What if everyone were a part-time worker?
Google founder and CEO Larry Page has a fascinating take on the future of our labor market. In a just-posted video from a recent appearance, Page cites the fact that 90% of the population were farmers in 1900 and, by 2000, just 2% were – so we shouldn’t be shocked about the prospect of a major shift in the structure of the labor force.
The below is an excerpt from Page’s chat, via Liz Gannes at Recode:
Vinod Khosla, interviewer and long-time technology investor who tried to buy Google when it first started: The vast majority of employment shifted from farming to only needing about 2 percent of the U.S. workforce. That happened between 1900 and the year 2000. I see the beginnings of that happening again with the rapid acceleration the next 10, 15, 20 years.
Page: I totally believe we should be living in a time of abundance, like the Peter Diamandis book. If you really think about the things that you need to make yourself happy: housing, security, opportunity for your kids. I mean, anthropologists have identified these things. It’s not that hard for us to provide those things. The amount of resources we need to do that, the amount of work that actually needs to go into that is pretty small. I’m guessing less than 1 percent at the moment. So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true. I do think there’s a problem that we don’t recognize that. I think there’s also a social problem that a lot of people aren’t happy if they don’t have anything to do. So we need to give people things to do. You need to feel like you’re needed, wanted and have something productive to do. But I think the mix with that and the industries we actually need and so on are– there’s not a good correspondence. That’s why we’re busy destroying the environment and doing other things, maybe we don’t need to be doing. So I’m pretty worried until we figure that out, we’re not going to have a good outcome. One thing, I was just talking to Richard Branson about this. They have a huge problem that don’t have enough jobs in the UK. So he’s been trying to get people to hire two part-time people instead of one full-time. So at least, the young people can have a half-time job rather than no job. And it’s a slightly greater cost for employers. I was thinking, the extension of that is you have global unemployment or widespread unemployment. You just reduce work time. Everyone I’ve asked — I’ve asked a lot of people about this. Maybe not you guys, but most people, if I ask them, “Would you like an extra week of vacation?” They raise their hands, 100 percent of the people. “Two weeks [of vacation], or a four-day work week?” Everyone will raise their hand. Most people like working, but they’d also like to have more time with their family or to do their own interests. So that would be one way to deal with the problem, is if you had a coordinated way to just reduce the work week. And then, if you had slightly less employment, you can adjust and people will still have jobs.
I’d take an extra week of vacation but would probably spend most of it doing something work related – directly or indirectly, anyway.