Here are the main elements of Frithjof's Bergmann's idea of "New Work" (introduced in this post) as he taught it back at U. of Michigan.
1. Developing a calling. Work can sap our will to live, but the right kind of work can be invigorating. If it's an enterprise you can identify with, that's meaningful to you, then it becomes part of "the good life" that philosophy is always shooting for. Such a goal will of course vary between people, and Bergmann cites Nietzsche in pointing out that people inherently suffer from a "poverty of desire," meaning they don't know what they really want to do, and in fact interests need to be cultivated over time to take hold. Fortunately for us, when people are really given the opportunity to think seriously about what they'd really like to do with their lives, they very often want to contribute something to the betterment of the world, so while a calling might well be artistic or academic or individually spiritual, for many people it's going to be service-oriented. So no, unburdening ourselves from the job system as traditionally conceived doesn't mean everyone would just lie around playing Halo or something, but the complexities involved in overcoming the poverty of desire mean that we need social networks and institutions (e.g. apprenticeships, volunteer organizations, counseling services) to help people figure out their "callings," which could of course change over time.
2. Cutting down the number of hours we work. This needs to be done with the expressed intent of encouraging #1. While just reducing the work week to 35 hrs. would be freeing and certainly raise the quality of family life in our country, little bits of extra free time just add up to the void of leisure, where we do just waste time playing video games. In some cases, a work-3-months, 3-months-off breakdown might work better to really engage some other project.
Politically, this is of course the big sticking point. Realistically, if we recognize #1 and #2 as national goals, then this gives some legislative guidance: reduce incentives for full time as opposed to part time work. Make it easier for people to cut back their hours if they can afford to do so. Health insurance as inexorably tied to full-time employment is obviously a major issue here; it looks like the recent health reform may help, but I'm not clear on this. Reduce barriers for working with tele-commuters. The more policy and technology make the old-fashioned workplace obsolete, the easier it will be for people to work flexibly. Bergmann compares jobs as traditionally conceived to bland, canned food; work comes in all sizes and shapes, and we need to reduce the barriers to fruitfully pulling income from disperate sources.
3. High-Tech Self Providing. How do you maintain a comfortable enough life style if you're working less? Bergmann recommends increased development of technologies to help us do things for ourselves without merely relying on the outside economy. Hydroponic growing, food co-ops, use of the Internet to avoid retail, creating your own goods with 3-D printing. This seems the main focus in the video I posted earlier, and though it often seems the least satisfying element to me, we can certainly see how the economy has already transformed in some respects like this. For instance, I can now record my own albums and make my own CDs at fairly low cost, which has in turn made professional services to do these things even cheaper. On the other hand, in areas like home construction, things have progressed much less. While modular housing is now a viable, commercially available alternative, foam domes (which allow a structure to go up rapidly by essentially blowing up a balloon and spraying concrete on the outside of it) certainly haven't caught on.
I will freely admit my naivety regarding the economic issues involved here. It seemed clear to me from hearing all this in college that deflation is the way to go: get basic commodities so cheap that people can live well on very little money. Well, we do that to some degree, with farming subsidies (that keep the cost of corn syrup low enough so that we can all eat horrible things cheaply) and (some) regulation of energy costs. It's a miracle in this political climate that we have things like public schools and libraries at all, plus public transportation, and some areas are moving towards free public wi-fi. However, deflation means it's more difficult to produce goods profitably, putting especially smaller producers out of business. We've all seen what deflation in housing brings about, though as a long-term prospect it should be good that housing is cheaper despite the short-term harm it's causing people.
So again, I obviously don't have the solution here re. how best to bring about something like Bergmann's vision. I see the need for it: that the mass of men live in quiet desperation, as Thoreau said, and given the glacial pace of social change, my only concrete goal here is to get the ideas themselves out there into the national political discussion and to get rid of the idea that any attempt to steer public policy towards the common good amounts to socialism.
I think there's already recognition out there of the value of our time over just money and the goal of doing something meaningful with your life instead of just taking the highest-paying job you can get. What's missing is the idea that this can be addressed on anything other than a purely individual basis. Maybe I, personally, can figure out a way to work part time from home, make enough in conjunction with my spouse to comfortably support a household, and still have time to indulge myself and others artistically and philosophically, but surely that's just a matter of me gaming the system as an individual... there's no real discussion or hope of figuring out how to make such life-choices legitimate options for everyone.
OK, that much should be aggravating enough for people to facilitate more discussion.