Counter-intuition 101: why recent bad economic news means it’s time for working less

The economic news of the last few weeks has not been encouraging. In Europe, the various national debt crises remain unresolved, with a continued monopoly of banker-friendly austerity programs, and their predictable consequences of rising unemployment and stagnation. Debtor countries are being forced into the same financial orthodoxies that prolonged the depression of the 1920s and 30s, so we shouldn’t be surprised at the failures they will bring. More recession may also be the future of the countries enforcing these once-discredited policies, as weak demand across the region represses consumer demand, investor confidence, and government spending. In the United States the details are different, but the main story is the same. The country is experiencing continuing mass unemployment (25 million Americans remain unemployed or underemployed), further collapse in the housing market and an extremist political movement determined to slash all government spending directed at the people who are most likely to spend: the poor, the unemployed, and the middle classes. The outlook among wealthy countries is for more economic “weakness,” a conclusion supported by the plummeting stock markets of recent weeks.

Protecting bankers’ and creditors’ interests above all else is foolish economic policy. It enriches one group of people at the expense of nearly everyone else. But these days, it’s hard to get a hearing for the view that the wealthy countries remain wealthy, that we can solve our economic problems without making most people worse off, and that we can also do it while addressing the much larger challenge we face: climate change and growing ecological devastation.

So what’s the alternative to slashing government programs, budget cutting, and more concentrated wealth at the top? The centerpiece of a new approach is to re-structure the labor market by reducing hours of work. That may seem counter-intuitive in a period when the mainstream message is that we are poorer than ever and have to work harder. But the historical record suggests it’s a smart move that will create what economists call a triple dividend: three positive outcomes from one policy innovation.

The first benefit of hours reductions is a significant reduction in unemployment. In the wealthy countries, many of the jobs lost in the 2008 downturn will not re-appear. The revolution in information technology has made many jobs unnecessary, raised labor productivity, and undermined a good swathe of the labor market, as firms introduce radical technological and product innovation. (And some of the jobs are being created in low wage countries.) This is familiar territory, as it has been occurring since the 19th century. The buggy and barrel makers are long gone. Toll takers and the workers in DVD factories are on their way out. So too are household tax accountants and retail check-out clerks.

Historically, market economies have absorbed this displaced labor in two ways. The first is the creative of jobs in new industries making new products. The 20th century brought automobile workers, higher education administrators and medical personnel. But new jobs, spurred on by growth in GDP, are only half the story. The other mechanism for maintaining balance in the labor market has always been reductions in hours of work. Without the advances of a shorter workweek, vacation time, earlier retirement and later labor force entrance, the economies of the OECD would never have attained the “golden age” of high employment that prevailed after the1930s depression. Between 1870 and 1970, hours of work fell roughly in half. These countries have re-balanced the labor market by re-distributing work to make its allocation fairer. We need shorter hours because it is unrealistic to count on growth in GDP to absorb all this current and future “surplus” labor. Rich countries just never grow that rapidly. So the austerity economics that says work longer and retire later has it exactly wrong.

But even if GDP growth could solve the unemployment problem, it shouldn’t, because the cost in GHG emissions is prohibitive. North America and Europe have already blown their carbon budgets and until we re-structure energy systems, growth isn’t reconcilable with responsible emissions levels. Here too shorter hours of work provide a dividend. They are associated with lower ecological and carbon footprints. Countries that work more pollute more. That both because their scale of production is larger (the GDP effect) and because time-stressed households and societies do things in more carbon intensive ways than societies in which time is more abundant. Longer hours of work lead people to travel, eat, and live faster-paced lives, which in turn require more energy.

The third benefit of shorter hours is the time itself. As a growing movement of “downshifters” attests, short hour lifestyles allow people to build stronger social connections, maintain their physical and mental health, and engage in activities that are creative and meaningful. Time is especially valuable in rich countries where material needs can be met for everyone, and deprivation is caused by mal-distribution of income and wealth.

So that’s the triple dividend: reduce unemployment, cut carbon emissions, and give people quality of life. Austerity economics says we can’t afford to work less. A serious reading of our economic history suggests we can’t afford not to.

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20 Responses to “Counter-intuition 101: why recent bad economic news means it’s time for working less”

  1. GJ says:

    This brings to mind the lump of labour fallacy.

  2. Juliet Schor says:

    Yes it does, but here’s a little bit of what’s wrong with that argument. It’s about a closed economy–not a set of wealthy countries in a global system with severe inequities and free movement of capital. There’s no reason that jobs are created in the wealthy (and declining) parts of the world. And second, climate change requirements act are a constraint on labor demand/job creation.

  3. Sandwichman says:

    ABSTRACT: “The lump-of-labor fallacy has been called one of the ‘best known fallacies in economics.’ It is widely cited in disparagement of policies for reducing the standard hours of work, yet the authenticity of the fallacy claim is questionable, and explanations of it are inconsistent and contradictory. This article discusses recent occurrences of the fallacy claim and investigates anomalies in the claim and its history. S.J. Chapman’s coherent and formerly highly regarded theory of the hours of labor is reviewed, and it is shown how that theory could lend credence to the job-creating potentiality of shorter working time policies. It concludes that substituting a dubious fallacy claim for an authentic economic theory may have obstructed fruitful dialogue about working time and the appropriate policies for regulating it.”

    “Why economists dislike a lump of labor.” Tom Walker,
    Review of Social Economy, 2007, vol. 65, issue 3, pages 279-291.

    An update of the historical background is in my open letter to Paul Krugman, which I will post in a separate comment.

  4. Sandwichman says:

    An Open Letter to Paul Krugman (on the alleged lump of labor fallacy)

    Dear Professor Krugman,

    I am writing to you because three times over the last 14 months your authority has been invoked to me on behalf of the assertion that people who advocate shorter working time as a remedy for unemployment are guilty of a “lump-of-labor fallacy” assumption that there is only a fixed quantity of work in the world. As did John Maynard Keynes, I believe that working less is one of “three ingredients of a cure” for unemployment. I find it odd to learn that I (and presumably Keynes) am thereby assuming a palpable absurdity: that the amount of work to be done is invariant.

    I have researched the history of the fallacy claim and published two scholarly articles on it and I have documented rather glaring discrepancies in the often-repeated claim. Because your authority on the alleged fallacy is so frequently cited, I would be extremely grateful if you would consider the evidence I outline below and respond to it. I believe the history is curious enough to be entertaining and thought provoking, whether or not you are persuaded by my presentation.

    A column by you that has been held up to me as authoritative appeared in The New York Times on October 7, 2003. It was titled “Lumps of Labor.” The first paragraph states as follows:

    “Economists call it the ‘lump of labor fallacy.” It’s the idea that there is a fixed amount of work to be done in the world, so any increase in the amount each worker can produce reduces the number of available jobs. (A famous example: those dire warnings in the 1950′s that automation would lead to mass unemployment.) As the derisive name suggests, it’s an idea economists view with contempt, yet the fallacy makes a comeback whenever the economy is sluggish.”

    I would like to organize my presentation of the historical evidence by parsing your first two sentences into three parts: “Economists call it the ‘lump of labor fallacy’”; “It’s the idea that there is a fixed amount of work to be done in the world”; and “Any increase in the amount each worker can produce reduces the number of available jobs.” I will conclude with a look at a insightful remark you made in 2002, “the ‘productivity growth helps jobs’ story, if that’s what it is, is just the flip side of the lump-of-labor fallacy,” in response to a Financial Times article by Glenn Hubbard.

    “Economists call it the ‘lump of labor fallacy’.”

    In 1890, Alfred Marshall used the expression, “fixed Work-Fund fallacy,” in referring to what today would be called the lump of labor. Marshall expressed sympathy, on cultural and humanitarian grounds, for the objective of work time reduction while disputing its potential for expanding employment, except possibly in the case of shift work. Marshall’s term was purposely evocative of the wages-fund doctrine of classical political economy, which John Stuart Mill had recanted twenty-one years earlier.

    The facetious “Theory of the Lump of Labour” was coined by David Frederick Schloss, a lawyer and journalist, not an economist, in an 1891 article discussing worker’s objections to piece-work. Schloss also professed sympathy for workers’ demands for shorter working time and only objected to what he described as the systematic withholding of work effort – what Frederick Taylor was later to call “systematic soldiering.”

    John Rae, another journalist, attacked an unnamed fallacy in his 1894 book, Eight Hours for Work. For Rae, the alleged fallacy consisted of assuming that the relationship between hours and employment was “a simple sum in arithmetic.” Rae was an advocate of the shorter working day, but not on the grounds that it would create jobs. He argued that an eight-hour day would improve productivity and concluded that those productivity gains would nullify any job creating effect.

    It is illuminating to consider these three fallacy claimants from the 1890s collectively. They were expressing an idea and attitude that was clearly “in the air” but when their arguments are examined carefully they do not hold up well and, in crucial details, contradict one another. The American economist, Charles Beardsley, scrutinized John Rae’s claims, concluding that they relied on the wages-fund doctrine and its underlying assumption that the relative shares of wages, profit and rent are immutable.

    Marshall’s “fixed Work-Fund fallacy” was described by A.C. Pigou, Marshall’s pupil and successor as Cambridge Chair of Political Economy, as itself committing the fallacy of ignoratio elenchi. “If it were a good ground for rejecting an opinion that many persons entertain it for bad reasons,” wrote Pigou, after restating the criticisms of the supposed belief in a fixed amount of work, “there would, alas, be few current beliefs left standing!” Pigou concluded that the employment potential of work time reduction depended ultimately on the effects of the increased leisure on workers’ efficiency. Maurice Dobb offered an even more trenchant rebuttal to the fallacy claim in a 1928 Cambridge Economic Handbook, Wages:

    “…trade unionists in the nineteenth century were severely castigated by economists for adhering, it was alleged, to a vicious “Work Fund” fallacy, which held that there was a limited amount of work to go round and that workers could benefit themselves by restricting the amount of work they did. But the argument as it stands is incorrect. It is not aggregate earnings which are the measure of the benefit obtained by the worker, but his earnings in relation to the work he does — to his output of physical energy or his bodily wear and tear. Just as an employer is interested in his receipts compared with his outgoings, so the worker is presumably interested in what he gets compared with what he gives.”

    Other economists — Frank Carlton and Richard Lester, for example — took exception to the “long run” Utopianism of the fallacy claim. They pointed out that what matters to workers are the immediate consequences of unemployment, not some hypothetically optimal long-run equilibrium.

    “It’s the idea that there is a fixed amount of work to be done in the world.”

    Although the Theory of the Lump of Labour and its cohorts emerged in the 1890s, “the idea that there is a fixed amount of work to be done” has a longer history. Specifically, a variant of the phrase can be traced back to commentary on the 1871 Engineers’ strike for the nine-hour day in Newcastle, England.

    A letter to the editor of The Times of London from “J.C.”, published on September 21, 1871, criticized the views of an earlier writer, James Aytoun, as being “entirely based on the exploded fallacy that the amount of work to be done is a fixed quantity, unaffected by the wages paid or the number of labourers employed in producing it.” Two weeks later, on October 6, the London correspondent for The New York Times, “F.H.J.” filed a dispatch on the Newcastle strike, claiming that the strike leaders were secretly pursuing a sinister “ulterior design.” “Their theory is that the amount of work to be done is a fixed quantity, and that in the interest of the operatives, it is necessary to spread it thin in order to make it go far.”

    The egregious error of “fixedness” would appear to owe something to William Thornton’s critique of the wages-fund doctrine, John Stuart Mill’s reply to Thornton and, perhaps, even to Karl Marx’s 1865 polemic against John Weston in Wages, Price and Profit. In the latter, Marx wrote,

    “If our friend Weston’s fixed idea of a fixed amount of wages, a fixed amount of production, a fixed degree of the productive power of labour, a fixed and permanent will of the capitalists, and all his other fixedness and finality were correct, Professor Senior’s woeful forebodings would have been right, and Robert Owen, who already in 1816 proclaimed a general limitation of the working day the first preparatory step to the emancipation of the working class and actually in the teeth of the general prejudice inaugurated it on his own hook in his cotton factory at New Lanark, would have been wrong.”

    Four years later, Thornton wrote, with regard to the wages-fund doctrine:

    “The believers in the wages fund, on the other hand, insist that whether labour be cheap or dear the whole body of employers always spend upon labour the utmost amount they can afford to spend. Very possibly they may be unconscious of insisting on this, but, consciously or unconsciously, this is demonstrably what they do insist upon. For they declare that the amount destined at any given time to the payment of wages, is a fixed amount – an amount so rigidly fixed that by applying to it the proper divisor you arrive infallibly at the average rate of wages. And they cannot but admit that this fixed amount may be the utmost that employers can afford; for, clearly, employers would pay the utmost they could afford for labour, rather than not get the quantity of labour they required. But if the fixed amount in question may be, it necessarily must be that utmost, for otherwise it would be not a fixed but a variable amount.

    “In this strange doctrine it is, as Mr. Mill has pointed out, by implication affirmed that the demand for labour not only increases with the cheapness, but increases in exact proportion to it, the same aggregate sum being paid for labour whatever its price may be.’ [compare also Thornton's phrase, "only a certain amount of work to be done," in Over-population and its Remedy].

    The phrase about a fixed amount of work to be done cunningly commandeers the rhetoric of Marx’s and Thornton’s criticisms of the wages-fund doctrine, turns it around 180 degrees and uses it to argue against higher wages and shorter hours, exactly as the wages-fund doctrine had previously been used to argue against higher wages and shorter hours. Talk about snatching rhetorical victory from the jaws of doctrinal defeat!

    “Any increase in the amount each worker can produce reduces the number of available jobs.”

    F.H.J.’s dispatch included a significant bridge to an earlier tradition of fallacy mongering. This is the theme of the “ulterior design” of unions. According to the Times correspondent, the Nine-Hour League was “only an offshoot of the Unions, and the great object of the Unions is to surround production with all manner of restraints and restrictions, so that it shall not be accomplished too fast or by a small number of workmen.” That is, of course, the flip side of stating that “any increase in the amount each worker can produce reduces the number of available jobs.”

    F.H.J. was explicit about the conspiratorial nature of this object of restriction, as were John Wilson in “Economic Fallacies and Labour Utopias” (1871), James Ward in his egregiously plagiarized Workmen and Wages (1868), the anonymous author of a Quarterly Review article, “Trades Unions” (1867), Harriet Martineau in “The Secret Organization of Trades” (1859), Archibald Alison in “Trade Unions and Strikes” (1838) and Edward Carleton Tufnell in The Character, Object and Effects of Trades Unions (1834).

    Tufnell’s pamphlet contains the most complete prototype of what was to become the lump-of-labor fallacy claim. The credibility of that claim needs to be evaluated in the context of the author’s disposition toward trade unions. “Were we asked to give a definition of a Trades’ Union,” the author stated at the book’s conclusion, “we should say that it was a Society whose constitution is the worst of democracies — whose power is based on outrage — whose practice is tyranny — and whose end is self destruction.”

    Tufnell was an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner who served on the Whig government’s Royal Commission aimed at deflecting agitation for the Ten-hour factory legislation. According to Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s History of Trade Unionism, Tufnell’s anonymously-published pamphlet was said to have been commissioned and paid for by the Whig government. The key text concerns the alleged motive of the Manchester Cotton Spinners’ Union in supporting the Ten-hour Bill:

    “The Union calculated, that had the Ten-hour Bill passed, and all the present factories worked one-sixth less time, one-sixth more mills would have been built to supply the deficient production. The effect of this, as they fancied, would have been to cause a fresh demand for workmen; and hence, those out of employ would have been prevented from draining the pockets of those now in work, which would render their wages really as well as nominally high. Here we have the secret source of nine-tenths of the clamour for the Ten-hour Factory Bill, and we assert, with the most unlimited confidence in the accuracy of our statement, that the advocacy of that Bill amongst the workmen, was neither more nor less than a trick to raise wages—a trick, too, of the clumsiest description; since it is quite plain, that no legislative enactment, whether of ten or any other number of hours could possibly save it from signal failure.

    Walking back Tufnell’s claim about the union’s motive to the testimony before the Royal Commission, it is clear that Tufnell derived his conclusions from the supposition of a cotton manufacturer, Peter Ewart. Tufnell’s question to Ewart was: “What do you suppose to be the chief motive for the operatives here advocating the Ten-Hour Bill?”

    Besides being clearly labeled as supposition, Ewart’s reply was more rambling, tentative and imprecise than Tufnell’s sharply provocative allegations about the union’s “secret motives” and “clumsy tricks.” Ewart’s testimony, in turn, can revealingly be interpreted as a rendition of the principles of popularized political economy – the wages-fund doctrine – such as was elaborated by Harriet Martineau in her 1832 story, “A Manchester Strike.” In other words, what in Ewart’s opinion made the supposed ideas of the union members fallacious was their non-compliance with the wages-fund doctrine. Moreover, the suspicion that they indeed held such views may have been suggested to Ewart not by their own words or actions but by a work of fiction.

    Incidentally, the U.S. Commissioner of Labor investigated the ubiquitous claims of union restrictions on output and issued a 921-page special report in 1904, prepared and edited by pioneer labor economist John R. Commons, which found little substance to the claims, concluding, “the question of restriction of output… is not as simple as it has been supposed to be…” The report found that union regulations were aimed at ensuring that changes in work methods or organization were by mutual consent. To the extent such regulations were perceived by management as limiting output, it was in comparison to some hypothetical level of output that might presumably be attained if employers could impose their efficiency plans at will. Moreover, with respect to the reduction working time:

    Considered solely with reference to speed or intensity of exertion, a moderate reduction in the number of hours of labor each day usually tends to increase the speed rather than to restrict it. From the standpoint of exertion, a reduction of hours is exactly the opposite from a restriction of output.

    “The ‘productivity growth helps jobs’ story, if that’s what it is, is just the flip side of the lump-of-labor fallacy.”

    One of the favorite unintended-consequences stories in economics is the idea that “technology creates more jobs than it destroys.” This was a standard rebuke to Luddites in the early 19th century, who were portrayed as fearing that machines would create chronic unemployment. It closely resembles the case argued against the mercantilism of the early 18th century by Henri Martyn in Considerations on the East India Trade. The lump-of-labor fallacy appears as the negative version of this story. In fact, the fallacy is sometimes called the Mercantalist or Luddite fallacy.

    There is a crucial difference between the two sides of the story, though. The technology creates jobs story is openly embraced by economists and triumphantly played as the trump card in debates over employment policy. The fixed-amount-of-work story, though, is only attributed by economists to Luddites, shorter work time advocates and other “naive populists” they wish to discredit. In both cases it is the economist (not infrequently, The Economist) speaking, telling the uninitiated to sit down and shut up.

    In 1865, William Stanley Jevons introduced a paradoxical joker into the unintended consequences deck. In Chapter 7 of The Coal Question, “Of the Economy of Fuel,” Jevons explicitly cited the argument that increased labor productivity expands employment as his model for analyzing the effects of fuel efficiency on fuel consumption: “…the same principles apply, with even greater force and distinctness, to the use of such a general agent as coal. It is the very economy of its use which leads to its extensive consumption.”

    The Jevons paradox presents economists with a dilemma that they have not squarely faced. If, as economists so often insist, technology creates more jobs than it destroys, fuel consumption operates on the same principle and the alternative job strategy of work time reduction is based on a fixed-amount-of-work fallacy; then job creation can only occur through increased fuel consumption. Or, conversely, fuel conservation can only occur at the expense of job destruction.

    Unemployment exists and so does environmental crisis – so simply dismissing the three associated claims as fallacies is not enough. But one of these fallacies is not like the others. It applies to an attributed view, not a self-expressed one. On the contrary, advocates of work time reduction have often pointedly disavowed any assumption of a fixed amount of work, to no avail.

    In The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy, Albert O. Hirschman identified the three characteristic patterns named in the subtitle as recurring themes in reactionary rhetoric. The perversity claim is that a proposed reform will have results the opposite of what were intended. For example, reducing the hours of work will increase unemployment rather than decrease it. The futility claim argues that the “laws” of society (or in this case economics) prevent any effect whatsoever. It is sometimes argued that work-sharing doesn’t reduce unemployment, it merely “spreads it around.”

    The jeopardy argument points to some cherished achievement that would be undermined by the reform. Legislated or collectively bargained work-time reduction would allegedly impinge on people’s freedom to choose their own optimal combination of income and leisure. Various instances of the fallacy claim invoke each of Hirschman’s three categories of perversity, futility and jeopardy. Some of the fallacy claims invoke more than one.

    As Hirschman pointed out, often these arguments are advanced without substantiating evidence, purely on the strength of their seeming cleverness and irony. Hirschman described the perversity argument as a negative version of the “unintended consequences” story in which, for example, private vices are “led by an invisible hand” to produce public virtues. In the negative version, though, the unintended consequences are undesirable. In fact they are the opposite of what is desired.

    Professor Krugman, I have presented only an outline and highlights that document the spurious nature of the fallacy claim. There are further twists and turns relating to the aggressive use of the fallacy claim by employers’ organizations, the uncritical incorporation of the claim into textbooks and financial journalism, and the peculiar displacement of Sydney J. Chapman’s once highly-regarded theory of the hours of labor from the theoretical canon of economics. I have discussed these issues elsewhere but have here restricted myself to material that responds directly to your own remarks.

    As this is a question that bears on unemployment and the lack of an effective policy response to it, as well as on the protection of the environment, I hope that you will take the time to review the material I have brought to your attention and will either withdraw your support for the fallacy claim or, alternatively, explain why you continue to accept its validity (by “fallacy claim,” let me reiterate that I am referring to economists’ assertions that advocates of work time reduction believe in a fixed amount of work, not to the absurd proposition that there actually is a fixed amount of work). I would be more than happy to provide you with citations and links to all the articles I have mentioned in my letter.

    Yours sincerely,

    Tom Walker

  5. Juliet,

    Nice article! I agree entirely.

    I think I might have found an error, though. In the sentance “Between 1980 and 1970, hours of work fell roughly in half.” did you mean a different first date there?

    Keep up the great work!

    Cheers,
    Joshua

  6. Juliet Schor says:

    Joshua
    Many thanks, and yes, it was a typo. Should have been 1870 and 1970…am changing it right now. Best, Juliet

  7. GaborZol says:

    I would love to live working less, and have read a few Utopian novels about the positive outcomes of reducing work hours (Ecotopia Emerging for example). And there is plenty of positive outcomes in this change for me, the worker: I could have more of a life away from work, hopefully a stronger community, as more people would have more time to nurture it, less stress, better health and nutrition, etc.

    I am only wondering what’s in this for the powers to be, the decisionmakers: if there is nothing for them in it, they will not implement it. Say an employer would be against it, as it would mean a longer learning curve for their employees, possibly higher salary payments due to benefits for a larger workforce, who also would not want to have their wages cut according to the less hours worked, more self-reliance from consumers due to the more time they now can live. So how to sell this to the business community (who have a strong influence on the policians)?

  8. John Andersen says:

    Working in the future is likely to be more about growing food, fixing things, making things, etc. rather than primarily about making money.

    So many may be working less for money, but working more hours than before in the pursuit of life sustaining items outside the monetary world.

  9. Juliet Schor says:

    Yes, that’s one possibility. Or at least over time, incomes don’t go up, but time outside of formal work does.

  10. Juliet Schor says:

    I talk about this point in my now rather old, but still relevant on employers’ interests book, The Overworked American.
    It’s not the easiest sell, but during periods of high unemployment, employers, like everyone else, tend to be more open to
    work reduction. For example, business has been fine with new state laws to use the unemployment
    insurance system to encourage work sharing in opposition to layoffs. (It’s a cost neutral policy change.) I think one argument
    to business is about the freedom to choose working hours. In the US, it’s hard to take a position against freedom.

  11. [...] Counter-intuition 101: why recent bad economic news means it's … The economic news of the last few weeks has not been encouraging. In Europe, the various national debt crises remain unresolved, with a continued monopoly of. [...]

  12. Hi Julie,

    Interesting post but I’m not sure about this. I would like to bring the productivity paradox into this. Productivity doubles, which means it takes half the time to produce the same amount of stuff, or in the original amount of time you produce twice as much. Even though both descriptions pertain to the same event (productivity doubling) only one of the descriptions seems to apply to the masses of people around the world- you are expected to produce twice as much or else…I’m just saying that once we recognize the institutional framework which is in place, capitalism, it is difficult to view this as a solution to everybody given how markets and the battle for cheapening commodities works. Yes, you can have it in some countries, but it will be because some other country is suffering the effects of your success.

    In terms of the “Golden Age” argument, at least in the case of the US, for me it seems clear that its ruling economic position was tied to it producing more than 50% of the world’s industrial production (Hobsbawm says up to 67%)after the devastation of WWII, plus the Marshall Plan providing the funds to buy such stuff. Simply put, no competition + high demand = near full employment levels. And well, when countries are reconstructing from such a disaster you shouldn’t be surprised that there is a need for labor power. And well, if we add the imperial dimension to capitalism then the economic lens that lets us talk about a “golden age” becomes even more problematic.

  13. Juliet Schor says:

    Ian,
    Thanks for yours. This is a solution for the rich countries, not the poor ones. I’ve written on this before–starting with a World Development article in the early 1990s. So, yes, I agree with that point. Poor countries need to use their productivity growth to produce more to meet needs for their populations. Rich countries already produce enough and the real issues have to do with distribution and the organization of society. You’re right about Golden Age (you can see the volume I did with Stephen Marglin on this), but the Western European countries reduced hours. The paradox is why the US, the richest of them all, didn’t. The answer lies in politics and some inadvertent incentive structures (especially the way we pay for health care). You raise the issue of institutional framework and by implication I’d say politics, and I absolutely agree that’s really important. It’s what we need to work to change here in the US. Thanks again for a thoughtful comment. Juliet

  14. [...] Excerpted from Juliet Schor, commons-oriented economist, author of the book Plenitude: [...]

  15. Thank you Juliet. I just posted this to the Facebook massage therapy community. “I believe health care providers need do more than bandage up the overworked and repetitively-strained, just to send them back out into a disease and dis-stress producing pathologic work culture. We don’t need more time management techniques…we need a more humane work culture! Have a look at Juliet Schor’s article “Counter-Intuition 101: Why Bad Economic News Means It’s Time for Working Less”. Brilliant.” (posted with link).

  16. Juliet Schor says:

    Thanks so much Donald. I couldn’t agree more about bandaging. Thanks for yours. Juliet

  17. [...] Schor has been writing intelligently on this for more than 20 years. I extract a few quotes from her recent article [...]

  18. Lisa says:

    What about the idea of the government getting rid of the Fed and printing our own money and not allowing banks to use the fractional reserve system, something like what Abe Lincoln did. Is that a good idea?

  19. Thanks For This Blog, was added to my bookmarks.

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