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Shorter Workweeks Will Defeat the Robots

Dean Baker points out that employment is not recovering at all well from the financial market induced crash of 2008. He has some ideas of what to do.

“There are two ways to deal with a situation in which the number of people who want to work exceeds the number of jobs. The first is to increase demand in the economy, thereby increasing the demand for workers. We could in principle do this with increased government spending, but people don’t like budget deficits.

Reducing the size of the trade deficit would also increase demand, but this requires that our politicians make trade deficits a priority, which is not likely.

Some politicians claim that they have a magic formula that will cause companies to go on an investment spree. Unfortunately, the magic seems to work only in the elections, never once they are in office.

If we can’t increase the demand for labor, we could go the other route and share the amount of work available more evenly. This can be done through a variety of mechanisms, such as shorter workweeks, mandated vacations, paid sick days, and paid family leave. The idea is that we would get most workers to put in less time on the job, thereby creating demand for more workers.

That shouldn’t sound like a strange concept. It was exactly this sort of thinking that got us the 40-hour workweek back in 1938. Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which required employers to pay time and half if they required workers to put in more than a 40-hour week

Baker has a number of articles around this topic at ZNET

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