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My Presentation at the Seattle Conference (August 2016)

by William McGaughey

 


I made a proposal to do a direct-mail campaign to identify supporters of shorter working hours at Seattle University in late August, 2016. This was more than a proposal; it was an announcement of an activity that will definitely take place. But the purpose of the announcement was to invite other interested persons to join with me in this venture.

In my opinion, it is important to seek a substantial reduction in working hours in the near future. Not only would reduced work time increase the amount of free time for working men and women, it would reduce the supply of labor defined in worker-hours which, in turn, would restore balance between labor supply and demand in the free market. As a result, wages would tend to rise.

This claim requires further discussion. The fundamental equation governing labor supply is: Output = productivity x employment x average work hours. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been compiling such information about the US economy since the late 1940s. Roughly speaking, labor productivity in the United States has increased by five times since then, employment has increased by 2.3 times, and average hours are 84% of the level in the mid 1940s. Output, then, would be calculated to be roughly 9 to 10 times what it was in the 1940s. Presumably the enlarged US economy would indicate greater prosperity.

However, not all output enriches personal life. I am here to suggest that the increased rate of incarceration in the United States - up from 300,000 persons in 1970 to 2.2 million in 2013 - does little to increase national wealth. Neither does the overemphasis upon medication in the healing process or the mania to educate young people expensively to enter the job market. The “sacred cows” among our industries and occupations are grazing the economy to an unhealthy degree.

Think of it! Agricultural employment now accounts for only 1.4 percent of total U.S. employment; and employment in manufacturing industries, less than 10 percent. Some of the emerging industries and occupations claiming the lion’s share of U.S. employment include government services (16.1%), health-care services (13.6%), business and professional services (11.0%), educational services (9.5%), and hospitality services (9.0%).

I feel like making a value judgment here. The American people do not need all these expensive commercialized services. Instead, they need more free time.

We Americans could have substantially increased free time - an extra day of leisure each week - if we amended the Fair Labor Standards Act with respect to the standard workweek, lowering it from 40 hours to 32 hours. The current legal framework already exists. A simple change in the law is all that is required.

As the full moon seems so near but is so far away, so the goal of a 4-day workweek, deceptively close and attainable, has proven to be politically elusive. It has been on the horizon of political possibilities for so long that people doubt the day of fulfillment will ever come. This is a loser of an issue, people think. But there are still a few fools around who think the goal can be achieved, and I am one of them. It’s a simple goal which I am committing money and time to achieve. The time is now. Fulfillment should not be further delayed.

I will not bore you with a lengthy economic argument here to support shorter working hours. The argument is presented in some detail at my web site http://www.shorterworkweek.com. This web site includes the papers presented at the Seattle conference (item # 62) and also contains a link to the manuscript of my 1981 book, A Shorter Workweek in the 1980s, which goes into the arguments supporting shorter hours in detail. While some of this information is outdated, the general propositions still apply. I would be happy to defend them against the “lump-of-labor” dogmatists and other naysayers.

In summary, my presentation was a bit different than some others at the “Take Back Your Time” conference in that it was essentially a call to action rather than a scholarly discussion. Instead of focusing upon increased vacation time - also a highly worthy objective - it contemplates a reduction in the workweek, which involves a much greater amount of time each year.

But let not the more ambitious agenda be a barrier to seeking this goal. We need to throw ourselves into this worthy project, whichever it may be, with full energy and enthusiasm, supporting each other’s efforts. There is no other substitute in achieving the victory.

 

Note: John DeGraaf, the conference organizer in Seattle, asked participants to write a summary of their presentation which he would display on the "Take Back Your Time" web site. This is William McGaughey's submission.

 

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