Thursday, 24 January 2013

Transition Economy

A Transition Plan Towards A Resource Based Economy:
The 4-Hour Work Day Campaign

To all Unions, Occupy Movement and Workers of the world,

We request your support for a real solution to the economic problems we are facing today worldwide, a solution backed by several economists that can make the economy more stable, achieve “Full Employment”, take care of the environment, bring more happiness to the population and set the path for a new system to arise and replace the current one, all in one single solution. We request all Unions, the Occupy Movement and all Workers of the world to support “The 4 Hour Work-Day Campaign.”
Working hours have been on the rise for the last 30 years in order to feed our insane economic system, in spite of the technological advancements we are capable of nowadays. Carlos “Carlin” Tovar, a Peruvian architect, graphic designer and a renowned political cartoonist, is proposing a reduction of working hours from 8 to 4 hours a day without reducing income. In his book “21st Century’s Manifest”  (available in Spanish only, for now) he argues that machines and technology are supposed to reduce the amount of human labor required to produce goods and services, but instead, the opposite is happening: People are now working more and more hours per day. The reason for long working hours is because by introducing machines into the methods of production, the production costs will decrease. Companies then will take advantage of that lower production cost and in order to stay competitive, the price of their final goods will also fall, to the point that less profit will be made out of those goods (a decrease in the rate of profit). In order to counteract a lower rate of profit, companies focus on producing more output and make the employees work more in order to do that. This is the reason why, he says, we end up working more, to counteract the decrease in the rate of profit.
But technology is not the problem. The problem is how the system is not taking advantage of the huge benefits that machines, software and automation can bring to humanity. And mainly it is because of our current economic system and its negative attributes. We are now seeing a  higher number of paid hours per day, surpassing even the legal requirement of 8 hours a day, with workers working 12 or 14 hours daily (sometimes 6 or 7 days a week) and even some forms of slavery exist in some parts of the world.
 “Carlin” (Pronounced Kar-leen), as people call him in Peru, has launched a campaign to promote a worldwide strike to reduce the work-day to 4 hours a day on a global scale (www.4hourworkday.org). The 4 hour work-day cannot be implemented in one country or one area of the world only, otherwise some countries (the ones that work more hours) will have a competitive advantage over the other ones. “It needs to be a worldwide measure. The economic issues are global and solutions need to be global”, he says. More information can be found on his blog (English and Spanish) and there is even a short video he made with english subtitles explaining this proposal in more detail.
The campaign promotes a progressive reduction of working hours to allow markets to adjust: The reduction will be of half an hour each month, so in 8 months we would accomplish a 4 hour work-day, without reducing income. But the reduction of working hours would not stay there. A re-evaluation every 10 years would be performed to analyze increases in productivity and if we find that productivity has indeed increased (which is what most likely will happen with the rapid advancement in technology) then another reduction will be applied. That means that, if we find that 2% annual increase in productivity occurs, 30 years after we accomplish the 4 hour work-day, we would be working about 2 hours a day only.
Although Carlin is the only one who has launched a campaign so far, he is not the only person who advocates for work time reductions. John  Maynard Keynes, for example, wrote an essay in 1930 called: ”Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren“, where he predicted that the work-day would be reduced to 3 hours a day by 2030. Also, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) published an article advocating for the 4 hour work-day, based on a presentation on “The fight for a shorter workweek”, sponsored by the Chicago General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World in January 1986.  Juliet Schor, economist, professor of Sociology at Boston College and author of “The Overworked American” and “Plenitude”, argues for work time reductions as a measure to stabilize the world wide economy, protect the environment, and provide a better quality of life for the population. Along with her, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) released a report in 2010 called “21 Hours” calling for a 21 hour work-week as a way to revert the economic crisis and set the path for a more steady state of the global economy. In fact, this past January of 2012, Juliet Schor participated in a conference organized by NEF and the London School of Economics where they argued in favor of work time reductions. As you can see, there is strong support from scholars and unions for a 4 hour work-day.
And as it was mentioned before, the 4 hour work-day DOES NOT require reductions in salary. That means that if your monthly income is $2000 a month working 40 hours a week, your income will remain the same, $2000 a month, but now working 20 hours a week only. How will work-time reductions be financed then? The measure will be financed by increases in productivity. For example, imagine you produce 1000 shoes in one day (8 hours). Then, productivity increases or a machine is invented that can help you produce the same amount of shoes but now in half a day (4 hours). You have 2 options: you can either work the same 8 hours and produce 2000 shoes or you can take the increase in productivity and produce the same amount of shoes you were producing before (1000) but work half the day only, 4 hours. So, in order to finance the reduction in hours, we would take the increases in productivity to reduce the work-day instead of producing more output. This concept is particularly important when we talk about a No-Growth economy or a steady state economy. The conventional economic view is that we need to grow every year, and it is usually measured in terms of GDP growth. Many economists are starting to realize that it is not possible to continuously grow every year (especially since we have a finite planet) and they are advocating for a no growth economy. By looking at the example of the shoes, a very important element of the No-Growth economy is work time reductions. Without it, we would choose the other option, which is to produce more output.
As you can see, The 4 Hour Work-Day will be a tremendous help for the environment because it will help utilize the technology in a much more responsible way instead of producing more and more output. In fact, Economists have identified what is called the “Rebound effect” of  technology, where the environmental benefits of the new technological improvements, which are supposed to help the production processes become more efficient and utilize less resources, are being counteracted by our capitalistic, unlimited-growth, profit-seeking mentality to use more resources. Let’s go back to the shoes example. Let’s say in order to make the 1000 shoes we utilize 500 lbs of leather, but, with the new machine, now we can produce the 1000 shoes not only in half the time but utilizing half the amount of leather as well, 250 lbs. The fact that we are now using less resources sounds great, but the capitalistic mentality does not translate that gain into working less and using less  resources. They not only keep it the same way it is (working 8 hours) but they will also invest in purchasing 2 more machines in order to get more revenue (hence, profit). That means that now, with 3 machines, we produce 6000 shoes in an 8-hour day (1000 shoes per half day per machine) and utilize a total of 1500 lbs of leather. That’s right! We end up utilizing more resources. This is the “Rebound effect”: The technology that helped us become more efficient and utilize fewer resources is now utilizing more resources because we are choosing the wrong path, to produce more, instead of the other option, which is to use the increases in productivity to finance work time reductions in order to produce the same output and increase the leisure time of the population.
The overall economy becomes healthier by work time reductions as well. First of all, full employment will be achieved. Imagine, for example, that you have 10 people that depend on oranges to survive and you have 5 oranges only (in this example, oranges are an analogy of the current 8 hour paid employment). These 10 individuals will compete among each other to be able to grab one of the precious oranges. They will improve their speed, run faster, learn how to avoid obstacles better, anything they can improve in order to get one of the oranges. It doesn’t matter how efficient and productive each individual becomes, there will always be 5 people who would not be able to get an orange. Instead, we can do what any rational group of individuals would do in this situation: Split the oranges in half! That way, all 10 individuals will have an orange to survive. Why haven’t we done this to solve our unemployment issue? The employed are working long hours and the unemployed are watching them, without a job nor income.  Why are we not splitting the number of hours for work from 8 to 4 so everyone could have a job and a decent income? Probably because we are still living in the same paradigm, doing the same religious worship to “The Market” that has taken us where we are now and is making us blind and unable to see the most obvious solution:  ”To reduce working hours to 4 hours a day and achieve Full Employment where everyone has the opportunity to work.” This solution  will give everyone the chance to get a decent income and this way increase aggregate demand, which is the Achilles’ heel of this economy.
At the same time, by switching to a 4 hour work-day, people will have more time to become active participants in our community. The 4 hour  work-day is not the panacea. All problems will not be eliminated. Corruption in government and corporations will still be present. However, think about how much stronger the voice of the people would be if we had more time to spend on educating ourselves about community issues, or being active participants in organizations that look for the benefit of society, like the Occupy Movement, GreenPeace, Human Rights Groups, and many more activists organizations. Imagine how many more people would attend a protest at Wall Street if we were not working all day. We could be capitalists for 4 hours a day and active citizens for the rest of the day. That is what a true democracy should look like. We have the system generating a self defense mechanism so to speak that makes it harder to become active participants in our community because we get back home so tired from work and all we have energy for is to watch TV, which is brainwashing us more into consumerism. The 4 hour work-day then can “REDEFINE THE CONCEPT OF DEMOCRACY” and can unleash the strongest power on earth: The people.
There are many more benefits of implementing a 4 hour work-day. For example:

    Parents can be more available to raise their kids and build family.
    It would be the first step to eradicate poverty from the face of the earth since jobs will be more available.
    It would reduce crime because people (especially young adults) would be less likely to choose the criminal path if they are able to get a decent job.
    It would reduce income inequality because increases in productivity are currently going towards producing more output and most of those profits resulting from that increase in output are going to the 1%. All the employee gets is more hours of work and very minimum salary increase, if any.
    It would provide more time to pursue activities that we love doing like sports, reading books, meditating, pursuing a higher education, learning a new skill, or even improving relationships with friends and people in the community, strengthening what economists call social capital.
    Some people might even argue that they love what they do for work and they would not want to be restricted to 4 hours. One of the benefits of the 4 hour work-day is to enable people to do what they love doing, so if you love your job, how about doing it also during your leisure time to improve society…without impacting your income? There are many non profit organizations that would love to have a web designer for free, or organizations that build houses for the poor that would love to have an engineer help them for free. Or how about the low income citizens who don’t have medical insurance and cannot afford medical help? If you love being a doctor you could offer them medical services for free during your leisure time. Any position could be used to help your community. This way, a switch to a more egalitarian society could emerge, where values of competition and individualism would be replaced with new values of cooperation and community.
Honestly, the list of benefits from the 4 hour work-day is enormous. You can learn more about the different benefits in the “Benefits” section of the website. Work ime reductions are not only beneficial to improve the quality of life of our fellow human beings, it is also good for the health of the economy and, as we have just seen with the “rebound effect”, good for the environment and the planet as a whole. Juliet Schor puts it nicely: “It is very hard to find a policy that provides 3 dividends like work time reductions: improving the health of the economy, the  health of the environment, and improving the quality of life of the population”
The 4 hour work-day campaign asks for a Global peaceful and democratic strike. And as far as we know, it is the only way that work time reductions could be  achieved. It is the same way it was achieved when we reduced the work-day from 16 to 12 hours a day in the mid 1800’s and again in the early 1900’s when we reduced it from 12 hours to the current 8 hours a day: by going on strike. It would be naive to request that you write your politicians. This measure would not be discussed in any Congress or Parliament at all. It goes too much in favor of the people and against corporations and conventional economics. This measure needs to be imposed by the people going on strike and pressuring the world leaders with the message that we are not going to move forward until this measure is applied worldwide. The Occupy Movement and Unions all over the world will be crucial in initiating this strike.

The system we have in place is clearly out of control and the 4 hour work day could help transition into a new one that is more respectful for people and the environment. Buckminster Fuller said once that “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”  Throughout history, systems have never been replaced in one month or one year. As B. Fuller said, they have become obsolete and replaced by another system that takes over. The Merchants, for example, started to gain more power than the Feudal Lord and that (along with other factors) lead to the disappearance of Feudalism. But that didn’t happen in a couple years. It took some time for that to happen. We all know the term “Planned Obsolescence”, a term that our “wonderful” system has brought to us that deliberately makes things to break down or become obsolete easier and faster so we have the need to purchase a new item, creating unnecessary waste. Well, how about we give this system a taste of its own medicine. Let’s deliberately plan for this system to become obsolete: a “Planned Obsolescence for this current model.” If we consider that having a society that is only required to work 4 hours a day would mean that the path towards a No-growth economy will be developed, that full employment (zero structural unemployment) will be achieved, that it will increase the amount of leisure time people have which can be spent doing what they love doing, that it will enable people to become more engaged with the problems that affect our community and become more active citizens (thus redefining democracy), and that it will begin to switch our value system from competition to cooperation, then we would set the path to the rise of a new system that will slowly replace the current negative system we have. Which new system would that be? That would be up to us. We are seeing already a shift to better value systems and models like time banks, permaculture, growing your own food, open-source systems, models that focus more on the symbiotic relationship between human beings, resources and the planet. The 4 hour work-day would provide the right environment for those models to spread and expand even faster, creating a better system for society. In essence, we would set the path to build an Economy that works for us and the environment and not that forces us and the environment to work for the economy. The 4 hour work-day will trigger the beginning of a new era in human history.
In life we see events that act as turning points determining our destiny. If those events would not have occurred, our lives would have probably taken a different route.  Where would we be if Hitler would not have had any opposition during WWII, would we be living under Nazi  regime?  What would have had happened if Martin Luther King decided to become complacent and not challenge the status quo? Would we still see segregational laws? The question now is what will happen if we don’t take this opportunity to demand a 4 hour work day? This is not just so we can have more leisure time. This is to save the world from this monster called Capitalism that will not stop until it sees every single  resource transformed into a commodity that can be traded and sold, regardless of how that would affect people or the environment. We need  to take action now and support the 4 hour work day. It will help stabilize the economy, protect the environment, redefine Democracy, improve the psychological health of the population and set the path for a new model to replace the current system that is clearly out of control and is no longer able to take care of everyone (if it ever was).
Please distribute this letter through your media channels like facebook, forums, twitter, newsletters, etc….,”Like” the campaign’s facebook page and share it with others  (www.facebook.com/4hourworkday). This is our chance to turn this around. Let’s support a global strike for the 4 hour work-day.
In solidarity,