Thursday, January 26, 2012


I always liked the number 21. Legal drinking age in most places. A winning hand in Blackjack. The 21 gun salute. 21 is just an all around good number. And now 21 is being put forth as the number of hours we should have in the average work week. That’s right, 21 hours per week is enough. Actually the proposal is for no more than 1092 hours per year which works out to 21 hours per week. But if you’re willing to sacrifice and work 26 hours per week, you can get your work done in 42 weeks. If you choose this option, be sure to hydrate and take frequent breaks.

Seriously, the 21 hour proposal has been put forth by NEF, The New Economics Foundation. NEF is a London based think tank whose aim is “to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environment and social issues. We work in partnership and put people and the planet first.”

NEF claims that “a ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.”

Essentially their message is that the planet is reaching the point where we cannot afford to have people working too much and using the proceeds of that work to consume too much. Very soon there just will not be enough to go around. Already, in most places, there’s not enough work. In many places, there’s not enough room. Many people do not have enough food and are running out of water. Soon there won’t be enough clean air. (And you were worried about beer and toilet paper?)

So the answer is to downsize. Work less, live simpler and smaller, and learn to enjoy the little everyday things. Become a happy wanderer. Think of all the things you could do if you only worked 21 hours per week… (and, oh by the way, only had money for basic food, clothing and shelter.) I guess if you’re living in a hole in the ground somewhere in a third world country, half naked and starving, the 21 hour work week with three hots and a cot is looking pretty good. But, I’ve got to admit that I’m just not feeling it. I like my big house and my big cars and my big screen TVs and my big pantry filled with enough food to feed a small African country.

Do I have more than I need? Yes, absolutely and I thank God for it everyday.
I realize that it’s only by His grace (or if you don’t believe in such a thing, dumb luck) that I am not living in hole in the ground, half naked and starving. But you know what? I don’t think that the way I’m living is the reason some poor soul is living in a hole in the ground, half naked and starving. And I’m betting that if I start working 21 hours a week and get rid of all my stuff and stop consuming, the result will be more people living in holes, half naked and starving. Someone may pick up the slack and find a part time job as a result of my becoming a conscientious objector to full time employment, but I really don’t think it will solve the world’s problems.

The scary part of all this is that there are a lot of people who think that this type of radical sharing of everything is The Answer. Some will even use the Bible to support their position. They will tell you that hard-driving competitive capitalism is intrinsically evil. That it is at the root of our social, political, environmental and economic problems. That there is only so much juice in the world’s grape and everyone should have the same size straw and the same amount of time to suck. (Sorry, I can’t think of a better way to describe it.)

I can think of a better approach. Offer incentives to create “more juice” and give the juice creators bigger straws and better access to “the grape”. Let the “juice creators” work more than 21 hours a week if that’s what they choose to do. Those who opt to work less get smaller straws and more free time to suck.

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