What Does It Mean to Work More?


2015-07-14 – Today is Bastille Day. I’ve never really understood the cause for celebration. But then I don’t get Cinco de Mayo. Or St. Patrick’s Day. A party is a party, I guess. Let them eat cake!

Last week, the scion of America’s nobility, Jeb Bush, prescribed longer working hours as a way to increase economic growth in America. Progressive commentators pounced. We already work more than any comparable country. Bush defenders claim that he was talking about moving all the part-timers to full time, not—heaven forbid—an increase in the 40 hour work week.

Maybe so.

It all misses the point though. The amount of available work has been diminishing for generations and is likely to accelerate. Machines reduced the labor required to grow our food or to manufacture goods. Computers continued the process and accelerated it. Rapid transportation allows many jobs to be relocated to the cheapest part of the globe.

Today we are on the verge of seeing another whole class of work disappear. In a few years, when self-driving cars become a reality, millions of driving jobs will disappear. Soon, 3D printing could replace many more manufacturing jobs. The list can go on.

So the solution to our economic problem is to work more?

The real problem is to find a way to parcel out the diminishing resource of gainful employment to a growing population.

In a fair way.

We haven’t been doing a very good job of that. So far we’ve been creating fake jobs to manage and schedule the work done by machine and to promote and sell their products. And since no one is really clear on who should be paid for work done by machines, the bosses simply take the lion’s share. On their say so alone.

In a world like this, what does it mean to work more?

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