‘Of all Labour’s stupidities, the four day week stands out’ at least according to David Smith in his economic outlook in The Times. OK, but how would he know? According to Kenneth Galbraith, Canadian-born economist, public official and diplomat, ‘The only purpose of economic forecasts is to give astrology a better image.’ Nobody can be certain about the future and the economy is a nebulous things, very difficult to pin down and agree upon, let alone predict.
I have no idea if, in the end it is a good or bad idea but it is an idea and humanity is driven forward by those with ideas, dreams and visions. The idea that people have to work less yet are still able to pay their way might seem, on the face of it, impossible yet all impossible things have to start somewhere. It is certainly an interesting and potentially noble objective. Think of all the things we could do to contribute to society if we had more time available.
Wait a minute though, when I started work, some four decades ago, I worked a 44 hour week, 8 until 5 Monday to Friday and 4 hours on Saturday morning. I had a holiday allowance of 2 paid weeks but couldn’t take any holiday until I had worked for a year.
When I semi- retired and went to work for myself I was working a 37 hour week and had 6 weeks paid holiday, with no waiting period. My income was also substantially better in relative terms. If my maths is correct this is a 22.6% decrease in working hours (1702 per year down from 2200). A 32 hour week would be a 13.5% decrease in working hours. It might never happen, it might never work but it is not impossible.
Smith, however, claims that the fall in work hours is behind us now because productivity has stopped growing, yet as machines replace human effort it may be that the future will have no physical work to be done. The past is no guide to the future, especially in economics and we need to rethink our approach to work much more radically than we do today.
Is a 32 hour work week a good idea? I don’t know but it is certainly worth contemplation rather than instant dismissal.