Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Nicholas Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Macquarie University

“We should work to live, not live to work,” declared Britain’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell last month, as he announced the British Labour Party would reduce the standard working week to 32 hours, without loss of pay, within 10 years of winning office.

The promise followed a report (commissioned by McDonnell) from economic historian Robert Skidelsky on how to achieve shorter working hours.

Skidelsky is a member of the House of Lords and a biographer of John Maynard Keynes, who in 1930 predicted a 15-hour working week would be possible within a few generations.

Read more: It's time to put the 15-hour work week back on the agenda

The report deals specifically with British conditions but presents an agenda with universal appeal.

It describes fewer work hours as a win-win – improving productivity for employers while giving employees what they want.

It says

People should have to work less for a living. Having to work less at what one needs to do, and more at what one wants to do, is good for material and spiritual well-being. Reducing working time - the time one has to work to keep ‘body and soul alive’ - is thus a valuable ethical objective.

Arguments for fewer working hours usually focus on the “economic” benefits, in the sense of resource allocation that maximises satisfaction.

But Skidelsky’s report says there is a more important reason: that it is ethically desirable.

Ethical desirability is not just a matter of costs and benefits. It is also a matter of justice and realising common goods (shared goods that require collective deliberation and action).

An insufficient argument

Reducing working hours will only promote those ends if accompanied by deeper social and cultural changes.

Skidelsky’s argument for the ethical desirability of working fewer hours is essentially this:

  • people are generally happier when spending time on what they want to do, rather than on what they have to do to earn an income

  • less time spent on work, and more free time, will thus promote happiness (or well-being)

  • promoting happiness (or well-being) is ethically desirable, so it is ethically desirable to reduce the number of hours a person has to work.

A variant of this argument – used, for example, by the Autonomy think tank in its proposal for a shorter working week – substitutes freedom for happiness.

On this view, less time spent on work (which is necessitated by an external reason – income) means more time to do what one wills.

The ethics of the 4 day work week. It's not just about the hours Robert Skidelsky’s argument is based on people being happier when they spend time on what they want to do, not what they have to do. Shutterstock

From a philosophical point of view, neither argument is sufficient.

One problem is that reducing the amount of time spent in work doesn’t necessarily increase the amount of time available for doing what you want.

Work is not the only context in which action is subject to external constraints.

Much family life, for example, involves doing things that need to be done rather than want to be done.

Another problem is that ethical desirability is not just a matter of increasing the total amount of a good (such as happiness or freedom).

It also concerns the good’s distribution. An outcome must be not merely optimal but also just.

The issue of distribution

There is an argument shorter working hours are ethically compelling for precisely this reason: they correct an injustice arising from the unequal distribution of free time.

Studies, for example, show free time is unequally distributed between the sexes. Men enjoy a larger share of socially available free time, because women spend more time outside paid work on duties related to child rearing and care giving.

Working fewer hours might give women more free time. But it won’t of itself distribute free and unfree time more equally. To address the injustice in the unequal apportionment of free time, some equalising redistribution is needed.

It could be that men, given more free time, will do more non-autonomous activity in the domestic sphere. But that’s a presumption. If a man is putting his feet up on Saturday and Sunday, why expect something different if he also gets Friday off?

Read more: We can we reduce gender inequality in housework – here's how

Something more fundamental than the amount of time needs to change.

So reducing working hours has benefits, but it does not address deeper problems of inequality in the activity of work itself. It does nothing to stop the production of harmful things, or things that go against the common good.

The ethically desirable goals of equality and the realisation of common goods require deeper social changes in the way work is done and what it is done for. Real progress lies in realising equality and common goods through work as much as gaining more time for non-work.

Authors: Nicholas Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Macquarie University

Read more http://theconversation.com/the-ethics-of-the-4-day-work-week-its-not-just-about-the-hours-124418

Writers Wanted

Body fat deep below the surface is a toxic risk, especially for your heart

arrow_forward

The Future of Online Gambling in Australia

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Prime Minister National Cabinet Statement

The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, the Victoria outbreak, easing restrictions, helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment an...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

5 Essential Tools for Working Remotely in 2020

The average, modern office worker spends 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in a company building. Since the start of COVID, however, many of these companies have allowed workers to work from home due...

News Company - avatar News Company

What happens to all those pallets?

Pallets — they're not something everyday people often give much thought to. But they're an integral part of any business which receives or distributes large quantities of goods. But once the goo...

News Company - avatar News Company

Ten tips for landing a freelance transcription job

Transcription jobs are known to be popular in the field of freelancing. They offer fantastic job opportunities to a lot of people, but there are some scammers who wait to cheat the freelancers. ...

News Company - avatar News Company



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion