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Economy

Would You Like a Thirty-Hour Workweek?

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Authors: Meena Miriam Yust and Arshad M. Khan

In the earliest days, foraging was key.  Fruits, berries, edible plants and roots comprised a varied diet, the roots often mashed and made into meal. 

Then there were days when the men — usually layabouts for foraging — would get the urge in their bellies for meat.  That was when all the chatting and bonding paid off.  Working together they could down a large beast and share the meat with the whole group … feasting for several days. 

No nine-to-five slavery in those times, no five-day work week.  That is all of recent vintage.  And it leads to an unmistakable Monday morning feeling …  

Millions of alarm bells sound in the wee hours of the morning, as semi-comatose individuals slide their snooze buttons hoping for a moment’s rest before the inevitable rush to the office.  The weekend is over.  Fun over, work beckons.  Marching along like ants going to their own funeral, masses of people will soon swarm into the subway, vying for a seat in a stench-free area, surrounded shoulder to shoulder with others like them. 

And for what when we know first hand that wage buying power hasn’t changed in decades while US income inequality continues to grow.  Good luck to the rich who keep getting richer as the stock market booms while trends in wealth show the lower 60 percent have seen a net worth decline.  Can we ever get a real wage increase?  Yes, by working fewer hours for the same weekly salary when the over overtime on a few hours more would boost our financial health.  More money and free time makes for a happier work and life balance.  Just as raising the minimum wage, it would have an impact on pay inequality as economist Ben Zipperer made clear in his testimony before Congress last year.      

For most of us, next come the Tuesday blues, that lethargic, listless feeling of no escape.  Wednesdays mark the halfway point, Thursdays bring the hope of almost-Friday, and then Friday arrives with the joy of the weekend break.  But soon it will be Monday morning again.  The majority of our lives are spent working.   The weekend leaves barely enough time for recovery, laundry, and if we’re lucky a smidgen of fun, before returning to the tedium of the five-day work week.   It’s not that the powers that be are unaware of our circumstances.  As long ago as 1935, the Senate Judiciary Committee held thirty-hour work week hearings but the idea failed to get traction. . 

But is this weekly misery necessary?  And where did it come from?

One year marks an orbit of the Earth around the sun.  Months too are derived from astronomy. Five thousand years ago, the ancient Sumerian calendar had 12 months marked by the sighting of a new moon.  They did not have weeks.  And archaeologists have discovered a hunter gatherer calendar from Aberdeen, Scotland dating farther back from 8,000 B.C., which also appeared to mimic phases of the moon to track months.  

The history of the seven-day week leads us to Babylon 4,000 years ago.  With a lunar month they used seven days to represent each of the four phases of the moon, adding an intercalary day(s) to synchronize it to the actual lunar cycle.  All of which worked out very well because they believed there were seven planets in the solar system and deemed the number significant.  The seven-day week eventually spread to Egypt, Greece, and thence to India, China and Rome, ending up in the Gregorian calendar we use today. 

The five-day work week was first introduced in a New England mill in 1908.  Before this, Saturdays were a half day and Sundays a holiday.

It was not expected that humans would still be doing this a century later.  John Maynard Keynes in 1930 predicted that the work week would be reduced to 15 hours, within a couple of generations, due to advancements in technology.  In 2017, economist and historian Rutger Bregman put forward its feasibility by 2030 in his best seller, Utopia for Realists.  A Senate subcommittee in 1965 also predicted we would be working 14-hour weeks by the year 2,000.  

More recently, companies have started to study whether there are benefits to a four-day work week.  Microsoft Japan recently reported the results of a four-day work week study.  The company had employees work four days while receiving five-day pay.  The results were striking – a whopping 40% increase in productivity.  The firm also reported increased efficiency in several areas, including lower electricity and paper usage.

A New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian in 2018 experimented with a four-day work week with five-day pay.  It resulted in a 20 percent increase in productivity while employees experienced a 45 percent improvement in work-life balance.  The company has now made the policy permanent. 

Another example is a company called Basecamp.  Employees work 8 hours a day for four days. Jason Fried, the CEO, states in a New York Times op-ed that “Better work gets done in four days than in five.”  

Despite the jokes about civil servants they do work, and some very hard.  In a study of British civil servants, it was determined that those who worked 55 hours per week showed a comparatively greater cognitive decline some three years later than those working for 40 hours.  Imagine what happens to us when we extend this to a lifetime of 40-plus-hour weeks. 

The question is, do we need to work even 40 hours per week?  If Keynes predicted humans would only need to work 15 hours by this point in time, and there has been an explosion of technological advancements in the last 30 years unimaginable to him — from computers to robotics to the internet and advancements in every type of engineering and medical field — then why are we still 40-hour slaves, particularly when the Basecamp example has demonstrated that 32 hours per week is equally or perhaps more productive? 

Next is the question of whether even 32 hours, as at Basecamp, are necessary.  David Graeber is an anthropologist at the London School of Economics.  His 2018 book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory describes jobs that appear to have no useful purpose.  These are far more common that one might expect.  In a poll of British citizens, 37% considered their jobs meaningless.  In the Netherlands, 40% of respondents believed their job had no reason to exist.  Graeber defines bullshit jobs as “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”  

In many of these jobs, employees sit at a desk five days a week with nothing to do.  In other jobs, higher management invents tasks for subordinates to complete solely to fill their time.  Some jobs exist merely for appearances.  He splits them into categories, encompassing jobs with which we are all too familiar.  “Flunkies” serve the purpose of making others feel superior (these include doormen, assistants, etc.).  “Goons” encompass those such as the public relations professional whose job is to show the public that Oxford is a top school!  “Duct tapers” are people in an organization who have to deal with its incompetence.  For example, the person who handles lost luggage at an airport or addresses complaints on the phone. “Box tickers” are designed to look busy and push paper work forward. “Taskmasters” are split into two types – those that assign more bullshit work to subordinates “bullshit generators”, and those who supervise people who do not need supervision. 

For the 60% of people who do not have “bullshit jobs” – studies have shown that fewer work days increases productivity and efficiency, not to mention mental well being.  Companies will be more efficient, workers will work better and will be rested and refreshed, and employees will be more likely to stay in their jobs.  It’s a plus-sum game if the work week is cut to 30 hours/ 4 days forthwith.  Anything beyond 30 hours would be overtime, at time-and-a-half rates.  The proposal is still twice John Maynard Keynes’ 15-hour expectation.  

There is another very good reason for this proposal:  Real wages in the US have been stagnant since the 1960s while the GDP is up over four fold and the stock market Dow is up about ten times, also in real terms i.e. after allowing for inflation.  It means stock and asset holders have been getting much, much richer while the working sucker is getting nowhere.  Cutting the work week down is a fair way to get part way (a very small part) even.  It is 25 percent less work and a one-third real increase in wages making a minor dent in the horrendous inequality in the US, which happens to be way ahead in this dubious honor among all developed countries. 

It is a long time since the hunter gatherers of Scotland or the Babylonians.  Their week remains ingrained, and the weekend created thousands of years later expanded from the Biblical single day of rest to one-and-a-half days in England, and then finally to two in New England at the beginning of the 20th century.  A hundred years later, is it not high time we advanced to three days?  Or perhaps to diminish the chances of worse Monday morning blues, it might be better to work two days, have a day off, then two more days of work before the regular weekend.  Humans were not designed for undue stress, we were designed for leisure, to be gathering food as we need it, and occasionally hunting, as the Scots mentioned earlier, and others of our ancestors did happily for generations.  

Authors’ Note:  This article first appeared on Truthout.org in a shorter edited version.

Meena Miriam Yust is an attorney based in Chicago, Illinois. Educated at Vassar College and Case Western Reserve University School of Law, she published a draft Migratory Insect Treaty with commentary in the Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law.

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Economy

Biden should abolish corporate tax for small business, and make Big Tech pay what they owe instead

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If Biden wants to increase tax revenue, create jobs and protect the American Dream, he should abolish corporate income tax for startups and small businesses.

In America, mom and pop businesses pay the same tax rate as multinationals. Individual income tax has seven tax rates, depending on how much an individual has made. We need the same system for corporate income tax, instead of a flat rate that strangles small businesses. Small businesses that are essential for our post-pandemic recovery.

For companies to pay their fair share of tax, corporate tax rates need to be fair. Individuals have a progressive tax system – the more you earn, the higher rate you pay – but for companies it is a flat rate. That’s not fair, especially when the US, like many countries, is committed to the idea of corporate personhood: that a corporation is a legal person.

For small businesses – which are the majority of American businesses – there is really no difference between corporate and individual income. If the mom and pop store does well, so do Mama and Papa. This is what makes the current system even more unfair.

The inherently fair idea of progressive taxes (where the more you earn, the higher rate you pay) has deep roots in Western civilization. The famous economist Adam Smith wrote about this concept centuries ago. Even John Locke, a man who famously hated taxes, was in favour of progressive taxation. The idea originates in Ancient Greece and in the arguments of Aristotle and is intimately linked with democracy itself. 

We can all agree that this makes sense for individuals. So why does this same principle not apply to business? I think it should, especially because I believe every individual has an entrepreneur within them. Anyone can – and should – be a CEO, a builder of opportunity and wealth. But government policies have to encourage that, and protect capitalism from the threat of increased social divides.

Two individuals, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos now have more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans. The share of total wealth of the upper class in the US has increased from 60% to 79% in the last 40 years, while the lower class share has decreased from 7% to 4%, and the middle class’s share has dropped from 32% to 17%. 

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aim to raise more corporate taxes – we should. Out of $3.46 trillion revenue income realized by the US government only about $230 billion or close to 6.6% was contributed by corporates.

Some corporates can afford to pay more – especially Big Tech, because they don’t even pay the low flat rate they should be paying. In the UK, for example, Amazon paid £293 million in tax, even though it made £13.73 billion in sales in 2019 or about 2%. This is in stark contrast to the 21% corporation tax it is supposed to pay. 

We need more fairness, to protect true capitalism. Fairness isn’t just a socialist value, it is about providing equal opportunity for all citizens to prosper through wealth creation.

It’s unfair that those small businesses and start-ups end up paying proportionally more than their multi-national counterparts. But this is also economically stifling: Instead of allowing founders the space to breathe, grow and make new hires, they are faced with big, strong competitors who pay effectively lower taxes (because they can afford the best tax attorneys).

The American Dream is predicated on the idea that one can start a new business, work hard and be the master of his or her own destiny. A regressive corporate tax policy, which we have now, flies in the face of this ideal. 

In 2020, 804,398 new businesses were started in the US. We have to give these businesses a fair opportunity to grow. By taxing them at the first hurdle, we stifle the chance of the next Facebook and Google being born, which could equally lead to much less tax revenue down the line. 

Lowering, or abolishing, start-up business tax can counter-intuitively increase tax revenue for the federal government in the long-term.

More importantly, it can remind us what America is really about, and bring our communities and generations together at a time when we need unity, growth and innovation more than ever before.

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Economy

Role of WTO in Regularization of International Trade

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International trade is one of the main features of the globalized world and global economy. There it needs also a well-organized institutional mechanism to regulate it. World Trade Organization is an international organization established in 1995, whose main objective is to facilitate trade relations among its member countries for their mutual benefits. Currently 164 states are its members. The activities and works of WTO are performing by a Secretariate of about 700 staff located in Geneva, Switzerland, led by the Director General. English, Spanish and French are the official languages of World Trade Organization. The annual budget of WTO is about 180 million dollars.

Since its creation it is playing an important role in the regularization of international trade. It offers a forum and facilitation for negotiating trade agreements in order to reduce the barriers in the way of smooth international trade among member countries. Thus, the role of this organization is playing very important role in the regularization of international trade which is contributing to economic development and growth of member countries in this globalized world. The World Trade Organization also offers an institutional structure and legal framework for the execution and supervising of the international trade related agreements which are very helpful in regularization of international trade. It also settles disputes, disagreements and conflicts occurring during the interpretation and execution of the components of the international agreements related to international trade. During the past 60 years, the World Trade Organization and its predecessor organization the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) have assisted to establish a solid and flourishing global trade system, by this means helping to extraordinary international economic development.

The WTO is regularizing international trade more specifically through negotiating the decrease and finally elimination of barriers to trade among countries and try to make smoothly the working of the rules and principles governing the international trade e.g. tariffs, subsidies, product standards, and antidumping etc. It also administers and monitor the execution of the World Trade Organization’s determined guidelines for trade in services, goods as well as intellectual property rights related to international trade. It also monitors and review the member states international trade policies as well as make sure the transparency in bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. Likewise, it also solves disputes arising among members related to trade relations or related to the explanation of the provisions of the trade agreements. It also offers services to the governments of the developing states in the fields of capacity building of officers in matters related to international trade. WTO is also doing research on matters related to international trade and its related issues and collect data in order to find better solutions of the problems and obstacles in regularization of international trade. It is also trying to bring into the organization the 29 states who are yet not members of the organization aimed to assist and regulate their international trade according to the international standard.

One of the main barriers in way to international trade is disputes between the engaged parties. Since long this was a very critical issue limiting the trade among states. The WTO is playing very good and instrumental role in the solution of trade related disputes. Since the establishment of WTO in 1995 over 400 disputes related to trade have been brought by its member countries to WTO. The increasing number of bringing trade related disputes to WTO is showing the faith of member countries in the organization. Close trade relations have massive advantages but also create disputes and disagreements. With the increase of international trade, the possibility of its related disputes also increases. Previously, such problems and disagreements have caused in severe disputes. But at present, in the era of WTO the international trade related disputes are decreased because the member states have now dispute’s solution platform, and they are turning to the World Trade Organization to solve their trade related disagreements and disputes. Before the World War Second, there was not any such international organization or forum which could facilitate international trade and its related affairs, and there was also noany legal framework for solving trade related disputes among states of the word.

One of The World Trade Organization’s guiding principal is to continue the open boundaries for trade, ensure the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status among member countries and stop discriminatory behaviour of members towards other member(s) and bring transparency in doing international trade. It is also assisting counties to open their indigenous markets to global trade, with justified exemptions or with suitable flexibilities, promote and support to durable growth, reduce trade deficit, decrease poverty, and promote economic stability. It is also working to integrate different international trade policies and principles. The member countries of WTO are also under the compulsion to bring their trade related disputes to this organization and avoid unilateral actions. WTO is the central pillar of the current international trade system.

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Economy

Russia and France to strengthen economic cooperation

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On April 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin held videoconference with leaders of several French companies-members of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI France-Russia) to discuss some aspects of Russian-French trade, economic and investment cooperation, including the implementation of large joint projects as well as the prospects for collaborative work.

Putin noted that the Economic Council of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is still operational in spite of difficulties, and the late April meeting was the fourth time since 2016. From the historical records, France has been and remains a key economic partner for Russia, holding a high but not sufficiently high, 6th place among EU countries in the amount of accumulated investment in the Russian economy and 5th place in the volume of trade.

Despite a certain decline in mutual trade in 2020 (it went down by 14 percent compared to 2019) the ultimate figure is quite acceptable at $13 billion. French investment in Russia is hovering around $17 billion, while Russian investment in France is $3 billion.

Over 500 companies with French capital are operating in various sectors of the Russian economy. French business features especially prominently in the Russian fuel and energy complex, automobile manufacturing and, of course, the food industry. “It could have been more if the French regulatory and state authorities treated Russian businesses as Russia is treating French businesses. We appreciate that in a difficult economic environment, French companies operating in Russia have not reduced their activity,” Putin pointed out.

The Russian Government established the Foreign Investment Advisory Council, which includes six French companies. Further, there is an opportunity to discuss specific issues related to the economic and investment climate in Russia, and that opportunity is traditionally provided at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which will be held on June 2-5.

French companies are involved in the implementation of globally famous landmark projects, such as the construction of the Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2 facilities and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. This, Putin regrettably said “We are aware of and regret the amount of political speculation concerning the latter. I would like to point out once again that it is a purely economic project, it has nothing to do with present-day political considerations.”

Russia intends to increase assistance to the development of science and technology. Funds will be directed primarily to innovation sectors such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, nuclear and renewable energy, and the utilisation of carbon emissions.

“We are interested in involving foreign companies that would like to invest in Russia and in projects we consider high priority. In order to do this, we will continue to use preferential investment regimes and execute special investment contracts, as you know. A lot of French companies successfully use these tools on the Russian market. For example, more than one third of 45 special investment contracts have been signed with European, including French, partners,” he explained during the meeting.

He also mentioned continuous efforts to attract foreign companies to localise their production to state purchases and to implementing the National Development Projects, as well as existing opportunities for French businesses in special economic zones. Today there are 38 such zones created throughout the Russian Federation.

Russia pays particular attention to attracting high-quality foreign specialists. Their employment is being fast-tracked, and their families can now obtain indefinite residence permits. There is a plan to launch a special programme of ‘golden visas’ whereby to issue a residence permit in exchange for investment in the real economy, a practice is used in many other countries.

Taking his turn, Co-Chair of the CCI France-Russian Economic Council, Gennady Timchenko, noted that the pandemic has changed the world, people and business, and that French companies in Russia are responsible employers and socially responsible members of Russian society.

Despite the crisis and the geopolitical situation, a number of French companies have launched production in 2020–2021. Companies such as Saint-Gobain and Danone have renewed their investments. French companies have increased their export of products manufactured in Russia; they are investing in priority sectors of the Russian economy. For example, this year the French company Lidea is launching a plant called Tanais to produce seeds. Russia is dependent on the import of 30 to 60 percent of these seeds, according to various estimates.

Despite the current geopolitical conditions and information field, there are important signals for French business and the Russian side to strengthen economic cooperation, attract investment, and create partnerships on a new mutually beneficial basis.

Co-Chair of the CCI France-Russian Economic Council, Patrick Pouyanne, noted that the meeting has become an excellent tradition, the presence of 17 CEOs and deputy CEOs of French companies shows the importance of these joint meetings, and further reflect the deep interest of French business in Russia.

In addition, Patrick Pouyanne further offered some insights into Russia-French cooperation. By 2020, twenty members of the Economic Council invested a total of 1.65 trillion rubles, supporting 170,000 jobs. These companies have operated in Russia for decades and continue investing in the Russian economy despite the sanctions and the epidemic. These companies help France maintain its status as the second largest investor in Russia. In 2020, France invested over $1 billion in Russia despite the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Concluding his remarks, Patrick Pouyanne stressed that the economic operators believe everyone will benefit if Russia, France and all of Europe are not divided or isolated. This is the challenge today. Indeed, diplomacy has to continue playing an important role in settling differences, and businesses are convinced that meetings like this create bridges between Russia and France to strengthen investment and economic cooperation.

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