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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Filler: Why I'd be happy to work half the time

The American dream isn't over for one group.

The American dream isn't over for one group. Credit: iStock

I hate to pit my boss against two of the world's most successful businessmen, but Carlos Slim and Larry Page say I work too much.

I have not yet approached my supervisor with the "Lane works too much" theory: Doing so could prove dangerous, and for me workplace safety has always been job six. Jobs one through five involve Facebook, coffee breaks, meal planning, sleeping with my eyes open and striding around, sheaf of papers in hand, to give the impression of frenzied effort. This is generally nullified by the fact that the papers are travel brochures.

Slim, who controls the telecommunications market in Mexico, is the second-richest man in the world, with $72 billion. He was the richest man in the world for the past four years, but he started mellowing, talking about how people should stop and smell the roses, and Bill Gates surged by with $76 billion.

Slim attracted attention last week at a conference when he suggested people should only work three days a week, but should work until they are 70 or 75. He's begun letting his employees work fewer days but stay on the job when they turn 50, the age at which many of them are first eligible to retire.

In a recent interview, Page, Google's chief executive, said the way to deal with the creation of fewer jobs in the future because of automation and productivity increases is to spread the toil by having more people work fewer hours.

"If you have global unemployment or widespread unemployment, you just reduce work time," Page said. "Most people like working, but they'd also like to have more time with their family to pursue their own interests. So that would be one way to deal with the problem, is if you had a coordinated way to just reduce the workweek. And then, if you add slightly less employment, you can adjust and people will still have jobs."

Rarely have I heard a theory on how to better the world that so completely combines brilliance with a lack of awareness.

Americans have been caught up in a bad deal since World War II. We've used big productivity and income gains to buy more cars, double the size of the average home since 1950 and acquire gadgets. My family has 12 Internet-connected devices. I spend 60 percent of my waking time working to pay for these doohickeys and their data plans and the other 40 percent working as a technician to keep them running.

In contrast, Europeans, with their shorter workweeks, six weeks of annual vacation and afternoon naps, have made more joyous choices. Many of them also are bankrupting their societies, but . . . joyously.

It would be wise to move more of our leisure time into the period of life when we are healthy and energetic enough to enjoy it. Many folks have time to climb mountains when they turn 67 and retire, but not the knees. That brings us to the other problem with the Slim-Page theory: Google employees may be able to work until age 75, but construction workers, waiters and production-line employees often can't.

Employers seem to want more from us, not less. We hear about work-life balance, but find ourselves working everywhere and all the time. And the cost of health care makes it difficult for companies to split our jobs among more workers and still afford benefits.

I'd be happy to take on half of Slim's or Page's jobs, and for less than half of what they earn. But until that happens, I'm a hamster on a wheel, without a way to hop off or slow down.

I can't see how to work less, live on less or persuade my employer to let me do less and still hold on to my job.

Those travel brochures won't read themselves.