinks that such recreational facilities as private camp grounds and amusement parks will burgeon.”
In a free country such as ours, it would be impossible to compel people to use their free time in ways which would conserve the community’s resources. Many today still believe that the energy problem is contrived and see no need to make any adjustment in their personal lifestyle. Between 1968 and 1978, sales of vans and light trucks which average in the neighborhood of 13 miles per gallon increased from 1.5 million vehicles, or 13% of total automobile sales, to 3.5 million or 20% of total sales. In many instances, these are not “utility” vehicles, as the name suggests, but recreational toys - an extension of one’s personal style.
A Wall Street Journal article described this garish phenomenon: “ ‘Vanners” ... have developed a sybaritic subculture that often involves turning the interiors of their vehicles into something skin to brothels and painting fantastic murals on the exterior panels. Their willingness to drive hundreds of miles to Woodstock-like ‘van-ins’ to show off their machines, play tug-o-war, listen to music and swap stories has been well publicized. On the other hand, four-wheelers, as they’re called, are macho motorists who delight in pounding along abandoned logging trails or through the desert to old mine sites, pulling each other out of gulleys and sinkholes with chains and winches as the need arises. What all these activities have in common is that they use a lot of gasoline and they use it mostly on weekends when supplies appear to be tightest.”
This is not the only kind of sportsman, however, There are also thousands and millions of people who enjoy such things as swimming, riding bicycles, backpacking, canoeing, hiking, sailing, cross-country skiing, jogging, gardening, tennis, golf, or softball. By and large, these are pursuits that can be had with a minimum per-capita expenditure of energy. Traveling to the site of the recreational activity would generally be the most “expensive” part.
It’s a matter of personal style. Some kinds of people take to the “low energy” pastimes more readily than other kinds of people. They tend to be younger and better-educated. For one thing, many of them cannot yet afford the expensive recreational apparatus required by the “high energy” pursuits. The “high energy” sportsmen are, perhaps, less cerebral and more interested in the physical appearance of the sport or in the equipment as a possession. Power-driven machines are an extension of their personalities - a primal display of self-importance - analogous to birds fluffing up their feathers to appear larger. Certainly, the world’s long-term supply of petroleum is the last thing on their mind.
Human nature may not be changed but, with dwindling energy supplies, public policy ought to prefer and actively support those leisure-time activities that consume less energy per capita. Though changes in work time might save energy with respect to work-related transportation and the commercial applications, it would be pointless to recommend such changes if people in their spare time consumed as much or more energy as was saved. As advocates of shorter hours, we have an obligation to deal constructively with this issue and not duck it.
How would shorter working hours affect energy consumption on the longer weekends or during vacations? If energy use increased, should government impose restrictions or bans on various kinds of activity? What should government do? Encourage longer, not shorter, workweeks? Make it illegal to sell gasoline on weekends; Force the hotels, motels, and resorts to close?
No, with a little ingenuity and more than a little organization, we can apply the idea of increasing our energy productivity to long weekends and vacations. The result might be what could be called a “low-energy vacation” - one in which people would be transported to pleasant or exotic places, where they might engage in stimulating but not energy-wasteful activities, and then return home, having had the same contact with nature and interesting scenery but without having consumed so much gasoline.
There are several characteristics of a “low energy”, as opposed to a “high energy”, vacation. Most importantly, transportation to the vacation site should be arranged with a minimum per-capita expenditure of fuel. Instead of driving alone in an automobile or camper, the vacationer might take a bus, share rides with other vacationers, or use a two-wheel vehicle. Of course, this assumes that suitable transportation facilities are available between the vacation sites and centers of population. It assumes as well, I believe, that adequate personal transportation will be available in the vacation area. Second, a low energy vacation might involve traveling short or moderate distances to the points of interest. That means that within close range of the population centers, resorts, parks, and other vacationing attractions should be developed; they should offer real value in terms of recreation, education or amusement, and price. Third, the activities themselves should avoid the use of energy-consuming machines.
“Low energy” pastimes offer enough variety to satisfy nearly every inclination or taste. Instead of racing through the woods in a snowmobile, try cross-country skiing. Instead of waterskiing on lakes, try sailing or canoeing. Instead of motoring along quaint country roads, try bicycling. Instead of flying private aircraft, how about hang-gliding or hot-air ballooning? Play tennis, basketball, or baseball. Take up golf, camping with backpack, jogging, skating, or volleyball. If you must “work hard, play hard”, then “play hard” physically rather than with a gas-eating machine. Consume your own physical energies in this low-energy vacation, not scarce fuel.
What if people are just not interested in taking low-energy vacations? If they were, then the vacation industry ought to have offered such opportunities long ago. It takes time, however, to develop new habits of living; and the energy crisis is a comparatively recent occurrence. Even so, government could hasten the adaptation to new circumstances. The vacation, transportation, and sporting-goods industries, and other interested parties, can work together to preserve the opportunity for people to have enjoyable and stimulating vacations while consuming less gasoline. But it would take cooperation between government and these private-sector interests to make the scheme work.
Some contend philosophically that government should not become involved in such things but that the free-market economy should be left to make all the arrangements. In this case, however, to rely upon the marketplace alone to allocate resources may not be conceptually sound because energy supplies are exhaustible. For the time being, prices and costs might work to keep a certain order but eventually supplies will run low. Rather than to allow the economy to experience a quick compression in its energy use, government would serve the community better by encouraging a smooth transition to lower levels of consumption. The “net-energy analysis”, which assumes diminishing returns from energy production, may be a more realistic policy guide than conventional economics.
From government, certain things might be expected. Government agencies should compile the statistics needed to distinguish “low energy” from “high energy” vacations. Each vacation pattern might be costed in per-capital BTUs in order to develop models of preferable vacation practices to be publicized and encouraged. The vacationers should know what are the most energy-efficient ways of satisfying their recreational objectives and be able to compare their own plans with this standard.
Precise measurement, then, is the prerequisite for other technique of implementation. But once that step is taken government has other tools at its disposal to promote the “low energy” patterns. Direct financial incentives and disincentives might be used such as an increase in the gasoline excise tax. Special permits might be required for “high energy” vehicles to purchase fuel. On the other hand, the financial approach, though effective, has the disadvantage of hitting low- and medium-income people harder than the rich. The last thing anyone would want would be for the conspicuous consumption of gasoline during vacations to become a status symbol.
Therefore, government’s ultimate weapon and perhaps the only effective means of enforcement would be to influence the pattern of vacationing through the allocation of fuel. Let those affluent owners of motor homes who insist upon taking long trips worry about whether there will be fuel for the return trip. Place restrictions on supplies for weekend driving, or issue gas-rationing coupons, or find some other device for limiting the general use of gasoline; but, at the same time, leave an exemption for vehicles used in an authorized “low energy’ vacation program so that the majority of people, if they want vacations away from home, can take them inexpensively in terms of energy, and the resorts can stay in business.
From the private sector as well, certain things might be expected. Private automobiles are ideal for short-range or medium-range recreational trips but not for the longer ones. For these, a travel network might be organized allowing vacationers to be transported to the vacation site in public or semi-public vehicles. The resorts and hotels themselves might help to organize this network. Private or public bus companies or van shuttle services might expand their operation. At the other end of the line, rental businesses might offer bicycles, moped, small cars, and other vehicles for those who would feel stranded without their car. Such enterprises are already operating in many places; but, with continuing high prices and shortages of gasoline, these might be expanded and a new consciousness of energy-efficient vacationing be developed and promoted.
Given a chance and some favorable incentives, it is probable that vacations would evolve from the high energy to the low energy pattern. I am reminded of a friend’s observation that the people who lived on a nearby lake after awhile got tired of motor boating and waterskiing and took up sailing; those high-powered experiences were a “phase”. More time for recreation, then, does not necessarily mean more of the same kinds of recreation. The more time one can devote to an activity, the more time there is to cultivate its art and the finer techniques. The cerebral aspects of the sport come after the exuberant physical experience.
Energy-consuming sports such as motor boating are predicated upon a scarcity of free time: One has only an hour or two to devote to this particular activity, and therefore one must cram as much of the experience as possible into the available time. Cover the lake in half an hour, which would take canoeists most of the afternoon. That is part of the psychology of “high energy” recreational pursuits - a frantic grab for excitement which only machines can deliver in sufficiently concentrated doses. But with “low energy” pursuits, things are more relaxed. People take the time to enjoy, savor, and appreciate what they are doing.
It is fine to plead with people that they ought to be more concerned with saving energy. One can make any number of suggestions: Ride a bicycle to the grocery store instead of going by car. Grow your own vegetables in a garden. Get rid of unnecessary household appliances such as ice-cube makers. One should realize, however, that the “low energy” style of living takes more time than the “high energy” style. Those household gadgets which consume so much energy are designed to save time. It takes time to grow vegetables in a garden or ride a bicycle to the store. It takes time to dry clothes outdoors on a clothes line. It takes time to learn the various arts and skills and master the information necessary to handle these chores by oneself. Therefore, leisure is a prerequisite for a more energy-efficient lifestyle. We can all do so much more by way of cultivating those projects and interests which we know we ought to be cultivating such as conserving energy, if only we had the time.
What limited evidence we have of 4-day workweeks indicates that to give workers more free time would not waste energy. In a study of how 4-day workers used their time in comparison with 5-day workers, David Maklan found that the 4-day workers spent less time in travel which, it might be assumed, would translate into lower usage of gasoline. In a hypothetical week, the 4-day workers spent an average of 246 minutes traveling to and from work, compared with 280 minutes for the 5-day workers. They spent 133 minutes per week for “personal travel” and 154 minutes per week for “leisure travel” in comparison with 179 and 166 minutes respectively for the 5-day workers.
On the other hand, the 4-day workers spent 183 minutes per week, compared with 110 minutes per week, on gardening and animal care. For child-care activities, they spent 123 minutes per week, as opposed to 22 minutes per week for the 5-day workers, who must either have neglected their children or found someone else to care for them. The 4-day workers spent 171 minutes per week for “outdoors activities”, compared with 72 minutes for their 5-day counterparts. Considering that only about 200 workers of both types took part in this survey the results may not conclusively describe what might happen if the 4-day workweek became universal; but they are, at least, an indication.
Like it or not, energy conservation is a part of our future So, if we are lucky, is a shorter workweek. We can surely grow, as individuals and as a civilization, if the proper economic adjustments are made when the need arises.
Click for a translation into:
French - Spanish - German - Portuguese - Italian
to: Table of Contents
COPYRIGHT 2016 Thistlerose Publications - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED