It's time to abolish the seven-day week

The mass standardization of the workweek, as a sort of compromise between labor and capital, was uniquely suited to the 20th century. The economic endeavors of that century were largely problems of large-scale coordination. Think, for example, of the difficulty of profitably moving Western cattle to Chicago slaughterhouses and unspoiled meat to East Coast butchers before the advent of cellphones, computers, and the interstate highway system. Standard business hours ensured that people within and across organizations were in place to perform their economic function at the same time (hence the standardization of timekeeping in roughly the same period). If the entire economy agreed to be open for business for the same five-day stretch, it solved a lot of coordination problems.

Today, advances in automation, computation, and telecommunications have routinized the large-scale coordination problems that challenged America’s 20th-century economy. The knowledge economy runs differently, and there is no longer such an overwhelming imperative for large numbers of people and goods to come together at the same place at the right times, or for those times to remain uniform across an entire society. Plummeting transportation costs and new forms of communication add to this greater flexibility. A software engineer in London can upload new code for, say, the operating system of a self-driving car at 4 a.m. on a Saturday. It will instantaneously be available to her colleagues in Boston and California whenever they need it, and their small team can easily arrange teleconferences on the fly as needed. Such activities benefit little from being organized on the weekly system…

So how do we reinvent the week? While the 20th century saw innovation within the seven-day week, the 21st century ought to see innovation beyond the week. Yes, it’s been tried without success a couple times before (and I’m not just talking about that episode of Doug where Quailman invents Funday). The French Revolutionary Calendar divided months into three 10-day decades until Napoleon reverted to the Gregorian calendar in 1805. In an attempt to undermine religion and speed up industrialization, Joseph Stalin imposed five- and six-day weeks on Soviet Russia between 1929 and 1940. But in both instances, you had a central government and an atheist (or deist) elite trying to force a new week on a Christian majority as part of a total social upheaval. Where the iron will of Stalin failed, a free market solution could succeed.