We must stop the grind.
American workers clock an average of about 1,750 hours of work every year, a significantly higher figure than the average European worker. Additionally, the average American works late 2.5 days a week – half of the work week.
What do we get for all this work we do? For many of us, it’s frustration, depression and loss of sleep. In the U.S., 50% of workers reported feeling stressed at work daily, 41% reported feeling worried, 22% said they were sad and 18% feel angry, according to a 2022 Gallup report.
On top of this, 40% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep. We live in the only developed country without government mandated paid time off. Millions of Americans work multiple jobs – and still struggle to get by. Everyone here is always working.
Most of us aren’t even well-compensated for all this hustling we do. As of June, more than 60% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and nearly three quarters say they aren’t financially secure.
I’d like to take the radical position that all this work we do is deeply unhealthy.
One of my favorite things to do is sleep. A lot of workaholics say things like, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” and I’ve never understood that – sleep is one of the best things about life. I want to live in a society in which, from time to time, everyone can just stay in bed all day.
That, or anything else they might want to do. A society where people can spend more time playing sports, hanging out with friends, reading books, appreciating nature – anything except the drudgery of the workplace.
Apparently, I’m not alone in this. There’s a popular trend sweeping TikTok called “bed rotting,” involving staying in bed for extended periods of time and engaging in passive activities. Gen Z is resisting the lifelessness of the modern workplace by staying in bed. Everyone should have the freedom to simply “rot.”
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Other countries already to an extent offer such leisure to their citizens. Paid vacation time is mandatory across the European Union, and many businesses in places like Spain shut down for the entire month of August. French workers on average take 30 paid vacation days a year.
Moreover, while full time workers in the U.S. still work 40 hours or more every week, other countries like Iceland have reduced the working week to 35 hours for most workers, without a reduction in pay.
I suspect we as a species can cut down the work week even further. In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that in a hundred years our productive capacities would have so far advanced that people would only need to work about 15 hours a week. It’s almost 2030 and our culture is still plagued by the insane obsession to work as hard as possible, to grind.
Keynes’ prediction wasn’t really wrong – we probably could reduce our working hours to only 15 a week if only we lived in a society more concerned with the welfare and happiness of the populace rather than the private profits of a few. It is only to prop up the rich that the rest of us work so hard.
Technological advances have significantly increased the productive powers of humanity. We produce enough food to feed everyone. We have the capacity to house everyone. And as other countries have demonstrated, we have the ability to work less. We simply choose not to – or rather, the ruling classes have not allowed us to choose for ourselves.
Workers often fear technological advancement. They see it as a threat to their livelihoods. Automation will make their jobs superfluous. Right now, workers in many different industries are boldly standing against capitalists who would like to replace them with A.I.
Such a perverse society that greets progress with terror!
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Socialists have long argued that automation is actually a condition of emancipation for workers. In a society that has eliminated competition and profit – a post-capitalist society – machines will do a lot of our work for us, giving us time for the things we’d actually like to spend our time doing.
As it stands, machines serve capital, but we could make them serve labor instead. The takeaway from all this is that the grueling amount of work we do isn’t necessary. It benefits the capitalists, not the workers. Nap time and summer vacation shouldn’t just be for kids – it should be for everyone.
Jared Quigg (he/him) is a senior studying journalism and political science.