On the idea of the three day weekend


The idea of reducing the working week raises its head again. This time it's the idea that we should have a three day weekend:

Professor John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, caused a stir this week by advocating a four-day working week. This would improve our mental and physical health, reduce stress and we would all "enjoy ourselves more".

One reason to bring in a four-day week is that we work the longest hours in Europe.

Sadly this is not true, we do not work the longest hours in Europe. We might work quite long hours at paid, market, work this is true. But in return we do rather less unpaid, household, labour. The net effect of this is that we have more leisure hours than much of Europe does.

And there's a good reason why this is so too: the division and specialisation of labour.By doing market work we are able to do that dividing and specialisation which, as Adam Smith pointed out, allows there to be greater productivity. Household labour can generally only be divided between the two adults in a household: obviously less efficient than being able to divide and specialise with the 7 billion in the global economy.

By organising ourselves so that we do more market work and then purchase in more of that household labour (in the form of drip dry shirts, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, prepared food and so on) we are thus able to have a higher standard of living while also enjoying more leisure.

We have also been doing more of this as the decades pass. Leisure hours continue to rise as household labour hours drop away.

But let's imagine that we really do want to increase the days spent in leisure as a matter of public policy rather than as a matter of personal choice. The obvious solution is to nationalise the power industry again, put the unions in charge of it and then get Heath back into No 10. We all had four day weekends back then and that worked out really well, didn't it?