Are We Headed to a Shorter Work Week?


Worker; AP Photo

Question/Comment: The Independent mentions that the United Kingdom might move to a three day work week. While some companies have resorted to this kind of solution, most have not. Would this kind of measure be of any help if applied – mandated maybe – at the national level?

Paul Solman: Back in November, I addressed this question in an answer to a somewhat different issue.

I cited the work of Harvard’s Martin Weitzman, “whose 1984 book ‘The Share Economy,’ argued for profit-and-loss sharing, economy-wide, as the antidote to layoffs. Thus, wages would rise and fall with the fate of the firm: no animals would be more equal than others.”

We did something similarly humane and far-sighted here at the NewsHour last year – we were a leading indicator of the crisis, it seems – when we suspended the company match of our pension plan contributions. This was, in effect, an across-the-board pay cut for those who made contributions. Not different in theory, when you think about it, than cutting hours to preserve jobs.

Producer Lee Koromvokis, the other brain behind much of “my” work, recently discovered this remarkable bit of New Deal PR: a rousing movie short (“featurette”) starring singer Jimmy Durante, urging the country to pull together and help newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt revive the economy. In the patter/song (which you can view below), Durante says to one member of the “audience”:

“You look like a grocer.”

“No sir; my job’s extermination.”

“You must give your assistants,” says Durante, “each a nice weekend’s vacation.”

“Then I’ll need more men to kill the rats.”

“We want you to hire a crowd!”

This was the appeal of the “OFFICIAL FEATURETTE PATRIOTICALLY CONTRIBUTED BY THE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY” back in 1933; we may soon be hearing it again.