Sunday, November 25, 2012
Today, we try to create economic growth rapid enough to give people standard 40-hour jobs. With work-time choice, we would try to create growth rapid enough to give people the number of work hours that they actually want.
Today, the economy must grow rapidly, whether or not people want more products, purely to create more 40-hour jobs. With work-time choice, people would work enough to buy the products they want, and then they could stop.
Our economic debate usually focuses solely on inflation and unemployment, technical questions that only economists can deal with. We also need to ask the underlying human question: What is the economy for?
Obviously, the purpose of the economy is to produce things that people actually want.
Everyone realizes this when they talk about work that we do for ourselves. We do the job of patching the roof because we want to keep the rain from coming in, for example, and when we have accomplished that goal, we stop. We do not keep tearing up the roof and patching it again and again in order to “create jobs” for ourselves.
But when it comes to the formal economy, we become totally mystified, and we believe that there is a benefit to “creating jobs.” We do not work to produce the things that we want to consume. Instead, we believe we must produce and consume more things to create work.
If we thought about the human purpose of the economy, we would realize that in the formal economy, as in informal production for our own use, we should produce what we want to consume and then stop.
Economists have expert knowledge that lets them plan to control inflation, unemployment and other economic disruptions, but ordinary people are the ones who should decide how much they want to consume. The technical questions about inflation and unemployment, which only economists can answer, should be subordinate to the human question about what balance of consumption and free time gives you the most satisfying life. People should be able to answer this human question for themselves, by making decisions about their work hours that reflect the importance they give to more consumption and more free time.