Feisal Naqvi

The Economics of Happiness

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2008 at 7:05 am

Pick up a brick and hold it out straight with one hand. After a minute, you will be very tired. If you last two minutes, your arm will feel like it is on fire. And if you can last three minutes, then you are Superman.

Now try picking the brick up and holding it out for ten seconds at a time. You will find that you can hold the brick, all put together, for a lot longer than three minutes. That does not make you Superman. But it does make you smart.

What goes for the body goes double for the brain. Use it intensively for a while and the time will come when you will need a break. And once you take that break, your mind will be like a freshly sharpened knife rather than a dulled blade; in other words, a heck of a lot more effective.

None of this is rocket science. I was taught back in high school that the most efficient way to study was to follow up 45 minutes of concentrated study with five minutes of goofing around. More pertinently, the two-day weekend has been a staple of western life since about 1900. And on July 3, 2008, the state of Utah became the first American state to mandate a four-day work week on the grounds that it would help save on energy and environmental costs while paying for itself through productivity gains.

Why then do we still persist with a six-day work week? So far as I can figure out, the answer is stupidity. Seriously, I fail to see any rational reason why we do not have a five-day work week. A five-day work week will help save energy. It will be good for the economy. And it will make people happier.

So far as the saving electricity angle is concerned, WAPDA has repeatedly lobbied, as per newspaper reports, for a five-day work week on the grounds that it would save up to a 1,000 MW of electricity. I have yet to see anybody disagree with WAPDA’s analysis. And, as noted above, the state of Utah (official motto: “industry”) agrees. Let us therefore take that particular argument as settled.

The more important question is this: if less electricity is being used because less industrial production is taking place, how does the economy benefit?

The answer to that question is that making money is not necessarily about making things. Instead, an increasingly large part of the global economy consists of providing services to people, rather than widgets. Tourism, in fact, is the single largest industry in the world, accounting for approximately 10 percent of world GDP.

Obviously, given current events in our picturesque Northern Areas, announcing a two-day weekend in Pakistan will not result in the arrival of hordes of dollar-waving tourists. But shifting to a two-day weekend will result in the creation of hordes of rupee-waving tourists. Give people an extra day to rest and not only are they more productive, but they spend their time doing things like shopping, travelling, eating and watching movies, all of which involve spending money. And on the off chance that somebody involved in determining national economic policy is reading this column (oh happy day), let me make this very simple point: it is a good, repeat, very good thing when Pakistanis spend money on services provided by other resident Pakistanis. Giving Pakistanis more time to spend more money on leisure services is therefore Also A Good Thing.

The final issue then remains that of happiness. Well, most people like spending time with their families. More family life therefore means more happiness. And for those who don’t like their families, more leisure time means more time to play golf. Or gulli danda. Or whatever. In any event, what’s not to like?

Well, according to one lady writing in the letters column of Dawn (May 20, 2008), a two-day weekend will only exacerbate “the poor man’s financial dilemma that has led to the frequent suicides”. According to her, the extra day at home will result in misery for the working man because it will “inevitably mean more expenditure that his family will end up indulging in.”

Sure. But speaking for the rest of us who are not tempted to commit suicide by virtue of increased exposure to our loved ones, may I again repeat: a two-day weekend would be a good thing. It is mind-bogglingly stupid that we refuse to adopt it.


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