Chapter 20 – A New Economic System: The standard work week

In the previous chapter we completed a fascinating calculation. We determined that, for a city with one million residents living under our new economic system, we need the residents to contribute approximately 1 billion hours of their productive human time to the task allocation system. If the residents do this, they receive a cornucopia of goods and services from the new economy in return for their contributions:

  • Abundant, high-quality Food
  • Fashionable Clothing
  • Safe, secure Housing with a personal restroom for each resident
  • Universal Health care
  • A fantastic Education system
  • 24×7 Electricity
  • 24×7 high speed Internet
  • Fashionable Furniture
  • Modern Electronics
  • Vital Pharmaceuticals
  • Modern Transportation
  • Civic construction
  • Ample City services (includes police protection, fire protection, water, sanitation, parks and recreation, etc.)
  • R&D
  • Other

The one million residents are living in a new, modern city. They are eating and dressing like kings. Everything they need to live modern, comfortable lives with an outstanding standard of living is taken care of. It is a miracle really. By abandoning capitalism and replacing it with a new and improved economic system, everyone is better off.

Residents receive this bounty in return for contributing their productive hours of human time to the task allocation system. The system is tracking all of the tasks that need to be performed to keep the city operational each day, and assigning these tasks to individual residents based on their individual preferences and skills.

In addition, many of the things that are obfuscated in the American capitalistic economic system now start to become crystal clear. And this clarity is important, because tens of millions of people in the United States, plus billions of people around the globe, are being crushed (to the point of intense, inescapable poverty in many cases) by the current capitalistic economic systems in place on Earth today. Billions of people on Earth have no way to secure even the bare essentials for themselves or their families, much less the bounty seen as an inherent feature of the new economic system being proposed here. For example:

  1. The new economic system abolishes forever the utterly absurd idea that the CEO of Nike makes $14.7 million per year ($7,350 per hour), while a worker in Asia who actually assembles the shoes makes $1 per hour.
  2. Why is #1 able to occur? First, our new economy lets us now see that the real “cost” of any product comes down to the amount of human time needed to make the product, nothing more. And now everyone in the city is allowed to contribute their human time in a variety of ways in order to receive the products/services they need. There is no “profit” in this system. There are no absurdities like dividends and corporate executive jets. Prices are not jacked up arbitrarily and transferred for no reason whatsoever to a tiny slice of “elites”. Everyone contributes, and everyone benefits.
  3. The second reason why #1 is able to occur is because the enormous concentration of wealth being perpetrated by corporations, executives and “the wealthy” in Earth’s prevailing capitalistic economic systems has been eliminated in our new economy.
  4. We can also clearly see, for example, why a house or building is “more expensive” than a shirt. A house might contain a thousand hours of human time (using current technologies), while a shirt might contain five minutes of human time. The task allocation system now knows the exact cost of everything, in terms of human time, and can make this data transparently available to everyone.
  5. New robots, new software, new automation, etc. that come online benefit everyone in this new economy. Everyone works less when automation reduces the human time required for any necessary task. So, for example, if engineers in this new economy invent a robot that can cut the time to make a house in half, then everyone benefits – everyone needs to contribute half as much time to get the same housing as before. Everyone wins in this system.

As we think through all of this, we come to a set of very simple questions:

  • Why not design the world’s economy to make sure that everyone in society benefits?
  • Why not make sure that everyone on Earth is able to access all of the essentials they need to live modern, comfortable lives?
  • Moreover, why not make sure that everyone on Earth is able to live life luxuriously?

Why are billions of people living in abject poverty on planet Earth today? Because capitalism is a horrifically bad economic system for the vast majority of people on the planet. By abandoning capitalism and replacing it with a new economic system, everyone benefits.

This is what the new economic system proposed in this book allows. Simply by contributing human time into the system, every participant in the new economy gains access to the products and services he/she needs from the economic system. Food, clothing, housing, city services, health care, education… it all becomes available by contributing human time into the system.

And then, immediately, the next question is: having conceived of a spectacularly better economic system, why not begin implement this system on Earth right now? Why not eliminate, for example, the absurdity of a billion fellow human beings being trapped inside of slums? Why not start replacing capitalism and all of its evil starting today, especially for the billions of people living in abject poverty?

Having made it this far, we begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We can see that it is possible for everyone in a society to thrive if the economy is designed correctly to benefit everyone in society. The capitalistic economies that dominate Earth today are decidedly NOT like this. But it is possible to replace them with a new economic system that is far better in every way for all of the citizens of planet Earth.

A typical work week

The important remaining question we need to answer is this: Can one million people generate 1 billion hours of productive human time per year? To put it another way, what will a typical work week for the one million residents look like?

A “work week” (at least in the United States) is generally thought to be 40 hours per week, in the form of five 8-hour days, along with two weekend days of rest on Saturday and Sunday. There are tens of millions of Americans in salaried positions who work this way, or with minor variations.

If we have one million ready-to-work people around age 30 in a new city, and there are 52 weeks in a year, then we have 2.08 billion hours of available working time from our population.

For salaried workers in modern economies, there are are usually some paid days off each year– holidays, like the 4th of July and Thanksgiving. People who get these days off typically get ten of them a year. And, if you are lucky in the United States, you get paid vacation time as well, and some sick time [ref], [ref]. Under this protocol, we might imagine that the average salaried employee in the U.S. is working 46 weeks out of the year (52 total weeks minus two weeks of paid holidays, two weeks of paid vacation, and two weeks of paid sick days), times 40 hours per week, or 1,840 hours per person per year. If this paradigm is applied for our new city, multiplied by a million people, this works out to 1.84 billion (1,840 million) available hours of employee productivity per year.

What if we wanted to relax things a bit in our new city? We might do this because we consider the standard American work week and vacation package to be rather stingy relative to the rest of the developed world. We might also do this because we want our new city to be a better and more humane environment for the residents [ref]. What if we gave everyone in our city an extra 4 weeks of vacation time per year? So the package now looks like this:

  • 2 weeks (10 days) of paid holidays per year
  • 6 weeks of paid vacation time per year
  • 2 weeks paid sick leave per year

Under this scenario, total productivity for our new city now works out to 42 weeks times 40 hours a week times a million workers, which is 1.68 billion hours of productive work per year, or 1,680 million productive hours per year.

Let’s imagine that we settle on this. Everyone in the city will work for 42 weeks per year. They will each be receiving 2 weeks off for paid holidays, 6 weeks off for paid vacation, and 2 weeks off for paid sick time. This seems like a generous package by normal standards on planet Earth today. 42 weeks times 5 days = 210 days of work per year.

And with 1,680 million hours of productive work time available to the city, it looks like it is far more than needed. Recall that we only need 940 million hours to accomplish everything necessary to run the million-person city.

There is, however, one thing we haven’t accounted for yet. We have not accounted for the people who need, or think they need, a free ride. So now we can ask…

Who can, or should, get a free ride in our new city?

It is a fact that not everyone who lives in our new city will necessarily be working. If we assume that the city has been around for awhile, it will reach steady-state in terms of demographics. This means that some people will be old, some will be young, some will be disabled, and so on. In other words, not everyone will necessarily be fit to work.

Here are some demographics for the normal population of the United States to help understand how this works. This is what the population of our city might look like once it reaches steady state:

  • 14.9% of the U.S. population are age 65 or higher, typically thought of as retired, collecting Social Security and working less, or not working (2015 data). [ref]
  • 22.9% of the U.S. population are age 17 or lower, in elementary school or high school, and typically have not yet entered the adult working world in a serious way (2015 data). [ref]
  • 6.3% of people in the U.S. are in college, typically age 18 through 23, and typically are not working in full-time positions. [ref]
  • 2.7% of people in the U.S. are working-age people receiving long-term disability payments from the Social Security Administration [ref]. Diagnoses range from strokes and mental illness to things as minor as high blood pressure. [ref]

If we add into this all the long-term sick people (e.g. cancer patients, and therefore outside of what can be covered by a normal “sick day”), people in prison, mothers with newborn infants, etc., we can see that roughly half the residents in our new city may not be “working” at any given time if these stats hold. This is what we see in America anyway.

If half of the residents in our city are “not working”, they depend on the other half of the residents to support them by working. If a person is “retired”, or “disabled”, or “in diapers”, and is therefore “not working” and getting a “free ride”, he/she needs someone else to grow his/her food. And to make his/her clothing. And to provide his/her police protection. And so on. What this means is that the 50% of the residents who actually are working now need to do twice as much work. Specifically:

  • If our new city needs to do one billion hours of work, and there are one million residents doing all of this work, it means that each resident needs to do 1,000 hours of work per year, or approximately 19 hours per week on average.
  • On the other hand, if our new city needs to do one billion hours of work, and there are only 500,000 residents doing the work, while the remaining 500,000 are getting a “free ride” (no work), it means that each working resident needs to do 2,000 hours of work per year, or approximately 38 hours per week on average, while the 500,000 non-working residents do zero hours of work per week.

This is exactly what is happening in the United States today, one way or another. However, this fact is not nearly this obvious or in-your-face. It gets chopped up and hidden in a variety of ways. For example, most working people in the United States have a big chunk of their pay (~16% when we include the employer match) taken in the form of Social Security and Medicare deductions (FICA/FUTA) [ref]. Working people support senior citizens, in part, through this hefty payroll deduction.

Is this fair? If you are 30, and able-bodied, how would you feel about doubling your personal workload and doing the work to grow all of the food that a newly-retired 65-year-old needs to eat? The retiree is sitting in his recliner doing nothing, while you are spending 2X your time every week growing and serving the food he eats. You are also making his clothes, building/maintaining his housing, etc. Depending on who you are and how you approach the world, this might feel great (“He has been working hard for 40 years, and now he really deserves to rest in his recliner!”) or awful (“Lazy good for nothing leach – he is perfectly capable of growing his own food at age 65! My father is fit as a fiddle at age 85!”).

This brings up some great questions when it comes to the societal norms that will be used by the citizens living inside our new city. Everyone in the city needs food to eat every day. Someone has to produce and serve the food that the one million residents need to eat. Typically a person contributes the labor to grow his or her own food. But what about these scenarios?

  • Should a person who is “retired” at age 65 be relieved of all of the responsibility of growing his or her own food? Does an able-bodied 65-year-old person get to sit idle in the city and eat food produced by others? Or should a 65-year-old person be asked to continue helping with food production as he/she is able, potentially right up until the day he/she dies?
  • As human life spans increase and people are healthier in retirement, how might these ideas change? If there is an age of retirement, what should that age be if people are commonly living to be 90 years old? Is the retirement age 65? 70? 75? 80? 85? 90?
  • What about a 7-year-old child? Are children exempt from food production?
  • What about a 16-year-old teenager? 16-year-olds are certainly capable of working in some capacity, and many 16-year-olds have jobs on planet Earth. Do we ask 16-year-olds to work in some capacity in our new city, or not?
  • If a person is an adult (age 18+) in college, are they exempt from food production? Or should they provide for their own food, clothing, etc.?
  • When a mother gives birth to a child, is she exempt from food production for a week? A month? A year? Two years? This gets to the idea of maternity leave: how much is appropriate? How long does the mother get a free ride? When is she reasonably able to resume, for example, growing her own food (which only requires a few hours of her human time per week)? And what about the father? Does he get paternity leave, or no? If so, how much leave do one or both parents get?
  • Once a child is born, who is responsible for growing the food for feeding the child? Is it the parents alone (this is, in essence, how it works in America today, ignoring food stamps and other welfare provisions)? The other workers in the city alone? Some kind of hybrid?
  • If a person loses a leg in a tragic meteor strike, and is now “disabled” to some degree, does this person get to sit by and watch as everyone else produces the food that he will eat? Or should he be required to work in some capacity as he is able, for example cooking potatoes or washing dishes in one of the restaurants? Why or why not?
  • What happens to a person in a deep depression, or who has gone insane for some reason? Are these people exempt from work, or not?
  • Do prisoners grow their own food, or do they sit in confinement doing no work all day?
  • If a person is long-term sick (e.g. cancer, recovering from a heart attack, recovering from a transplant operation, recovering from an accident, etc.) are they exempt from food production?

How do we answer all of these questions? How do we get everyone in the city to agree on and be happy with the answers? For example, some people in the city will believe that people should work just like everyone else up until the day they die, without any form of “retirement”. Other people will have different ideas, perhaps reducing the expected workload at a certain age, or completely eliminating work at a certain age.

For the sake of an example calculation, let’s assume that half of the city – all of the children, all of the retired people (age 65+), all of the college students, all of the long-term sick people, all of the new mothers (for one year), etc. – get a free ride. We do not ask them to do any work at all because of their various situations. This means that only half of the population will be doing the “work” that supports the rest of the city. With 42 working weeks per year for each person who actually works, we now have 840 million hours of available human time to run the city (42 weeks * 40 hours a week * 500,000 able-bodied adults = 840 million hours of productive human time available). We need 940 million, so we are nearly there, which is pretty amazing.

For the sake of a second example calculation, let’s assume that a quarter of the city – all of the young children, all of the long-term sick people, etc. – get a free ride. We do not ask them to do any work at all because of their various situations. And let’s assume that a quarter of the city – all of the retired people, all of the college students, all of the teenagers, etc. – work half time (20 hours per week for 42 weeks per year). This means that half of the population of our new city will be working full time, and a quarter will be working half-time, while a quarter of the population gets a completely free ride. With a 40-hour work week for 42 weeks a year, we now have 1,050 million hours of available human time to run the city (42 weeks * 40 hours a week * 500,000 able-bodied adults + 42 weeks * 20 hours a week * 250,000 half-time adults = 1,050 million hours).

The second case will likely be much more palatable to people. It is pretty easy to understand that 2-year-old child, or a person who has had a severe stroke (and who can no longer speak or move effectively), can’t work. But the idea of a perfectly able retiree doing zero work at age 65 would likely be aggravating or infuriating to a lot of people. And moving the retirement age up to 75 or 80 might be completely appropriate for our new city, creating even more available hours.

Fun fact: When the Social Security system was first enacted in the United States, the retirement age was 65, but the average lifespan in the U.S. was 61.7 years [ref]. Therefore, not many people ever received Social Security. Now with the average lifespan at 79.3 [ref], nearly everyone receives Social Security as they retire around age 65, and they receive it for 15 years. Our new economy should likely take these changing demographics into account when determining the retirement age.

So let’s make an assumption: Our million-person city will have 1,050 million hours of available human working time from its residents. 500,000 residents are working 5 days a week for 42 weeks per year (10 weeks of paid vacation and sick time per year), or 210 work days per year. 250,000 residents are working at half that rate. And 250,000 residents are getting a free ride (e.g. all pre-teen children are in this group).

Advantages

What is the city going to do with that 1,050 million available hours of human time? It will easily create all of the products and services that our one million residents need to live great lives at a great standard of living. In our calculations above, we only need 940 million hours of human time to operate the city. We have 110 million surplus hours for things like entertainment (see Appendix C).

In addition, we have eliminated all of the terror found in capitalism today:

  • There is no unemployment in this new system. Everyone contributes time in return for the things they need.
  • There are no ridiculously low wages.
  • There is no starvation or disgusting, low-quality food like people are forced to eat in slums.
  • There are no more recessions or depressions or inflation.
  • There is no concentration of wealth.
  • There are no economic elites stealing trillions of dollars from the system in the form of gigantically absurd executive salaries, private executive jets, demonically huge dividend payments to people who do no work at all, monster advertising budgets, absurd asset capture, corrupt lobbying, political contributions, limousines, executive parties/junkets/vacations, executive skyscrapers and so on. All of this ridiculous overhead and waste and theft is gone.

Think about how amazing this is – all of these products and services, provided with maximum variety and in shocking abundance to all one million members of our new city – and the most that anyone is working is 210 8-hour days a year (42 working weeks, 10 paid vacation/sick weeks per year). This is 155 weekend and vacation days per year.

In addition, understand that the amount of time that the city needs to spend on “work” will be declining over time. As robots, automation, new software, new advances, etc. take over more and more of the work, residents in our new economy will be spending less and less hours working. It will only get better from here. Soon the work week will fall to four days per week, then three…

When we compare this new economic system to the brutal capitalistic economic systems that prevail on Earth today, the differences are startling. Keep in mind that 70% of the people on planet Earth make less than $10 per day right now [ref] – these billions of people live in shocking deprivation compared to the tiny number of salaried employees living in modern, developed countries. Therefore, the new economic model proposed in this book would be an absolute miracle for vast majority of the people on Earth today. These impoverished people, released from the absurdities of capitalism, will be able to live their lives at an amazing standard of living that would be unimaginable to them today. Everyone is far better off under this new economic system.

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