Monday, December 21, 2009

Robert J. Gordon is a Buffoon

Gordon: "To engage in this debate in December 2009 requires that we play a fantasy game..."

It is fitting that Professor Gordon admits he is playing a fantasy game. To equate unemployment with vacation is a bizarre and callous fantasy. To equate market income per capita with standard of living is a strange and fantastic category mistake that could only be made by someone for whom "money is reality, while leisure is an empty spot in time devoid of wealth-producing activities."

But Professor Gordon crosses over the line from fantasy into delusion when he invokes the so-called "lump of labor fallacy" to disparage policies that encourage shorter hours of work. The fallacy claim is a weird concoction that many economists fancy to be their "knockout punch" against work time reduction. It consists of the bogus claim that advocates of shorter hours assume there is "a fixed amount of work to be done" regardless of labor costs, work arrangements, demographic trends or consumer demand. Advocates of work time reduction assume no such thing.

Policies to encourage shorter hours do not rely on any such ridiculous assumption. No economist has ever produced a coherent argument or substantive evidence to show that advocates assume a fixed amount of work or that policies rely upon such an assumption. All economists have done is repeat the assertion ad nauseum. Repetition doesn't make it so.

The lump of labor fallacy amounts to little more than schoolyard name-calling. But – and this is a crucial point – it is name calling with a long and very peculiar history that has nothing to do with economic analysis and everything to do with reactionary ideology and polemics. Professor Gordon is sadly unaware that this curious history of the lump-of-labor fallacy claim has been painstakingly documented (see "Why Economists Dislike a Lump of Labor" ).


TheTrucker said...

You may have arrived at the point where you must admit that economists are not interested in anything that will detract from their innate bias toward production and greed. The "lump of labor fallacy" and the fallacy of the fallacy is a technical detail that has been brushed under the carpet for many years and is nothing but a small bump in the road on the way to the next dog and pony show. Not even the latter day reality that rebukes EMH seems to phase them. All they do is circle the wagons with a few of the smarter ones dividing off into a Keynesian circle.

And both camps play into the Hayakian stupidity of more stuff and more stuff and no respect for more leisure and less toil. The environmental movement seems to be phasing them ever so slightly, but they don't connect the dots regarding leisure as the cure for global warming. Attempting to move this hulk of blind stupidity with a plea to technical correctness is a lost cause. The "lump of labor" thing (regardless of truth) is a nit that will have no impact in the broader canvas while this lust for power remains the hand that feeds the economics world.

Keynes was a gold bug trapped by his tie to "borrowing" and repayment. The fact is that money is created from the ether and blown into the US economy by the US government. All the other nations of the world then trade their stuff for the dollars and use the dollars to buy T-bills. I have no idea why anyone would want a T-Bill, but there it is. When we figure out why they work so hard, sending hula hoops and brake rotors to the Americans so as to stuff their mattresses with T-Bills, we may discover how to lessen the hours of work. said...


Keynes was about as far from being a gold bug as any economist ever. He famously described gold as a "barbrous relic."


Umm, you are criticizing "name callling"? said...


I don't believe that Gordon ever used the "name" you appear to claim that he called others. That he may have mistakenly labeled defenders of shorter work weeks as believing in the "lump of labor fallacy" is not the same thing as calling them what you attribute to him. Sorry to be so picky. said...

Hmmmm. Well, my Compact edition of the OED gives as meanings for that last term: "knave, rascal, dastard, coward, sluggard, lazie-backe, base idle fellow."

It occurs to me that possibly up to three of these might apply to folks who work less than a full week of work on a regular basis by choice.

Anonymous said...

i guess i'd say, without really reading any of this (though didnt gordon write about the IT role in productivity, or maybe it was someone else) i guess maybe this post proves his point.

how many times has the 'lump of labor fallacy' been mentioned here? its an entire career, spacilty, and industry, so if one were to fire the people involved in it, or share their hours with others doing possibly a variety of things, then presumably something will collapse. (ill leave the details to the experts.)

Anonymous said...

p.s. that may have seemed critical, but i read tony judt in NYR who said we need to open the discourse up, share the memes (wealth). (i guess anyone, even me, can blog. but then we have to count web 'hits. ) as someone into 'music' i know the problem---in that i can play possibly almost the exact same notes/chords for even 4 hours in a row, and think maybe its not enough enough of beating that dead horse, though others argue differently.

as an aside i'll link on my blog to the dissident view (not represented in the Economist---they never advertizes sandwiches there, it seems) of major discoveries in physics not posted on the arxiv of a major discovery.