some thoughts about time off

I just read that the Jewish year 5775 is the year of the Shemittah, the Sabbatical year when all loans are forgiven and people were supposed to desist from all field work. Think about that – that means that in a time when most people worked in agriculture, everyone had a year off. Or maybe it doesn’t; all tasks relating to animal care still had to be done, so if farmers specialized into raising crops or animal husbandry maybe only some people got the year off. Still, I suppose that meant there were more people to help with the animal care, and the animals themselves didn’t have to do plowing and such. I suspect it wasn’t as much fun as it sounded, anyway, since you’d be stuck eating only fruit, volunteer plants and grain stored from previous years.

Still, if you ignore the practicalities and just think about the base idea, it’s a beautiful one. Not only does everyone get at least one day off per week (in The Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill makes the point that we invented the weekend!) but everyone gets a significant amount of time off every seven years. There’s something particularly humane about that. I don’t think it’s entirely practical to let everyone take off at the same time (though Germany and France do seem to survive July and August every year), but we could stagger the sabbaticals.

Intel’s been giving its workers 6 weeks off every seven years for as long as I can remember, and of course colleges do it for tenured professors. I took mine in the first half of 2013; I took the time off of my normal routine work and did something different. I wrote a book. Richard Feynman used to go explore different fields of science during his sabbatical years. What could you do if you had significant time off from your primary job? I know most people can’t afford to do it; my question is, why the hell not? THere have already been writeups about the benefits of guaranteed income, claiming that giving everyone a basic low salary is cheaper than dealing with the consequences of people not having enough to live on. What if instead we used that money to just give people a break?

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