Philanthropy is the Best Efficiency

Reform … will accomplish, roughly speaking, no change that will benefit labor at the expense of capital. – Max Eastman

Got this article in my email today. Four-day work week as employee perk? Sure, I’m in favor of that.

The middle bit’s good: they talk about the appeal of fewer hours, and they quote the CEO of a company that has switched to a four-day work week and seen sustained productivity and growth.

And then…

If you employ the 4/10 model, employees work four, 10-hour days. The longer hours allow them to get their work accomplished, while still cutting the work week shorter.

Another schedule has employees work nine hours for five days, allowing them to take a day off biweekly. You’ll still see most of your employees five days a week, but the biweekly days off can work as a reward for work well done, and a chance for your best people to relax and refresh.

What we have here is a failure of imagination. The CEO they quote had his company go to 32-hour weeks. Why, Ilya Pozin, are you incapable of imagining that people might get the same amount of work done in fewer hours if they are less tired and therefore more focused?

Incidentally, workers fought for the eight-hour work day. Ford showed that the eight-hour work day was just as or more productive than the nine or ten hour day. Subsequent science backs this up.

Come on.

Old anthropology, meet new social justice

This is a pretty rough idea, but: I was reading an essay by David Graeber (“Manners, Deference, and Private Property”), in which he uses some fairly old ideas from the anthropological literature, of “joking” and “avoidance”. “Joking relations” are a phenomenon whereby if you encounter someone who is related to you in a particular way, you are socially required to insult them – but whatever you do to them, they can do back to you. “Avoidance,” in contrast, is a kind of relation where you don’t interact physically at all with a  particular person, usually someone ranked higher than you – but they have considerably more leeway. Additionally, joking relations are frequently marked by very crude physicality and avoidance is marked by, basically, pretending you don’t have a body (keeping bodily functions private). These can be sensibly set up as opposite ends of a continuum, where there’s an absolutely egalitarian relationship on one end, characterized by insulting and sometimes violent (but playfully violent) behavior, and an absolutely hierarchical relationship on the other, characterized by taboos.

It occurred to me that for some people, part of the backlash against being asked to be hands-off (literally and metaphorically) with women might arise from the existence of this continuum. (Which is why I post this here, where nobody will see it, and not Tumblr, where I’m liable to get my head bitten off.)

That is: some American men are very playfully aggressive, crude, sexual, etc. with close friends, and some of them might feel like treating female friends roughly in the same way is treating them like equals, like close friends. Many of those women, though, might feel like it’s violent/coercive reinforcement of a pre-existing hierarchy of who gets to control their body, a hierarchy in which they’re lower, and ask the men to back off. But those same men might naturally feel like being asked to be hands-off is like being asked to convert an egalitarian joking friendship into a hierarchical avoidance relationship, which a) puts them at the bottom of a hierarchy and b) looks an awful lot like pedestalizing the women, which is of course also sexist.

I also see a resonance between popular resistance to middle-class manners and some resistance to ‘political correctness’. In both cases there are things that seem pretty obviously good rules (basic hygiene, not using racial slurs) and things that seem to be rules for the sake of signaling conformity (particular fragments of table manners, tiny and subtle variants on terminology for trans* or intersex people).

I don’t have any suggestions for what to do with this, of course. But now the idea is out there.