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Sure we should have four day working weeks – the US already does

Summary:
One of those little ideas peering over the lip of the political punchbowl these days is that we should all be working 4 day weeks. After all, Keynes said we would by now so why not? It being entirely true that as a society becomes richer we expect more of that greater wealth to be taken as leisure rather than as simply more stuff. The interesting question here being, well, how to bring it about? The answer being do and plan nothing.Don’t have government tell everyone to do so, instead, this is an area where laissez faire really does work. For as we keep being told the US has very little regulation of working hours, employers are allowed to crack the whip in a manner just not possible in Europe. The next effect of this? The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was

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One of those little ideas peering over the lip of the political punchbowl these days is that we should all be working 4 day weeks. After all, Keynes said we would by now so why not?

It being entirely true that as a society becomes richer we expect more of that greater wealth to be taken as leisure rather than as simply more stuff. The interesting question here being, well, how to bring it about? The answer being do and plan nothing.

Don’t have government tell everyone to do so, instead, this is an area where laissez faire really does work. For as we keep being told the US has very little regulation of working hours, employers are allowed to crack the whip in a manner just not possible in Europe. The next effect of this?

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at 34.3

hours in December. In manufacturing, the average workweek and overtime remained at 40.5

hours and 3.2 hours, respectively. The average workweek of private-sector production and

nonsupervisory employees held at 33.5 hours.

33.5 hours isn’t quite a 4 day work week but it’s a lot closer to it than a 40 hour one would be given an 8 hour working day. This isn’t because there are vast hordes stuck on undesired part time hours either:

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 4.1 million, changed

little in December but was down by 507,000 over the year. These individuals, who would

have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been

reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs.

Given the 160 million or so in the US labour force that’s an entirely trivial number with no great impact upon that average work week.

Leave people alone - both employers and employees - to decide the hours of paid labour and as a society gets richer people work less. This is therefore a problem that is solved, nothing more need be done. As is so often true of leaving people alone to work out how to live their own lives of course.

Or as we could put it, proper liberalism works.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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