Can We Reduce Unemployment By Working Less?

great depression

New Year’s came and went without much fanfare and it didn’t feel like a holiday since we didn’t get a single day off. 

The US markets were open on Friday, December 31st.  We got Saturday and Sunday off, like we do the other 51 weeks of the year.  Then Monday, January 3rd came and we were all back to work. That’s just not right. 

It seems like everyone else around the world got at least one day off for New Year’s.

Do Americans work too hard? Outside of weekends the NYSE will be closed a total of eight and a half days in 2011 (the half-day being the Friday after Thanksgiving).  In comparison, London has 10 days off.  Even the Japanese, stereotypical hard workers, get fifteen official holidays each year.

Before coming to the US, I was a market-maker on Thailand’s futures exchange. The Stock Exchange of Thailand is closed for 17 days each year.  Plus, they regularly announce additional holidays at the last minute whenever the government feels like it.  If you think that’s excessive, consider this:  stocks trade in two sessions each day.  The morning session lasts from 10.30am to 12.30am before the exchange takes a two-hour lunch break to resume trading again from 2.30pm to 4.30pm.  A two-hour lunch break!  That’s enough time to go to the gym or have a fancy five-course lunch or take a nice long siesta (or all of the above).  It’s a brilliant idea – you can just check the trading volumes during lunch time periods here in the US to see that there’s really little point in keeping the exchange open at noon.

With fatigue setting in on all this talk of unemployment and lack of job creation, a crazy idea floated into my head.  If we could get everyone to work less, companies would have to hire more people to get the same amount of work done.  Consider it a re-distribution of wealth policy that may even win widespread support.  Who wouldn’t want a reduction in their working hours?

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This isn’t a novel concept but is actually a frequently debated topic, especially in Europe where the “European Working Time Directive” caps the number of hours worked per week.  The health and psychological benefits are frequently cited, but I would be more interested to see the effects on incomes and unemployment.

This article originally appeaed at HiddenLevers and is authored by Pallop Angsupun.

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