brni (brni) wrote,

The State of the Recession

So the thing that's troubling about this particular We-Swear-Its-Not-A-Depression is the way that while the stock markets and such have started to recover - back to mid-2007 levels (up from a low of 1997 levels) and climbing, and the financial sector has stabilized to a large degree (the banks - and their associated wealth - consolidated into fewer hands), there's something we're not seeing.

What we're not seeing is jobs.

We're seeing continued unemployment, continued mortgage defaults, continued foreclosures, and continued bankruptcies. We've got too many people with too much debt, unsustainable medical costs, and... no jobs.

We've seen from the mid-1700 to the end of the 1800s, a gradual decrease of work hours. In 1800, a normal work week for your average laborer was 16 hours a day, Monday through Saturday, and mandatory church attendance on Sunday. Over the next century, that moved to 12 hours Mon-Fri and 9 hours Sat, then 10 hours, and eventually, the 40 hour work week. This was possible through a combination of forces - the organizing power of labor, the increased productivity per worker as a result of improvements in mechanization, etc.

But it has been over a century since that has changed. While mechanization, robotics, telecommunications and so on continue to improve productivity and reduce the number of employees needed to get the work done, we continue to maintain the same concepts of "Full Time" as we did in 1890.

I suggest that what we really need to do is aggressively attack the unemployment problem. By moving toward full employment at greater-than-poverty-wages, we address the following: mortgage default and foreclosure, bankruptcy, the loss to businesses that are defaulted on in bankruptcies, people's increasing debt problems, homelessness, and so on. Secondly, more people with more money means more people buying things, which boosts the economy in general.

I recommend moving to a 30 or 32 hour work week (non-exempt jobs), and putting some reasonable maximum limit on work-hours for so-called "exempt" jobs (40? 45? 50?). I know too many people right now who, because their job involves something called "information technology," are literally required to work 70-100 hours per week.

This would, of course, put a temporary burden on businesses who would need to hire additional employees. Over a few years, I think that this would be offset by the increases in the economy due to increased spending by people who are 1) employed and 2) secure enough to spend some money. But the shift would be potentially devastating to struggling businesses in a recession, so it would be appropriate for the government to give support for a few years with a combination of partial subsidies and tax credits for new hires.

So tell me, y'all: Why won't this work?
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