But that hasn't happened:
In the American version of Capitalism, any benefits from increased productivity flow direct to the super rich, leaving the poor and middle-class worse off.
Meanwhile, the European semi-socialist model is also rapidly being subverted by the American model.
Perhaps the benefits of increased productivity in the developed world are simply being counter balanced by increased global competition and an equalization of lifestyles.
Isn't part of the problem that many university degrees don't really provide any such "productivity" increases? Things like communications, postmodern art history and gender studies, while possibly contributing to the intellectual development of students (assuming students don't just spend the whole course drinking), don't really increase students' ability to do or produce anything that other people value enough to pay for.
Below a certain threshold, poverty is very damaging on a person, but nonetheless, I've seen many instances of poor people sharing what little they have.
This is all anecdotal of course, but there are studies showing an inverse correlation of wealth to empathy.
However, it's not actually that fair enough. Some of the most generous spirited people I know are "poor".
No this is decidedly NOT anti-poor on my part. I definitely have a bleeding heart it was just a casual remark.
"Enact" implies the government restricting everyone to working 20 hours per week. That's a violation of our freedom to work as many hours as we want.
I do support you in that all of people shouldn't have to work in order to meet the basic needs of life today (food, housing, and connectivity). Agricultural and industrial efficiency and automization has advanced to a point where we can provide these basic needs to 90% of the populace with only 10% of people maintaining/operating these machines.
A lot of people will continue to work 50 or 60 hours, because a lot of humans are naturally inclined to work. They derive pleasure and satisfaction from it. I would myself personally continue working, perhaps even harder than I do now, but would direct my efforts towards things that I enjoy more, and that are potentially more impactful, meaningful, and beneficial to society. Ensuring that everyone's basic needs are met would give people great personal freedom to pursue what they want.
How would we implement this? One possible way is basic income -- although it might be beneficial to incentivize productive and meaningful use of freedom that basic income gives people. We don't want a country where 50% of the population spends time watching soap operas, and eating junk food.
Just some of my thoughts...
But heck, even pilots can work a 40 hour week (of actual flight time). I am not sure if there is even a hypothetical union that would limit work time to such a degree (<30 hours).
My straw man is burning.
Those regulations coerce employers into treating their employees well (which is not bad). If you were to privately, in a manner that did not put others at risk, conduct an experiment in your backyard that violated those very safety regulations, I doubt you would get in trouble for it.
 It's not as bad a thing for government to regulate how individuals treat each other, as it would be if it regulated (passed laws around) how an individual treated himself/herself.
I really feel like we would end up with a country where the majority just live on basic income and do nothing. At least now they must contribute to society on a basic level to earn an income, even if it is unsatisfactory (welfare and social programs aside).
The slope of progressive taxes and regressive subsidies is bewilderingly high. Particularly if you have higher health care expenses or anything which might be considered a disability, the first $90k of gross earnings for a family of 4 is almost entirely going to the State & Fed.*
As more people "catch on" to the math we see more people dropping out of the labor pool. The story in the media is it's because people have given up on finding work. But I think a significant portion of it is because it's simply not worth working. Not everyone has figured out yet how much the Fed will pay you to not work, but when you do the math I think every middle-class worker should be very angry about it.
Now I'm not sure we want to have a system where everyone is paid exactly the same amount no matter what, but I'm pretty sure that a system which pays less as you pay more taxes is broken.
* If you take the total market value of all subsidies available to a family of 4 earning nothing, and add in the all-inclusive taxes paid as a result of a family of 4 earning $90k (at about which point subsidies have gone to zero), together those numbers will add to about $90k.
If we get more technical, the numbers are actually shifted up by about $30k, because of the standard exemption and child tax credits, the first $30k of income doesn't count. So really it's $30k - $120k where you're effectively working for the Fed.
The people who end up on "basic income" would do something they like to do; but that something is nothing of value to the economic elite of the world. In that sense, they do "nothing".
It has absolutely nothing to do with any "elite". It has to do with being economically visible.
If the government pays 300M citizens each $25k annually, that's $7.5T that has to come from somewhere.
If you play videogames all day, or turn your back yard into a decorative garden, or anything else you don't get paid for, then you are not contributing to that $7.5T.
Which can kinda be a problem if too many people do that and there's nowhere for it to come from.
Also: not all value is neatly captured on a W-2 form. If turning my backyard into a decorative garden allows me to set a higher sale price for my home later, I've contributed. If I buy groceries so that I can play videogames all day without falling over from hunger, I've contributed. (If I can pay in cash instead of food stamps because I collect a basic income, even better: there's less bureaucracy on the way to collecting tax on my purchases from the grocery store.)
 notwithstanding, people who contribute literally nothing to the economy are extremely rare.
A huge proportion of the welfare will is spent right away on consumption of necessities (food, rent) which goes right back into the economy. Specifically, it becomes revenue for business owners.
This is how the majority understand the macro economics: an extension of bartering system. But a sovereign currency regime does not need to worry about it. What constrains an economy are real resources, but not financial resources. Sovereign debt = public assets. For more, check "Modern Monetary Theory".
I also heard throwing money from helicopters is beneficial, too.
What is needed, is a fiscal policy--and this leads to basic income, basic employment. The only constraints are "real" resources.
I suspect this was Poe's law in action; some of the current fiscal policies are so contrived that it's hard to tell theonion-style sarcasm from the real thing.
For example, I love to learn. I could spend ages reading books and learning as much as possible for my meager brain to understand about physics and it would be very fulfilling.
But unless I apply that knowledge, it really wasn't of much value to anyone (even myself, depending on how you look at it).
So why do I deserve to take advantage of all society would provide with basic income (food, shelter, safety, etc..) if I provided nothing in return?
Now, why should you start doing something different from learning ?
Maybe because if you do something productive you will product value that will let you to live in a better house, or to learn more...
The point is not to let everybody doing nothing of productive, the point is to give to everybody the choice, between doing nothing of productive now vs. bringing values to the society...
You know those bars you go to? Restaurants? Theatres? The list goes on. No one would work at those shitty jobs any more. Because 25k is comfortable - why would I work at a shitty job for another few thousand?
However, in my opinion, the point is that nobody should work at such "shitty jobs", who enjoy being a waiter, will be one in some high end restaurant where he will compensate in an extremely honest way.
The introduction of basic income will need a complete mental switch.
We can dream about robot that serve us, or we can start to realize that the quicker way would be to change mentality and stop to need somebody (or something) that serve us.
But we're not there yet, our economy is still reliant upon a large number of people doing "shitty jobs" in order to grow in general, and more specifically to continue this push towards further automation. This is the challenge: you need a way to alleviate human suffering during the transition towards a greater world for everyone, but the most obvious way to do that (basic income) may halt the transition itself. What we probably need is something that looks more like a bridge than a final destination, but any such bridge starts to resemble the experiments in communism that cost the world so much during the 20th century.
If the government has a significant source of non-income revenue (Alaska), the payouts seem to be too trivial ($1,884 annually at yesteryear oil prices). Nice, but not a deal breaker.
US on the federal level is so dependent on income tax revenue, that you have to tax income to distribute that income.
Most businesses have given up trying to measure produced value per worker (and certainly don't reward based on value produced). The 40 hour work week just means that it is expected that you work 40 hours a week, 48 weeks a year (give or take, depending on vacation practice/laws) -- in order for the employer to pay you "full benefits". That typically includes ideas about a living wage (not in all parts of the world), and some form of social safety net, such as health care, insurance etc.
A 20 hour work week, would just mean that the expected time most need to put in, to get the basic salary/coverage would be cut in half.
I don't think a smooth, nor easy transition is possible -- you can look at like doubling hourly wages, or halving all prices, or through some other lens: but I think that we are getting accustomed to thinking of hourly pay, hourly wages/compensation etc is part of the problem.
The idea of a work week: that one can work "full time" for one employer doesn't really say that much about how much time one puts in -- it's more about what responsibility that employer have for the employee. And the "norm" of 40 hours is used as a guide to compensate extra for overtime, or to reduce compensation for people that can't or won't work "full time".
Maybe the best way forward, if one believes that some form of "fair" distribution is possible under capitalism, is to have all businesses be 100% employee owned. It's not entirely clear why anyone else should benefit directly from being able to pay less for work put in by workers, and pocket the difference. Especially considering that a lot of the capital invested might be borrowed money -- which under fractional reserve banking is just money made up out of thin air and given to those that need it the least.
Make health insurance not tied to employment. (It could be universal coverage handled by the government, it could be what we're half trying where everyone buys their own. As long as it's not thru the employer, it doesn't matter for this.)
Make things like FMLA leave not depend on working enough hours.
Remove the caps that some payroll taxes have.
Some per-employee costs are unavoidable. If my team has 10 people instead of 5 people, and they're all available at different times, that's a cost. The work has to be divided differently, I have to remember more interpersonal crap, there will be communication delays, etc.
But as much as possible should either be handled by Someone Else or made dependent linearly on hours or pay, rather than being tied to employment as a boolean or to a threshold number of hours or amount of pay.
I have friends in France who sneak into their academic research labs after hours because of this exact reason (well, not 20 hours, but set max work hours)... seems super silly to me.
We're talking about an unusual case, though. You have to realize the most people hate their jobs. They're not following their passions. They find work tedious, uncomfortable, and frequently demeaning. For these people, the bulk of humanity, a cap on working hours frees them to do something they find much more interesting.
I think productive work is one means by which individuals can become more worthy of honor and respect.
Ken Levine (of BioShock fame) calls this the "circus of value." The disparity between economic terms and their moral/intuitive counterparts grows very large in certain important limits.
A person who tries to succeed in life by scamming other people enters a war with reality. He may fool some people, for a certain period of time, but he is forced to constantly be looking over his shoulder. One lie leads to the need for additional lies.
Some people think this is fine, or that it's a price they are willing to pay in order to get away with stealing a million dollars or whatever. It's not worth it to me, however.
As regards Bill Gates, what he does with his money is his business. If he wishes to give it way in that manner, I'm fine with it.
I'd suggest, however, that Bill Gates worked many long hours to earn his money. So if you claim that giving it away is 0% productive, I think you're dropping the context of how he came to have the money in the first place.
For example, let's say you have two individuals. One gets married, fathers some children, and then decides that rather than supporting his family, he's going to sit around and play video games while his wife works 24x7 to try to take care of the family.
Another man, in the same circumstances, gets a job, works hard every day, studies things that he finds interesting, and eventually works himself into a job where he can easily support his family, to the point where the members of his family can engage in things that interest them.
Which man is more worthy of honor and respect? I would say the man in the second example.
Do you see it differently?
The reason is because of a quirk of psychology. What you're describing is basically shaming people: making them feel like they are unworthy because of what they do or do not choose to do. And that's a logical response to trying to influence behavior. Except it doesn't work. When you, me, society in general makes people feel like they're unworthy of honor and respect because of what they do, they end up confirming those expectations of unworthiness in what they do, they don't end up adjusting what they do to escape your judgments.
Let's continue with the hypothetical that I presented.
We have a man who is shirking his responsibility to his wife and to his children. Presumably, his wife did not sign up for the deal she now has when she married him (and if she did, it's on her, then, but I'm assuming she did not) and the children, of course, had no role in the decision making.
Does the man who ignores the responsibilities he freely chose develop or improve his sense of self-esteem, by sitting home and playing video games? Does he come to view himself as more and more competent to make his way in the world?
I would say he does not. I would expect that, by his own estimate, he will come to consider himself less and less worthy of honor and respect. I don't know that he would admit this to anyone, but I think his estimate of himself would decline.
Now, consider his wife. Should she consider him worthy of honor and respect? Is she acting with integrity if she fakes something she doesn't really believe?
I would say that his wife would have less esteem for him over time, that she would come to resent him, and that this would have a negative effect on her view of him as worthy of honor and respect.
Finally, I would say that I am not out to shame people, but if someone does act unjustly, I think they should bear the consequences of their decisions.
Here's an alternate reframing. The man considers himself worthy of honor and respect by virtue of his existence as a human being. He takes those attributes off the table. And because he is an honorable and worthy human being, he acts like it. He puts down the video games (or Hacker News), and goes back to writing code and spending time with his family, because that is what allows him to maintain his self-respect. To do otherwise would cause emotional friction, as his self-image is no longer congruent with his actions.
It's not quite that I disagree. I just think that your statement and example don't make an accounting for what honor and respect a person is worthy of independent of their work status. Should a 3 year old, or a 93 year old, only be accorded respect in accordance to how much they work? Should hospital patients receive less honor and respect than hospital staff?
I think human life has value, and is worth of honor and respect, completely independent of the capacity and willingness to work.
I realize that sounds pretty dismissive, that isn't what I'm getting at. I'm asking a serious question about why you are framing the discussion in that way.
I'm framing the discussion the way I am because of how I see the issues raised in the comment to which I initially replied.
Perhaps we are using different definitions for some of the terms that were used?
How would you frame the discussion? I will try to respond to that if you wish.
If I don't respect someone very much, they lose the benefits (let's assume there are some) of trading with me, and I lose the benefits (presumably, small, if I don't respect them much) of trading with them.
I think we 1) live in a division-of-labor society, and that we 2) survive best when we trade with each other on a strictly voluntary basis.
So if that's the case, I think that people that are good trading partners want to have the (legitimately earned, based on past performance) respect of other people in the marketplace.
Perhaps the reputation systems we see all around us are evidence of this? ("Please remember to leave positive feedback for me!")
If I am a good judge of character, then someone I don't respect is likely not respected by (many?) other people as well. If our society is in fact based on division-of-labor and trading, then that person is going to have a more difficult time getting by.
I agree that we tend to pick winners and losers, but I think a lot of the time those decisions are more arbitrary than we think they are (for example, good judges of character might conflate that judgement with appreciation for charisma without realizing it).
In addition to probably being more arbitrary than we think, the winner/loser way of thinking is also self polarizing, rewarding prior success with more success and punishing lack of success.
(Think about a student that gets some bad grades when they are 10. In our system, that might follow them around for decades (they don't get into a private Junior high, they don't get into Harvard...). There's no reason it should follow them into the next year of school.)
"Along with more workers clocking just below 30 hours in their primary jobs, CPS data show the number working 20-29 hours in secondary jobs rose 105,000, or 7.6%, from a year ago.
Other Labor Department data also suggest an ObamaCare effect. The average retail workweek for nonsupervisors shrank to a three-year low of 30 hours in July, down from a post-recession peak of 30.8 hours in January 2012. That's the sharpest decline in the retail workweek since the early 1980s."
Technology is changing very rapidly. As a software developer, I need to put in some amount of time keeping up with the changes. Someone specifically focused on web stuff would probably need to put in even more time keeping up. Lawyers will have to keep with new laws, and case law. I understand it's typical for licensed professions to require members to have ongoing education in order to keep their licenses. How much time keeping up is needed to stay current?
If you try to force a 20-hour work week, what do you do when people try to evade this by taking multiple jobs? What do you do about independent business owners who only employ themselves?
Also a single worker can produce more work until exhaustion effects start kicking in than a single worker. That equilibrium is probably around 40hrs. Communication and management overhead alone adds more fixed cost to adding an employee.
But if you look at the charts of average work weeks, you'll notice that they are going down. In parts of europe, a full time worker is becoming something between 30-40 hrs.
You need to reduce fixed costs and make them a cost that scales with the amount paid for the labor to make doing this more attractive for companies.
Other benefits are pretty much nothing compared to health insurance, or only cost money when the employees are at the job site, so govt. healthcare is needed before 4 workers at 10 hours a week becomes more attractive to employers.
Walmart & co make their employees work part time just to avoid paying mandatory benefits. Benefits are a big cost to companies.
We just don't need as many person-hours as we used to need. The trend is only going to continue. Except in the case of people with exceptional cognitive endowments (like most of the HN readership), there's a labor glut.
We could just wait. The trend will continue. Eventually, things will come to a head (or several, under a guillotine). Instead, let's gracefully adapt to increased productivity by increasing the cost of labor. That's how we can let the population as a whole benefit from this productivity miracle.
I think one of the expected outcomes of ACA was that people who could afford to retire, but were too constrained to buy their own health insurance, would leave the workforce.
I dont know about USA but this paper describes exactly labour southern european market
If "the efficiency of the economy" really demands that an increasing number of people be unable to support themselves, that would mean that it's time to tear down the existing economy and replace it with something that works properly. is that what you want?
The failure of hubris isn't necessarily in obnoxiousness. It's in shortsightedness.