The 4-Hour Work-day: A Transition Plan Towards a Resource Based Economy

When explaining what a Resource Based Economy is and how it would help society and the planet to live a better life, one of the most asked questions by the audience or public in general is the one about transition.

If we manage to convince the audience that the Resource Based Economy (TVP) model is the way to go, we will get questions like:

“OK, it sounds great but… how do we get there?”

There is really not a clear answer for that question, but that could change soon if The Zeitgeist Movement embraces a plan that has been discussed by some economists and activists lately but has not become popular yet: The 4 hour work-day.

Carlos “Carlin” Tovar, a Peruvian architect, graphic designer and a renowned cartoonist, is proposing a reduction of working hours from 8 to 4 hours a day. In his book “21st Century’s Manifesto” (available in Spanish only for now) he argues that machines and technology are supposed to liberate people from the amount of human labor they need to give in order to produce goods, but instead, the opposite is happening: people are now working more and more hours per day.

The reason for that is because by introducing machines into the methods of production, the cost of production will decrease. 

Companies will take advantage of that reduced cost and, in order to stay competitive, the price of the final goods will also fall, to the point that less profit will be made out of those goods (a decrease in the rate of profit). In order to balance that decrease in the rate of profit, we end up working more to produce more output. 

This is the reason why, he says, we end up working more hours (or being forced to work more hours): to counteract the decrease in the rate of profit, a congenital disease of capitalism according to Marx.

But technology is not the problem, he adds. The problem is how the system is not taking advantage of the huge benefits that machines, software and automation can bring to humanity. And mainly it is because of our insane capitalist system and its negative attributes.

We are now seeing an increase in the amount of labor time, surpassing even the legal requirement of 8 hours a day, with workers working 12 to 14 hours a day (sometimes weekends too) and even some forms of paid slavery are starting to arise in some areas of the world.

“Carlin” (Pronounced Kar-leen), as people call him in Peru, has launched a campaign to promote a worldwide strike to reduce the work-day to 4 hours a day in a global scale. According to him, it cannot be done in one country or one area of the world only, otherwise some countries (the ones that work more hours) will have a competitive advantage over the other ones.

“It needs to be a worldwide measure. The economic issues are global and solutions need to be global”, he says.

He has made a short video in English explaining this proposal in more detail, which you can watch below:

More information can also be found in his blog as well: English and Spanish.

The campaign promotes a progressive reduction of working hours to allow markets to adjust: A reduction of half an hour each month, so in 8 months we would accomplish the 4 hour work-day. But it would not stay there. 

A re-evaluation every 10 years would be performed to analyze increases in productivity and if we find that productivity has indeed increased (which is what most likely will happen with the rapid advancement in technology) then another reduction will be applied.

That means that, if we find that 2% annual increase in productivity occurs, 30 years after we accomplish the 4 hour word-day we would be working about 2 hours only.

Although he is the only one who has launched a campaign so far, he is not the only person who advocates for work time reductions. Keynes, for example, predicted in his essay: “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” that the work-day would be reduced to 3 hours a day by 2030.

In present times, Juliet Schor, Economist, Professor of Sociology at Boston College, and author of “The Overworked American” and “Plenitude”, argues for work time reductions as a measure to stabilize the global economy and provide a better quality life for the population. 

Along with her, the New Economics Foundation (nef) released a report called “21 Hours” calling for a 21 hour work-week as a way to revert the economic crisis and set the path for a more steady state of the global economy (You can read nef’s 15 page report here) In fact, this past January of 2012, Juliet Schor participated in a conference organized by nef and the London School of Economics where they argued for work time reductions. You can watch the conference for free below:

And in case you were wondering, all of these proposals have one thing in common: They do not require reductions in salary. The measure will be financed by increases in productivity. 

For example, imagine you produce 1000 shoes in a day (8 hours). Then, a machine is invented that can help you produce the same amount of shoes but now in half a day (4 hours). 

You have 2 options: you can either work the same amount of time, 8 hours, and produce 2000 shoes or you can take the increase in productivity and produce the same amount of shoes (1000) but work half the day only, 4 hours. 

So, in order to finance the reduction in hours, we would take the increases in productivity to reduce the work-day. This concept is particularly important when we talk about a no growth economy or a steady state economy. 

The conventional economic view is that we need to grow every year, and it is usually measured in terms of GDP growth. Many economists are starting to realize that it is not possible to continuously grow every year (especially since we have a finite planet) and are advocating for a no growth economy.

As you can see in the example of the shoes, an important element of the no growth economy is work time reductions. Without it, we would choose the other option, which is to produce more shoes.

But the benefits of work time reductions don’t stay there. Economists and Environmental Scientists have identified what is called the “Rebound effect” of technology, where the environmental benefits of the new technological improvements, which are supposed to help us be more efficient and utilize less resources, are being counteracted by our capitalistic, unlimited-growth, profit-seeking mentality to use more resources. 

Let’s go back to the shoes example. Let’s say in order to make the 1000 shoes we utilize 500 lbs of leather, but, with the new machine, now we can produce the 1000 shoes not only in half the time but utilizing half the amount of leather as well, 250 lbs. 

This sounds great, but the capitalist does not take that gain to work less (or make the employees work less) and use less resources. They not only keep it the way it is, working 8 hours, but they will also buy 2 more machines to create more output. That means that with a total of 3 machines now we produce 6000 shoes in an 8-hour day (1000 shoes per half day per machine) and utilize now 750 lbs of leather. 

That’s right! we end up utilizing more resources. This is the “Rebound effect”: The technology that helped us become more efficient and to utilize fewer resources is now utilizing more resources because we are choosing the wrong path, to produce more, instead of the other option, which is to use the increases in productivity to finance work time reductions.

Increasing leisure time for the people will, for the first time, liberate us from the chains of the capital and provide us with time to do what we really want, to spend our time doing what we love: spending time with family, going to school, practicing some sports, or becoming more active participants in our community. 

Work-time reductions are not only beneficial to improve quality of life of our fellow human beings, it is also good for the health of the economy and, as we have just seen with the “rebound effect”, good for the environment and the planet as a whole. 

Juliet Schor puts it nicely:

“It is very hard to find one single policy that provides 3 dividends: improving the health of the economy, of the environment, and improves the quality of life of the population.”

But why, you may wonder, should the Zeitgeist Movement embrace this proposal? History has taught us that systems have not been changed abruptly.

They have had a transition period where they either collapsed and were slowly replaced by another system or they simply became obsolete and a new model arose. Having progressive work-time reductions starting from a 4 hour work-day is a nice transition out of this capitalistic model that is collapsing rapidly. And this is a smooth transition due to 2 main reasons:

1) First, a society that is only required to work 4 hours will provide more time for people to become active citizens and participate more in solving the issues that are affecting their community, country or the planet. 

We will be capitalists for 4 hours and socialists for the rest of the day. How much stronger would movements like TZM or the Occupy Movement be than they are already if people had more time to participate in their activist events or protests? Some food for thought there.

2) And second, even more importantly, this measure is not a fixed solution. Technology will keep increasing productivity and efficiency of the means of production. That means that, with re-evaluations every 10 years, we can continue to decrease the time we spend at work, to the point that we might even be required to work 1 hour a day or 5 hours a week with all the productivity increases and abundance that technology will create. 

If there is abundance of goods and services provided by the wonders of technology and very little time is required for people to work, the end of money will be so close to us, 1 hour away to be exact. 

At that point, with the help of that new unleashed power of liberated human beings that will become active participants in the community, that are no longer working for the economy but have the economy working for them, we would be in a much better position to transition into a Resource Based Economy.

At the same time, work-time reduction is a measure that is more likely to be accepted by the public (even for business people) than the abolition of money would be (at least for now), because it speaks on their terms and still within the monetary system framework. It doesn’t require them to imagine a world without money, a world that they have never lived in and that they might easily consider utopian.

We all know that there are many people that defend our current system, or maybe are afraid of changing it, or perhaps it is working ok for them and are resisting the change. 

Telling people that there is a plan (backed even by several scholars) to reduce labor time and increase their leisure time, without affecting their income, would be more receptive to a wider audience. 

And, even if some of them embrace work-time reductions but don’t agree with a Resource Based Economy, work time reductions will inevitably lead to an RBE.

Similarly, the benefits of work time reductions and the solutions it will bring to the table are very similar to what a Resource Based Economy would do, except of course for the intrinsic negative attributes of money itself. 

One of the benefits is “Full Employment”. Imagine, for example, that you have 10 people that depend on oranges to survive and you have 5 oranges only (in this example, oranges are an analogy of paid employment). These 10 individuals will compete among each other to be able to grab one of the precious oranges. 

They will improve their speed, run faster, learn how to avoid obstacles better, anything they can improve in order to get one of the oranges. It doesn’t matter how much efficient and productive each individual gets, there will always be 5 people who would not be able to get an orange. Instead, we can do what any rational group of individuals would do in this situation: Split the oranges in half!

That way, all 10 individuals will have an orange to survive. Why haven’t we done this to solve our unemployment issue? Why are we not splitting the number of hours for work from 8 to 4 so everyone could have a job and decent income? 

Probably because we are still living in the same paradigm, doing the same religious worship to “The Market” that has taken us where we are now and is making us blind and unable to see the most obvious solution.

Reducing working hours to 4 hours a day and give everyone the opportunity to work would be the first step to eradicate poverty from the face of the earth.

It would reduce crime because people (specially young kids) would be less likely to choose the criminal path if they are able to get a decent job (and that added to the fact that parents would be more likely to be present at home with their children instead of working all day). 

It would also reduce income inequality because increases in productivity are currently going towards producing more output to balance the tendency to fall of the rate of profit and even worse, most of those profits of that increase in output are going to the 1%: all the employee gets is more hours to work. 

Honestly, the list of benefits from the 4 hour work-day is enormous. You can visit the website that is being created for this campaign to read a list of benefits of the 4 hour work-day: (There is a Facebook page also).

Having The Zeitgeist Movement not only support this measure but also embrace it as its “Transition Plan” will make a huge positive impact. TZM has already 500k members worldwide (and probably more than that if we count the ones that have not registered but support the movement). 

There are country chapters in every continent. The organization of TZM and its chapters has showed that we can make an impact. Events like Z-day and the Zeitgeist Media Festival worldwide can only be performed if there is an organized structure in place. We can show the public that there is a plan to get to a Resource Based Economy, that there is a road map to get there. 

Many people agree with a Resource Based Economy, but they wrongly think it will never happen, that it is too far out and disconnected with the realities we live now. Talking to them about the 4 hour work-day campaign as a plan to get out of this economic hole and start the transition into a Resource Based Economy will make that connection with our current times, with the quality of life we have now and with the world we could be living in if we reduce work-time. 

Even the people who consider a Resource Based Economy a utopian idea would still support work-time reductions because it affects their lives now. 

And as I mentioned before, progressive work-time reductions would lead inevitably to the abolition of money and implementation of a Resource Based Economy. It’s a win-win situation.

The campaign asks for a Global pacific and democratic strike. And as far as I know, it is the only way that work time reductions could be achieved. This measure would not be discussed in congress at all. It goes too much in favor of the people and against conventional economics. 

This measure needs to be imposed by the people going on strike and pressuring the world leaders that we are not going to move forward until this measure is applied worldwide. Of course, TZM alone would not be able to do it. Activist Movements, Labor Unions, The Occupy Movement, people in general, we all have to be together for this common cause.

Politicians have done nothing to improve the quality of life of the people nor protect the environment. All they talk about is austerity which will only make things worse. It is the people who need to take care of the planet and all human life, including the politicians and CEO’s. 

We don’t need to get rid of the 1%. We just need to incorporate them into the 99% and we all should be the 100%. The 4 hour work-day campaign will start the process for that to happen.

It’s all up to us now. There is an incredible momentum in the world, with protests all over the place, marches and campaigns to improve our lives but with no defined plan yet. 

And of course, abolishing money and implementing a Resource Based Economy is a plan, but the 4 hour work-day campaign would be the right complement for it in order for the public in general to be more receptive than they have been already.

I encourage you to speak with your chapter coordinators, with your country coordinator, with your regional coordinator to speak about incorporating the 4 hour work-day as our transition plan (or at least support it), to ask Peter Joseph if you have contact with him to consider including the 4 hour work-day in his new film. 

Go to the website to learn more about it; Watch the Videos, Read the books. Work-time reduction is not a new thing. 

It has already happened when strikes all over the world appeared at the beginning of the XX century, when we reduced the work-day from 12 to 8 hours a day. We just need to do it again. We are used to dream big here at TZM, and we can definitely do this. 

Let’s support the 4 hour campaign and even better, let’s embrace it as the transition plan. Let’s take our world back!!

Alex Hartley, TZM Colorado Chapter member, USA;