This node is the second part of some thoughts of mine after reading Bertrand Russell's In Praise of Idleness (which I insist that you read, it is very easy to understand and interesting). When I first read In Praise of Idleness, I immediately realized how tiny and confined and full of stress is the room that everyday work leaves for other activities in our life. That was exactly my feeling about it, but as we all know, sometimes feelings can be very misleading. So I decided to do the maths, and the result was overwhelming... indeed, too damn tiny... Here's the node: Working 9 to 5: The modern slavery.

So, discussing the issue of overworking with a friend, I explained to him some obvious things, like why Bertrand Russell thinks that with current advances in technology, industrialization, automatization etc, working 8 hours a day is way too much, and that a cut to 4 hours of working per day, increasing leisure time, would be very reviving for civilization, culture, etc (see Russell's essay for details). So, hearing this, my friend ruined my dreams and brought me back to earth, asking me, how the heck would people live with half their wages...

I froze. Nowhere in his essay had Russell referred to wages and what would happen to them if we would cut the working hours by half. On first thought, it seemed quite natural that half the working... half the payment. It is logical. But... is it?

Please excuse me for two things: I do not claim to be either an economics master, or a Marx's economic theory master. And second, my english terminology is poor as far as economical issues are concerned. So, if you have any suggestions either about terminology or about ideas, please /msg me.

One would say that using the marxistic approach for defining the relation "wage"-"working quantity (i.e. hours)", half the working would mean half the payment, since Marx says that "wage" is what the employer is charged for buying the employee's working potential. So, it follows that since the employer will be using the employee's working potential for half the time he used to, he shall pay to the employee half of the former payment.

But I will say NO. This is the employer's point of view (sorry Marx ;-)1

1 Actually, no need to be sorry. Marx was just describing what is going on and not how he would like it to be.

Leaving apart the big boss at his office having a nice time with his secretary, and regarding the technical production details (i.e. the production per se) as a black box, meaning that the boss, say, Mr. John Pinhead, is only concerned with management stuff and has no idea what actually is going on in the production line and what exactly is the procedure that produces the pins (yeap, it's an industry that makes pins, to use Russell's example), let's consider the following scenario:

Suppose that one cold and stormy night, the industry's workers gather, and secretly install some new technology, brand-new shining elaborate machines, replacing some ancient ones, which are able to produce pins twice as fast as the former ones. And beginning from the next day, they produce the same quantity of pins as always, but leave the factory having completed only four hours of work. Now, outside the production's black box (which includes the workers), everything looks the same as always: The boss observes no decline in the production of pin quantities, no decline in profit, continues to pay the workers the same as usual and everybody is happy! And additionally, our beloved economical system has it's gain: Much more free time for the workers, means much more leisure activities, which by it's turn means more money circulation, et voila!

Of course, I hear people saying: "Oh, c'mon dogganos, you must be joking. These things can't happen!". Yes, I know. It was just that I was sitting and relaxing in the beautiful Parc del Buen Retiro in Madrid and everything just seemed so utopic... But, anyway, the above was just a symbolic example and as such must be considered. It was just to demonstrate potential and not course of acting to achieve such a result. I mean that if for example the Great Big Boss had a visit from God himself, who told him that either you will show extreme love for your employees and care for them as you care for your profits or "I'll give you the ticket to meet Me" (i.e. a heart attack), then OK, the Boss could install these machines and have the same profits as before and have the workers work half as much. But without God's personal intervention, leaving it to the Kantian Good Will of the Boss... just won't do.

Everybody knows that these new technology machines of our example, did not just fall from the blue skies. A (vast) amount of effort and research and money was put together to develop them. Ingredients that only the employer possesses... And just for a moment suppose that he, John Pinhead, had the Good Will to make the lives of his employees as good as they get. Suppose he was ready to sacrifice extra profit gained by putting the new machines into work, in order to have his employees working half time. Will our beloved economical system let him get away so easy? Of course not. Capitalism has the ability, like living organisms, to preserve itself (why do I have the feeling that the writeup will end up in a rant?).

This is what will happen: Natasha Pintits, CEO of the MicroPins Corp. will propose a strategy to invest money in research and will also come up with some more effective scheme of producing pins. She will put that in work, lower her costs and drive John Pinhead bankrupt, leaving all his employees jobless... Except if Mr. Pinhead reconsiders the situation and... here we are at the 8 hours again...

Why do corporations do research? Is it because they want to advance civilization, technology etc, or is it because they want to keep up with the research done by other corporations so as to continue producing competitive products and stay in business? I would bet for the seconds. Competitive Products... The quintessence of capitalism... Our Paradise and Hell... IMHO, guys and girls, our non-anthropocentric economical system is the source of all evil...


PS. I had a dream last night. There were not 25 different kinds of pins, just one: The "state pin". Produced by The State. The State did some research so that it would find more effective ways to produce pins, and that way, while the production remained constant (to the population's pin needs), the employees at the State's factories had to work less and less, spending their free time in exhibitions, concerts, excursions, reading, writing etc. New technologies emerging from research would be applied directed to human's needs and not directed to impersonal profits... And then the alarm clock went off. Time to go to work.