"It is characteristic of journalists to be long on social commentary and perception and short on conceptual analysis, and [John] Rae is no exception."
Who the heck was John Rae? The Scottish journalist was a key figure in originating the lump of labor myth, as it pertains to shorter working time. He didn't use the term lump of labor but instead decried the
"gross but evidently very seductive economic fallacy, which leads so many persons to think that they will all increase the wealth they individually enjoy by all diminishing the wealth they individually produce..."Rae's argument was not that shorter hours of work diminished per capita output. On the contrary, Rae argued that shorter work time could not relieve unemployment because it would increase output per worker and thus obviate the need to hire more workers.
Intuitively, Rae's reasoning may seem persuasive until one realizes that Rae is assuming that the increased productivity will have no effect on cost, price, purchasing power of the workers or effective demand. An American economist, Charles Beardsley made short shrift of Rae's conclusions.
Nevertheless, Rae's rhetorical riposte to shorter hours as a remedy to unemployment got incorporated into employer objections to the eight-hour demand of unions while his empirical observations about productivity were noted by Sydney Chapman. The irony being that the 'dead' rhetorical part of his analysis has survived, handed down from textbook lore to blackboard dogma, while the 'living' empirical part has perished from the memory of mainstream economists!
So I was delighted to come across the following discussion by Aaron Fuller (2003) of Rae's characteristic "shotgun" style as deployed on another topic, Henry George's economics.
Rae's three-part critical examination of George's ideas is presented much like a set of "even-if" arguments encountered in the formal argumentation of a legal brief. He first rejects George's ideas because they are inconsistent with the empirical evidence—poverty is not increasing with progress. But, he contended, even if poverty were increasing, a second reason to reject George's ideas, independent of the empirical evidence, is George's alleged theoretical error and confusion. Finally, he maintained that even if the empirical evidence and the analytical arguments were on George's side, a third independent reason to reject George is that his solutions to the problems he identifies are either incorrect or inadequate. Such a scattered array of independent arguments is sometimes called the "shotgun" approach to argumentation. Potentially deadly at the close quarters of journalistic and legal persuasion where the form of the argument may be more important than its contents, it is less effective at the longer range of analytical scholarship where logical and factual consistency weigh more heavily than persuasiveness. Rae's journalistic shotgun approach to criticism, composed of scattered independent arguments, did little serious analytical damage to George's analyses. But serious analytical damage may not have been Rae's intent; instead, he may have been trying to persuade his readers that George was a dangerous agitator who, like the socialists discussed elsewhere in Contemporary Socialism, threatened to disrupt British institutions.