Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

Category: Future (page 1 of 3)

“the future belongs to the four-day week as the foundation of the social labor contract”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev recently gave a speech that included mention of a four-day week:

“It’s quite possible that the future belongs to the four-day week as the foundation of the social labor contract,” Medvedev said as an example of what corporations may offer laborers in the future….

Speaking to the 108th Session of the International Labor Conference in Geneva, the chair of the Russian government said nations should brace themselves for major changes in how labor works due to technology.

So you can add him to Carlos Slim, Richard Branson, Jack Ma, and other Global Thought Leaders™ who have talked positively about a 4-day week.

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences proposes a 4-day, 36-hour workweek

According to a story in the China Daily, “the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences proposed revising the national work schedule in 2030 to nine hours a day and four days a week.”

For a long time I thought that the 4-day week was mainly a Western, and particularly European, phenomenon, but clearly there’s more to it than that. I recently wrote about Japanese company Zozo and its 30-hour week, and there are a number of other Japanese companies that offer 10-hour, 4-day weeks for employees.

And of course, some of the most overworked countries in the world are in Asia, and they recognize that the costs are now outweighing the benefits. China shifted to a 5-day workweek in the 1990s, South Korea recently passed legislation limiting the workweek to 52 hours (with very mixed results), and the Japanese have struggled for years with this. So it makes sense that these experiments would be happening in Asian countries, too.

According to the Shenzhen Daily, the CASS has a pretty detailed timeline for how this would work:

China should experiment with a four-day (36 hours) workweek in large and medium-sized State-owned enterprises in East China from 2020 to 2025, the newly released report said.

From 2025 onwards, a four-day (36 hours) workweek can be implemented in certain industries in the central and eastern regions.

And from 2030 onwards, Chinese people should be able to take three days of rest for every four working days.

However, the China Daily article also notes that the comments on social media haven’t all been positive; in fact, the general reaction has been skeptical. Why is that?

The answer lies in their anxieties about an uncertain future. As capital gets increasingly more accumulated, ordinary workers, blue-collar and white-collar alike, face the sad and cold fact that unemployment is likely to rise. Many people face the risk of losing their jobs to artificial intelligence and automation.

That’s why many people are rather worried about their futures.

To solve this, the key lies in promoting the idea of “rest”. The right to rest and the right to labor must be protected together so that people can be more certain about their future.

Thinking about work and rest together. Now that’s an idea I can get behind.

“The Future of Work in an Age of Distraction”

I’m off to Europe today for a 3-week research and speaking tour, but before I leave I wanted to flag this just-published interview I did with Andrew Curry of Kantar Consulting.

London Panorama

We were sitting on a patio in the Kantar building in London, overlooking the Thames. It was a pretty cool view, so if I sometimes sound distracted, that’s why!

In Squaw Valley

Squaw Valley

I’m at Squaw Valley for the Gruter Institute conference, giving a talk about the future of work. It’s a very intersting time, and not just because it’s up near Lake Tahoe. The Gruter Institut for Law and Behavioral Research

is a research community that fosters collaboration across disciplines in order advance our understanding of the interplay between law, institutions and human behavior.  The goal of the Institute is to build a richer understanding of the underlying behaviors at the heart of society’s most pressing problems and to improve our understanding of how law and other institutions facilitate or hinder those behaviors.

I came here last year to talk about rest and creativity, and this year am talking about my new work on shorter working hours and the future of work.

For me, the event is interesting precisely because I’m not a legal scholar, or biologist, or economist or public policy person; but lots of the issues they talk about turn out to touch on things that I’m interested in, and so for me it’s a chance to pick up some new ideas, and think about my work in a new light.

Though of course being in Squaw Valley doesn’t hurt. To me, this is the quintessential example of a place that supports deliberate rest: I have these intense intellectual exchanges, then can go for a long walk and let these fizzy ideas play on their own and turn into something while I admire the mountains. And even if I’m just going to the coffee shop in the condos across the street, I have a great view of the mountains, which I find helps stimulate divergent thinking.

Indeed, after dinner last night I was walking around, and stopped to make some notes about my talk by a fire pit.

Squaw Valley

I just hope the talk lives up to the place!

The only downside is that that it doesn’t happen during spring break, so my wife can’t make it, too.

There are people who treat conferences like a theatre. I once saw a very eminent scholar who writes on technology and social life arrive at a conference by limo a half hour before their talk, give their talk (it wasn’t that good), shake a couple hands, then leave. As a display of professional eminence it was interesting; but intellectually it was a lost opportunity.

Squaw Valley

But I’ve decided that if I’m going to travel to a conference, and the organizers think I have something worth listening to, that means that they probably have things worth my listening to. And at the very worst, there’s always a nice walk.

Finland’s basic income experiment ends

Finland has been running a limited experiment with Universal Basic Income, and has decided to pull the plug.

The experiment with so-called universal basic income has captured global attention as a potentially promising way to restore economic security at a time of worry about inequality and automation…. [However the] Finnish government has opted not to continue financing it past this year, a reflection of public discomfort with the idea of dispensing government largess free of requirements that its recipients seek work.

There are UBI experiments going on in other parts of the world, but the fact that Finns are skeptical of the no-strings-attached approach to basic income, that suggests that other countries with less social cohesion and trust in government will find UBI to be a steep climb. Further, as the article notes,

This may be the main reason that basic income has lost momentum in Finland: It is effectively redundant.

Health care is furnished by the state. University education is free. Jobless people draw generous unemployment benefits and have access to some of the most effective training programs on earth.

“In a sense,” said Mr. Hiilamo, the social policy professor, “Finland already has basic income.”

I find the idea of a basic income intriguing, but I’m not really sure what to make of it. My concern isn’t that giving Those People money will just lead them to waste it; the studies I’ve seen suggest that on the whole, people in UBI experiments are more thoughtful stewards of that money than the Rich Kids of Instagram. But the idea that UBI can be used to bribe people into accepting the robot revolution, or that people will trade cash for the dismantling of the state (which is what people like Milton Friedman and Charles Murray have envisioned when they advocate UBI, as I understand it), don’t fill me with confidence that it would be good policy.

“Like an empire that has expanded too far, work may be both more powerful and more vulnerable than ever before”

In the MRT
Commute time on the Singapore subway

The Guardian has recently has been publishing some terrific essays on the future of work. Peter Fleming’s piece earlier this week (and for that matter, his various other Guardian essays) turns out to have been just the start: it was followed by John Harris’ piece asking “What happens when the jobs dry up in the new world?” and now Andy Beckett’s long essay on “the radical idea of a world without jobs:”

Like an empire that has expanded too far, work may be both more powerful and more vulnerable than ever before. We know work’s multiplying problems intimately, but it feels impossible to solve them all. Is it time to start thinking of an alternative?

The piece is a high-altitude survey of the work of David Graeber, Benjamin Hunnicutt, Peter Fleming, and other writers who Beckett describes as

members of a loose, transatlantic network of thinkers who advocate a profoundly different future for western economies and societies, and also for poorer countries, where the crises of work and the threat to it from robots and climate change are, they argue, even greater. They call this future “post-work”.

I’m not sure how much of it I agree with– I still find psychological research on the value of work to be pretty compelling– but as someone who’s written about the need to recognize the value of rest, I’m definitely intrigued by this literature. Anyway, the Beckett essay is well worth reading, especially if this literature isn’t yet familiar.

Wealth, inequality, populism, and the end of the Roman Republic

This Lawfare podcast with Mike Duncan, author of The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Late Republic, is well worth a listen if you’re interested in how even a very powerful state can be undermined by growing inequality, populism, and political violence.

What caught me was the fact that the competition between the poor— whose formerly stable lives were being upended by land seizures and other changes— were in competition with a growing population of slaves, and that politicians tried to buy off the poor with something that sounds a bit like a combination of universal basic income and distracting entertainment. The parallel between that period and today— when a growing number of us worry about losing our jobs to automation, and when UBI schemes are discussed in both left-wing and right-wing circles— is not perfect, of course, but still worth exploring.

“When you buy a Smart Thing, you get locked into its software ecosystem… whether you like it or not.”

Jon Evans has a short but well-done piece about “The Internet Of Someone Else’s Things,” in which he argues that the Internet of Things

will subtly redefine ownership as we know it. You will no longer own many of the most expensive and sophisticated items you possess. You may think you own them. But you’ll be wrong.

They say “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” but even if you physically and legally own a Smart Thing, you won’t actually control it. Ownership will become a three-legged stool: who physically owns a thing; who legally owns it; …and who has the ultimate power to command it. Who, in short, has root.

It feels a bit like Uber for your house, though that’s imperfect. What I mean is that Uber doesn’t actually have any employees or own any cars, but still wields plenty of control over drivers and destructive power over cab companies. Evans imagines a future in which you’re still buying and paying for things, lodging them in your house, and using them, but no longer having total control over them. These objects can report on you; there may be rules about how they’re used; they could still be in communication with, and responsive to, their makers; and there’s the chance that they’ll act not in your interests, but the interests of the companies that control them.

Procrastination and our future selves

Nautilus has a good short piece about research on how we see our future selves. I devoted a couple paragraphs of the book to this subject, so I can recognize a good overview when I see it!

Quote of the day: William Gibson

"It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future." (From his Paris Review interview.)

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