Ruth Potts from the nef

At least this woman from the nef knows her statistics:

The result: we spend more and more time at work (since 1981 two-adult households have added six hours to their combined weekly workload)

The number she uses is true: but hugely and highly misleading.

For men market working hours have decreased. For women they have increased.

This is part of the huge social revolution we\’ve just gone through, where for the first time in history it has become the norm that women work outside the home. We can have a nice argument about what caused this (the pill? Feminism? the move to a service economy which doesn\’t value male musculature as agriculture and manufacturing used to?) but it isn\’t, per se, a bad thing: for it\’s exactly the thing which allows Ruth Potts to sit in an office and ponder about working life, just as one example.

One the other hand, household working hours, home production hours, have fallen over the same period for both men and women. And they have fallen enough for women that this more than covers the increase in market working hours.

Total working hours have thus been falling for both men and women.

I don\’t have the time series data for the UK but one of the Federal Reserve Banks released a paper on just this for the US:

We document that a dramatic increase in leisure time lies behind the relatively stable number of market hours worked (per working-age adult) between 1965 and 2003. Specifically, we document that leisure for men increased by 6-8 hours per week (driven by a decline in market work hours) and for women by 4-8 hours per week (driven by a decline in home production work hours). This increase in leisure corresponds to roughly an additional 5 to 10 weeks of vacation per year, assuming a 40-hour work week.

An extra working day of leisure each week! That\’s really not all that bad, is it?

As the thinktanker turned motor mechanic Michael Crawford explains, before the factory line accustomed workers to abstraction – people would choose a satisfying job over a higher wage.

And as Adam Smith pointed out way back in 1776, the total wages for a job will always be equal (yes, subject to some constraints like skill levels and so on). There will be higher cash payments for dangerous jobs, for boring jobs, and lower cash payments for enjoyable jobs.

This is why Ford paid $5 a day (double the local prevailing wage) in 1913 in order to overcome that worker turnover problem, why Iain Dale offers £18,000 a year for a graduate journalist with experience in Inner London (possibly half the prevailing local wage for a graduate) and why Ruth Potts gets paid a pittance.

Nef\’s 21 hours argues that the shorter working week should be the new social norm. It sets out how reducing the amount of time we spend in the office and distributing the work we have more effectively would free us to actively engage in our lives, learn new skills while also reducing inequality. Reduce the working week, and it might also give us the time to think about what we do. It\’s a vital first step on the path reconnecting work with the art of living.

I\’ve no problem at all with the idea of a shorter working week. For, as we can see from the above, it\’s happening anyway. As we as a society get richer we seem to be taking some of that increasing wealth as leisure time. Excellent, great. Peeps are doing it for themselves, there\’s no requirement for think tankers to point them in hte right direction, nor to organise it for them.

And the real and major problem with the nef proposal is that they don\’t suggest a reduction in total working hours at all. They suggest rather that we reduce market, paid, working hours and increase the unpaid, household, working hours instead.

That is, they want to reverse the entire trend of recent decades, the trend we\’ve chosen for ourselves, of reducing household working hours faster than market working hours.

\’Coz, you know, they know better than yow about how to create that life well lived.

Arrogant bastards aren\’t they?

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