The following are critical pieces of my plan to reduce the average work week for all:
We need to have robots everywhere doing everything. Robots should drive our cars, cook our food, do construction and manufacturing, run our farms, and everything else they can possibly do. Some will worry about this eliminating all our jobs, but I argue exactly the opposite (see below). Consider: Decades ago most people worked 60-80 hours a week doing manual labor on a farm. Today, most of us have comfortable 40 hour office jobs. Automation largely explains this improvement. CAUTION: Robots must be owned by the average person, not just the rich. However, with costs to manufacture robots always decreasing, that should not be a problem. ANOTHER CAUTION: I will argue that robots should do our jobs, but not every little thing in our personal lives (see Healthy Living below).
After robots do all they can, the rest of the labor should be divided as equally as possible among the human population. We don't want to have some people with 40 hour a week jobs and the rest unemployed!
Although this technically falls under Automation, the benefits of having only self-driving cars on the road deserve special note. Traffic police would not be needed and traffic accidents should be virtually eliminated. Computers controlling the traffic stream could optimize the speed of cars and eliminate stop-and-go traffic, greatly saving on fuel usage. Having the car navigate automatically where you want to go with no bad turns will add to further savings. People could do productive office work on their commute. The blind would be able to "drive". Frankly, I argue that human drivers should be completely banned from public roads as quickly as possible. The benefits are that great!
It is amazing how many resources in the First World go to housing. Most of us live one (relatively small) family to a house. We then spend a huge portion of our paycheck for mortgage/rent, utilities, furniture, repairs, and other housing expenses. Why should families or groups such as faith groups or simply friends not live together in larger buildings to save on total cost? Of course, apartments kind of have this idea, but they are still virtually separate houses that duplicate a lot of features.
Basic building design hasn't changed much in a while. What if we re-think it at a fundamental level? Can we use more efficient materials? Can we put more living space underground to save on energy costs? I recall seeing an article from the 1950s saying the "house of the future" could be cleaned simply by hosing it down. Why haven't we gone this way? It should be possible! I don't have all the answers here and now but intend to explore them through this blog.
It is amazing how many Americans think a 20-minute drive to work is a short commute. As one who has long intentionally lived very close to work, this seems absurd. It is so much better to live within a short walk to work. Not only do you save a lot on gas and car expenses but you get exercise walking and save commute time for more important things. On a macro level, the less energy used and the fewer cars on the road makes things better for everyone.
Over-consumerism is a great enemy of optimization. We buy things we don't need or even really want. We feel the need to keep up with the Joneses. We succumb to slick advertising. "Stuff" takes the place of healthy relationships in our priority list. This makes us all poorer in the end.
Americans have gotten used to borrowing money for virtually everything -- houses, cars, "emergencies", appliances, even vacations. We spend everything we earn (and more!) and neglect saving. And we tolerate a government that operates even more foolishly than individuals. How ridiculous is that? Interest is a great economic burden on our society. It is imperative that we all live within our means and save money for emergencies, purchases, and retirement.
In forming policy, it is important to understand how wealth is created. Is wealth created when a policy wonk at the Federal Reserve presses a button and brings tens of billions of dollars into existence out of thin air? Of course not! In fact that greatly reduces the value of work done by productive people. Always remember that wealth is created when productive people do productive things that increase value for themselves and/or others. Wealth is destroyed when work is put to goals other than making life better. As soon as people forget this, destructive policy will soon follow! Undoubtably, war is the greatest single destroyer of wealth. We must avoid war at all costs! General military expendatures, although some may be necessary, also qualify as wealth destruction.
The state of health in America today is atrocious. Almost everything with a big-name label from a grocery store, or nearly any item at a chain restaurant, can only be called nutritional pollution. The Big Food companies have us addicted to fat, salt, sugar, artificial coloring, and other very harmful ingredients. Most of what we eat is over-processed and has too many calories and too little nutrition. This is undoubably the cause of the spike in obesity and various diseases, which in turn has fueled the surge in health care costs. This is compounded by our sedentary lifestyles, sitting at work all day in office jobs and watching TV or playing on the computer at home. If this doesn't change, we will all spend our golden years in doctors offices being treated for various diseases! Plus, there will not be enough doctors to go around, which is guaranteed to keep health care costs very high. The solution is simple conceptually but takes dedication: Everyone must be committed to eating healthy and getting sufficient exercise. This will bring the additional benefit of people being more productive at work, further helping to optimize the economy and shorten our work week.
Related to the above, more food should be grown in local greenhouses. This should virtually eliminate the need for harmful pesticides, greatly lessen transportation costs and fuel usage, and preserve the freshness and nutrients in the food by the time it gets to your plate. Greenhouses should be largely operated by robots, carefully controlling all the climate and nutrition parameters. Imagine having one in every neighborhood providing fresh nutritious food for its residents!
Americans have become too isolated and individualistic. We should be spending more time with our family, friends, and neighbors. What if we were to share duties instead of hire people to do everything? For example, mothers with small children could take turns babysitting each others' kids instead of hiring expensive daycare. (With a shorter workweek, this should be no problem!) This will have moral as well as economic benefits. I believe that building this kind of culture will have the added benefit of reversing the disturbing trend of more mass violence in America. People will become much more respectful of others.
People should have the freedom to pursue their dreams. They should have easy access to all the education they need to fulfill their job as well as their dreams. When they have good ideas, their opinions should be heard and considered. An educated, empowered workforce will be more productive and less tolerant of bad policy and corruption.
Let's face it: Education in America costs a lot. I am rather shocked at how much I pay in property taxes for schools. In higher education, there is a vicious cycle: Competition between schools (for students and donors) necesitates newer, bigger, more expensive facilities. These facilities need to be paid for with higher tuition. The government then steps in with "affordable" student loans. Students graduate with more debt. Rinse and repeat. Let's re-think education from the ground up. You can learn all you need to know to do virtually any job for free on the Internet. Let's replace big, expensive schools -- kindergarten through university! -- with local task-based education. Give kids a box of parts, caring adult mentors (locally and/or remotely via video-phone), and give them an exciting task -- like building a robot controlled greenhouse!
This is huge. We need to get rid of the leeches. There are various levels of leeches, from neutral to downright destructive. On the more extreme end are the likes of patent trolls, those entities that horde "intellectual property" for the sole purpose of suing others and extorting payments. This benefits themselves and lawyers, not productive inventors! It is a huge blocker of innovation, especially in the fast-moving technology sector. The fact that our legal system allows this is a huge disgrace, and folks who take advantage of it are truly despicable. On the more moderate end of non-productivity, think of all the businesses out there that aid in advertising, or changing the way you buy things. Local deals sites, "penny auctions," etc. -- I'm looking at you! It looks like you might be adding value, but in reality you only add a layer of abstraction between the producer and the consumer, and that ultimately is a burden on the economy. One could think of plenty more examples.
The financial industry has set up a pretty nice gig for themselves: People use credit cards or other electronic payment for almost everything these days, and the finance industry takes a cut of about 2-3% of that -- and people have accepted that as normal and have stopped caring! Imagine if that 2-3% were returned to the producers! Since many of them have relatively small profit margins, this could be a huge boon to them! It seems to me that an electronic payment system could be devised that takes a much smaller cut per transaction. Let's aim for something like 1/4%. I'm not yet 100% sure how this would work, but I'm issuing a call for smart people like you to help figure it out!
This one might be the most important for large scale change, but the most difficult. Government must become the model of efficiency! Everything the government spends is forcibly taken from producers. While this is acceptable to some extent (government in some form is needed), it is a moral imperative that every last cent be used as responsibly as possible to serve the people from which it is taken. It is also necessary for society to decide how much the government needs to do its job, and for the government to collect the revenue as simply and honestly as possible. The tax code should be very simple and easy to understand. Municipalities should simply levy straightforward taxes for what they need, not set up intentional "traffic traps" and the like to extort crazy amounts of money for innocent mistakes. All levels of government should minimize paperwork requirements for all kinds of things. All programs that do not directly serve the populace in ways that the private sector cannot reasonably do must be eliminated. Funding should be cut to what needed programs really need; budgets should be closely scrutinized by a lot of people.
In a first world society, no good hardworking person who is down on their luck should have to worry about being kicked out into the street to starve. Currently, our government "solves" this problem by giving out unemployment checks and food stamps, which basically amounts to payment for nothing. This invites abuse and can even discourage looking for work. It also is not very fair to the taxpayer. I would propose this: Have government-maintained dorms, basic but adequate, where anyone who runs out of money could move into. They could do basic government work like picking up litter or office work, anything they could do; 20-30 hours a week to allow job hunting [that figure for the current economy; it would go down with optimization]. They could be given nutritious meals, a small cash stipend, a bus pass, and access to a phone and computer for the purpose of finding a job. This would prevent true homelessness for responsible people, but would encourage them to find a "real" job as soon as they can. It would also bring great value to the taxpayer as the work they provide would be less expensive than outright hiring people to do those jobs.
Corporate welfare in all forms should be ended.
Businesses and government should use collaboratively-developed open source software for everything possible. This saves on the purchase of software and eliminates the license-management headache. It guarantees that data formats will be understandable, ensuring that data will not be "lost" due to only being readable by a no-longer-supported closed source application. It lets the best minds work together to create the best software possible. Businesses should re-direct a portion of what they spent on software to developers to help open source software progress. It should go without saying that it is especially important that the software behind self-driving cars must be open source! This is critical for public safety as well as to help allieviate privacy concerns.
Businesses as well as government should strive to do all things as efficiently as possible. Every single "requirement" should be scrutinized by a team of professionals to ensure that it is really necessary. In government, it should be ensured that every regulation is truly necessary for the public good. In business, this would be to simply maximize productivity of the workforce.
There you have it. Surely I stepped on a lot of toes -- including toes of good people as well as not-so-good -- but the idea is that by thinking differently about nearly everything in our economy and society, we really should be able to achieve a ten hour workweek. Let's get started!