Where do you summer?

Workers in France get a guaranteed five weeks of vacation time as a condition of their employment. (Technically they start with zero and accrue the 25 days over the course of the year, but they sometimes redeem time off before it matures...sort of a leisure loan.) Those in the more cush positions routinely have—and more importantly take—up to eight weeks off. In the US you're doing pretty well if you get two, and if you can overcome the vacation shaming you might even be lucky enough to take them.

Interestingly, until the 1970s, French employees worked more hours in aggregate than their American counterparts. So what precipitated this reversal? It turns out to be the unions' advocacy for "work sharing" as a response to the rising unemployment during the recessionary decade. This meant that individuals' hours were reduced to accommodate the larger pool of available labor (instead of just protecting existing jobs and leaving those surplus workers to fend for themselves). This, in turn, strengthened the unions by enlarging their membership and increasing their leverage in perpetual capital-labor negotiations—allowing them to push for more sustainable arrangements over time.

But it's not just travel and leisure that we're deprived of here in 'merica. The lack of regular extended breaks means that most of us really don't even have time or energy to consider our lack of regular extended breaks. It's a bit of a catch-24/7.

Vacation policy is one of those areas where we can push for non-reformist reforms that will move us toward deep, systemic change. It would also likely attract fierce opposition from powerful business interests. But if it were part of a political platform, say, it might be the kind of concrete policy position that would attract immense populist support.

Time is a precious, flat circle

In late 2017, Germany's largest union launched a campaign to reduce the workweek from 35 to 26 hours. They have a long history of fighting for free time as a worker's right, and believe that it's impossible to live a dignified life or to care for oneself and one's community without it.
"Our ability to think independently, experience romance, nurture friendships, and pursue our own curiosities and passions requires time that is ours, time that belongs neither to the boss nor the market."
Opponents of new ideas like Basic Income or reduced working hours often ask how people will find meaning or a sense of self-worth without a regular job to orient and give structure to their lives. I would argue that we should be asking the opposite: how can people ever make space for these essentials when their time is entirely devoured by capitalist commitments?

Concepts like “late capitalism,” “post-work future", and “accelerationism” are mainly the purview of those of us that already have enough free time to philosophize about the future and alternative socioeconomic systems. The more we focus on the concrete—the things that can be discussed right now without asking for any suspension of disbelief—the more quickly we can build massive constituencies of people who are already aligned with these values.

Free radical

Turns out the Swiss economy is not a series of tubes like the internet, and Basic Income can just be dumped on it, as pictured here.
Over the last few years, the Basic Income (in one form or another) has been transitioning from a radical, fringe idea to one that is increasingly discussed in mainstream policy conversations.

What precipitated this seemingly sudden shift in perception of an idea that's been around for decades? It appears to be the timely combination of several factors, including long-term advocacy, increasing economic precarity, and the changing nature of work itself. Further evidence that the current moment's metaphorical iron is hot, and that we should continue to strike it.

Utopia creep

Paul Mason—author of PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future, a foundational text in the post-capitalist sphere—believes that the next evolution of capitalism is already emerging, fueled by the confluence of three key disruptions of the information age: 1) the lines between work and leisure have blurred, as has the overall need for work, and the relationship between work and wages is loosening; 2) information's inherent abundance has made it impossible to accurately form prices; and 3) the rise of collaborative or peer production (e.g. Wikipedia, Linux, etc.) has fostered an entire swath of organizations that operate independent of the market.
"Is it utopian to believe we’re on the verge of an evolution beyond capitalism? We live in a world in which gay men and women can marry, and in which contraception has, within the space of 50 years, made the average working-class woman freer than the craziest libertine of the Bloomsbury era. Why do we, then, find it so hard to imagine economic freedom?"
Ultimately, it's a combination of these tangible changes in our technological capacity and our ability to imagine a different future that will enable us to build it. Mason calls this Project Zero, and imagines us pushing these disruptive forces to further dissolve markets, socialize knowledge, drastically reduce the need for work, and move the economy toward abundance.

Deep thoughts

This week saw the passing of Ursula K. Le Guin. She was an incredibly imaginative, playfully subversive, and fiercely feminist author. Once, when asked if she would blurb an all-male anthology of science fiction, she wrote the the editor:
Her books explore ideas of social and economic structures, gender dynamics, and social revolution. Two of her best-loved novels—The Dispossessed and Always Coming Home—present gorgeous, deeply-imagined, and for that matter, realistic anthropologies of functioning utopian communities. If you haven't read her, begin immediately. Here are some morsels to pique your appetite.

“You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”
The Dispossessed

“All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people.”
The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination

“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.” 
The Left Hand of Darkness

"We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words."
—Excerpt from 2014 speech at National Book Awards


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