Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Proletarian Shirk Ethic

But it is not merely that they misuse their time; the main evil is that they are taught by the Unions that it is only by deliberate idleness and shirking of work that they can force up wages.
From "The Working Man As He Is." The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, April 1, 1876.

"When a reduction of hours was first proposed, a great deal was said about the working-man’s need of leisure to improve his mind, and the increased energy which he would put into such work as he did; but experience has shown very different results. It is certainly not surprising that ignorant men should not all at once appreciate the value of intelligent study or recreation, and it might be hoped that, in the course of time, they would make a better use of their new-found leisure. But it is not merely that they misuse their time; the main evil is that they are taught by the Unions that it is only by deliberate idleness and shirking of work that they can force up wages. Many of the men have, no doubt, a love of idleness for its own sake, and when this is indulged it grows terribly, and is shaken off with difficulty; but the majority decline to work more than a short time, not so much from a dislike of labour as with the object of making labour artificially scarce, and, as they think, consequently dear. Within certain limits this may perhaps be accomplished, but these limits have long been overpassed; and what the workingman has to consider is whether he will be content with a small income for little work, or whether he will do enough work to yield a satisfactory income. From every part of the country, and in regard to every branch of industry, we hear the same complaint that the industrial power of the nation is more or less paralysed by the caprices of the men. Not only are shorter hours insisted on, but during the hours of supposed work the great object is to take care that as little as possible shall be done. A good day’s work, as it was once known, is never heard of. The men dawdle about in the factory during their comparatively brief attendance, and take continual holidays. In some trades it is scarcely possible even for the most liberal masters to get their hands to stick steadily to work. As soon as they have got a little money, they go off to spend it, and come back in distress. They are quiet and subdued for a little while, recover their spirits as they find themselves once more in funds, and then off they go on other bouts of dissipation. It is impossible that such men can be good workmen. They have no heart in their work, and are constantly being corrupted by their bad habits and dishonourable evasion of honest labour.
"It must not be supposed that we are drawing a sweeping indictment against a whole class of men, or that we attribute the misconduct which is gradually gaining ground among the labouring population to some inherent immorality on their part. There are, no doubt, still workmen who would be glad to secure a stable position for themselves and families by steady continuous work; but they too suffer from the spirit which is spreading among their class, and which is deliberately cultivated by the Trade-Unions."


Bruce Webb said...

Tom I knew that Economics was increasingly based on abstruse math but I am hoping not to encounter that differential or whatever in my Macro Intro class next Fall

Sandwichman said...

The equation was for illustrative purposes only. ;-)

Jack said...

And can we assume that the equation is baseless? Just another economic model being presented by its author in support of an idea that has no basis in fact. I'm curious to know, what was the general response to the passage you quote and its demonstrative equation?

Sandwichman said...

Baseless but not arbitrary. It is an actual equation from a 1981 paper by Stiglitz. The variables are wages and numbers of workers unemployed, etc. Except that terms like "worker" have to be taken with an immense grain of salt. Substitute R subscript rh for N subscript u and W subscript bb for w subscript u and you have the story of little red riding hood and the wolf. Not really but it makes as much sense. The math is tautological and has nothing to do with the actual properties of the real life subjects and objects that the variables purport to represent. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. On such microfoundations entire paradigms are erected.