The Case For A 21-Hour Work Week
To save the world—or really to even just make our personal lives better—we will need to work less.
The Case For A 21-Hour Work Week
By Michael J. Coren / fastcoexist.com
Mar 4, 2015

Time, like work, has become commodified, a recent legacy of industrial capitalism, where a controlled, 40-hour week (or more) in factories was necessary. Our behavior is totally out of step with human priorities and the nature of today’s economy. To lay the foundations for a "steady-state" economy—one that can continue running sustainably forever—a recent paper argues that it’s time for advanced developed countries transition to a normal 21-hour work week.

This does not mean a mandatory work week or leisure-time police. People can choose to work as long, or short, as they please. It’s more about resetting social and political norms. That is, the day when 1,092 hours of paid work per year becomes the "standard that is generally expected by government, employers, trade unions, employees, and everyone else."

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) says there is nothing natural or inevitable about what’s considered a "normal" 40-hour work week today. In its wake, many people are caught in a vicious cycle of work and consumption. They live to work, work to earn, and earn to consume things. Missing from that equation is an important fact that researchers have discovered about most material consumption in wealthy societies: so much of the pleasure and satisfaction we gain from buying is temporary, ephemeral, and largely relative to those around us (who strive to consume still more, in a self-perpetuating spiral).

The NEF argues to achieve more satisfying lives we need to challenge social norms and reset the industrial clock in our heads. It sees the 21-hour week as integral to this for two reasons: it will redistribute paid work, offering the hope of a more equal society (right now too many are overworked, or underemployed). At the same time, it would give us all time for the things we value but rarely have time to do well such as care for our family, travel, read or continue learning (as opposed to merely consuming).

Besides, it may be the only way a modern global society won’t overwhelm the earth’s resources. Creating EU-level living standards for the entire world by 2050 would require a six-fold increase in the size of the global economy, with potentially devastating consequences. Instead of endlessly growing GDP, maybe we need to recalibrate society to make more people happier and successful with less.

"The proposed shift towards 21 hours must be seen in terms of a broad, incremental transition to social, economic, and environmental sustainability," says the NEF in its report.

The challenges are great. And no doubt, some will seize on this as socialism or worse. Many will object to being told that 21 hours is normal, or 80 hours is too much.

But consider what economist John Maynard Keynes (whose theories underpin much of the response to the global financial crises) said in 1930 about the goals of future societies. Keynes thought that by the start of the 21st century, we would work only 15 to 21 hours a week, and we would instead focus on "how to use freedom from pressing economic cares."

As NEF writes: "Keynes was wrong in his forecast, but not at all wrong, it seems to us, to envisage a very different way of using time."

4.3 ·
3
Trending Today
"The Myth of Time" - Martin Luther King Jr.
3 min · 6,913 views today · Excerpt from MLK Jr.'s last sermon, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution". Delivered at The National Cathedral on March 31, 1968 (4 days prior to his...
How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men
Mark Green · 5,053 views today · Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
Real Underground Kingdom That Has Existed for Millions of Years Went Unnoticed, Until Recently...
Kid Krunk · 4,728 views today · 28 Stunning Photos Of The World’s Largest Cave
Surviving Capitalist Depression
Michael Emero · 3,569 views today · We live in a toxic society filled with toxic people. Even the ones with the best hearts- including ourselves- have been raised in ignorance, with disinformation. Our examples...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 2,714 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
How Wolves Change Rivers
4 min · 2,187 views today · When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable "trophic cascade" occurred. What is a...
Thich Nhat Hanh: How We Can Learn to Love Our Enemies
5 min · 2,044 views today · This is a short excerpt from Peacemaking. I often think about this story when I think about the kind of activism I would like to bring into this world. I want to help build a...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 1,935 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
3 min · 1,705 views today · In his new film, director Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished - a radical narration about race in America, using the writer's original words. He draws...
Hans Rosling Brilliantly Explains Complexity of Population and Resource Issues Using Simple Tools
3 min · 1,524 views today · Let me show you the world, says Swedish academic Han Rosling as he demonstrates the dynamics of population growth, child mortality and carbon dioxide emissions. The challenge...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,498 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
The Charter For Compassion
2 min · 1,485 views today · The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated...
True Justice Should Have Compassion in It
Thich Nhat Hanh · 1,259 views today · I believe that true justice should have compassion in it. When someone does something harmful, destructive, the destruction is done not only to the person who is the victim...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 740 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
The Price of Certainty
7 min · 665 views today · It’s alarming to see how polarized politics have become in the United States. The wider the gulf grows, the more people seem to be certain that the other side is wrong...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 583 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch
Mark Greene · 371 views today · Homophobic prohibitions against male touch are hurting straight men as well.
Meet the Earthship
7 min · 367 views today · Outside of Taos, New Mexico, you'll find a community of people living in off-grid homes made of garbage. The homes are called Earthships and were invented by Michael Reynolds...
The Importance of Empathy
3 min · 355 views today · With an increasingly polarized and divided world, we need empathy more than ever before. Too often we are talking at each other, unable to listen and jumping to entirely wrong...
The Demoralized Mind
John Schumaker · 353 views today · Western consumer culture is creating a psycho-spiritual crisis that leaves us disoriented and bereft of purpose. How can we treat our sick culture and make ourselves well? asks...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
The Case For A 21-Hour Work Week