Being president of the United States is probably a difficult job that would require you to work a lot of hours, which is fine because the gig comes with a sweet house, your own plane, and the ability to destroy the world. George W. Bush was usually in the Oval Office by 6:45 AM, while the chiller Obama rolled into work between nine and ten. But according to a scoop this week from Axios, Trump only spends about seven hours a day in the Oval Office, from 11AM to 6PM.
While the report notes that Trump worked longer hours during the beginning of his presidency, he has demanded more “executive time,” which is the fancy way of saying time spent tweeting, making phone calls, and watching his beloved cable news. “The schedule says Trump has ‘Executive Time’ in the Oval Office every day from 8am to 11am, but the reality is he spends that time in his residence, watching TV, making phone calls and tweeting,” Axios Jonathan Swan reported.
While Trump’s critics are eager to berate him for being lazy, he may be onto something. In 1940, congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to mandate overtime pay for employees working over 40 hours a week. Since then, an eight-hour workday has been the norm, but in a world that is increasingly automated, do we need to be working so much?
“It used to be common sense that advances in technology would bring more leisure time,” Nathan Schneider wrote for VICE back in 2014. “A four-hour workday with a livable wage could solve a lot of our most nagging problems. If everyone worked fewer hours, for instance, there would be more jobs for the unemployed to fill.” And yet, it’s 2018 and my computer job requires me to be in the office from 9:30 AM to 6:30 PM five days a week.
As leftist wonk Matt Bruenig explained on Demos in 2015, “Normally, when a country increases its per-hour productivity, it reduces the amount of work it does… Given our high GDP/hour, there is absolutely no reason the US needs to be working as much as we currently do, and certainly no reason why we need to be working more.”
Anyone who has an actual job will tell you that the reason they work long hours is that they’re paid by the hour, duh. The path to a seven-hour day—or a four-hour day, or a zero-hour day—would necessarily involve pretty widespread societal change. Without either a massive increase in the minimum wage or something more radical like a guaranteed universal basic income, no one could afford to work Trumpian hours. (At the federal minimum wage of $7.25, if you worked 35 hours a week for an entire year with no vacation, you’d only make $13,200.)
But unlike most jobs, the job of president can’t be automated, at least not until real AI exists and humans become obsolete. So perhaps Trump should be working more. But I’m hoping he’s committed to a seven-hour day to remind Americans that they’re employers are working them too hard, that we all deserve a little more “executive time.”