Thursday, April 16, 2009

party like it's 1969

Something I just read in Bill McKibben's Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future got me thinking about a post I did nearly three years ago (wow! have I really been doing this blog that long?).

The old post was called Working Less = Living More. In that post I was basically agreeing with the British Columbia Work Less Party that the human species works too hard to produce goods that last a year and then end up in landfills. In the process... in the hurly-burly day to day grind which allows us to keep our jobs, we sacrifice things like family time, exercise, and healthy eating. At the same time, we force the planet to cough up its natural resources to make these products (and then, when they've become garbage, make the planet hide the mess for us).

What's the answer? A four day work week! Think about it... we work less and have more quality time for ourselves... meanwhile we have less money to buy non-essential extras, therefore fewer of these things get made, we conserve energy and natural resources, contribute less to climate change, spend less of our time idling in traffic jams on yucky highways, and on it goes...

Here's a (lengthy) excerpt from Bill McKibben's book - and what's the moral of the story? The human species should spend more time at the beach - and we should let the economy chill out. Maybe the financial crisis is actually realigning things in this direction anyway.

Bonus points if you can connect the dots between 1969 and the Joplin photo and the picture of the earth taken from the moon.


The results of all this work, given what we now know about the deeper economy, are predictable. The more hours you work, the less satisfied you become with your life, even though you make more money. The amount of time that parents spend with their children has steadily decreased, a trend “reliably linked to lower levels of average happiness and life satisfaction” for kids, says Layard. Indeed, children in affluent suburbs are more likely to be depressed even than those living in inner-city poverty.

The more hours you work, the bigger your ecological footprint, too. That's because you're spending more money and spending it carelessly: with no time to go to the farmer's market, let alone cook what you buy there, you drive through the drive-through instead. The numbers are substantial: an American working twenty to forty hours a week requires about twenty-three acres of the earth to support him, someone working more than forty hours requires nearly twenty-eight acres.

Now try the following thought experiment, which Schor suggests. Between 1969 and 2000, she reports, overall labor productivity increased about 80 percent, so that the average worker in 2000 could produce nearly twice as much per hour as the average worker in 1969. “Had we used that productivity dividend to reduce hours of work,” Schor points out, “the average American could be working only a little more than twenty hours a week.” The math isn't that linear of course, but it gives some sense of scale.

And there are those of us yet alive who can actually remember the year 1969 and so can testify that it was not a dark era of unrelieved poverty. True, we drove smaller cars and lived in smaller houses and ate out less. On the other hand, we ate together more. And we were working forty-hour weeks then. If those hours had been substantially reduced, there would now be more time for almost everything, from talking to your spouse, to sleeping in, to volunteering at the local hospital. You could grow more of your own food and have time to cook it. You would have less money, but also less need for child care, for work clothes, for the expense of commuting.


Urban Environmentalist said...

Very interesting. Totally makes sense. I am not working at all right now and can't afford to consume much of anything besides bare essentials..but also can't afford to buy most of my groceries organic or local so right now..only the baby gets organic. Ahh the good and the bad of tough economic times

Melissa said...

I agree with what you've said here. I am often unhappy because I don't have enough time to do many of the things I'd rather be doing than working. I would totally support a 4 day work week and more vacation time.