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- 1933: The Depths of the Depression:
When We Missed the Easy & Effective Fork in the Road: Cutting Hours
For 1938-1940 and 1944, see bolded section below. Click here for the 1920s and prior history.

          In 1933 official unemployment reached 24.9%. One quarter of the nation was unemployed and either hungry or starving. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) had just been elected - he immediately had the chance to solve the Depression quickly, intelligently and market-orientedly by picking the easy fork in the road = straight ahead in line with the repeated private-sector cuts in the workweek that had taken place over all the previous history of the nation, especially since 1840. But FDR swung from Hoover's rightwing fork of too little action to socialism's leftwing fork of too much of the wrong kind of action - inefficient, patronage-vulnerable, eventually tax-intensive, government job creation instead of efficient, market-directed, private-sector work sharing and more of that most fundamental freedom, financially secure free time.  FDR rejected the shorter workweek (30 hours!) passed by the U.S. Senate on April 6 by a vote of 53 to 30, and went instead for a minimum wage and maximum makework - and anything else he could throw together to placate the shorter-hours forces without giving them (and American labor in general) the one thing they needed to survive = control over the supply of...themselves...which they could have by controlling worktime per person.
          Once Hoover's "No Controls" path was rightly rejected, the Great Fork in the Road faced us with two choices, One Control or Many Controls.  Unfortunately FDR careened the country from one extreme to the other, from No Controls to Many Controls, and missed the One Control option in the middle.  So FDR -

It was now back to the balking zigzag between stifling micromanagement and stifling megaconcentration of spending power that had been going on ever since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and back to that cursèd Chesterton pan-utopian flaw, the assumption that no one will want more than his share (or even know what it is) -
  1. Hoover wanted to stay with only a political definition of "share," the one-person one-vote principle that hadn't prevented the Depression. This was the last time we could equalize on a point (one:one).

  2. FDR wound up trying to get an economic definition of "share" by defining everything but an upper limit, hence his Many Controls. Hey, at least he got the focus moved over from the political to the economic sphere. He also got clear on the concept that we could equalize on a range (with two required definitions: an upper and a lower limit), not just a point (with only one required definition).  Definitions of lower limits popped up like mushrooms:  Minimum wage, minimum income (federal poverty line), under-time (for state unemployment insurance benefits), disability (for workmen's comp), under-age (for child labor prohibition).... One peripheral upper limit even popped up:  Over-age (for purposes of Social Security retirement benefits).  And at last, too little too late, a central upper limit appeared:  Over-time was defined as hours over 44/wk in 1938, 42 in '39, and 40 in '40 with 40¢/hr minimum wage - the famous 40-40-40 Plan, whose overtime provisions motivated overtime as much as they discouraged it, and whose enforcement quickly lapsed as World War II geared up.

  3. Art Dahlberg and the AFL and Hugo Black got an economic definition of "share" by defining nothing but an upper limit, hence their One Control.  Kellogg's, Sears Roebuck, GM/Tarrytown, Standard Oil/NJ, Hudson Motors, several cotton mfrs and uncounted small firms were doing it successfully in practice at the 30-hour level to avoid layoffs (Hunnicutt, 148). And it's been independently reinvented by countless small firms in every recession since then, in the form of "cutting hours, not jobs", i.e., timesizing, not downsizing.
After 1933, the open moment ended and creative discussion ceased, as FDR desperately threw together the hodgepodge of the New Deal and revved up a propaganda campaign against the shorter-hours forces ("Defeatism!", "Spreading unemployment!", "Go get him, Rex!" - Rexford Tugwell penned the rebuttal to Dahlberg's shorter-hours solution to "involved governmental interference and industrial control": Tugwell called it "The Industrial Discipline and the Governmental Arts" in a dramatic early example of spindoctoring). Thus FDR was committed to trying to satisfy labor without giving them the one thing they wanted and needed; namely, the best of the options of the time - the Black-Perkins private-sector work-sharing bill, based on Kellogg's 30-hour week and Dahlberg's 20-hour recommendation - overly rigid and arbitrary perhaps, but at least we could have been "tinkering in the right garage" for the last 67 years instead of completely wasting our time
  • straining for government job creation,
  • bandaiding the economic life-support system of Keynesian borrow & spend, and,
  • once the war "solution" wore off and babyboomers grew up and began entering the job market and replacing the labor surplus of the Depression, downsizing our way from recession to deeper recession.

    Nixon of all people advocated a 32-hour workweek in 1956 on the stump in Pueblo, Colorado, until Ike gagged him. Walter Reuther pushed for "fluctuating adjustment of the workweek against unemployment" at the UAW Convention in Atlantic City in 1964. But then Reagan squelched the air-traffic controllers in 1981 who were demanding not only $10,000-a-year pay increases but also "shorter hours to relieve the strain of their high-tension jobs." Quote from David S. Broder in ed/op article "Obama's welcome display of backbone" in 4/01/2009 Seattle Times via seattletimes.nwsource.com.

    So Timesizing.com is trying again. It's the one place where we detest DOWNSIZING - of our companies, our company loyalty, our domestic markets and our whole future - of our jobs, our job security, our morale, and our ability to support ourselves, and if we're still working, of our free time.

    For more details, our 1998 campaign piece, Timesizing, Not Downsizing, is available on the third floor at the Harvard Coop in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass. or from *Amazon.com online.

    Questions, comments, feedback? Phone 617-623-8080 (Boston area) or email us.

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