Thursday, July 9, 2015

If you're explaining, you're losing...

Washington Post: 
HUDSON, N.H. -- Jeb Bush raised eyebrows on Wednesday by suggesting that "people need to work longer hours" in order to grow the economy. 
But he later clarified the comment, moving quickly to quell a fresh assault by Democrats eager to characterize the Republican presidential front-runner as out of touch.
Not so fast, Bush told reporters as he clarified his comments after a town hall meeting at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall here. 
"If we’re going to grow the economy people need to stop being part-time workers, they need to be having access to greater opportunities to work," he told reporters.
"You can take it out of context all you want, but high-sustained growth means that people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours and that by our success, they have money, disposable income for their families to decide how they want to spend it rather than getting in line and being dependent on government," Bush said. [Sotto voce: note the reflex kick at people working "only" 30 hours a week as scroungers "getting in line and being dependent of government."]
Bush wasn't actually explaining his earlier statement. He was reinterpreting the statement, "people need to work longer hours," to mean something entirely different than "people need to work longer hours." "Working longer hours" and "having access to greater opportunities to work" are not equivalents.

Jeb Bush "at work"
One way to increase opportunities for involuntary part-time workers to work more hours is for those who are working 47 hours a week or over 50 hours a week to be working shorter hours. Heaven forbid! According to an August 2014 Gallup Poll, full time workers in the U.S. reported working an average of 47 hours a week, with 39% of full-time workers claiming to work over 50 hours a week -- almost as many as the 42% who say they work an FLSA standard 40-hour week.

I would take those figures with a tablespoon of salt. People lie about how hard they work. They think saying they work incredibly long hours makes them appear better than everybody else. Actually, it makes them look unproductive. Nevertheless, the Gallup results have held steady for the last 14 years at close to those numbers. If people are padding their hours for the pollsters, they are at least consistent about it.

If those superfluous seven hours per week were "lumps of labor" they could readily be redistributed to involuntary part-time workers and the unemployed eliminating both unemployment and underemployment! But of course, there is not "a fixed amount of work to be done" and the mere fact of redistributing work opportunities would increase productivity and output thus exacerbating the problem of insufficient demand unless that redistribution of hours was accompanied by a substantial redistribution of income in the form of higher wages.

Well, now you see why Jeb Bush was calling for longer hours rather than shorter hours. Longer hours means less pressure for wage increases. Wouldn't want that. Heck of a job, Jebbie!


John Taylor said...

Could we get Congress to do something.

Bruce Webb said...

If the key to currying favor with the boss, or perhaps the key to not getting fired, is pegged more to hours spent in the workplace than actual productivity, then people will stay late. Maybe they won't get shit done during the morning, instead nursing hangovers at their desk or talking about 'the game' the night before, but sure enough by ramping up there effort at around three when everyone else is thinking about picking up the kids at school or getting dinner ready, is an excellent way of catching the boss's eye. And maybe of snagging some after work time with the boss getting that next day's hangover installed.

Most people have seen variations on this over their careers. People with families often have to leave on time, young guys on the make have the time to suck up to the boss by staying overtime. And sure enough it is those late nighters turned drinking buddies that end up with promotions. But it often has eff all to do with actual productivity.

Bruce Webb said...

To restate this. If the expectation that a 'good company man' will stay on the job for 47 hours and cut corners with OSHA or other regulators then that will become the norm. And if you don't have enough work to actually fill those 47 hours you have two choices: one stretch the work out by 'looking busy' or two asking for more work. And the second course is a good way to find yourself cold-shouldered by co-workers resentful for you 'showing them up', or in some workplaces of having unfortunate industrial 'accidents'.

Now if people are being paid hourly and/or are covered by mandatory overtime there are obvious ways and even more obvious incentives for supervisors and managers to control for this, heck I have a couple of books on Cost Accounting on my shelves that would give you a good start. But there is less incentive to even care if you are talking about salaried workers who are for whatever reason 'exempt' from overtime. Who cares that they are spending 47+ hours on the job and you are spending that same amount of time 'working' right along side. All that effort looks good to YOUR boss. So why NOT let the work expand to fill the expected work time.

Which will make the new Obama overtime rules kind of interesting. The expectation among some is that employers would rather hire additional employees than compensate existing ones a time and a half. But the result might equally be for employers to demand that white collar workers actually accomplish their work during work hours. That is to treat them more or less the way they already treat blue collar workers subjected to various forms of Taylorism. Which might seem a little harsh on some of those white collar types. Until they figure out that they are getting seven-plus hours of extra leisure and still making the same money as before.

Which is okay by me. Personally I myself tend to 'work for the weekend'. Which doesn't mean not giving my best effort when I am put in the game. Just that I am only getting paid for that 40 hour week that my predecessors in labor literally fought, bled, and too often died for. Job hour bloat simply in the interest of some bastardized Protestant Work Ethic is bullshit. You want something done, pay me to get it done. Then let me have the rest of my time.