Sunday, August 9, 2009

Challenging Professor Glaeser

by the Sandwichman

Harvard Professor Edward Glaeser confuses the Jevons Paradox and the lump of labor fallacy.
The cash-for-clunkers policy seems based on the mistaken view that the number of miles traveled is independent of the price or pleasure of driving. I call this the 'lump of travel fallacy,' which is one of a family of lumpy errors that all assume things will stay fixed when they won’t...

The original lump fallacy is the 'lump of labor fallacy.' This fallacy holds that there is a fixed amount of work to be done in society, so restricting working hours will reduce unemployment. Encouraged by this logic, European polities have long restricted work hours. The history of Europe’s labor markets illustrates that more regulations makes hiring less attractive and reduces the total amount of work done in a society.
Dear Professor Glaeser,

You have an excellent point about the cash-for-clunkers program ("Program has clunky reasoning," Boston Globe, Aug 8). Unfortunately, you mess it up by referring to the wrong "economic principle". The idea that people will travel more in their snazzy new, more fuel efficient cars is an example of the Jevons Paradox not the lump of labor fallacy.

Moreover, the example that you presents to illustrate your fallacy claim is an inept distortion both of the original lump of labor fallacy and of recent employment history in Europe. The original lump claim was an anecdotal complaint about restrictions on output.

The tactic of attributing the motivation for reduced work time policies to some underlying fallacy is an intellectually dishonest smear. I've documented the history of the lump of labor claim about shorter working time and I challenge you, Professor Glaeser, to openly debate my rebuttal of the fallacy claim, with regard to reducing the hours of work.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Walker,
author, "Why Economists Dislike a Lump of Labor" Review of Social Economy, Fall, 2007,

No comments: