Towards a 21-hour working week?

by Chris Bertram on January 14, 2012

Last Wednesday I attended an event at LSE (under the auspices of the New Economics Foundation) exploring the idea of working-time reduction with an eventual goal of moving to a normal working week of 21 hours. Various people asked me to write up the event, so that’s what I’m doing, though I claim no special expertise in the surrounding economics and social science. The lectures were filmed, so I expect that they’ll be up somewhere to watch soon, which will make my comments superfluous. Tom Walker of Ecological Headstand was also present, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some remarks from him there soon.

The three speakers were Juliet Schor (author of Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth), Robert Skidelsky (former Tory spokesman in the Lords, but goodness knows what his party affiliation is today) and Tim Jackson (author of Prosperity Without Growth).

Schor explained that labour-time reduction had been an issue twenty years ago (I guess she was thinking of people like André Gorz) but has slipped out of the policy debate during the boom years. Now, in the post-2008 world, governments are pushing the line that we all need to work harder, for more hours and for more of our lives. But that, argued Schor is exactly wrong. Working-time reduction offers the threefold benefit of few people being unemployed, of less ecological damage and of people having more time to spend on social activities (cue mention of The Big Society). Even if we could grow our way to full employment, we shouldn’t. Rather we should reorient away from overconsumption towards leading better quality lives. More time-stressed households are have more carbon-intensive lifestyles. She held up the Netherlands as a model of how to start moving in this direction. Apparently, the Dutch are the slackers of Europe generally and, some years ago, made new civil service contracts 80%. You have the freedom there to choose to be a five, four, three, two or one-day-a week employee. And she specifically referred to the one-day-a-week Professor (so maybe Ingrid can comment!). [UPDATE: (after gastro george’s comment below) – Schor didn’t envisage a scenario where people would be on shorter hours and less pay, but rather one in which pay is held static but productivity gains get channelled into shorter hours. So the reduction would be gradual. Since we currently have a situation (at least in the US and the UK) of static pay but productivity gains funding increased income for the 1 per cent, this gradual shift would be redistributive in an egalitarian direction.]

Skidelsky was next up. He began by talking about Keynes’s Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren in which Keynes foresaw a radical reduction in working hours and asked why Keynes’s vision hadn’t come to pass. He offered a range of possible explanations (the joys of work, fear of leisure, increased inequality, pressures from employers on a cowed workforce, and pathological consumerism). The business of government should be human well-being in some all-things-considered sense (shades of Sen here) and government should act to enable people to negotiate shorter working hours and, perhaps, by introducing a universal basic income. Government should also act to reduce social pressures to consume via intervention in the advertising industry. He also floated ideas about a progressive consumption tax, but I didn’t get any clear sense of how this would work.

Finally: Tim Jackson. I took fewer notes during Jackson’s contribution, so I probably missed some detail. What was interesting, though was the way he challenged a key assumption behind Schor’s and Skidelsky’s talks. Whereas they had been very gung ho about the need to channel increasing productivity gains into shorter hours, he challenged much of the talk around productivity itself, especially in the service sector and the public sector. In this regard he cited a “recent study” which showed how nurses, subject to productivity pressures from managers in the NHS, had started to feel less empathy for their patients because of the stress they were under.

My brief, but unscientific reactions to the whole project. First, I’m sympathetic, I really am, to the idea that people should work and consume less and that we should attend more to real life quality. But this doesn’t seem very realistic in my own life for two reasons: first, even if my employer were sympathetic (unlikely) I feel very hard pressed now to produce the level of research output necessary for me to stay competitive with other academics (not just in the UK, but elsewhere). I suspect this generalizes to many people in professional jobs: we couldn’t achieve the kinds of things we want to in our careers on those kinds of hours. This isn’t necessarily a problem, so long as there isn’t compulsion. Some (many) people have shitty jobs with low intrinsic rewards: removing the burden of work for them would be an unqualified good thing. Second, it is all very well Juliet Schor telling us to transition to a low hours/lower consumption economy. I’m cool with consuming less. The problem is that I, and just about everyone else, has taken out huge mortgages and bank loans to pay (in part) for the consumption we’ve already had. Hard to reduce the hours unless (or until) the debt goes away. Third, there was distressingly little discussion of the politics of this. Whatever the real social and economic benefits, the French 35-hour week wasn’t a political success (perhaps because it was watered-down) and Sarkozy was able to campaign effectively on behalf of the “France qui se lève tôt”. Some kind of post-mortem on this experience would have been helpful, albeit that it took place in a different, pre-crisis, environment.

{ 129 comments }

1

chris y 01.14.12 at 4:26 pm

Ernest Mandel wrote a piece calculating the economic practicalities of a 21 hour week about thirty years ago. But of course his solution for addressing the issues of pre-existing debt (which were real enough in the early 80s, though nothing like as extreme as they have since become) would be extremely unfashionable today.

2

Nick 01.14.12 at 4:42 pm

Your key concerns in this seem to amount to a combination of ‘just not quite rich enough yet’ or ‘some key goods are just a bit too expensive’ to work fewer hours. That seems to suggest that what is fundamentally holding back such a project is still the familiar problems of growth and supply-side problems in some goods, especially property in the uk which is far too expensive and credit driven. Given that we have got richer, its not too surprising that we have reduced working hours on average and i can see a good argument for a more managed transition that allows those hour reductions to be spread more equally.

The other problem is that you cant tax non-consumption leisure. So encouraging high productivty people to do less might be better for them and those around them, but not so good for those reliant on tax funded services.

3

Russell Arben Fox 01.14.12 at 4:46 pm

Chris, I’m struck by this–very honest–admission of yours: “[most of us professionals] couldn’t achieve the kinds of things we want to in our careers on those kinds of hours.” Which suggests that the primary obstacle to this being perceived as “realistic” by the political class (which is, of course, a subset of the professional class–not a whole of folks with the aforementioned “shitty jobs” successfully capture positions of political, economic, or media power) is a moral one–that is, it is a matter of valuation and desire. (Your third point, regarding the major financial burdens which most member of the middle and upper classes–and, to be fair, an awful lot of the lower class too!–have taken on in order to have the kinds of lifestyles which their chosen professions or aspirations appeared to make incumbent upon them, is to a degree a distinct issue, but in another sense isn’t; it also may be reduced to a question of values.) So what I wonder is, in the end, is this particular argument about how to arrange the structures of the capitalist workplace really an economic or political one? Or is it, foremost, necessarily an argument about a needed cultural and moral change?

4

gastro george 01.14.12 at 5:08 pm

“The problem is that I, and just about everyone else, has taken out huge mortgages and bank loans to pay (in part) for the consumption we’ve already had. Hard to reduce the hours unless (or until) the debt goes away.”

And, I’m guessing, that you’re not badly off, Chris.

I, too, am very sympathetic to the idea, but I think that one problem with these discussions is that they are almost always conducted from the perspective of the relatively well-off. If you’re poor, maybe running 2 or 3 poorly paid jobs just to make ends meet, cutting hours is just not an option. The idea implies a massive increase in the minimum or social wage – and they don’t even exist in a lot of countries.

5

Chris Bertram 01.14.12 at 5:14 pm

OK, I need to update the post to include a really important point in Juliet Schor’s presentation that I left off …. which may respond a little to gastro george’s comment.

6

Meredith 01.14.12 at 5:16 pm

“Schor explained that labour-time reduction had been an issue twenty years ago (I guess she was thinking of people like André Gorz)….” And of people like Juliet Schor: The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (Basic Books, 1993).
One note re academics: I think it’s impossible to calculate how the kind of society being imagined by Schor would affect academic competitiveness, since everyone’s values would be transformed in a world like this. In any case: productive scholars don’t consider most of their activity to be “work” they’d like to do less of, just because they love it — it’s more like “play.” But in the world Schor is imagining, that would be fine. Such people, though probably paid less than they are now, might thrive even more.

7

JulesLt 01.14.12 at 5:16 pm

I heard Juliet early in the week and my immediate thought was that if I worked a 3 day week, we would either starve or have to downsize. And living in a modest 2 bed flat does not leave much room for downsizing.

I don’t think she is wrong in her aim – the best path to equality would be a more even distribution of the small amount of well paid work, and house prices are only high because we are allowed to promise so much of our income to the lenders.

So if I was to have to come up with a specific policy it would be to cap the mortgsfe/income ratio at the current level, then squeeze it each year in line with inflation, until the goal was reached.

I.e. I think any policy that cuts people’s income but not their outgoing is a political non-starter. Ditto anything resulting in negative equity (yes I know allowing a property bubble does that – but no one will ever vote to pop a bubble)

(in fact despite the ‘rise of consumerism’ the average household spends less on consumer goods than in the 70s. It’s only cheap imports and credit that have masked falling disposable income).

8

Chris Bertram 01.14.12 at 5:20 pm

JulesLt: I think my update does _something_ to allay your concerns re Schor’s proposals.

9

Gaspard 01.14.12 at 5:24 pm

Talking vaguely about mortgages and loans to pay for consumption doesn’t get us very far without analysing what this consumption mainly consists of. In the professional classes/ top 10% in the UK, the superior goods, whose consumption % increases and income increases, are overwhelmingly cars, holidays and education.

It’s always been the case that you can work less if you are willing to live in small flat, go camping and drive a second hand car, but you are also giving up on the idea of ‘a career’ and thus also sacrificing prestige and possibly some sense of status security. It’s very unlikely that regulatory incentives can ever shift culture in this way.

10

Jim Harrison 01.14.12 at 5:58 pm

There’s a belling the cat problem here. Lots of people would be satisfied by a life of more modest material possessions coupled with security and abundant free time. The people who are in charge, however, will never go along; and the oligarchs apparently have the ability to stay in charge at least for the time being.

To paraphrase Woody Allen, capitalism is like a shark. It either moves forward or it dies. Capital simply has to grow since there is no other strictly capitalistic motive for investment than capital accumulation. Of course this imperative does not imply that the entire economy must grow. Increasing inequality is another option, albeit one that can be unattractive and certainly dangerous even for the capitalists themselves. Neither the progressive option, i.e. restoring growth by stimulus programs and other measures, or the regressive option, i.e. entrenching inequality by force and propaganda, leave much room for 21-hour work weeks.

11

Utisz 01.14.12 at 6:19 pm

“The problem is that I, and just about everyone else, has taken out huge mortgages”

The plan might be more feasible here in Germany where mortgages are a relative rarity and a minority of the population buy their home.

12

Tom Hurka 01.14.12 at 6:30 pm

As I recall, one of Schor’s explanations in The Overworked American for the increase in hours worked concerned benefits, e.g. health care. If you’re an employer and give health care or whatever as a benefit to your employees , it’s a fixed cost per employee regardless of how many hours he or she works. So it can be and often is cheaper to pay a smaller group of workers time and a half for extra hours than to hire additional workers — in the first case there are no extra costs for extra benefits. (Also, if you’re paying overtime it’s easier to cut costs if production needs to slow for a period — rather than having to lay anyone off, you just cancel overtime.)

Isn’t that an issue about the current proposal? If instead of one person working 5 days a week there are two people working 2.5 days AND each gets full health care or other benefits, don’t the productivity gains have to be pretty large to cover the doubling of benefit costs?

As I remember the Schor book, its line was partly that unions had bargained over the years for increased benefits, and that this had given employers an incentive to extend working hours rather than hire additional workers. Another case of unforeseen consequences?

13

Watson Ladd 01.14.12 at 6:53 pm

So what if people wanted to work 40 hours and get double the pay they did now?

14

paul 01.14.12 at 6:55 pm

The plan might be more feasible here in Germany where mortgages are a relative rarity and a minority of the population buy their home.

How does that work? The rule of thumb in the US is that your mortgage (house price) is 3x your income. How long does it take to save that much? I’m guessing housing prices are very different?

Starting to think the hippies were onto something 40+ years ago, with their warnings about the rat race and the risks of consumer society. I appreciate the shark analogy above but there’s a web aspect to it as well: it’s hard to get out. Maybe a solution would be a different kind of working arrangement when you know going in that you are foregoing advancement and a career but you can still contribute. A parent with young children might welcome the chance to participate in the the work force as something other than the usual part-time opportunities (I know I would have).

I wonder about an artificial floor under the modern lifestyle, that houses cost a multiple of your income, urban planning (or the lack of it) means car ownership or a recurring transportation expense, utilities (including electricity/gas, water, and increasingly high-speed internet) that are provided by local monopolies that ensure we pay more for less than anywhere else in the developed world, etc. Unlike the agrarian days of the Founders, we can’t opt out, quit our city jobs, and go home to raise chickens. Someone once totted up the expenses of just entering the work force today, with the expectation of a degree, professional wardrobe, as well as computer/cell phone and assorted expenses, vs the job seeker of 30/40 years ago. And how much of that stuff has to acquired with credit/a credit history that a 21 year old may not have or can only get at high interest rates?

The Industrial Revolution has a lot to answer for here, I think. That and the misunderstanding that we work for the economy’s benefit rather than the other way around. Economics and markets are good servants but poor masters.

15

gastro george 01.14.12 at 6:59 pm

Or, more realistically, following on Chris’ update – what if productivity went up the first 5%? If you were poor and living hand-to-mouth, would you prefer a 5% increase in pay or 5% less work? I can guess the answer.

16

StevenAttewell 01.14.12 at 7:51 pm

In terms of the work-sharing effect, I thought economic literature on the subject had concluded that reducing the workweek didn’t boost employment measurably because skill/experience requirements meant that workers weren’t substitutable in many cases?

In terms of the sustainability argument, I don’t have a problem with it on a philosophical level, but I really do wonder whether the panel has thought through all of the moving parts that would be necessary to make this work:
1. You absolutely need to do something about unemployment (since work-sharing won’t actually do it on its own) and poverty (given that in the U.S, 50% of workers earn less than $26k a year, a drop in the median workweek from 33 hours to 21 would mean a reduction in pay to $16.5k a year, which would put them below the poverty line for 3 people and perilously close to the poverty line for 2). This means doing something really substantial in the way of wages or other forms of redistribution, but unfortunately, Jackson especially comes off really cavalier and hazy about how that would actually work politically. A universal basic income might look good on paper, but it’s political arsenic – even poor people don’t like it. A guaranteed living wage might work, but that too would take a lot of political work.
2. Unless you’re going to have significant decreases in standards of living – which Jackson especially really dances around in his book – you probably need to remove significant costs of living from the individual balance sheet to society. With universal health care, free higher education, and social housing, for example, you could drop middle class incomes dramatically without harming living standards. But again, I find a lack of specificity about how restrictions on consumption interact with the distribution of wealth and income – will poor people, who consume most if not all (or more than all) of their income get shut out of the socioeconomic mainstream without ever having achieved it, and will the rich avoid real restrictions by paying a premium?

17

Andrew Fisher 01.14.12 at 8:01 pm

The current trend is not to a shorter working week, but to longer periods in education before entering the workforce, and longer periods of retirement. For myself I would much rather work hard (or at least, longer hours) for a shorter period than stretch 21 hours a week over a full length career so I’m not clear why the focus is on a shorter week rather than a shorter career. It’s not as if these gains in education and retirement don’t need defending.

18

bianca steele 01.14.12 at 8:23 pm

even if my employer were sympathetic (unlikely) I feel very hard pressed now to produce the level of research output necessary for me to stay competitive with other academics (not just in the UK, but elsewhere). I suspect this generalizes to many people in professional jobs:

I wonder whether people who talk about shorter hours really have professionals in mind–especially academics. I’ve known more than one academic who emphasized that their work wasn’t something distinct from their whole life, that it was important that they didn’t dread having the workweek start on Monday morning, etc. In the same way, being fortunate enough to have a professional degree that permits a more rewarding kind of work (not just financially but emotionally rewarding, permitting a full, integrated life, and avoidance of the alienation prevalent in the corporate and industrial worlds), is available to a select few with elite university educations. The focus on shorter workweeks for the rest, though from this perspective seems to involve some condescension to “the rest” that I don’t endorse myself, at least acknowledges that for a lot of people who work to earn a living rather than as a deep vocation, the same kind of fulfillment and “wholeness” might not be available.

19

bianca steele 01.14.12 at 8:34 pm

And the analysis also seems to ignore–at least when I’ve seen it written out–that the formerly “40 hour week” now is well over 40 hours. Though there is the argument that all the people who work >40 hrs/wk are in the professional class who have vocations rather than jobs and are invariably paid better than those who work <=40 hrs/wk, so it's not a problem, extra work is the price one pays for being in that class and getting enough money to put you in the 1%. I haven't seen the stats to support this though.

20

BKN in Canadia 01.14.12 at 8:40 pm

My thread summary: Russel Arben Fox asks the right questions; Gaspard’s second paragraph provides the (sadly) correct answers.

Andrew Fisher: Work a 50 hour week until age 50-55, or a 20 hour week to 70-75. Which form of life is more sustainable/rewarding?

21

krippendorf 01.14.12 at 8:47 pm

Jackson’s response doesn’t surprise me at all. The broader message of his book, and to some extent Schor’s, is that the current global economic system — one that is only “healthy” if consumption rates are increasing and GDP is growing — is simply not sustainable ecologically and environmentally. So, to the various complaints in this thread that “we can’t afford it,” Jackson would likely say, “we [meaning humanity] can’t afford NOT to cut consumption.” At the risk of putting words into his mouth (it’s been a while since I read his book), the only hope for a long-term future for the human race requires that we completely changing how we define productivity, progress (without growth), what it means for an economy to be healthy, and so forth. He’s talking about a completely different time horizon, and a collective rather than individual problem that needs solving.

22

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.14.12 at 8:48 pm

Surely no one can prevent you from working as many hours as you want, to stay competitive or simply because you enjoy doing it. This is not really about the hours (or shouldn’t be anyway), but about the distribution of income (and wealth, hopefully).

Distributing the unpleasant work that remains to be shared around is a part of it, but it seems like a secondary issue.

23

Ingrid Robeyns 01.14.12 at 9:08 pm

Thanks for this Chris! I am skeptical about compulsory working week reduction (have actually written about this in a paper on women’s emancipation very recently – in Dutch), but since I just finished writing a stack of reference letters (at 9.50 pm on a Saturday evening!), I am merely going to say a word on the Dutch case now, and hope to return to the many other interesting issues later.

The one-day-a-week-professors do exist, and in fact there are many of them, but almost all have 4 (or even 5) working days somewhere else. Basically these are professorships sponsored by either companies or organizations (e.g. all institutional religions and the Humanistic Alliance sponsor them). These professors have either lecturer/reader positions somewhere else (typically at another Dutch university) or work outside academia. So this is a very peculiar phenomenon, that merits discussion at some other point, but has nothing, in my view, to do with labour time reduction.

However, what is indeed true and very interesting, is the enormous flexibility in the Dutch labour market to work part-time, *without paying a pecuniary penalty*. By law, part-timers earn the same hourly wage as full-timers; they have the same pro-ratio rights and privileges. And, most importantly, many jobs can be taken on a part-time basis, though for some jobs one will be required to work a minimum of 3, sometimes 4 days (I know several professors (in the sense of chairs of a section in an academic department) who work 4 days a week, but none who do it on three days; and I know many more who have a 38 hour contract (=fulltime) but effectively work 50+ hours.)

That said, the current (right-wing) Dutch government is pushing towards working longer and more hours; but part-time workers (many of them women – with or without children, and also a significant percentage of young fathers), are resistant: they don’t want to work longer hours. The most recent ‘trend’ on the Dutch labour market is the rise of the self-employed without additional personel (‘zzp’ in Dutch), who want to have full flexibility and control – but there the problem is a real risk of poverty and hidden unemployment: as soon as the economy goes down, they lose their economic activities, without it being noted in the unemployment figures.

Great debate – hope to chime in back tomorrow or early next week, but now I’m going to have one of the very few hours of real leisure I enjoy on a weekly basis (I am very very very skeptical that one could be an academic in 21 hours a week; except if we start considering doing research as leisure activities!).

24

chris 01.14.12 at 9:37 pm

Hard to reduce the hours unless (or until) the debt goes away.

Well, wages would have to increase reciprocally to the decrease in hours worked (I assume gradually over a long period of time), otherwise everyone’s standard of living and consumer spending would plummet when they shortened their hours and it would be economic disaster.

This would require workers to capture the gains of increased productivity, which is the reason it won’t happen in places like the USA — our entire economic and political system is set up to prevent that.

Even if the economic and political system aren’t actively conspiring against the workers, though, how do they capture the gains of productivity while the labor market is slack? And a labor market where most people work 21 hours is very slack indeed — there’s sure to be plenty of people who would think like Watson Ladd @13, that two such full-time jobs are no hardship at all. The reserve army of the half-employed would undermine the wage gains needed to allow the 21-hour workers to survive at all.

25

geo 01.14.12 at 9:54 pm

Extremely interesting post and discussion — many thanks. Schor is a treasure, one of numerous good answers to all those silly and lazy mainstream types who scoff “Where are the good new ideas on the left?”

BKN @20: I agree that Russell @3 asked the right questions, but don’t agree that Gaspard’s gloomy answer was decisive. Of course fundamental political change will be necessary, with massively enlarged safety nets of all kinds and drastic reductions in financial inequality. And of course this is inconceivable with corresponding (or preceding) cultural changes. But Schor is hardly proposing generalized personal austerity or the abandoning of intellectual or artistic ambitions. Perhaps the question is best framed, for political purposes, as: what is productivity? Who should benefit from productivity gains, and in what form?

By the way, predecessors include not only Andre Gorz but, of course, Marx, who was always going on about the reduction of the working day, and that notable progressive thinker B.F. Skinner, who in Walden Two strongly advocated a 20-hour workweek.

26

C.C.Fuss 01.14.12 at 9:58 pm

I’m interested in the apparent conflation between ‘the amount of work I need to do to stay competitive’ and ‘the amount of work I need to do to achieve what I want’. I can understand (and I share to some extent) the desire to do enough work to achieve certain ends – to properly think through an idea, to get that paper written up, and so on. It wouldn’t be so attractive to have to put one’s brain away until next week, when you’re right in the middle of thinking through something interesting and important.

But the ‘need to stay competitive’, to me, is something that reduces the ability to ‘do the work you want’. It increases the quantity of work you do while decreasing the ability to enjoy that work. It is very difficult to experience the rewards of properly thinking through an idea, or solving a difficult problem, when you’re constantly aware of the need to get more papers out in order to ‘compete’. The constant pressure of having to be more! better! faster! results in precisely the Monday-dread and sense of alienation bianca steele alludes to above.

And isn’t ‘staying competitive’ precisely the sort of thing that keeps pushing work hours up? If everyone in my department publishes at a higher rate than our annual quota (yes, we have a quota), then the quota will rise and we’ll have to do more. Wouldn’t it be better to base our working hours on the intrinsic rewardingness of doing the work we do, rather than trying to create more output than everyone else? If the amount of work needed to ‘stay competitive’ was less, this wouldn’t stop people from achieving their work goals – in my case, at least, it would help immensely.

I must admit that I’d never considered the possibility that ‘producing enough work to compete with my colleagues’ could be something people wanted to do for its own sake, and experienced as rewarding. Maybe this is just an indication that academia isn’t the right place for me…

27

Robert 01.14.12 at 9:58 pm

When you are talking about consumption and productivity, I think one thing we have to try and wrap our minds around is the problem of advertizing.

Advertizing is neglected, one the one hand, because the rational actor model says we chose what we want, and from a civil liberty perspective, on the other hand, because we would never want to live in a state of society without freedom of speech, of which the freedom to advertize is an important part.

But advertizing is very effective at creating consumption, right up to the level of production and beyond. It is especially effective when it can tap — as it often does — our genetically encoded desires, be they for fattening foods, or sex, or symbols of power and mastery.

Recall that it took serious, if informal, bans on most kinds of cigarette advertising, to get to the current levels of addiction, which are still too hight, but much better than a generation ago.

28

Ellie 01.14.12 at 10:28 pm

Did any of the panelists talk about the French 35-hour law? What did they have to say about the pros and cons?

My own anecdata suggests, following on gastro george (#4), that the 35-hour week was quite popular among salaried professionals who were best situated to make use of their RTT’s for personal/family/leisure purposes. Where it ran into trouble was among employers and hourly wage-earners, for whom the cut in hours meant, respectively, taking on new workers (as the law intended) and a cut in total take-home pay. I’m not sure how Schor’s qualifier solves this problem, especially in r.e. hourly workers–would hourly wages go up to compensate for the decline in numbers of hours worked?

On the productivity side, I also hear lots of complaints from French professionals about how incredibly inefficient their American colleagues are, how it takes the U.S. office to get anything done, leaving the French folks twiddling their thumbs until the requisite meetings, consultations, approvals, etc. have been completed State-side.

29

gastro george 01.14.12 at 11:22 pm

“I also hear lots of complaints from French professionals about how incredibly inefficient their American colleagues are …”

I remember a German colleague telling me, in reference to the long hours culture, that the attitude in his office was that people who worked long hours must be too incompetent to do their job in normal hours (the implication being that this attitude was a common in Germany).

30

Meredith 01.14.12 at 11:23 pm

What C.C.Fuss (for instance) said.
But still, although I can imagine that many problems raised in comments here could well find means of address, I wonder about the larger problem of training and expertise. As SteveAttewell@16 observes: “In terms of the work-sharing effect, I thought economic literature on the subject had concluded that reducing the workweek didn’t boost employment measurably because skill/experience requirements meant that workers weren’t substitutable in many cases?” This observation could apply to the terrific administrative assistant in my department or to the wonderful carpenter/contractor who recently redid our decrepit bathroom, or to my doctor. Take the doctor. How many years of education are invested in a doctor’s training (education, “apprenticeship”) — at many more than 21 hours/week! Finally, at age 30, say (a precocious minimum), she’s ready to go to work as a fully-fledged, board-certified physician — for 21 hours/week? She may be happy to do that, or to do that as soon as she’s paid off her med school loans (let’s say they’re minimal, in this sane world we’re imagining): is that the best social use of all that training (which is way too expensive to offer widely)?
The doctor, the nurse, the lawyer, the serious business person, the scholar, the teacher (and, boy, will we need a LOT of teachers in this world): many vital jobs/careers/ professions require far too much education (in the broadest sense) — the intensity of which education is also part of its effectiveness — for that education to be accomplished through 21-hour work-weeks. Even if people accustomed to working 50 or 60 hours a week for many years in “learning their craft” could suddenly flip a switch and happily apply or enact or share what they’ve learned for just 21 hours/week, could any society afford to get so little out of the investment it’s previously made?
So then I think, okay, the 21-hour work-week is some kind of goal or, better, a challenge to rethink the values organizing our personal and social lives. That’s the attraction for me. But then I worry about the doctors and others who couldn’t possibly be constrained by 21-hour work-weeks, and then I see a society with a chasm between “professionals” (including business and finance) and everyone else, a chasm measured by time more than wealth. Big problems there, too. (Kind of third-world-ish.)

31

Bruce Baugh 01.15.12 at 12:14 am

Back in the real 2012, I’m one of the millions of Americans watching the Medicaid support we depend on for whatever level of health we can manage get whittled away, year by year, and now with Democrats pushing for it as hard as the Republicans of just a term or few back. To me, this all seems…not irrelevant altogether, because I do believe in the importance of dreaming up better futures. But I wouldn’t want to take one step that threatens the safety net any further – in this case, by bringing down a lot of salaries and the taxes that come from them – until someone shows me an ability to raise taxes on rich individuals and on large businesses, and make it stick.

Because without that in place first, it’ll just be a repeat of the story of recent decades, where we do something that screws over people in need (me, in this case) and promise to fix the externalities later, and then can’t ever get to that second part.

32

StevenAttewell 01.15.12 at 2:46 am

As Ingrid points out, historically, reducing working hours was accompanied by a demand for the hourly wage rate to increase to prevent a fall-off in income. But that’s not what this panel seems to be calling for – except on the margins through productivity gains.

But that doesn’t seem to deal with the issue of low-wage labor; these jobs tend to be low-productivity and stay that way. Likewise, these jobs tend to be ones in which regular hours are difficult to get and keep, in part of a desire on the part of the employer to keep their workforce casual and unable to claim benefits.

So what we’re dealing with is a situation in which some people are working more than they want to, some people are working a lot because they get intrinsic satisfaction from their job (in which case, you could probably limit them to 40 hours of paid work and they’d work anyway), some people (working mothers, students, etc.) are working 20 hours a week because that fits their needs (even if it doesn’t pay well enough), and other people are working 20 hours a week but want to work more.

A 21 hour working week isn’t really suited to that complex a situation.

FYI – yes you can be a scholar and work for pay only 20 hours a week; most graduate students work part time and do their research on their own (unpaid) time, after all.

33

Peter T 01.15.12 at 4:19 am

If you don’t think that wages are linked directly to productivity, and see wages only as part of the processes of larger family (or other small social group) production and distribution of income, some of the problems go away. On the first, the obvious disparities between contribution and reward, and the incomparabilities of “productivity” across different jobs (how does one compare teaching, toolmaking and stockbroking?) suggest to me that productivity is an economy-wide phenomenon, not reducible to to the individual level. In other words, what we pay people in different jobs has always been not a matter of productivity but of politics. On the second, a large part of issue is the monetisation of previously non-monetised labour, with the flow-on necessity of keeping up money income to pay for increasing money outgoings. I do not suggest for a moment a return to keeping women in the kitchen, but encouraging social arrangements where money is less necessary for daily life – perhaps greater paid leave for fathers, encouragement of household job-sharing and such might be a start.

34

Happy Heyoka 01.15.12 at 4:46 am

I’m with Bruce and others above thinking that we “can’t {easily} get there from here”.
Also as a “feast or famine” kind of guy, I’ve done plenty of zero hour weeks and 120 hour weeks.

Mortgages and student loans were mentioned, business loans come to mind, and I’m sure there are other time pressure mechanisms that would need to be deal with simultaneously if a limit on working hours was imposed.

I think for a sustainable society we need to build “rate limitation” mechanisms into things we do – think perhaps of a share market where you can only sell so many shares per day… even then, what traps would we unwittingly build for ourselves…?

Robert’s comment about advertising is pertinent, because those folks really understand psychology; more shiny things make you an attractive mate – perhaps we need to encourage the idea that ‘shiny’ includes stuff you make in your leisure time?

Maybe we need to start encouraging people in general to multi-skill and have more than one job (no hour limit) – it would certainly make for an easier place to transition from?

35

Billikin 01.15.12 at 6:47 am

“I can do one year’s work in nine months, but I can’t do nine months’ work in one year.”
– J. P. Morgan

36

hopkin 01.15.12 at 9:40 am

A couple of points:

First, if the UK is anything to go by, we could cut our working hours and maintain exactly the same level of consumption if housing was cheaper. And since nearly all of our current and future housing is already built, what we are all working like mules to achieve is simply the right to live in marginally better bits of the existing housing stock (and of course we cancel out each other’s efforts). Good news for banks, bad news for everyone who doesn’t inherit.

Alongside a mortgage, most people in Britain also spend a large chunk of their income maintaining a metallic container in which to queue up at traffic lights for hours on end on their way to and from work. Better urban design and cycle-friendly policies would remove the need for this spending.

And let’s not get started on other idiotic ways we consume resources (housing that acts like a wind tunnel, foreign wars, paying Wayne Rooney 200 grand a week when he would do the same job for free). I’m not saying that these problems are easy to solve, but we currently have to work so hard mainly because we live so wastefully.

37

Tim Worstall 01.15.12 at 11:18 am

As the proposal came from nef we know that there must be a flaw in it. And there is.

They are looking only at paid market hours. They entirely ignore the whole concept of unpaid household production hours. And given that much of the increase in leisure over the past century has come from decreases in those household production hours (female paid working hours have risen as women gained, rightfully, economic emancipation) that’s something of a problem.

In a comment on another report on the same talk, one of the neffers popped up to explain that:

“A couple of question on the “flaws” you listed re: halving working hours: * A halving of hours means a halving of income: True, but then living costs would fall too, both direct (e.g. commuting, childcare) and indirect (e.g. food, as people would have more time to grow their own).”

They’re not actually talking about a reduction of working hours at all. They’re proposing a reduction in paid, market, working hours and an increase in unpaid household production. Which is very silly indeed. Market production allows the division and specialisation of labour in a manner that household production does not. The division and specialisation of labour being what (OK, one of the things) increases labour productivity.

So, a retreat from market to household production is going to mean either more labour hours in total to have the same standard of living or a lower standard of living for the same labour hours.

The time Chris does not spend being paid to crack interesting philosophical problems does not turn up as an increase in leisure. It turns up as increased time for Chris digging his veg patch. And, to maintain the same standard of living, less leisure time overall.

38

John Durrant (Favabank) 01.15.12 at 11:53 am

I can’t see the feasibility of a 21 hour working week without a fundamental reform of our monetary systems. While our addiction to economic growth continues, necessitated via fractional reserve banking and interest bearing debt, we’ll surely need to keep the treadmill going until it all breaks down…

If we can find a way to achieve a more sustainable steady state economic system, or at least a system where economic growth isn’t a built in imperative then we might see a host of social benefits as a result, including a shorter working week…

39

Guido Nius 01.15.12 at 12:06 pm

Thanks for this. I strongly believe that this should be the new focus for the left. The core of it is to decrease the stress-to-perform and increase the opportunity to spend time on a freely chosen matter of interest.

In this sense it’s less a matter of regulating working hours or of increasing productivity in the remaining work hours.

As to the former, if work aligns with your subject of interest it seems counter-intuitive, as Chris and others mention, to force you away from your chosen interest. Rather, one needs to seek a way in which the returns from additional hours spent on work diminish strongly beyond a certain point. This is going against the new politically correct status quo where the meritorious are rewarded by growing returns in taking on more work, & thereby literally crowd out employment for those groups which are less well set up for entering the labor market.

As to productivity, as also remarked above, less & less is the amount of working hours per person related to the amount of output realized (a.o. things because it is more and more the quality, not the quantity, of the output that counts). Working longer is in lots of professions a result of internal competition rather than the requirement to produce more or better results. So there should not be the linear link between working less and producing less that is also part of the new status quo thinking. In any case, has working less the potential upside of allowing more consumption (e.g. of creative work). Finally, insofar as there is still a less-than-linear link between worked hours and output, a solid reduction in structural unemployment will be able to absorb a significant portion of it.

For me a combination of a basic income, a median income (expressed as the income an average job for a certain number of working hours) and strong breaks on incomes that go beyond such a median income should be able to work – and can be put in place step by step such that the thing doesn’t break down from a sudden change.

Given, like me, at least some prefer to work in sprints, one would have to construct the system in such a way that it is more focused on periods of 5 or 10 years rather than the traditional day/week/month. The system of “time credit” available in most European countries (although less and less) is working in that direction (but expressing the credit over the full length of a career is, for me, too long).

Anyway, I don’t believe that the world will come to ruin if people are no longer forced by stress, or by competition to have the most expensive car but rather by a conscious decision to trade off between income, work and interest. I also think that the younger generation may already be doing just that.

40

Bob Duckles 01.15.12 at 2:13 pm

In the early 70s, I participated in reaseach at an auto parts plant in Bolivar, Tennessee, known as the Bolivar Project. The project, which lasted four years, was designed to explore how organized labor and management could collaborate, while accepting that there were some areas in which their wants and needs conflicted. We conducted three hour in-depth interviews with nearly half the six hundred employees.

We found that there were considerable differences in what motivated people at work. Ambitious Craftsmen wanted to get ahead, either rising in the organization or improving their income, or both. They were quite willing to work overtime, because it increased their income. A number of these were in management, some having moved there from the shop floor.

Farmer Workers were often people who needed to supplement their income from farming, but the latter was their true love. When we experimented with opportunities to “earn idle time,” they embraced this eagerly. This gave them more time on the family farm, away from the factory.

Traditional Craftsmen were workers who tended to like work in which they were provided the specs, the material, the tools, and the equipment, and left alone. They were less inclined to interact with others and had little patience for meetings on such things as improving work and problem solving. The work itself was engaging and rewarding.

Without exhausting the variety of diversity that we found among the workers, these examples show that working people would react very differently to a shortened work week, from appreciating the freedom to do what they truly enjoyed, to missing what work provided them. There was even a case of one woman whom payroll had to beg that she deposit here checks. She was a widow, left well-off through life insurance. She came to work because she enjoyed the time she spent with the people with whom she worked.

We sometimes think our own motivations are those of most others, or it depends on which economic class we are in. In fact, there is a rich variety of motivations at the workplace, even in cases where work does not strike us academics as play.

41

Chris Bertram 01.15.12 at 3:42 pm

I’m learning a lot from these comments, so thanks people.

I’d just like to respond to this from Tim Worstall:

bq. The time Chris does not spend being paid to crack interesting philosophical problems does not turn up as an increase in leisure. It turns up as increased time for Chris digging his veg patch. And, to maintain the same standard of living, less leisure time overall.

I’m assuming that we’re interested in real well-being rather than any other measure of standard of living, yes?

The real contrast is, very often, one between a person having additional time in which they prepare a tasty and nutritious meal from fresh ingredients and then consume it around the table with family and one where they are so time-stressed from their intrinsically unrewarding job that they reheat a ready meal in the microwave and guzzle it in front of the tv. Household labour is indeed being substituted for market labour in this example, but is would be a mistake to think of the person enabled to do the substitution as being anything other than better off.

As for digging veggie patches, it isn’t really my thing. But I have lots of friends who would, if they could, spend more time on their allotment and less time in the office. Again, it is possible to describe this as merely a substitution of one form of drudgery for another: but that doesn’t seem true to experience.

42

mpowell 01.15.12 at 3:57 pm

@41: Yes, but you really have to refer to Bob Duckles point. Most of the career professionals I know outsource quite a lot of household labor by choice, not just by time constraint. I’m not just talking about cleaning the house, but yard work, maintenance, repairs and any housing upgrades as well. They have hobbies, yes, but they are usually entertainment and intellectual stimulation based, not, let’s grow some vegetables! But my colleagues are different than yours. It would be foolish to draw conclusions based on what people really want by just looking at anecdotal evidence.

A huge problem I have with this whole movement is that it has the ‘lump of labor’ fallacy deeply embedded into it. It’s not a required belief in order to support reduced working hours, but it appears to be an assumption for many in their arguments in favor. There is also a bait-and-switch going on if you want to simultaneously claim that this is ecologically beneficial and that it won’t lead to a reduction in living standards. Unless you gain actual pleasure from your own gardening or home electrical repairs, you have to make some pretty strong claims about productivity and waste in our current system.

43

Watson Ladd 01.15.12 at 4:07 pm

Chris, the problem is that we already decide how much time we want to spend at work. Some of us very consciously decide that we don’t want to be doctors because of the stress and long hours. We might also decide that rather then work 20 hours a week and spend time with the family we might want to work 40 and go to Paris for a month in the summer. People already optimize their real well being as a function of the choices presented to them.

That’s not to say that labor market inflexibility can prevent this. But someone like Guido Nius is trying to draw a distinction that doesn’t exist between the rewards from work and the reasons to do it. Work becomes less attractive when taxed more, but the losers aren’t just the people who don’t work, but the people for whom the work would be done. To use Bob’s example, the Ambitious Craftsman and the Farmer Worker would both be unhappy if overtime was equally distributed, and if the Ambitious Craftsman decided not to work because of taxes, that work just wouldn’t get done and contribute to making cars.

Lastly, making these tradeoffs in no way affects the problem of value and use-value. Even if we all work the same amount, our work is still the most minor contribution to the satisfaction of needs that our work product represents.

44

Chris Bertram 01.15.12 at 4:19 pm

mpowell: the claim that advocates of labour-time reduction subscribe to a “lump of labour fallacy” is usually no more than name-calling. Tom Walker is the go-to guy on this and he may yet turn up, but in the interim I refer you to his

http://hussonet.free.fr/lumplab.pdf

Watson, as Robert Skidlelsky was very good at setting out in the seminar, it is in fact false of very many people that they are free to set their hours of work and hence their income/leisure tradeoff as they like. Usually, set working hours are specified in their contract. Even where there is the possibility of negotiation, the worker who does this may suffer from being viewed as having less that total commitment to the job.

45

Eric Titus 01.15.12 at 4:45 pm

Looking at Meredith’s comment from the other side, one difficulty is that it takes a certain amount of training to become a doctor or academic or craftsman regardless of how much work one does afterwards. Similarly, in the absence of nationalized healthcare and pensions, it is significantly more expensive for a company to hire two people than one. So attempts to reduce the workweek are going to run into basic economic issues unless done correctly.

But another issue is that some people would gladly work 40 hours/week of their own volition. This includes people who really enjoy their work, but also those who simply don’t have enough leisure activities to fill the rest of their time. For myself, I think 30-35 hours would be the ideal amount of time to spend on work, and pre-academia I only worked in jobs that required around 40 hrs/week. But more important than the exact number of hours–in the US at least–is the ability to make time for oneself and take time off. So I think rather than a 21-hour workweek, an appropriate goal for the US would be a 35 hour workweek with 5 weeks of vacation.

46

Tim Worstall 01.15.12 at 5:00 pm

“real well-being”

Slightly difficult to quantify that really.

“As for digging veggie patches, it isn’t really my thing. But I have lots of friends who would, if they could, spend more time on their allotment and less time in the office.”

For that reason. Preferences differ.

However, on this:

“The real contrast is, very often, one between a person having additional time in which they prepare a tasty and nutritious meal from fresh ingredients and then consume it around the table with family and one where they are so time-stressed from their intrinsically unrewarding job that they reheat a ready meal in the microwave and guzzle it in front of the tv. Household labour is indeed being substituted for market labour in this example, but is would be a mistake to think of the person enabled to do the substitution as being anything other than better off.”

They may well be better off. Depends upon their preferences. But this is still missing the point that quite a large number of women have been trying to din into our male heads for some decades now. Pottering about to occasionally make a nice meal for everyone can indeed be fun, leisure even. Cranking out three home cooked meals a day from fresh ingredients is very definitely work, not a leisure activity.

Yes, agreed, the food will be better, health may well improve, family might be a little closer and all sorts of other good things. But it is very definitely an increase in labour expended.

Which brings me back to the nef proposal. They are not, in fact, suggesting a reduction in labour hours. They are trapped in some odd time warp where market labour hours are bad, household production hours good and they are thus suggesting a decrease in market labour hours and a large increase in household production hours.

“Watson, as Robert Skidlelsky was very good at setting out in the seminar, it is in fact false of very many people that they are free to set their hours of work and hence their income/leisure tradeoff as they like. Usually, set working hours are specified in their contract.”

The choice, the setting of the trade off, tends to come when considering what to do for a living. The City is not a good choice if you desire a social life, academia not a good one if filthy lucre attracts. No, it isn’t true that only the professional classes have these sorts of choices either.

47

Chris Bertram 01.15.12 at 5:15 pm

_They are trapped in some odd time warp where market labour hours are bad, household production hours good _

Tim. Whatever anyone at nef might think, I can assure you that neither Schor, nor Skidelsky, nor Jackson said anything remotely resembling this at the seminar I attended. Nor has anyone suggested that women be driven back into the home to do the cooking. It is simply a canard on your part to say that a proposal for shorter paid working hours simply entails increased time working in the household. It may include some such work, but it may also include (for example) additional time spent in pure recreational activities or participation in community life in various forms.

48

Chris Bertram 01.15.12 at 5:20 pm

_The choice, the setting of the trade off, tends to come when considering what to do for a living._

I love that “tends to”. Listen, life is long, and people need the freedom to adjust the time they spend in paid employment during different phases of life. To point out that people can make a one-time choice of career is not responsive at all to the point that workers are not free to adjust their income/leisure trade-off as they like.

49

Tim Worstall 01.15.12 at 5:32 pm

“Tim. Whatever anyone at nef might think, I can assure you that neither Schor, nor Skidelsky, nor Jackson said anything remotely resembling this at the seminar I attended. “

Great. But as someone who reads nef reports for sport I can assure you that nef are indeed proposing exactly that.

“It is simply a canard on your part to say that a proposal for shorter paid working hours simply entails increased time working in the household.”

I do not say that a proposal does. I do say that this nef one does. They absolutely state that they think that this greater “leisure time” should be spent growing our own food, darning our socks, mending our clothes and so on. These things really are work.

“Listen, life is long, and people need the freedom to adjust the time they spend in paid employment during different phases of life.”

Sure it’s called “changing jobs”. Something that at least 10% of the workforce do each and every year.

50

Chris Bertram 01.15.12 at 5:49 pm

Tim, whatever nef’s merits or demerits as an organisation, you simply distort the content of their report. You write:

bq. They absolutely state that they think that this greater “leisure time” _should_ be spent growing our own food, darning our socks, mending our clothes and so on. These things really are work.

The passage in the report that comes closest to this is where it gives a list of _examples_ of some of the kinds of things that would be enabled by people spending less time in paid employment:

bq. We _could_ grow, prepare, preserve, and cook more of our own food, repair things more often rather than replace them, travel more by foot and bicycle, learn practical skills and make clothes and furnishings, use leisure time for activities that require little or no commodified equipment, such as making music, art and theatre, gardening, walking and playing games. We _could_ do things with and for each other that we might otherwise have to buy – exchanging knowledge and skills, running errands and caring in ways that have been tried and tested for generations through mutual aid schemes and timebanks.

I’ve emphasised your “should” and their “coulds” to illustrate your dishonesty. Since they also give many examples (beyond the ones included in this passage) of pure leisure activities, the claim that they simply favour substituting household work for paid work is demonstrably false.

51

Guido Nius 01.15.12 at 5:54 pm

“But someone like Guido Nius is trying to draw a distinction that doesn’t exist between the rewards from work and the reasons to do it.”

It is not because there is an overlap between monetary rewards and reasons to do it does not mean that a. both are the same, and b. the overlap is a natural constant. Also, I do not think there should be a maximum income, only that the monetary reward for putting in a lot more time should be a diminishing return.

52

Omega Centauri 01.15.12 at 6:25 pm

Looking down from thirtythousand feet, this becomes a problem of physical or biophysical economics. The total amount of “work” required to maintain an organism in a steady state, is lower than that required to maintain it in a nontrivial rate of growth. So if we were able to transition towards something which resembles in important ways a steadystate economy, with roughly constant levels of production and population, we no longer have to expend effort to create new stuff, but rather just to maintain or replace old stuff. So for instance the global society expenditure on housing, becomes on of maintenence, the capital cost having been amortized away long ago. The more durable and low maintenence we build things, the less future effort will be required. This surely should provide some level of motivation towards solving the many problems of both managing a transition to, and managing such a thing.
This even applies to training/skill acquisition. Consider say scientific research. Today acquiring the knowledge/skills is more than a full time job. We expect the next generation to advance far beyond the previous. Yet if we were able to hold the challenge fixed (i.e. rather than trying to discover new yet more subtle things, we were just trying to repeat the discoveries of the past), we wouldn’t have to work nearly as hard as those past generations, we could simply use our vastly better toolset). So I think even in the training intensive parts of the economy, there exists an opportunity to tradeoff rate of progres, and/or the degree to which our skillsets have been developed versus worktime.

Looking at this from the standpoint of individual work-life balance, the optimum doesn’t just vary from person to person, within a given person it varies with time and age. When I was in my twenties and thirties I had plenty of other pursuits both athletic and artistic that were more important for me than my technical career. However the economic system only allowed two choices, full time career, or part time minimum wage jobs. So, obviously in the current system people aren’t allowed to select their own work-life balance – at least not from a continuous spectrum anyway, we are usually only offered choices from the extremes. In any case, to return to the work-life balance thing as a function of age, at age 60 now, I’d choose more work and less leisure than I would have at 30, simply because I cannot physically pursue the things that were so important during my youth.

53

Frances Coppola 01.15.12 at 6:56 pm

Does anyone on this thread actually work part-time? It doesn’t sound like it, or someone would already have pointed out that the hours you are paid for as a part-time worker often bear little relation to the hours you actually work. Overloading part-time workers, in effect squeezing a full-time job into part-time hours, is unfortunately very common. And the result is that part-time workers – who tend to be lower paid anyway – end up doing quite large amounts of unpaid overtime, taking work home, working through lunch breaks, staying later than their contractual hours. Failing to do this risks being seen as “lacking commitment”, which impacts appraisal and performance-related pay rises. If this is what the writers have in mind when they talk about productivity increases from shorter hours, then I don’t want it. It’s fake.

Also, has anyone actually made the transition from well-paid full-time work to lower-paid part-time work? I have, and believe me it requires an extensive lifestyle adjustment and financial support. Fortunately I had savings, otherwise I would now be bankrupt. But I now work considerably more than 21 hours so I can pay the debts that I accumulated when I was working shorter hours.

And yes, I grow vegetables and fruit. I do so because I like growing them. But the constant grind of trying to do more with less, finding cheaper ways of providing nourishing food, struggling to meet children’s needs for clothing, schooling and entertainment…..it gets you down. Day in, day out, it isn’t fun. The NEF writers should try actually doing it for a year or two. They would change their tune pretty fast, I reckon. Having more money “oils the wheels”, it just makes life a little easier. And as for most people the only way of having that little bit more money to ease the stress is working longer hours, that’s what people will choose. Voluntarily working shorter hours is a privilege of the well-off, I’m afraid.

54

geo 01.15.12 at 7:13 pm

Not emphasized so far in the thread is that we can’t have a robust democracy without reduced working hours. Remember Oscar: “The problem with socialism is that it would take too many meetings”? It’s actually a problem with capitalism, not socialism. Because employers, as a class, decide on the terms of employment (notwithstanding Tim W’s frivolous reference to “changing jobs”), and because it’s generally in their interest (because of benefits, training costs, administrative costs, etc.) to have as few workers as possible, the workweek is 40 hours (and would be more if not for past workingclass struggle). Another reason this in employers’ interests is that it leaves most people without the time and energy to go to meetings (of all kinds, including the indispensable — but currently almost nonexistent — ones where elected representatives are given their instructions and held accountable by small constituent groups), do research, write, receive, and discuss letters and reports, travel to other places and see what they think and how they do it, and all the other things a sovereign public would do in a democracy and does not do in the plutocratic oligarchies that are the US and the UK.

One more reason why, as libertarians like Tim will never understand, you can have either minimally regulated capitalism or democracy, but not both.

55

StevenAttewell 01.15.12 at 7:44 pm

Leaving aside whether NEF want a return to subsistence agriculture (which they don’t; calls to universalize urban farming are, in my experience, more about dislike of the environmental impact of agrobusiness combined with a romantic aesthetic opinion about nature vs. urban modernity. Urban agriculture isn’t capable of fully supporting the food needs of a modern city.), I think there are some important questions that haven’t really been answered:
1. How do we resolve the tension between the imperative to reduce absolute consumption and the desire to prevent a fall in living standards? Redistribution has been held out as part of the answer, but I wonder if we don’t run into a problem of marginal propensity to consume, in that a lot of that redistributed income/wealth would have been going into financial speculation as opposed to consumer goods. A shift from consumer goods to socialized good would work, but we still have the question about what we do about those whose consumption of consumer goods falls below the level needed “to live the life of a civilized being according to the standards prevailing in society” and we need to talk about how the politics of this shift would work.
2. Is the kind of steady state economy Omega Centauri fully compatible with population growth? Is it compatible with the human right to education and scientific advancement, or human desires for same? Is stagnation a necessary part of steady-state economics’ politics, and how would one (successfully) argue the case the case against progress?

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the “people would want to work more hours” is actually a problem – if the work is intrinsically enjoyable for them, they can simply work without being paid to work extra hours.

56

Guido Nius 01.15.12 at 8:06 pm

If economic growth were unavoidably linked to growth of total ecological footprint we would be doomed. Luckily it isn’t. Population growth is another matter, we need to find a way (through education and minimum living standard) to quickly reverse that trend.

57

Omega Centauri 01.15.12 at 8:15 pm

Steven Attewell: The steady state economy cannot be compatible with population growth. Steady state requires the absense of population growth (as measured over a suitably long time period). There certainly are issues, regarding what a steady state economy, versus progress means. If you take the term steady-state literally, it would mean stagnant – as in no longterm trend in any measurable macro quantity. There might be a transition period time during which progress in some areas is possible within the steady-state framework, but ultimately nothing can grow forever. I suspect that time period is measured in centuries, so I’ll leave it to the future to deal with. Easy to think about in the Sci-Fi sense. Not so easy to pull off.

58

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.15.12 at 8:26 pm

Progress can be measured in the reduction of hours of work necessary to achieve the same level of consumption.

59

StevenAttewell 01.15.12 at 8:52 pm

Omega Centauri – ok, then we really need to talk about the politics of this, because zero population growth is a petard that the environmental movement has hoisted itself on before.

Henri – sure, but the question is whether the creation of novelty (another critical element of progress) would be allowed in steady-state.

Chris – regarding the lump of labor fallacy, isn’t one of the main arguments about the substitutability of workers? I.E, if hours were reduced, can you simply substitute more workers to fill up those hours, or are there skills/experience mismatches that prevent this? Don’t really see this addressed in the paper.

60

bianca steele 01.15.12 at 8:54 pm

@47
They are not necessarily suggesting a return of women to the kitchen. I think it is possible to prepare three home-cooked meals from scratch as a “hobby.” What isn’t possible, I think, is to do this every day, fitting the activity, including things like trips to the specialist greengrocer or farmer’s market, into a schedule that is already full, whether with an eight-hour workday or cleaning, community, and childcare responsibilities. There is work-sharing, say, having a few people on the block prepare the home-cooked meals for everyone on the block, in return for having a few other people do the dusting and scrubbing. But each of these loses some of the benefits that are fairly often claimed for the change. And I think the criticism of society’s present way of life will continue unless none of the desirable benefits is lost, and that the goal for many people is to get to the point where criticism of their way of life can no longer be made (or at least to the point where they can accept, healthily, the fact that they haven’t been able to attain a certain degree of “perfection”).

But that is about personal decisions and idealistic hopes for a pretty far-off future that may never be attained, not about what people with power and responsibility for changing real things are actually thinking about trying to do, which I think involves more of a willingness to make tradeoffs among all considerations and to consider what is practical in the short term.

61

gastro george 01.15.12 at 8:55 pm

I enjoyed this one from Tim: “Cranking out three home cooked meals a day from fresh ingredients is very definitely work, not a leisure activity.”.

Does anybody in the developed world do this? Or would ever need to. Or would ever want to eat three cooked meals a day (unless you were a miner or similar). Even if you were cooking regularly from fresh – there are such things as fridges and freezers and preserved foods. Tim is either very fat or never cooks or is indulging himself in some flight of fancy.

62

Watson Ladd 01.15.12 at 9:24 pm

Chris, Tim and I share a similar issue with your argument. You argue the problem is that we work to much because of inflexibility in deciding how much labor to sell. I’m arguing that that’s not the problem: given the flexibility some of us might sell more, others less. But the issue comes into being when we see policies like Guido Nius’s that don’t improve flexibility but aim at a desired outcome that could be suboptimal for many people. Social progress is the ability of people to live their desired lives, not the ability of people to live the life you desire for them.

63

FromGreece 01.15.12 at 10:30 pm

” Social progress is the ability of people to live their desired lives, not the ability of people to live the life you desire for them.”

Good. The last 20 years have seen social regress in the US, by your definition. Maybe it’s time to change direction.

64

Chris Bertram 01.15.12 at 10:56 pm

Watson: since (for me, anyway) the issue is not one of compulsion but rather of giving workers the freedom to determine the work/leisure combination they most want, your point is moot.

65

soru 01.15.12 at 10:59 pm

there are such things as fridges and freezers and preserved foods.

There _are_ such things. Not so clear there _would be_ such things if things were sufficiently different; them being commodities is a contingent fact, not a state of nature. And I suspect the NEF approach could qualify as sufficiently different, as shown by the fact CB can’t imagine it actually happening.

Proposals for this kind of thing always seem to start from the wrong, market-based direction. In a market economy, the people with the most education, talent or affinity for their job are the ones with the most market power. And so it is the people with the highest productivity who end up being able to take the shortest working hours, or retire the earliest.

That reduction of average productivity naturally makes society, in net, poorer. To the point where it becomes plausible that all technology-led economic growth could be consumed by that process, leading to a steady state. Which, contrary to what seems to be assumed, would be an ecological catastrophe; the status quo isn’t environmentally sustainable. Especially if the people who would be doing the work that would make (say) solar energy affordable are instead playing elaborate pretend-to-be-poor games, like some new age Versailles aristocrats.

As a sketch of a more sustainable approach, you could start from national minimal wage laws. Obviously, they would need to be gradually updated as a way of establishing a norm, not set on a Monday in a way that made every business owner a criminal on Tuesday. But, as a goal, have the minimum hourly wage for a 21 hour week to be somewhat higher than the current value. For a 28 hour week, double it, and so on for every extra 7 hours.

There would be no prohibition against working two jobs, _for different firms_: you are regulating employers, not employees. The point is to make employers pay for the convenience of employing fewer people, in a way that will only be worthwhile where those people are genuinely high-productivity or irreplaceable.

Ultimately, make this rearrangement of market wages the main thing government does in economic terms. It can replace the current primary function of guaranteeing bank deposits and house prices, or the mostly theoretical one of providing universal welfare.

With the lowest productivity people working less, but hardly anyone not working at all, average productivity increases. The society becomes richer, and so can afford to develop better technology, leave potential wealth in the ground where that would be environmentally damaging, and so on.

66

john c. halasz 01.15.12 at 11:30 pm

I find it curious how many commenters simply reify current standards-of-living/”life-styles” together with the cost-prices structures and thus the corresponding distributions of income in their present form, (no doubt as if these were simply the result of individual volitional choices, which is the only criteria for collective decision-making anyway). But significantly altering the structure and distribution of work time and work quality, i.e. de-commodifying labor, would involve transforming productive infra-structure through socialized and publicly decided investment programs rather than relying on investment guided by the need to maintain the valorization of capital at the behest of its private owners. Capitalism has proven relatively successful at increasing the technical efficiency of production, (and thus driving over-production crises), but increasing the efficiency of consumption and restructuring and redistributing productive resources to do so, is anathema to it. But is 2+ autos per household an efficient transport system? Suburban housing tracts separated from urban cores as places of work, culture and socializing an economical system of habitation? A credit system dependent on the capitalization of arbitrary land rents for collateral effective for the allocation of investments in real productive surpluses? Does the maintenance of the value of capital through the rate-of-profit at the expense of distributions to wages really represent the socially optimal and proficient use of resources? Or isn’t the claim for pareto efficiency as optimalizing aggregate social welfare in the name of that weird oxymoron “consumer sovereignty” really just a rationalization and disguise for how the system actually operates?

Of course, the problem is that attempting to directly reduce working time amounts to a withdrawal from the prevailing system of economic value and thus a weakening of the role of labor-capacity against capital, whereas it could only realistically be brought about through the organization of labor-capacity overwhelming the reigning power of capital. But still there is no good reason to presuppose the prevailing system of relative prices and economic value relations in a system that is fundamentally structured much differently than currently prevails. Only because bourgeois professionals, who are the relatively privileged beneficiaries of the current system, can see no immanent alternative to it and content themselves with the prevailing system that they serve, is the assumption of current cost-prices, investments, values and distributions regarded as warranted.

After all, even within historical capitalism, relative prices, values and their corresponding distributions did at times function much differently than currently prevails:

http://www.angrybearblog.com/2012/01/define-rich-v-looking-at-historical.html

67

john c. halasz 01.15.12 at 11:40 pm

Oh, I forgot the point that the problem or quasi-paradox that the prospect of reducing the burdens of labor depends on maximizing labor-capacity is rather like the problem with the U.S. health care system, which requires a system of universal coverage and thus ostensibly increased potential costs to decrease actual costs.

68

JW Mason 01.15.12 at 11:54 pm

I suppose it’s obvious, but it’s sufficeintly importnat to the discussion that it’s worth stating again:

The nature of positional goods is that it’s individually rational to choose to consume them, but that we would all be better off if we could make a binding commitment that none of us would consume them.

The cliche case is the stadium, where one person individually can improve their view by standing up; I have to say, rather a large number of comments here seem to be equivalent to responding to that case with “But I really want to see the field!”

69

JW Mason 01.15.12 at 11:59 pm

the issue is not one of compulsion

… so I can’t agree with this. A shorter workweek does involve compulsion, just like (say) a minimum wage does. Do we think any real-life social situations involve Prisoners’ Dilemma type payoffs? If so, we do need some enforced rules against defection to get to the high-payoff equilibrium.

Have you ever been a member of a union? Solidarity is a kind of mutual coercion.

70

Bruce Baugh 01.16.12 at 12:25 am

Thank goodness all those happy to work abusive self-destructive hours and set that as a norm for everyone else have such brave vocal defenders.

On the less sarcastic hand, I really like John C Halasz’s 66, and feel it’s very much in sync with the stuff I find intriguing and worth hoping about in the original post – that this is about changing a whole bunch of life, not optimizing one part so as to let the rest of the system shudder on.

71

geo 01.16.12 at 1:55 am

jch@66: isn’t the claim for pareto efficiency as optimalizing aggregate social welfare in the name of that weird oxymoron “consumer sovereignty” really just a rationalization and disguise for how the system actually operates?

That sounds right. Could you elaborate?

72

bob mcmanus 01.16.12 at 2:19 am

70:I really like John C Halasz’s 66

JCH does have a way with words. I have been thinking all day how to say what he manages in the 2nd paragraph of 66 without getting myself banned.

73

chris 01.16.12 at 2:22 am

Thank goodness all those happy to work abusive self-destructive hours and set that as a norm for everyone else have such brave vocal defenders.

It’s not so much that they’re *happy* to do that as that in the absence of wage increases or other forms of income support they’re happi*er* to do that than to not do it.

So if you make it illegal, they’ll just continue off the books, making them even more vulnerable to all sorts of exploitation and abuse.

The real contrast is, very often, one between a person having additional time in which they prepare a tasty and nutritious meal from fresh ingredients and then consume it around the table with family and one where they are so time-stressed from their intrinsically unrewarding job that they reheat a ready meal in the microwave and guzzle it in front of the tv. Household labour is indeed being substituted for market labour in this example, but is would be a mistake to think of the person enabled to do the substitution as being anything other than better off.

They’re spending a *lot* of time (counting shopping and dishes) to save little, if any, money (some fresh ingredients are considerably *more* expensive than industrially prepared and preserved meals). Of course, if they can afford to do that, they must be pretty well off. (By the way, where does the rest of the family get the extra time? Or if there’s no difference in time for the rest of the family, why don’t they eat the microwave meal/takeout/etc. around the dinner table rather than in front of the TV? I think the TV is being unfairly dragged into an argument where it has no business being.)

And we haven’t even started on the *capital* costs…

Overall, if you’re actually going to reduce market labor hour-for-hour so that you aren’t counting time spent doing the dishes as leisure, the amount of market labor being dropped in this scenario is so much greater than the cost savings that it would have a serious impact on the family budget somewhere else, unless you accompany it with redistributive measures so that it instead has a serious impact on someone else’s family budget. Now maybe the someone else is a rentier or CEO who can afford it, but then (a) they’re going to resist politically and (b) the hours-reduction proposal seems like a sideshow at that point compared to the redistribution.

If home production were as productive per worker-hour as industrial production, we wouldn’t have bothered with industry. So you can’t just assume that there will be no side effects of substituting one for the other. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

74

JW Mason 01.16.12 at 2:36 am

So if you make it illegal, they’ll just continue off the books

You could say this about the minimum wage too. People do say it: There Is No Alternative. And it would be simpler if we, collectively, had no choice about economic arrangements. But as it turns out, there’s a wide space between regulations that are perfectly ineffective, and regulations that are completely ineffective.

75

JW Mason 01.16.12 at 2:37 am

oops, perfectly *effective*.

76

Bruce Baugh 01.16.12 at 2:44 am

Chris, I recognize the very wide range of considerations that can leave people feeling they don’t have any good options other than working more than they want to, than is healthy for them, or that is actually compatible with greatest quality and reliability [1]. But we’ve got a few folks here, and lots more in the world out at large, talking about the pleasures of overwork and the vile totalitarian badness of not wanting to cater to their fetish.

1: This bears emphasizing. There’s a solid, growing literature on the conditions that lead to fewest errors, most reliable and consistent quality, and so on. American norms for work are well beyond them, deep into territory demonstrably leading to more flaws and less reliability. The fetishists are putting the desire for more more more work ahead of any desire to do the job as best they can.

77

Watson Ladd 01.16.12 at 3:22 am

Bruce, the choice to work 40 hours stems from what chris pointed out. I could bake my own bread, or have the baker with his giant oven, enormous mixing bowl, and accumulated skill bake for me, taking a fraction of the time, while I sell some more of my time doing what I’m good at. Also, not everything worth doing is worth doing well. Good enough works enough surprisingly often.

78

Alan 01.16.12 at 3:43 am

The 1% will see to it that wages will always be low enough that they can afford to hire the 99% for enough hours to keep them tired. Besides, the devil makes work for idle hands and laborare est orare.

79

Meredith 01.16.12 at 4:47 am

Who are you people? If we could have civilized, sensible discussions like this, the major problems of the world could be resolved. I’ve never seen a reasonable discussion like this on the interwebz. Would you be willing to pass along directions to your planet?

80

john c. halasz 01.16.12 at 5:09 am

@73:

“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

Umm…yes, there is; it’s called “economic rent”.

geo @71:

I’d assume you already know most of this territory. “Consumer sovereignty” is just the price-taking assumption involved in the inverted logical idealization of perfectly competitive markets as the explanatory base or fulcrum. (But, of course, no one is “sovereign”, except for inbred idiots or states). And, of course, perfectly competitive markets, with all the other assumptions formally specified in the basic “explanatory” model don’t actually exist, though some markets, such as agricultural commodities, (if one ignores subsidies), or retail sales, (if one ignores Walmart), approximate such conditions. Pareto optimality is an odd attempt to define economic efficiency based on entirely subjective or psychological, if “revealed”, utility preference functions, (at once positivistic and idealist, “esse est percipi”), which then underwrites an identification of efficiency with aggregate social welfare, despite the prohibition on “interpersonal comparisons of utility” to make the math work and despite the impossibility of aggregating individual curves into aggregate curves. Some problems with that are obvious. If one starts with a highly inefficient distribution of resources, then it isn’t hard to come up with a series of trades that increase both efficiency and welfare, but once such a system of exchanges is in place, it runs against diminishing returns, and market exchanges can’t be the source of increased economic growth or increases in the real distributable surplus-product. (Besides which it makes effective demand dependent on income, since it’s basically just a rationalizing figure for an auction-like account of nominal price formation. So it prolongs into accounts such as the life-time income hypothesis with income smoothing, which actually depend on the availability of credit, which is to say the distribution of wealth and income, as opposed to “interpersonal comparisons of utility” being realistically how people discover their needs and desires and consumption behavior significantly deriving, with a given distribution of wealth and income, from “keeping up with the Jones”). But it turns out that increases in productive surpluses don’t stem from market exchanges directly, which might only stimulate and promulgate them, but rather from technical improvements in the means of production, in processes and products, that raise the productivity of labor and lower unit output costs and thus actual and potential output, (which runs against the relative elasticities of demand). And technical improvements in capital stock tend toward the concentration of capital, with increasing returns to scale, scope and networks, with high capital intensities and thus high upfront fixed capital costs, which result in the economy being dominated by corporate oligopolies and their rent-seeking strategies to sustain their cost-structures, including the need to constantly expand production to lower costs, (far beyond what would be achievable by competition between smaller firms), which renders the idea that the system functions on behalf of aggregate consumer welfare nugatory. And, of course, behind the supposed law of supply and demand, of which marginal analysis is just the analytic unfolding under the assumptions of omnipresent equilibria, lies the cost-prices of production and the distribution of production incomes, wages and profits, in inverse proportion, derived therefrom, which is to say that actual productive surpluses and their potential contributions to aggregate social welfare can’t be measured on the basis of the rate-of-profit alone or in accordance with the claim that the marginal returns to the factors-of-production are identical to their marginal products, (since it turns out a consistent unit of capital can’t be derived, hence its marginal product, so the marginal product of labor likewise can’t be so determined). So the upshot is that there really isn’t much to the claim for “consumer sovereignty”, (as opposed to the dubious claim for citizen sovereignty), other than its class basis.

An alternative account would be to focus on the trade-off between use-value and labor-capacity. Use-value is determined by a) the properties and suitabilities that “things” actually have and b) by the shared social context of their uses. So they are reasonably “objective” and not based on arbitrary subjective appraisals (or tautologies). And labor-capacity is not measured by the consumption it procures, but by the more-or-less skilled effort it expends, such that the “value” of consumption is to be derived from how much it contributes to the exercise and development of such capacities and the proficient use of resources to sustain them. Based on the underlying basically Aristotelian notion that productive or fruitful self-activity in community with others is the hallmark of the good life and that labor, rather than being an onerous and alienated burden that reduces workers to mere things among things at the behest of others, can become life’s prime need, the free development of the capacities of each and all. (Which would eliminate as well the notion of leisure as simply the absence of labor, as passive consumption, rather than active engagement with the world). Needless to say, there would have to be alternate measures developed for the real productive efficiencies of technical means and natural resource utilization. But at least they wouldn’t be bound up in the compulsion to over-produce for the sake of the maintenance of private profits, (which would open up the selection criteria for the development of available technical means and knowledge), and thus to over-consume to compensate for the alienation of social relations and activities thereby induced. (And there is no good reason to associate technological advances with human progress in civilization. Indeed, given the value-neutral status of technological possibilities and the prevailing selection criteria, the confusion amounts not just to civilized barbarism, but often enough outright barbarism).

In the modern attempt to reconstruct Marxian LTV with up-to-date formal rational means, there is an interesting result among others. The overall theory is, indeed, consistent and coherent: if one chooses labor as the numaire of the system, then labor output far exceeds labor input. But if one chooses another numaire, say, grain, then grain output far exceeds grain input. So there must be, at best, some other criterion for choosing labor-value as the numaire. Perhaps it’s just that, at least until our robot overlords fully take over, labor is the only factor-of-production that has the properties of intentionality and cognizant sentience. Hence it doesn’t behave merely in response to its environment in accordance with the mechanistic antithesis of pain and pleasure, but can combine its experiences and activities into a generalized standard of value, transforming its pains and varying its pleasures, to attain a more genuine, public and responsible knowledge of the world than the pseudo-determinism of prevailing economics allows.

81

Meredith 01.16.12 at 6:58 am

I’m looking forward to reading John H’s contribution just above this but have been distracted by Meredith@79 — who isn’t me. What’s up, CT?

82

Lemuel Pitkin 01.16.12 at 7:54 am

The 1% will see to it that wages will always be low enough that they can afford to hire the 99% for enough hours to keep them tired.

The problem with a statement like this is that worktime has diminished historically, especially in periods when working people have been effectively organized. Was the eight hour day movement all a ruse, or a delusion? Marx didn’t think so. Of course any time we in the 99% start talking about ways we could collectively choose a better life, there will be people saying “You can’t fight city hall.” But I don’t see why we should listen.

83

JW Mason 01.16.12 at 7:55 am

Oops, my phone still has the old pseudonym. Sorry, not deliberately sockpuppeting.

84

John Quiggin 01.16.12 at 8:15 am

It’s more helpful in my view to think about hours per year rather than hours per week. Particularly for parents of school-age children, there would be a huge benefit in having six or eight weeks a year of annual holidays, instead of the four we get in Oz (two weeks is standard in the US, I believe, but feel free to correct me). Each extra week of leave is roughly equivalent to one hour off the average working week.

Thinking about the public service job I had before I became an academic, I would rather have put in 44 weeks at 35 hours a week (1540 hours a year) than 48 weeks at 32 hours (1536 hours) even if the latter would have allowed for a four-day week. Of course, that depends a lot on situation, and might be quite different for parents of young children.

85

Guido Nius 01.16.12 at 8:33 am

FWIW, 62, I’d like people to live their desired life instead of the one peer pressure forces them into. So 64 has it completely right.

86

JW Mason 01.16.12 at 8:51 am

Two weeks is standard in the US

If only. Almost one quarter of private sector workers in the US get no paid vacation at all. Of course, many of the participants in this thread will be quick to assure me that if people have no vacations it must be because they’ve freely chosen that, and the problem is with all the other rich countries, where workers lack our glorious freedom to work ourselves to death.

87

reason 01.16.12 at 9:12 am

I’m of the view that if you want to do this you should do this by FIRST reducing the number of days worked. (And while you are at it, you should think hard about how you could adjust work schedules and school holidays so that we can use our capital more efficiently.) As a society we are monstrously over capitalised. Just think about what proportion of the time much of our capital lies unused (cars are the absolute worst). Real technical efficiency (particularly efficiency in consumption) has never been taken very seriously. (This is in contrast to the strange concept of efficiency that economists fetish about.)

88

reason 01.16.12 at 9:24 am

I see JQ was writing something with a similar flavour to what I was saying (although with differences). Personally, John I think the school holiday should be solved at the school end – because parents (when the rest of their lives is maximally strained financially, emotionally and physically also have to cope with having their holidays only when recreation facilities are expensive and full to capacity.) This is good neither for parents or for recreation facilities.

89

Peter T 01.16.12 at 9:26 am

On Tim’s argument about division of labour – work around the house has gone the other way. A bit over a century ago domestic service was one of the largest branches of employment (see eg http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/burnette.women.workers.britain). As one person born 1920 remarked “I never thought I would be rich enough to own a motor car or poor enough not to have a servant”. These people have been replaced for the most part not with dedicated industries but with household machines. Instead of being (as the C19 professional was) able to concentrate on one’s professional labours or hobbies, we now do the cleaning, cooking and home maintenance ourselves. If division of labour is progress, then we have gone backwards.

90

Tim Worstall 01.16.12 at 9:36 am

“I’ve emphasised your “should” and their “coulds” to illustrate your dishonesty. Since they also give many examples (beyond the ones included in this passage) of pure leisure activities, the claim that they simply favour substituting household work for paid work is demonstrably false.”

You’re not quite reading the code correctly.

“and encouraging more uncommodified activity and consumption.”

“uncommodified” is indeed meaning a move from paid market to unpaid household. Activity meaning production of course.

“As we explain later, distributing paid and unpaid time more equally across the adult population makes it possible to supplement scarce public funds with abundant and uncommodified human assets.”

Same meaning. Lots of lovely unpaid household labour = uncommodified human assets.

“Secondly, spending less time working to feed our consumer habits (which fail to deliver happier lives), means we will find it much easier to do the things we value but haven’t enough time for: looking after children and other family members and friends; spending time with each other; volunteering; getting out and about; reading; or learning that skill or language that we always said we would.”

Looking after children may well be delightful but it is also work. As is caring for other family members. Volunteering is simply replacing paid labour with unpaid.

Andf the full quote which you provide an excerpt from is:

“Many of the ‘consumer choices’ we make are in the name of convenience. We buy processed food, ready-meals, pre-prepared and packaged vegetables, motorised vehicles, airline tickets, and a range of electric appliances because they are supposed to save us time. Most of these purchases involve a lot of energy, carbon, and waste. If we spent much less time earning money, we would have more time to live differently, and less need to purchase for the sake of convenience. We could grow, prepare, and cook more of our own food; repair things more often rather than replace them; travel more slowly on foot, bicycles, buses, or trains. We could learn more practical skills, make more things ourselves and generally become less dependent on energy-intensive technologies. This is neither a sentimental longing for a ‘News from Nowhere’ idyll, nor nostalgia for the days of hippie communes. It is rational anticipation of essential low-carbon living, which can only be achieved by slowing down the pace and using time more than money and consumer goods to deliver what we need to live a good life.”

They’re very clearly moving from that “could” to “should”. As the next para says:

“The average carbon dioxide footprint of an adult in the UK is 11 tonnes a year. This must drop to less than four tonnes to meet essential targets. Low-carbon living depends on consuming differently, and certainly buying less energy-intensive stuff. Shorter hours in paid employment, less spending power for higher earners, more time to live sustainably, and a shift towards non-materialist values will all help to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard natural resources.”

91

Chris Bertram 01.16.12 at 9:55 am

Worstall: your claim was that their proposal was simply to replace paid work with unpaid (household) work. I demonstrated that your claim was false, since not all of the freed time would be taken up by household work, but by activities that even you (however reluctantly) must acknowledge as leisure. So even accepting you perverse desire to code as many human activities as you possibly can as “work”, your claim was untrue. However, I also dispute that many of those activities are properly seen as work.

John Q. Quite see your point about parenting and time. I’d observe, though, that a more participatory society, where people were more active in political and community life would probably benefit more from fewer weekly hours in paid employment. Parenting is one area where free time matters, but not the only one.

92

Chris Bertram 01.16.12 at 10:08 am

Having just read Belle’s latest post re the “economic model” of sex, I was tempted to write some Worstall-related snark there, coding sex with one’s partner on a sunny weekday afternoon as “uncommodified work”. But better to leave it here, I think.

93

UnlearningEcon 01.16.12 at 10:33 am

This isn’t exactly a massive contribution, but 21 seems a bit excessive…what about a 6 hour day?

94

Salient 01.16.12 at 10:51 am

If we’re going to abandon (or strain away from) the notion that a person’s compensation from society ought to be tied to the extent to which they’re hard to replace as a job-doer, can’t we skip the `21 hour work week’ half-measures and go straight to putting productivity gains toward universal basic income? Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take any damn scrap of egalitarian redistribution we can somehow happen to opportunistically lay our hands on, but that desperation should be regarded as philosophically incoherent.

People working fewer hours at a job means people are less valuable as job-workers, even if we partial-basic-income society’s productivity gains to those job-workers (half the hours and twice the workforce, means job-doers lost half their social value, not to mention half their job security).

As soon as we gain (or allow ourselves for philosophical purposes to suppose we have) some control over the means of compensation, the ‘you get paid to do your job because the people with the money prefer forking over that pittance to having to train somebody up to your level of experience’ model collapses. As well it should. Sure, in a society in which material resources are mostly controlled by an elite, society compensates us job-doers for doing stuff that it would be hard to get a different person to do. In such an environment, unskilled work is always effectively bare-sustenance labor, and we don’t have any control over where the gains in productivity flow.

If we *do* take control over where gains in productivity flow, then let’s set aside the notion of a ‘job’ for at least five minutes, please? Then one’s time divides neatly into: [1] activity for which society compensates you; [2] activity which society ignores; [3] activity for which society penalizes you. Is there any intrinsic reason we should prefer that the stuff people do be put into the second category rather than the first?

95

Chris Bertram 01.16.12 at 11:08 am

Matt Yglesias has just responded to this over at

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/01/15/the_past_and_future_of_the_workweek.html

I’d note that he seems to be very impressed by the fact that, in the UK, the total number of hours worked by the average employed person has fallen somewhat (though the Y-axis of his chart exaggerates the effect) since 1970.

I don’t have time for data crunching right now. But I wonder whether he considered the possibility, in putting up his chart, that over that 40-year period, the labour-force participation of women rose considerably, with many of them going into part-time jobs. Obviously, there are some very good things about this, in terms of gender equality and the economic independence of women. This development would indeed lead to a decline in the average number of hours worked _per person employed_ , but it would not support his conclusion that the “underlying trend is toward a share of productivity gains being taken in the form of increased leisure.”

Note: it may indeed be (Worstall-style point alert) that, taking account of release from household drudgery, the move of women into the workforce still represents a net increase in leisure. So my basic point here is about Yglesias’s over-quick inference of the social facts from the aggregate data.

96

John Quiggin 01.16.12 at 11:17 am

Can I put in, as usual, a plug for Ruth Cowan More Work for Mother
http://ruthschwartzcowan.com/selected-publications/moreworkformother/

97

reason 01.16.12 at 11:22 am

Salient @94,
good comment.

98

gastro george 01.16.12 at 11:54 am

“underlying trend is toward a share of productivity gains being taken in the form of increased leisure unemployment.”

Fixed that for you.

99

Pete 01.16.12 at 12:25 pm

Can I suggest a division of pay into roughly

- “tournament” rewards: the important thing is doing this better than the competition. Pay across the field looks asymptotic: a small number of hugely wealthy people and a tail of those trying to break in. This covers sportsmen, rock stars, CEOs, traders, and to a lesser extent this applies to lawyers, programmers, designers, sales and marketing. Pay here is mostly zero-sum and productivity improvements mostly change your position in the ranking.

- “linear production”: the archetypal production line work where every hour you produce X widgets which can be sold for Y. Also to some extent applies to other crafts and anything with billable hours. This area is most amenable to productivity improvements in the conventional sense.

- “oversight”: security guards, babysitters, shop attendants in quiet shops, firefighters, various staff monitoring equipment (eg nuclear plants). Mostly about reacting to things if and when they happen. You can’t easily increase producitivity, because you have to staff for a peak of demand which is rarely seen, and reducing staff may compromise your ability to deal with emergencies.

That doesn’t cover everything, but we can see that productivity mostly affects the linear part, while the other two roles gradually expand in the manner of “Baumol cost disease”.

The tournament is where the biggest pay is seen. But it’s not possible to replace a bank CEO working 80 hours a week with four people working 20 hours a week on 1/4 of the salary, because that’s not what any of the parties involved want and the job is not easily divisible.

100

Tim Worstall 01.16.12 at 12:39 pm

“Note: it may indeed be (Worstall-style point alert) that, taking account of release from household drudgery, the move of women into the workforce still represents a net increase in leisure.”

That is indeed the usual finding.

http://www.bos.frb.org/economic/wp/wp2006/wp0602.htm

“In this paper, we use five decades of time-use surveys to document trends in the allocation of time. We document that a dramatic increase in leisure time lies behind the relatively stable number of market hours worked (per working-age adult) between 1965 and 2003. Specifically, we document that leisure for men increased by 6-8 hours per week (driven by a decline in market work hours) and for women by 4-8 hours per week (driven by a decline in home production work hours).”

101

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.16.12 at 12:45 pm

When you are talking about ‘productivity’, y’all seem to be referring to technological progress here. But there are other ways to improve productivity, much easier ways. JCH touched on that above. What about all those workers who waste time (while consuming a lot of actual stuff) on things like marketing, accounting, finance, excessive management, security, military, various bureaucracies? If you could relieve people from performing these useless (and often harmful) tasks, and let them participate in productive activities, that would, I believe, create an enormous increase in productivity.

Because I don’t see too many people around me actually producing something. Everybody is a manager or a bureaucrat of some sort.

102

Chris Bertram 01.16.12 at 12:59 pm

“That is indeed the usual finding.”

It may be. But Yglesias’s graph was based on UK data and your drive-by reference is a paper about US leisure-time, a paper which also comes to different conclusions about how much Americans are working to Schor’s in _The Overworked American_ . Not that that makes them wrong, of course, but it seems a little odd to refer to something as “the usual finding” when reputable work by other scholars asserts the exact opposite.

103

Watson Ladd 01.16.12 at 1:56 pm

Henri, marketers alert people to items they might not know about. Managers ensure we can worry about our jobs and not the one of the guy next to us. Accountants make sure we know where our products are getting wasted on the line, and that no one is stealing. Bureaucracies administer rules fairly. This are all advances of civilization, even if they appear under capitalism in a distorted and partial form.

104

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.16.12 at 3:17 pm

You know, Watson, where I work it’s 5 of 6 layers of management between me and the guy on top of the pyramid. And I’m not even one of the guys in the boiler room. The HR, lawyers, finance, PR, useless trainers (“unified communications skills”), admins of all kinds probably constitute at least a half of the staff, if not more. Surely that can’t be right.

In fact, the famous Pyramid of Capitalist System now appears to be wider in the middle than down the bottom. At least in the west; I’m sure it’s still a traditional pyramid in places like China and India.

105

ajay 01.16.12 at 3:41 pm

61: I enjoyed this one from Tim: “Cranking out three home cooked meals a day from fresh ingredients is very definitely work, not a leisure activity.”.

Does anybody in the developed world do this? Or would ever need to. Or would ever want to eat three cooked meals a day (unless you were a miner or similar).

This comment is real world-in-a-bottle stuff. The author seems to think that it’s self-evidently ludicrous that anyone in the developed world would want to eat three cooked meals a day unless they were a miner (which I think means “engaged in extremely demanding physical labour” – so probably more like a miner circa 1930. Miners nowadays have a hard job, but it’s not much more physically demanding than many other manufacturing jobs thanks to mechanisation.)

106

gastro george 01.16.12 at 3:51 pm

OK, ajay, my overstatement in response to Tim’s overstatement.

He was positing that everybody who wanted such reduced hours would necessarily be exchanging that for having to cook three meals a day from scratch. That is self-evidently ludicrous.

107

Tim Worstall 01.16.12 at 4:16 pm

“Not that that makes them wrong, of course, but it seems a little odd to refer to something as “the usual finding” when reputable work by other scholars asserts the exact opposite.”

But it is the usual finding. Time surveys divide the 24 hours up into personal services (you can’t get someone else to sleep for you, eat for you), paid working hours, unpaid household production hours and leisure.

Leisure has been increasing over the decades. Thus one (or more) of the other three have been decreasing. The general finding is that female paid labour hours have increased, male paid labour hours have decreased and both male and female unpaid household production hours have decreased sufficiently that all now have more leisure time.

I don’t know what Schor has been saying as I’ve not read her. But from the couple of outlines I can see of the thesis on the web it’s not clear that she’s making the correct distinction about those household production hours.

If you’d prefer a lefty take on it, try Ha Joon Chang on the impact of the washing machine. It reduced household production hours more than possibly any one other change over the last 100 years.

And the reason I refer to increasing leisure hours, reducing working hours (when properly measured, paid and unpaid) as the usual finding is because it is the usual finding. It’s the usual finding whether we’re looking over time or over countries of different levels of wealth.

As wealth increases some of that increase is taken as leisure. Part of that increase in leisure is the reduction in male paid working hours, the rest the reduction in both male and female household production hours.

Been going on for at least a century…….that’s why it’s the “usual finding”.

108

Chris Bertram 01.16.12 at 5:21 pm

Tim, what I find peculiarly boneheaded about your way of thinking here is your neglect of the fact that very similar “work” may have a quite different subjective meaning and be unpleasant or pleasant depending on whether it is paid or not, how it fits into a person’s life, etc. Ditto, for the satisfaction of needs by market and non-market routes as if the employed gardener, the person who buys houseplants and the person who tends their garden in their spare time, are all basically engaged in the same activity. Ditto for the nanny taking children to the park for money, the parent paying for a nursery, and the parent kicking a ball about with their child. For very many of these activities, resort to market solutions is not the result of a rational choice of time allocation on the part of the individual, nor a judgement of what mode is better all things considered, but a way of coping with the time-stresses (including commute stresses oc) of employment.

Incidentally, I agree, obviously, about the washing machine. But here the question for ordinary working families is not “What have the Romans done for us?” but “What have the Romans done for us lately?” Washing machines have been around for many decades in advanced capitalist societies. Ditto most of the major labour saving devices.

109

Meredith 01.16.12 at 5:26 pm

Anyone here aware of the current status of research on efficiency and productivity vis-a-vis the advent of “the digital revolution,” and on the environmental impact of that revolution? Maybe ten years ago, I remember, a couple of MIT professors (economists?) were arguing that overall productivity had declined because of it. They recognized that as a possibly temporary effect, as the world sorted out proper uses of new technologies, but they weren’t convinced that the world would actually do such sorting very well.
Seems relevant to housework issue. See Quiggin@96 on Cowan link. I remember reading in the 1980′s (sorry not to have references anymore) historical studies arguing that our standards of how clean our houses/apartments should be, how clean our clothes should be (and so forth) have risen with the availability of washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, not to mention issues around meals (modern refrigerators and stoves, changes in food production and marketing) and the supervision of children (the “helicopter parent” as the perfection of a long trend). So that instead of using the time new technologies should be giving us for other things (like preparing good food quickly or reading more or spending time with friends or in civic activities) we use (at least much of it) for being very clean and neat, children-obsessed parents living in very clean and neat environments (relative to times past), eating too much food that many of us don’t even bother to shop for properly or prepare well.

110

bob mcmanus 01.16.12 at 6:09 pm

108: that very similar “work” may have a quite different subjective meaning and be unpleasant or pleasant

Modernism = the aestheticization of the structures of domination

111

Watson Ladd 01.16.12 at 6:09 pm

Chris, the medieval serf raised food for his family. I don’t think it made him happy. The market creates important things: the equivalence of labor, the possibility of capital and its use to create use-value. The question is how to reconcile them with the way in which your claims on social product are rooted in the least important part of that product, namely how much you worked for it.

Meredith, normative arguments about society require asking whose norms. We are all capable of spending less time cleaning and more time cooking. Clearly people don’t actually agree with you.

112

Chris Bertram 01.16.12 at 6:32 pm

Watson, we all agree that the bourgeoisie has accomplished wonders greater than the pyramids, including the washing machine. William Morris had read his Marx too though.

113

edo 01.16.12 at 7:58 pm

“government should act to enable people to negotiate shorter working hours and, perhaps, by introducing a universal basic income”

That perhaps got me interested. Whas there any more comparison on BI vs working hour reduction as policies?

A policy that channels productivity gains into steadily growing basic income seems much more clear cut and easier to implement than working hour reduction. Households that feel that work hour reduction is possible can then opt for that. labor scarcity for production X generates strong market incentives for making X-work more satisfying.

BI policies can factor in environmental and other goals by increasing indirect taxation on negative externality generating consumption. Or, more radically, go for limited BI as vouchers for basic goods that score high on nutrition and safety and low on environmental impact.

114

Meredith 01.16.12 at 11:07 pm

Watson Ladd@111: “We are all capable of spending less time cleaning and more time cooking. Clearly people don’t actually agree with you.” Oh, I hadn’t noticed that (though it was the premise of everything I said). I guess I overlooked the way “marketers alert people to items they might not know about. Managers ensure we can worry about our jobs and not the one of the guy next to us. Accountants make sure we know where our products are getting wasted on the line, and that no one is stealing. Bureaucracies administer rules fairly.” Simple as that. All done a bit imperfectly at this point, but history’s progress marches on inevitably. I should have realized.

115

Antoni Jaume 01.16.12 at 11:22 pm

I don’t see people talking about taxes. If you set taxes so that working 22 hours instead of 21 is not as economically rewarding, then people will restraint from such behaviour. I like John Quiggin when he says to take a yearly accounts of hours, we could set that people who work more that 21 hours a week would have the excess pay deposited in a tax account, and if they took time off in the year, they be allowed to draw from their tax account, but time worked over the yearly account would bring no gains.

116

Tim Worstall 01.17.12 at 10:54 am

“Tim, what I find peculiarly boneheaded about your way of thinking here is your neglect of the fact that very similar “work” may have a quite different subjective meaning and be unpleasant or pleasant depending on whether it is paid or not, how it fits into a person’s life, etc. “

This isn’t the “Worstall way of thinking”. It’s the standard method in the part of economics that looks at time use. It’s the way the EU produces standardised statistics for the 27 countries (OK, rather, the 27 produce to the EU standard but….), the way the US reports the numbers, just the general method by which the whole subject is approached.

There are four parts, four uses of time. Personal time, the things that no one else can do for you. Sleeping, eating, washing yourself etc. Leisure time and then paid market and unpaid household work. Sure, the lines between different of them are slightly blurry. Unpaid household work is loosely defined as things you could pay someone else to do, turn into a market job, but which you do yourself. Cook (takeaways), grow food (buy it), clean (visiting cleaner) laundry (service wash).

And sure, some of the things which some would count as unpaid household labour would count, sometimes, for some other people, as leisure. Cooking a lovely meal for one’s inamorata for example.

Neither I nor anyone else insists that there are not these blurry lines, that whether something is work or not is subjective. To do so would indeed be boneheaded. But it would be worse, even more boneheaded, to try to claim that just because something is not paid market work then it is not work. That unpaid household labour is not in fact labour.

And that is unfortunately something which is just all too common: which brings us back to nef. With their we “could” all go and grow our own food with this new found “leisure” time. But it’s not really leisure if you have to go out and dig the field in order to get sufficient calories really, is it? It’s work. Which is and was my point.

Whatever boneheadedness there is in the division into leisure and household work pales in comparison to the idea that household work just isn’t work.

117

Chris Bertram 01.17.12 at 11:27 am

_It’s the standard method in the part of economics that looks at time use._

I don’t doubt it. The questions raised about the nature and meaning of work in different societies and circumstances by, … let’s just take Marx, William Morris and Oscar Wilde as examples for now … become invisible under a certain way of looking at the world. So when you say that some change or other “simply” involves a shift from household production to market production you miss a whole universe of important stuff. But working to earn money to pay someone else to care for your child (for example) involves dimensions of value that are not exhausted by the efficient allocation of your time and household budget.

118

Chris Bertram 01.17.12 at 11:28 am

Or to take you final sentence:

bq. Whatever boneheadedness there is in the division into leisure and household work pales in comparison to the idea that household work just isn’t work.

The point isn’t that it just isn’t work, but that it isn’t just work.

119

Tim Worstall 01.17.12 at 12:32 pm

“The point isn’t that it just isn’t work, but that it isn’t just work.”

Nor are paid market hours. I assume that you lecture at least in part because you enjoy doing so. Most certainly some of the things I get paid to do are things that I find intrinsically enjoyable.

120

Guido Nius 01.17.12 at 12:42 pm

Tim, if your objective was to derail this discussion such that it was about you, your work has paid off.

121

Chris Bertram 01.17.12 at 1:58 pm

Amusingly, I was just searching for an old post (after reading of a spat Brian Leiter is having with Will Wilkinson) when I happened upon

http://crookedtimber.org/2004/11/09/farting-around-and-economic-rationality/

Check out the comment from Jane Galt (aka Megan McArdle) who is playing the Worstall role in that thread. Nice responses too.

122

bianca steele 01.17.12 at 2:06 pm

I think it was Arlie Hochschild who claimed there was a problem with the leisure numbers because in surveys women who spend eight hours with a child were calling it unpaid household production, and men who spend one hour playing soccer with their kid called it leisure, even though it’s replacing “unpaid household labor” by the child’s mother. Bribing men to do cooking, say, by calling it a hobby, presumably shouldn’t be weighed in the scale as “leisure” that has no objective social value.

Not to mention unpaid work learning HTML 3.0.

123

edo 01.17.12 at 4:27 pm

Tim Worstall’s argument seems to assume that the work hour reduction would result in people being forced to grow their own food in order to survive. What is the basis for that claim? I don’t read the nef as claiming that. Rather, growing your own food, if you enjoy doing so, is an example of a leisure activity that would be enabled by less work time and one that has overal positive externalities for those enjoying it. Those not enjoying that have ample other leisure choices available. There is wealth and productivity enough in a 21 hour work week society for all to eat nutritious and tasty food regardless of if anyone does leisure gardening on their free time or not.

124

Sandwichman 01.19.12 at 7:02 pm

Apologies for posting late to this thread but I’ve been in transit, having attended the New Economics Foundations event in London and then trolled various archives in the UK for a week. Thanks for the great discussion thread.

With regard to Tim Worstall’s cherished Time Use survey, I have one word: JACKSON. Approximately 3/8 of the respondents the 1965 baseline survey were from Jackson, Michigan. That’s all you need to know about the generalizability of the survey results (see http://worklessparty.org/wlitblog/archives/000994.html).

With regard to not being able to afford housing with less work the word is TREADMILL. As long as people are competing for scarce housing resources, the longer each one works, the higher will be the housing cost bar in terms of hours. This is also expressed in terms of the stadium effect. If one person stands that person gets a better view; if everyone stands, there may be some winners and losers but, on average, there is no improvement.

john c. halasz @66 nails it. Changing the distribution of hours doesn’t leave the current cost/price structure and distribution intact. It changes everything. That is precisely why it is so passionately opposed by arch-reactionaries.

And don’t take my word for it that opponents of collectively-enforced work time reduction are indeed arch-reactionaries. Read E. C. Tufnell’s seminal anti-union tract, Character, Object and Effects of Trades Unions (1834). Read David M. Parry’s 1903 inaugural address as president of the National Association of Manufacturers. The folks who invented the core arguments against shorter working time didn’t mince words to conceal their loathing of unions and the aspirations of working people.

125

StevenAttewell 01.20.12 at 12:07 am

I think that’s a bit broad, Sandwich Man. I’ve been critical of this proposal, but not because I’m a reactionary, but because I think reducing work-time requires thinking through a lot of related policies that didn’t seem to be addressed by the panel.

To take up halasz’s point for a second, my argument would be that work-reduction can, but doesn’t necessarily change everything else. You actually have to do the stuff halasz talks about – “transforming productive infra-structure through socialized and publicly decided investment programs,” among other things (increasing wages), and if you want to be credible about it, actually think through the politics of how to do it too, as opposed to handwaving a basic income.

126

Sandwichman 01.20.12 at 2:46 pm

reducing work-time requires thinking through a lot of related policies

No shit, Sherlock? I love it. The nef organizes an event with two components: a public lecture to raise the profile of the issue and an expert colloquium the next day precisely to “think through a lot of related policies.” But the avowed non-reactionary is critical because the nef “doesn’t seem to be addressing” the complex issues they explicitly are addressing. Or, wait a minute, “not because I’m a reactionary” is ambiguous. Maybe what Steven meant is that although he is a reactionary, his criticism is based not on his political prejudices but simply on his refusal to acknowledge that the nef is endeavoring to do precisely what it” seems” to him they should be doing but are not.

Well, look, Steven. My definition of a “reactionary” is someone who simply reacts to ideas they find unfamiliar rather than paying attention to and responding to what has actually been proposed.

127

StevenAttewell 01.21.12 at 12:10 am

Hey, I’m working on the basis on the information available in the video and Betram’s report- I just found the report and will read through it, but I haven’t seen really good responses to some of my questions yet. And I’ve read Sidelsky and Jackson’s work, and I found a lot of fuzzyness on these issues in Jackson’s work.

You were implying that people who were questioning these proposals were reactionaries. Reactionary has a specific meaning in a political context like this, I’m not one. I’m a social democrat, I’m in favor of climate change, but I like rigor in my policy proposals.

128

StevenAttewell 01.21.12 at 12:11 am

* climate change legislation.

129

Sandwichman 01.21.12 at 2:05 am

“Hey, I’m working on the basis on the information available in the video and Betram’s report…

…but I like rigor in my policy proposals.”

I like rigor in my proposals AND I like my critiques to be informed and constructive. There are gaps and omissions in the nef argument as well as in the speaker presentations last Wednesday night. But they are still light years ahead of the conventional wisdom and the know-nothing/know-it-all gee-hawing of the “free-market think tanks” and bleating of their fan boys.

Isn’t the internet great? People can form instant opinions on issues they haven’t previously given a moment’s thought to. But if you don’t know what’s going on, be patient and listen for a while before jumping in with some half-baked nit picking. The reactionaries have been stewing their beef for centuries and if you don’t know what you’re talking about, the first inchoate thought to pop into your head might just be some faux news pundit’s party-line. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, please get out of the new road if you can’t lend a hand.

Comments on this entry are closed.