Will Americans ever embrace the 30-hour workweek?

For instance, if everyone works fewer hours but makes the same income, that means wages earned per hour have to rise. To get that, we’d have to be running the economy as hot as possible, keeping ourselves at full employment, over long periods of time. This requires continuous active management of fiscal policy and monetary policy, and it’s hard to pull off even when everyone’s on board with it. But companies and business owners obviously don’t like paying higher wages per hour, because that cuts into profits and shareholder payouts. Furthermore, elites tend to not like the way full employment redistributes social and economic power, and deploy their considerable political clout to prevent it.

The other option is to just have the government distribute incomes directly. Even when people aren’t working for pay — when they’re raising their kids, volunteering at their church, or just grilling out back with friends — they need money to pay the bills. So most other countries bypass market incomes with large welfare states, and with things like paid vacation time and family leave. America, much less so. The same people who dislike high wages and full employment also dislike big welfare states. That’s partially because they dislike higher taxes, but also because government aid makes workers less desperate for income, and thus increases their social and economic power.

In short, offering people more time away from paid work intrinsically requires reducing inequality. It’s no accident the Nordics and other countries have much more egalitarian distributions of income than America.

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