Work, Leisure and the Environment, by Tim Robinson

Edward Elgar, 2006, x + 136 pp, hbk, 1 84720 103 4, £39.95.

The preface sums up the argument of this campaigning book:

This book is about a fundamental flaw in contemporary market economies that causes individuals to voluntarily work and consume too much while enjoying too little leisure. In working and consuming too much they are placing unreasonable and unsustainable demands on the environment. Furthermore, as the arguments in this book explain, unless the fundamental flaw is acknowledged and acted upon, humankind faces ever increasing environmental disamenity. This is because the characteristics of the fundamental flaw mean that the current problems of overwork and consequent environmental degradation reinforce each other leading us further and further away from the optimum. Over time, the extent to which work is excessive in relation to leisure grows continually along with the extent of environmental degradation. This is the outcome of the vicious circle of overwork and over consumption (p.ix).

The first chapter argues for an economic approach to this problem on the basis of a correlation between high levels of output per capita and high levels of environmental degradation per capita. The second chapter suggests that decreased unpleasantness of work, increased incomes, declining quality of life (leading to the pursuit of higher incomes in an attempt to rectify this for the individual) and the transfer of work effort from years of low productivity to years of high productivity have caused an increase in work hours. And the third chapter suggests that another important and often neglected factor is that to shift work from the home to the workplace increases externalities such as pollution and carbon emissions and thus shifts negative externalities from the home to the public realm. If we translate externalities of both work effort and increased consumption into an unhappiness alongside the happiness we receive from the income earned at work and the unhappiness derived from the disbenefits of work, then net happiness reaches zero at fewer work hours per week than if we ignore such externality unhappiness. Ignoring this externality unhappiness is the ‘fundamental flaw’ in the free market economic model which Robinson thinks we need to do something about by taking this externality into account and working fewer hours to ameliorate it and its attendant unhappiness.

Chapter 4 adds consideration of a limited information market failure to that of externalities. Chapter 5 offers a measurement of the excessive work effort we experience using a General Progress Indicator rather than Gross Domestic Product to measure wellbeing. Chapter 6 studies cumulative effects and international differences; and chapter 7 offers policies to tackle the fundamental flaw: working hours legislation, education, and taxation. The aim: to reduce work hours and thus improvequality of life.

The problem, which Robinson recognises, is that the fundamental flaw and its solution are not intuitive until they are explained and the penny drops.

The same is true, of course, for current problems relating to income maintenance and a Citzien’s Income as their solution.