work less, shred more (collectively)

“The best way to get a mental grasp about the current financial crisis is to look at a few past recessions and depressions. The most famous being the great depression of the 1930s but equally interesting is a much smaller recession that happened in England following the invention of the spinning jenny.
James Hargraves invented the spinning jenny in 1764. It could spin yarn eight times faster with the same amount of labour. The initial economic impact was that the price of yarn dropped and many yarn spinners lost their jobs. Violent riots ensued, many of the new machines were smashed and Mr Hargraves was forced to flee for his life. Eventually the demand for yarn grew and because textiles were now significantly cheaper people started to consume more. Wild radical consumerist ideas such as changing your underwear weekly started. A regular change of clothes became possible for the common man. The industrial textile industry of the late 18th century was the fastest growing segment of the economy and was one of the driving forces that lead the UK into the industrial revolution.

What technology does is increase the efficiency with which we can produce more goods and services. If we do not consume more, we have a surplus of labour and people lose their jobs.  The same pattern repeated itself in the early 20th century. There were more new technological inventions in the late 19th and early 20th century than ever before. Combustion engine, production lines, transatlantic flights, radio and many others increased productivity.

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Today the average worker is approximately 400% more efficient than a worker in the 1950s. In just eleven hours a worker can produce the same amount of goods and services as someone working 40 hours in the 1950s. It also means that 400% more stuff as to be consumed or people will loose their jobs.

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Technological efficiency gives us a choice; we can either continue to work just as hard and exponentially consume and grow the economy, or we can translate those gains in efficiency into other more meaningful activities such as child rearing, education, arts and holding elected leaders accountable. It is not surprising to learn that countries that do have lower workweeks such as Norway, Holland and Germany are more egalitarian and have lower crime rates. This might be coincidental, but I suspect that when people have time to invest in other types of work besides trying to endlessly fill up landfills with junk, we create the opportunity for a healthier and wiser society.In 1933 we changed from a 10 hour day to a 8 hour day. Maybe its now time to change to a 6 hour day.”

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