Work and Leisure in a Steady State Economy

I'd Rather Be Here Than At Work
I'd Rather Be Here Than At Work

Leisure is the thing we so often aspire to gain more of in the US. The irony is apparent in that we have the smallest amount of leisure time in the world. Workers in the European Union have anywhere from 6 to 10 weeks of vacation a year and work about 6-8 hours less per week. Their standard of living is often considered greater than ours. Why? The Growth Economy wants more and more production and consumption.

We work in the US to fuel more and more growth. It is prevalent in other countries as well, but we are definitely the pioneers of the industry. I could rant on and on about this, but in the spirit of working less (and more efficiently) I will not re-invent the wheel. I invite you to watch this video from Workers of the World Relax. Also check out the Work Less Party, this blog post, this article, and this article.

Technology Should Mean Less Work, Not More

Increases in technology and efficiency should mean that we don’t have to work as much. Because we can achieve more in less time, greater efficiency should come with a decrease in overall work hours. The truth is that efficiency increases are put back into the production and consumption cycle – we work the same amount but now can produce and consume more. Why do we want that when we could work less and have more free, fun time?

A steady state economy is one that encourages utilizing those efficiency increases with more leisure time, not more production and consumption. This means we have the ability to work less, yet still enjoy a good quality of life. In a steady state economy we can also reduce unemployment by encouraging those that are overworked (1/3 of Americans) to decrease their work hours and allow for more jobs – without increasing the physical size of our economy, production or consumption.

Think about a better life – more time for your kids, more time for your hobbies, more time to take better care of yourself, more time to volunteer and make a better, happier world. You are still a productive member of society, but now you are also an active member of society – good for you and the community. This is key in developing our society instead of simply growing it (see Development vs Growth and Prosperity Without Growth – pdf).

A Story Sometimes Helps

Here is a great allegory about work, leisure, and growth:

An American tourist was at the pier of a small Central American coastal village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The tourist complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The fisherman replied, “Only a little while.”

The tourist then asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?”

The fishermansaid, “With this I have more than enough to support my family’s needs.”

The tourist then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The tourist scoffed, “I can help you. You should spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats.

“Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor; eventually opening your own cannery!

“You would control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this small coastal fishing village and move to the city, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you could run your ever-expanding enterprise.”

The fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

The tourist replied, “15 to 20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the fisherman.

The tourist laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions?…Then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”

What’s more important? Life, liberty, and happiness or the pursuit of more money, growth, and consumption?