Friday, November 14, 2008

Missing: the strange disappearance of S. J. Chapman’s theory of the hours of labour (10)

The days are gone…, Part I

Further questions concerning the coherence of the Walrasian leisure device, beyond those identified by Pagano, are raised by examining the context in which Walras first introduced it and the form it took in the John Hicks's influential Value and Capital (1939), which is cited by both Pencavel and Scitovsky (although disputed by Derobert) as the source of the now orthodox model. Walras introduced the argument in Elements of a Pure Economics as part of his definition of the role of the "services of persons" (i.e., labour) in his theory of production. There, Walras discusses "the pleasure enjoyed by the idler" as constituting the income of "those who do nothing but travel and seek amusement"(p. 214). Walras's use here of the word "income" is metaphorical. No money changes hands. The rewards enjoyed by Walras's idler are what normally would be considered intrinsic whereas income refers to an extrinsic reward. Thus Walras's usage of the term 'income' is not just metaphorical but more precisely ironic.

There is no indication in his treatment that Walras intended such pleasure of the idler to also include the after-hours (non-monetary) "income" of someone who was a worker for the other 8 or 10 hours a day. On the contrary, Walras explained that "the idler who has wasted today will waste tomorrow; the blacksmith who has just finished this day's work will finish many more..." (p. 215) Doing nothing for Walras thus would appear to be the specialized occupation – the vocation, so to speak – of the idler, not something the blacksmith or the lawyer does in the hours after he or she has finished the day's work.


Abstract: Sidney Chapman's theory of the hours of labour, published in 1909 in The Economic Journal, was acknowledged as authoritative by the leading economists of the day. It provided important insights into the prospects for market rationality with respect to work time arrangements and hinted at a profound immanent critique of economists' excessive concern with external wealth. Chapman's theory was consigned to obscurity by mathematical analyses that reverted heedlessly to outdated and naïve assumptions about the connection between hours and output. The Sandwichman is serializing "Missing: the strange disappearance of S. J. Chapman's theory of the hours of labour" on EconoSpeak in celebration of the centenary of publication of Chapman's theory. (To download the entire article in a pdf file, click on the article title.)

1 comment:

Martin Langeland said...

This "idler" appears to describe two sorts. First, and more obvious, is the classic lazy bum. The second is of more recent (subsequent?) origin.: The shareholder of a modern corporation, who seldom contributes to the company's capital, nor its production, and yet extracts a whinging income as if by right.