One last virtue of living at work, which is related to the other two issues discussed above, is the environmental benefit. All the millions of miles that Americans spend on commuting takes an enormous toll in the form of hundreds of millions of barrels of oil used and tons of greenhouse gases emitted each year. Forget about cap-and-trade (or “cap-and-tax,” as Republicans prefer to call it). Whatever one’s personal ideological views are on the practice, to the extent government continues to use the tax code as a means to exert economic and social control, it should incentivize companies to provide their employees with housing where they work. Doing so would be an enormous boon for the environment.
But what about less drastic measures, such as encouraging people to work from home, as the Telework Tax Incentive Act would do? This, dear bill sponsors, is not the solution. If working from home were as effective as working at the office, office buildings would never have been built in the first place.
There are certain network efficiencies that come from face-to-face contact with colleagues that telecommuting simply cannot match. Nor is more urbanization the answer. The notion that cities reduce congestion defies reality. Moreover, many Americans dislike living in cities, and an emphasis on urban growth detracts from development of suburban and rural office-residential complexes.
The major social challenge to living at work is couples who work in different locations. But here, Congress again may serve as a model. For example, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) married her colleague Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.), while Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) married former Rep. Max Sandlin (D-Texas).
It is often said that “Americans live to work, while Europeans work to live,” but it has not yet been said that Americans live at work. In this respect, when it comes to solving our nation’s infrastructure, housing and environmental challenges, perhaps we should take a cue from Congress.