Saturday, November 8, 2008

Lame-Duck Pâté

by the Sandwichman

Robert Reich wrote, "For now, focus on the unemployed."

Sandwichman focuses:

Samuel Gompers said,

"The answer to all opponents to the reduction of the hours of labor could well be given in these words: 'That so long as there is one man who seeks employment and cannot obtain it, the hours of labor are too long.'"

Behind that statement is a theory of working time and wages -- Ira Steward's eight-hour theory. It is a distinctly American theory of social economy. Dorothy W. Douglas wrote during the Depression that it was "strangely apposite" to the economic problems of the day. It is again today "strangely apposite."

Steward's theory finds unexpected (and unaware) support in Sydney J. Chapman's theory of the "Hours of Labour," which was the established orthodoxy in neoclassical analysis until it was simply forgotten about by mathematically-fixated model builders in a hurry. Even Alan Greenspan knows there's a flaw in his model of how the world works. He just doesn't know where that flaw is. Hint: look at hours of work and Chapman's theory, Al. Go back and study Ira Steward's eight-hour theory.

But, you may object, folks are barely getting by with their current hours, how are they going to live on even less??!! Mary Steward (Ira's wife) had the answer: "Whether you work by the piece or work by the day; decreasing the hours increases the pay."

Man, it all sounds too good to be true. It's counter-intuitive! Like the theory the earth revolves around the sun rather than the other way 'round?

Yes, indeed the slogans do sound hard to believe. That is until you go back and read what Steward's theory and Chapman's theory actually had to say and what economists have conveniently (for their mathematical model building) forgotten. Then you can begin to realize that our contemporary economics makes a lot of assumptions that just aren't so and that aren't even backed up by coherent arguments. A lot of what passes for untheoretical "common sense" makes those same assumptions without actually saying so.

For a century economists have ridiculed the 'lump-of-labor' fallacy made by people who think, along with Gompers, that "so long as there is one man who seeks employment and cannot obtain it, the hours of labor are too long." And you know what? Turns out that lump-of-labor fallacy is a figment of those economists' imagination.

Do you want to fight unemployment? Don't bother with lame-duck stimulus hocus-pocus. Reduce the hours of work. LOTS. NOW.

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