I have already speculated about the trends that Thomas Piketty is foreseeing, here and here. More precisely, about their impact on our private and love lives.
It does not look good.
But several of the things I am gloomily musing will come from the inequality gap opening will unfold gradually, slowly. They will probably take a bit of time to manifest themselves globally.
Here’s a third impact that we are already feeling.
Couples today spend an average of two and a half hours a day together, including on weekends, according to a time use survey from the UK. And what do we do when we’re alone with our loved ones? Watch TV (one third of all the time spent together), eat (30 minutes) and do housework together (24 minutes). Ouch. We don’t have time to date. If we have a relationship, we don’t have time for it. And we fill the time together with must do-s or a complete intellectual switch-off (TV).
What does that have to do with Piketty’s findings. Let’s see.
The global wage bill is shrinking. This is one result of capital harvesting more of the available growth returns than labor. It means people need to work more to make ends meet. The self employed need more hours, part timers need to go full time, potential retirees need to keep working. What about those on a fixed salary, where hours’ relationship to salary is not straightforward?
Here a second time trend is relevant and interacts with Piketty’s predictions. Unionization is decreasing. Employers are gaining in relative power. They have an incentive to widen working hours beyond what is contractually agreed. And some people feel obliged to do this on their own, setting new (non-contractual) standards for all. This latter one is already happening and has been happening for a while, across the economy. Do you know anyone that works the 45 hours stated in their contract? I struggle to think of a single one. Everyone works more. It has been so ingrained in the culture that it makes people smile if you think aloud about it. Your commuting time is your leisure, even if you are on a device for work. Should it be?
Our hope is that the millenials will take the role of unions and negotiate for good working hours. Arianna’s Thrive movement is also promising.
For the time being though, I am just watching and wondering.