Sunday, November 22, 2009

Barmy and Clyde

Clyde E. Dankert was a "widely respected" labor economist who in 1965 edited an Industrial Relations Research Association volume on Hours of Work. His textbook, Contemporary Unionism in the United States, was published in 1948 by Prentice-Hall. I have read some bizarre attempts to explain the inexplicable "lump of labor fallacy" but this one is delirious. In it, Dankert claims that those who believe a given reduction in the hours of work will result in a permanent reduction in unemployment subscribe to the lump of labor fallacy. What do you call it when an argument doesn't even have enough solid straw in it to qualify as a straw man?
For a permanent reduction in hours, the fact must be recognized that the volume of unemployment, both technological and non-technological, can be as large with industry operating at a low hour-level as at a high one. The forces which produce unemployment can operate just as effectively, and just as disastrously, when the length of the working-week is thirty hours as when it is forty or fifty hours. It is still true, however, that a permanent and a more or less general reduction in hours will cut down the amount of technological unemployment. Here we must distinguish between the movement to the lower hour-plateau and the arrival at it. The transition will without any doubt lessen the amount of unemployment for the time being. But when once the new level is reached and the necessary adjustments in industry have been made, there is no reason for believing that the volume of unemployment will continue to be less than it had been. To argue to the contrary is to subscribe to the lump-of-labor (or fixed work-fund) fallacy. [No, to argue to the contrary would constitute a level of incomprehension that couldn't be encompassed by the term "fallacy". But no advocate of shorter working time ever "argues to the contrary" that a given reduction in hours will result in a permanent solution to unemployment so just what is the point of this red herring?]

If, as the productivity of industry increases, the length of the working-week is gradually reduced, the amount of technological unemployment can to some extent be kept down. But the hours should not be reduced commensurately with the increase in productivity. If that is done, the living standards of the workers will be frozen at their existing levels. [Here, however, is a fallacy. The living standards of the workers will not be "frozen" because with fewer hours of work they will have more free time.] From the standpoint of human well-being it would be a gross mistake to take all the gains that are made in productivity in the form of increased leisure. Some of the gains should be taken in the form of more production and higher material living standards.[From the standpoint of writing a college textbook it would be a gross mistake to issue personal value judgments as absolute principles without giving reasons for that opinion.]

1 comment:

Martin Langeland said...

"What do you call it when an argument doesn't even have enough solid straw in it to qualify as a straw man?"

Pharoah's Brick?