Opinion | Why We Need to Abolish Hourly Work Part 2
Workers today are more productive than ever, and that is in large part due to the advances in technology that have allowed workers to produce far more value in short periods of time while wages remain flat. The fact that more can be produced in the same work week means that fewer people need to be employed “full time” despite producing more than workers even just one generation prior. This reality creates a stark disconnect between the hours an individual works, and the value they produce, with each hour becoming increasingly valuable but paid at the same rate. As we automate more jobs away, what we will see is the continued proliferation of reduced hours. In a system of hourly wages, compensation will continue to plummet despite our increased productivity due to the competition between workers for jobs & work hours.
This has already been a boon for Wall Street, as these large corporations are making record profits and CEO salaries continue to skyrocket. In the meantime, workers have seen nothing but an increase in debt, a higher cost of living, and stagnating wages, trapping them in a debt reminiscent of the previously outlawed “company town”. Today the coercive force of starvation and homelessness force the most productive generation of Americans into jobs which pay poverty wages while the top 1% of income earners have seen unprecedented wealth, and corporate taxes are at a record low. It's not that these companies can’t afford to pay higher wages. Productivity numbers are clear that there is room for the doubling of the average wage earner’s paycheck with enough left over for a comfortable profit margin.
So, what is the alternative to wage labor? It's simple, salaried work, with a minimum salary that matches the cost of living. Such a system would be far more humane and could pave the way to a system where workers could work fewer hours, not have to worry about getting a second job, and could slow the pace at which automation is stifling the growth of our economy. It would come as an acknowledgment that businesses are responsible for ensuring their workers maintain a good quality of life, and could potentially help bring back a time where a single worker could provide for a family of four (regardless of the gender of the provider). There are certainly some challenges in dealing with the proliferation of unpaid and contract work, but that is a topic for another time. For most workers in the US, the abolition of wage labor and reintroduction of salaried work would be a godsend that would open up new opportunities and rebirth the American middle class.