Thursday, November 12, 2009

Time For The 35 Hour Working Week

President Obama is looking for ideas to jump start the employment market. Here's one: Do what the French did in 1998 and legislate a 35 hour work week for all businesses which employ more than 50 people (in France, I believe, the threshold was 20, but hey, this is America).

I can almost hear the cries of "socialist!" rising from the right, but extreme times require extreme measures.

To allay the fears of those who would be ready to label this as yet another move toward the destruction of America, the President should attach a couple of provisions to such a job creation bill:

  • It should contain a sunset provision, which would automatically return the working week to 40 hours unless Congress reauthorizes the bill. (After all, even the French have all but repealed the 35 hour working in week, in 2008.
  • It should be optional, meaning that employers should not be forced to participate, but it should also contain tax incentives for employers to offset the higher cost of employment and to make participation an attractive option.

The obvious downside of such a plan is that individuals who are employed would lose 5 hours of wages per week. But this could easily be compensated by offsetting the money lost by such individuals with matching tax credits or by, guess what, a stimulus package aimed at workers rather than, say, the usual financial institutions that have caused or contributed to the predicament we are in.

The upside would be that more people would be employed. This would be a) a politically smart move ahead of the 2010 elections, b) a boost for the morale of a nation shocked by unemployment, and c) the morally right thing to do.

An additional plus would be that people who are employed also enjoy company benefits, including health care benefits, at a time when the number of uninsured or underinsured Americans is frighteningly, immorally high. It would also mean that the government would not spend as much on health care and unemployment benefits for individuals out of a job.

Of course, Republicans would oppose such a move, but who cares? Don't they oppose anything in the name of political advantage anyway?

Call me crazy, but I think we can learn from the French on this one.

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