Of course, the notion of flexible work is a form of white-collar privilege. People who labor in factories or in restaurants or stores don't have the luxury of working from home [ or the quiet quitting that can accompany it ].

It's fine with me, say, for Americans to tone down or eliminate the rat race from their lives. Indeed, growing prosperity should allow for more leisure.

In 1900 the average full-time American worker toiled for about 2,900 hours per year [ or 56 hours per week ]. With industrialization, hours work steadily declined, leading the economist John Maynard Keynes to predict in 1930 a 15-hour workweek ''a hundred years hence.''

It's been almost a century, but last year, employed Americans still toiled an average 34.6 hours a week, roughly 1,800 hours per year.

As productivity increased since Keynes's time, we could have cut back our hours on the job far more than we did and easily maintained a 1930 standard of living. Instead, we chose to keep working in order to enjoy greater material rewards; real incomes have increased more than sevenfold since 1900.

Now many may be making a different choice. That's OK, but we shouldn't kid ourselves : Less output -whether a consequence of fewer hours or lower efficiency - eventually means a lower standard of living [or a less quickly rising one].

I'll concede that apart from the shrunken labor force, hard data on the impact of new work arrangements is at best inconclusive, since statistics remain distorted by Covid effects.  

And I'll concede that technology, particularly video conferencing, has made remote work feasible, particularly if structured as specific days designated as remote.

Lastly, I'll concede that some of the time spent on commuting [ and, perhaps, personal grooming ] can be considered wasted.

But the world should be aware of different choices being made in other countries, particularly China.

The Chinese expression ''996''. means working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. While the Chinese government has been trying to curb this practice as part of a series of labor market reforms, in my many interactions with businessmen and investors there, I still find the prevailing work ethic extraordinary.

Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal report, the property manager JLL found that office occupancy in Asia ranges from 80 percent to 110 percent [meaning that in some cities, more staff members are in the office than before the pandemic].

By comparison, U.S. office occupancy stands at 40 percent to 60 percent of pre-Covid levels. Lower than even Europe, which is at 70 percent to 90 percent.

[Some experts believe that the higher European figures are attributable to generally smaller apartments and houses in Europe, making working from home less comfortable.]

The changing work habits have spawned a push for codification of what may already be a reality : a four-day workweek. Legislation to that effect has been introduced in California, Maryland and other states.

Proponents argue that with an extra day of rest, diligent workers can accomplish as much as they did in five days. Perhaps. But put me down as sceptical about that and much of the notion that when it comes to work, less can be more.

The World Students Society thanks author Steven Rattner, chairman and chief executive officer of Willett Advisers and was a counselor to the Treasury Secretary in the Obama's administration.


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