Tuesday, 4 September 2012

We should celebrate working less hard to get what we need...


Apparently fresh Tory thinking is all about rediscovering the work ethic - egged on by Niall Ferguson, MPs seeking a glorious future on the 'right' of the party are coming over all Weberian:

Since 1950, average UK working hours have fallen by a third. Globally, the statistics are disheartening. In the first decade of the new century, the average German worked 14 per cent fewer hours than the average Briton, and 20 per cent fewer hours than the average American – who in turn worked much less than his counterparts in Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. 

So proclaims 'rising star' Domimic Raab as he calls for us to knuckle down, ram our noses up against the grindstone and raise a proper sweat. But Dominic, in his urge to be more-right-wing-than-thou, completely misses the point. We are very significantly richer today than we were in 1950. Even the poorest in our society have central heating, washing machines, televisions and even cars.

Dominic - urging us like some Stakhanovite commissar to work harder - claims this is the very reason why the Chinese, Singaporeans and Indians are catching us up. These foreign folk are working harder - or so Dominic shows us with a couple of anecdotes. I get the argument about red tape, about barriers to business that Dominic puts across but this has absolutely nothing at all to do with rediscovering the work ethic.

In truth - and I'm speaking personally here - I rather like the idea that economic growth, technological advance and cultural change means most of us get a pretty comfortable life without having to spend most of it slaving away at work that we really don't enjoy. Back in the 1950s much of that hard work Dominic Raab celebrates was done in dangerous, unhealthy mines, factories and mills. That today's generation needn't do those jobs to get on is an improvement not a step backwards.

It may suit our new puritan age for people like Dominic Raab to preach about the virtues of hard work but it will not bring economic success, growth. Just grumpy folk desperate for a party!


1 comment:

Curmudgeon said...

Totally agreed - we need to work smarter, not harder. If people have the right incentives, they will work, but they shouldn't be forced to.

And in the 40s and 50s, when people worked much longer nominal hours, a vast amount of effort was devoted to skiving.