An idea every pol should love: Four-day workweek

A 40+ hour week isn't written in stone

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Labor Day has come and gone. It's the first week of school for many.  Back to work after a summer break for lots of us.  It’s the start of the real life calendar year, the workaday year.

But at least this is a four-day work week. 

And the world will keep on spinning.

So why can’t every week be a four-day work week?  It turns out that a lot people have been thinking about this idea recently. It seems to me this is by far the best political idea I have heard in years, maybe decades. What we need is for some of the 2016 contenders in both parties to jump out on it.

Articles on the practical virtues of the short week have appeared recently in New York magazine, MarketWatch and BBC News.

Some of the new ammunition for the idea comes from data put out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that shows how many hours a nation’s workforce logs every week doesn’t have much to do with productivity.

“Most other countries have shorter workweeks than the U.S., according to recent analysis from the [OECD],” a MarketWatch article said.  “And workplace productivity doesn’t increase with hours worked, the OECD concluded. Workers in Greece clock 2,034 hours a year versus 1,397 in Germany, for example, but the latter’s productivity is 70% higher.”

New York magazine says:

“Meanwhile the larger social toll of an overworked population — or even one that feels overworked — are clear. A 2004 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control linked overtime to poorer overall health, and other research has suggested that working long hours can lead to depression. Not only does that carry a hefty medical tab, it hurts workplace performance: 20 percent of employees who feel overworked report making mistakes at work, according to a 2005 study from the nonprofit research center Family and Work Institute.

'There's no reason to think that a strictly scheduled 40-hour (or 50-hour, or 60-hour... ) workweek is the best system either for the economy or all of us who constitute it. What we think of as standard today is just a historical holdover that’s very much showing its age,' said Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Family and Work Institute. ‘In the industrial era, we had a notion that, because productivity was essentially on an assembly line, presence equals productivity. If you’re manufacturing things, you have to be present in order to do that. And that image of productivity has been very hard to change, even though work isn’t like that anymore.’”

 CNBC reports that 69 percent of millionaires in a recent survey think the four-day week is a “valid idea.”

On the other side of the spectrum, the leftie site AlterNet says short weeks are good for the planet:

“One day less at work means reduced electricity use and less time spent driving. Fewer commuters during the traditional rush hours makes travel quicker for everybody, which means less time spent idling in traffic and churning out less greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

According to a report from the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, a global shift to shorter working hours could reduce carbon emissions enough to halve additional expected global warming between now and 2100.”

I’m sold.  This is the kind of big idea that wins elections. We need a champion.

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