The results of the latest interesting little experiment in Sweden are in. Yes, shorter working hours make people happier. It's also more expensive for people to have shorter working hours and the same income. We're not entirely sure that an experiment was necessary to discover all this but this is what was discovered. Thus follows the usual insistence that we really shouldn't be looking over there:
A six-hour working day results in happier and healthier employees. It also leads to a higher quality of welfare services and a more sustainable and equal labour market. Despite what some news reports may have indicated, these are the findings from Sweden’s trial of six-hour working days.
A shorter working day is often portrayed as a utopian dream that would be too costly to realise, much as previous work reforms were portrayed in the past. But what if working less is the key to a more sustainable working life?
The problem being that expense thing:
Sweden’s experiment with a six-hour work day may be doomed after a two-year experiment showed that the costs outweigh the benefits.
The scheme saw 68 nurses at an old people’s home in Gothenburg have their eight-hour days cut in a bid to improve staff satisfaction, health and patient care.
Preliminary results concluded that it achieved all of these aims, but the city had to employ an extra 17 staff, costing 12m kroner (£1.4m).
At which point we really need to start beating around us with the standard economic cluebat. Leisure is indeed desirable. And so are many other things in this life such as beer, bacon, boogie and even bedpan emptying for the old folk. We also have scarce resources to meet all of the desires for these desirables. The task is thus to allocate our resources so as to maximise human utility--which of these various things do we desire the most, at what point do we say lagom on the beer, the bacon or the boogie and then devote more resources to the bedpans? Or any other combination of desires?
A number of different methods of this come to mind from government allocation through to the free market just leaving people to decide. But whatever method is being used still has to deal with that basic idea of opportunity cost. More bedpans means less beer, bacon....well, you get the idea. We cannot have more of everything until technology has advanced to create more of everything from our resources. At any moment in time we have to give up some of something in order to have more of something else.
More leisure for nurses is an entirely admirable goal but it is also a cost. Someone else, somewhere else, must economise on boogie to the tune of €1.4 million to provide it.
Or as we can also put it leisure is a luxury good, something which we quite naturally spend more of our higher incomes upon as incomes rise thanks to that technology increasing the productivity of our scarce resources. This is why we work 8 hour days now, not the 10 or 12 of a century and two ago - we're richer. And as we become richer off into the future we will, no doubt, continue to take more of our wealth in leisure.
But what we should not be doing is trying to force the issue, insisting that these people here should gain more leisure at the expense of the other desires of those people over there. That's just theft, not liberal progressivism.