Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rewriting Hours of Labour +100

by the Sandwichman

Coming up is the 100th anniversary of Sydney J. Chapman's theory of the hours of labour, delivered in Winnipeg Manitoba on August 26, 1909 as Chapman's presidential address to the Economics and Statistics section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and subsequently published in the September 1909 Economic Journal.Chapman was not a great writer. Case in point (pay particular attention to the italicized passage at the end):
The workman whose day has been reduced is soon repeating again his demand for shorter hours, and there are pessimists who infer from this that the shorter hours attained hitherto have shifted the community on to a slippery inclined plane which leads from the economic “struggle for existence” by which is meant the competitive striving for place, reputation, and achievement, whereby progress is naturally stimulated – to economic stagnation. They think they discern in the present generation a growing disinclination to make an effort and a growing disposition to take the easy path; but that the truth cannot be mainly with the pessimists an examination of the effects of curtailments of the daily hours of labour upon output would at least suggest.
Compare my translation:
The worker whose day has been reduced soon demands even shorter hours. Pessimists infer from this that the establishment of shorter hours leads the community down a slippery slope descending from competition, striving, achievement and progress toward economic stagnation. They deplore the indolence and apathy of the present generation. But an examination of the effects that work-time reduction has on output suggests the pessimists are wrong.
To celebrate the theory's centennial, Sandwichman serialize a translation of the whole article in, if not Plain English, plainer English at least. I will retain original as much as serviceable and only intervene when Chapman's convoluted phrasing and compound sentences seriously obstructs comprehension.

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