Not enough jobs?

All over the world, people are loosing their jobs, being "downsized" or "rationalized away", as their companies fight to stay competitive, which usually means producing more goods at even lower cost than before, while employing fewer people and  still making enough money for the owners or shareholders. The now jobless workers face severe problems, ranging from feeling useless, all the way to starving, depending on what policies for the jobless their countries have in place. At the same time, the "fortunate" who still can keep their jobs, tend to work day and night, weekday and
weekend, like mad and crazy, because they believe that this is their only chance to stay productive enough to be retained by the company!

What's happening???

For almost all the history homo sapiens has seen, people had to work, and work a lot, just in order to produce enough goods so they could eat, cloth themselves, and have some shelter. Often there was not much in terms of a pension fund: If you stopped working, you would die, because others won't be feeding you for very long. Old people starved, sick people starved, and children who lost their parents also starved. For those who could work, life consisted basically of just that: Work. Little or no time was left for most people to cultivate arts, knowledge, social relationships, or simply relax.

With the beginning of industrialization, many philosophers finally saw an end to this misery!  Thick books were written, advertising the new society that would be formed by the machine era: With countless numbers of machines doing the repetitive, hard work, humans would finally be completely free to pursue arts, science, creative work and leisure! Machines would do so much of the work that people simply wouldn't need to work a lot. They would just have to care to keep the machines in good condition, invent and build new machines, do the little work machines cannot do, and the rest of the time would be free! The economy would be re-organized, so that everyone would get what he needs without a need to work much, and everyone would contribute his knowledge to improve this society of leisurely philosophers even more. It sounded like a dream come true.

Why hasn't this happened?

Well, it has happened in great part, but not completely enough! Paid vacations were the first evidence of this development. Never before in history could any person stop working for several days or even weeks every year, while still getting paid just as if he was working! Also, the working week has been shortened. Two-hundred years ago, people worked ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week. Sometimes they could take saturday afternoons off, or at least go home earlier and take their well-earned weekly bath! Overall, people worked maybe 60 hours a week, in average. Nowadays instead most of us work only five days per week, no more than eight hours per day, with some people adding some work on saturday mornings. Depending on the country, the standard weekly worktime now varies from 32 to perhaps 50 hours. This reduction in worktime is a direct consequence of machines doing much of the work! At the same time, our average income is much better than it was 200 years ago, which is also a direct consequence of the productivity increasing so dramatically, thanks to machines.

But why isn't the reduction in worktime even larger?

I see basically two reasons. One is that homo sapiens is greedy by nature. We want more, more, even more, all if possible! So, instead of working only five hours per week, and letting machines do the rest of the work necessary to give us food, clothing and shelter, we want more. This is where homo ludens  comes in! Basically we want toys! Things we don't really need, but which we want to have, for playing. This is perfectly fine and good! After all, what use would a lot of free time be, if we didn't have anything to play with in that time?

The problem is one of keeping proper measure. We need to find a proper balance between the time we spend working to make things, earn money, and the time we leave to enjoy the things we make or buy. All around me, I see people working much more than really necessary, in order to pay for the newest plasma TV (which doesn't show any better resolution than their 20 year old one that uses a picture tube), to pay the mortgage on a home much larger and luxurious than they really need, or to buy yet another new car, because the existing one is all of five years old and looks shabby in the street, next to the neighbors' newer cars! This consumerism is destroying the largest improvement that can be brought to us by industrialization: The possibility to work less of our time, and spend more of it doing creative activities!
The other reason I see is that the existing work is not being properly distributed among all people who are able to work. And this is where the title of this page comes in: It's not that we don't have enough jobs for all people! It's simply that we are stupidly lumping jobs together, so that one person might be doing the work of two or three, getting totally exhausted, despaired, and in many cases earning a lot more money than he truly needs, while at the same time some other people are desperately looking for a job, don't find any, and have to suffer the consequences of having little or no money, but a lot of empty time!

How to fix the problem

It's trivially simple, really. By laws, regulations, public pressure or whatever, we have to reduce the work time for each individual so much that there is work left over for those who are jobless now. Of course, the income also has to be re-distributed with the work. That means, someone who today works 60 hours a week, and earns five times as much as he really needs for a basic, modest life, would have to share work and income with someone who is jobless now and only gets an assistance that barely allows him to survive (taken from the taxes the first guy must pay!). When the sharing works, the first guy will see his workload reduced from the inhuman 60 hours per week to a very reasonable 30 hours per week, giving him lots of time to relax, think, enjoy, be with his family, play, learn, etc. The other guy, who was jobless before, will now have an equally light, 30-hour week to work, and stop feeling like a piece of trash thrown away by society.  The first guy, whose work time was cut in half, might fear that his salary will also be cut in half. Not so! He might not have been really aware that before he was paying the other guy's assistance money too! So, after adjusting laws, taxes, etc, the first guy will get 60% of his former salary for 50% of his former work. Not a bad change, if you ask me! He will still be earning three times as much as needed for a minimum existence. With all the time he has at hand now, he should be able to achieve a much better quality of life than when he earned more, but had no time to use the money in any nice way! The other guy instead will infinitely appreciate that now he has risen out of poverty, has a useful job to do, plus enough spare time and spare money to pursue his interests.

I fail to see why our politicians have been so slow in adopting laws that would implement this change in the regulation of society.


The modern, machine-driven world is not short of jobs. The fact that machines are replacing workers in many tasks is not a problem. Machines don't earn a salary, and people want mostly the salary and not the work that usually goes with it! Machines and people are ideal partners! We need to advance toward a society in which machines do as much as possible of the repetitive, boring, hard, and dangerous work, while the creative, specialized work is still being done by people, properly distributed among the people, and the income is properly distributed among the people too.

In addition, we need to carefully think about exactly where the proper compromise between income and free time is. A life consisting just of working, eating and sleeping makes no sense, while a life with no income doesn't work. Somewhere between these two extremes we must find the golden balance. The exact balance point will of course differ for different people, and so we need laws that accommodate this difference in tastes but also limit it enough so that the workaholics among us cannot hoard all work there is, and drive the rest of society into poverty!

Back to homo ludens philosophicus.