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Be careful what you wish for

Feb. 2, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

Occasionally, when we wish for something, there are unexpected consequences that change the whole complexion of the thing for which we were wishing.

With all due respect to the workers and labor leaders who fought to make a five-day work week standard (as opposed to six or seven), I have never quite been satisfied with the arrangement.

It has been my contention that the split should be reversed, and we should work two days and have the other five to enjoy more pleasant activities. The weekends simply fly by too quickly under the current system.

If we can’t reverse the weekend thing, I have surmised, it would be nice to at least have something more balanced, such as a four-day work week and a three-day weekend.

Many people with whom I have discussed this have said they would be willing to work longer days in exchange for an extra day of freedom.

I have advocated this type of arrangement for years.

Recently, there seems to be a growing trend that gives people extra hours or days off, but it is not at all like I had envisioned.

The problem is that people are working fewer hours, but they are also getting less pay.

Everywhere I go lately, I meet people who have either had their hours cut, or who have friends or family members who have had their hours cut (not to mention the thousands who have been laid off completely).

This is not the blissful expansion of freedom I had in mind.

Instead of reducing stress, the new development has increased it.

Many of these people were already struggling to make ends meet, and now they have to figure out ways to cope with decreased income and ever-increasing costs.

This does not make for a pleasant environment.

Instead of spending more time on leisure activities, people are spending time looking for work and worrying about how to stretch their shrinking paychecks.

Even if they have time, they don’t have the money to do much, which means forced time off is no picnic at all.

There are, of course, many pleasant and entertaining activities that cost no money, but it is always nice to have a few greenbacks in one’s back pocket for contingencies.

Many people who are in retirement have the same challenge. They toil away for most of their lives, and then, when they finally have the luxury of time to do some of the things they have always wanted to do, they find that they don’t have as much money as they thought they would.

More and more people are finding that they aren’t able to retire at all, but are forced to keep working just to keep body and soul together, rather like old plow horses that are forced to remain in the traces, toiling away until they drop in their tracks.

This is hardly the way one would wish to spend one’s golden years.

Some retired persons work because they want to, but that is very different from those who have no choice.

It seems that the moral of the story, if there is one, is that we should be careful what we wish for. Things may not be as rosy as we expect them to be.

As far as enjoying some extra time off is concerned, if current trends continue, it is possible that the only way to get both time off and the money to enjoy it is to get a job in government.

Public employees are beginning to experience wage freezes and some of the other challenges that plague private sector employees, but at least government employees still get to enjoy those fake federal holidays. You know the kind of thing – these are the holidays where private sector employees go to work and pay taxes in order to pay government employees to take the day off.

As an added bonus, we get the inconvenience of having government offices shut down for the day.

If taxpayers, rather than bureaucrats, were in charge of determining benefits for public employees, I suspect the compensation for the public employees would resemble that of the private sector much more closely.

For now, though, hooking up with a job that includes fake holidays as part of the compensation might be the only way to get both extra time off and the dough to whoop it up and enjoy the brief taste of freedom.