April 23, 2019

Automation and the Four-Day Work Week

“If the robots are indeed taking our jobs, shouldn’t we all probably be working less? A movement is picking up momentum in the United Kingdom based on that very reasonable logic. On Thursday, a proposal backed by eminent British progressives like John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor (the party’s chief economic spokesperson), is making the call to transition to a four-day workweek by 2025. As the proposal’s title makes clear, it’s both “a radical and pragmatic proposal.”

The report was prepared by Autonomy, a “think tank rethinking work,” and 4-Day Week, a campaign aimed at securing exactly that. While there are a number of good reasons to reduce the working week—mental health benefits, improved quality of life, even, in some cases, improved productivity—outlined in the proposal, automation is a particularly compelling one.

“We should accept automation as something that does increase productivity and recognize that that’s a good thing in an economy,” Aidan Harper, the report’s editor, founder of 4-Day Week, and a researcher at the New Economics Foundation, told me in an interview. “It’s just that the proceeds of automation should be shared evenly—in the form of a working time reduction. Machines should liberate us from work, not subject us to this ever-increasing inequality.””

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