In this month's (I should say, July/August's) Atlantic, they feature their annual list of big ideas. The "23 1/2" ideas range from good ("Fix Law Schools") to mediocre (a lot of them, for example "Boot the Extra Point" in football), to overstated (most of them, good examples being "The End of the Checkbook" or "Ban Gasoline") to terrible ("Islamists are Our Friends", "Abolish the Secret Ballot", "Don't Treat the Sick if they're Poor"); however, there is one really great idea that I fully endorse. In fact, I endorsed it 2 years ago in this blog, where I republished an essay I'd written about it 18 years ago.
They call it "Less Work, More Jobs"; I called it "More Jobs? How About Less Work?" The idea is fairly simple: Just as much as inequality in wealth, America today is marked by huge inequality of work. There are many millions who would like, or need, to work more; there are equally many who would like to be able to hold their jobs but are overworked. There are many possible solutions--the Atlantic piece, by Don Peck, their features editor, proposes "work-sharing", particularly in situations of layoffs--but they boil down to some people working less (preferably those who want to work less, and they are many) and allowing those who need it to work more.
The big problem with making this a realistic option for many, as I see it, is the cost of health insurance if not purchased through the employer-sponsored route. That is, of course, a different and difficult issue to solve. As things stand, though, some sort of initiative to encourage more part-time employment could still work for many dual-income families, allowing the possibility of sharing child-rearing duties, and could even work for some single parents if built around school hours. (and I still strongly recommend reading the post I wrote back in 1994)
The piece in the issue that has drawn all the attention is the lengthy essay by former State Department official and Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter on "Why Women Still Can't Have It All". Slaughter left her high-ranking job at State to spend more time with her family--no really, she did. As Peck does and my ancient post, she also addresses the inequality of employment in her way, though the principal thrust of her lament is that professional women just can't do their jobs and also do justice to the challenges of raising children. Her solutions are somewhat radical--get women in charge and change the rules of society--but she also makes some suggestions for the shorter haul, like increasing the possibility to work from home, and better work-life balance for all.
I am not going to put down her aspirations and certainly not her good intentions, but I will point out a couple/three facts: 1) Men have these issues, too, to the extent they are committed to time with family (which seems increasingly to be the case for many men); 2) Many make the perfectly legitimate choice of focusing on career, not family, and those people will always have an edge in the workplace (even if it's just not fair); and 3) The people who really have it tough are the single parents.
The final one comes from the Atlantic itself; not the magazine, but the ocean. I have to speak a few words of praise for the best of the many attempts to commemmorate the 100th anniversary of the episode of the ocean liner Titanic, its brief career and its spectacular end. National Geographic's April 2012 issue has articles by respected historian Hampton Sides and a contribution by the film director James Cameron. Cameron helped bring to fruition a hugely ambitious effort to photograph all the ruins of the ship from the bottom of the ocean (part of it 15,000 down), and the issue shows the current state of the wreck, a mosaic built from hundreds of photos spliced together. It's something that shows our technology at its best, its most ambitious, its purest. Which is not to say its most practical use.