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Sharing the Work, Sparing the Planet: Work, Time, Consumption, and Ecology

by Anders Hayden

Do we work to live, or live to work? Why are we working longer, earning less, and feeling unhappy despite our unprecedented accumulation of material possessions? And for North American consumers, how much is enough?

Anders Hayden raises such questions in an attempt to link saving the ecosystem to work-time reduction.

In defining this concept, Hayden does not mean just shorter work weeks. His idea encompasses job sharing, staggered hours, parental and educational leaves, phased-in retirement, and the support of a people-based economy that stresses the importance of the “non-productive” things we do when we are not getting paid.

Hayden’s work is not for the easily depressed. Its well-researched foundation presents a bleak world in which earlier predictions of a leisure society have become distorted into a dualistic nightmare. Those with jobs are overworked and underpaid, and those without sufficient work are part of a swelling surplus population that’s irrelevant to a machine-based economy.

Despite the gloom, Hayden has scoured the globe for realistic alternatives and programs that contribute to bettering people’s lives and, to a certain degree, have a positive impact on the ecology. It is here that the work is strongest. The examples of positive change (reducing the work week to four days, enshrining the concept of a month’s paid vacation each year) make perfect sense, and have not heralded the economic horror that business interests claim will result from such changes.

However, Hayden’s writing is academic in tone and employs technical language unlikely to resonate with anyone not already involved in environmental and/or labour issues.

For those with a bit of patience and a great deal of concern about the planet’s future, Hayden poses worthwhile policy questions that challenge the “there-is-no-alternative-to-what-we-have” attitude of the globalizers, free traders, and polluters.