Why Workweek Reduction Is Critically Important:
The whole New Deal was just a chaotic and desperate attempt to block it
Part One: "Something deeply hidden had to be behind things." - Einstein1
Why is shortening the workweek at this point in our history not just an
item on a list of nice things to get? Why is it more like the ink and paper of
the list itself - a keystone issue, a paradigm shift, a "sine qua non"? Its neglected but unsurpassed
importance is shown by some little-known American history, which proves that standard economic theory since 1933 all over the world stems from a misguided emotional reaction against workweek reduction and a frantic grab for any and all ideas that might block it and provide a substitute for it. As events continue to prove that standard economics is incapable of providing any but the most superficial and cosmetic progress, we'd be smart to explore the history that it continues to ignore,2 or
The New Deal of the 1930s colored subsequent economic policies through successors such as the Great Society, the War on Poverty and the Pentagon-channelled Republican versions that followed them, and academic rationalizations such as Keynesianism and Neo-Keynesianism. Most people believe secondary sources that present the New Deal as a well-planned, coherent and self-starting program. But this is not what the American people were looking for from the new Roosevelt administration in 1933, and this is not what the New Deal was really like, according to the testimony of many New Deal insiders who have been ignored.
Such an insider was Raymond Moley, a Columbia University professor of public law who had assembled and directed the Roosevelt campaign's famous "Brains Trust" in 1932. Roosevelt asked him to stay on after the successful presidential campaign because he knew "who and what were necessary to complete..\..the legislative program he had decided to push through before distributing patronage."
Moley recalls, after a March 9, 1933 New York-Washington train trip, "I went back to my office and got out of my files the innumerable plans for industrial rehabilitation that had come to me during the preceding year.... This mass of stuff I turned over to Jim Warburg...to go through...and report back.... He presented me, about four weeks later, with a memorandum [which] I laid...aside with the feeling that...thinking in business and government circles...had not yet crystallized sufficiently to justify any further moves at the time. This conclusion...I described to F.D.R. that same day, April 4th. We agreed that nothing should be done as yet." 4
This is corroborated by Frances Perkins, FDR's Labor Secretary (and America's first female cabinet member) who recalls, "When Franklin Roosevelt and his administration began their work in Washington in March 1933, the New Deal was not a plan with form and content." 5
Young Leon Keyserling in Sen. Robert Wagner's office (of "Wagner Act" fame) agrees: "What Roosevelt adopted and the Congress approved during the First New Deal [1933-35] was highly experimental, improvised and inconsistent...." 6
Even many of the voters of the time, outsiders though they were, sensed the last-minute, slapped-together nature of the New Deal. This is indicated in one of Will Rogers' broadcasts where he says, "Big businessmen...asked Mr. Roosevelt, `Mr. Roosevelt, we never know what you're going to do next.' Roosevelt says, `Neither do I!' " 7
What was it, then, that gave the New Deal form and content? Ray Moley takes up the story from where he left off, "This decision [that nothing should be done as yet] went out the window on April 6th.... That day the Senate suddenly passed the Black...bill....8
"Realizing the paralyzing effect on industry such an inflexible law would have, believing that it was born of the old labor tactics of driving for concessions when the `enemy' was weakest, and fearing that the Black bill would carry in the House, the President let his hand be forced. He immediately appointed a Cabinet committee, headed by Secretary Perkins, to work out a substitute for the Black bill." 9
Note the disdain this plutocratic president seemed to have for labor, despite labor's later worship of him. In one telling quote from the period, Will Rogers says, "There is one rule that works in every calamity, be it pestilence, war or famine - the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.... The poor even help arrange it."
Again, Perkins corroborates. Roosevelt "was committed to [the Black program's] principle but not to this particular program. The Black bill did not go through. Instead, the National Industrial Recovery Act was evolved and adapted," 10 and of course, "in some people's minds the New Deal and NRA were almost the same thing." 11
Keyserling also corroborates this point. He says the core of NRA "emerged through a series of haphazard accidents reflecting the desire to get rid of the Black bill and to put something in to satisfy labor...." 12
Rep. William Connery, who led the House fight for the Black bill, also concurs. From his viewpoint, "the New Deal had a coherence, a reason for happening when and as it did, that was lost on others not so positioned. ...The New Deal was what it was because of its opposition to the [Black bill].13
As Perkins and Keyserling mention, the substitute to the Black bill turned out to be the NIRA/NRA which became the flagship and core of the New Deal. Perkins points out that "NIRA" and "NRA" were virtually interchangeable, since the initials NRA are used "for both the Act [NIRA] and the Administration [NRA]." 14 Moley sums up the case, "The National Industrial Recovery Act - by now a thorough hodgepodge of provisions designed to give the country temporary economic stimulation and provisions designed to lay the groundwork for permanent government partnership and planning, of provisions calculated to satisfy the forces behind the Black bill and provisions calculated to achieve workable wage- hour agreements - was passed on June 13 ." 15
Moley actually goes on to voice regret for not objecting to the NRA core of the New Deal, "I blame myself for not seeing that this intertwining and jumbling of emergency and long-time policies was unsound and for not protesting it." 16
But the clash of temporary and permanent was not the only fundamental flaw in NRA's conception. Moley alludes to a number of others in one of his most poignant recollections. While working with FDR on a passage in his second "fireside chat" with the nation via radio on May 7, 1933 in which he denied that the government had taken "control" of farming or industry or transportation but rather had instituted a "partnership" with them, Moley solemnly asked FDR, "You realize, then, that you are taking an enormous step away from the philosophy of equalitarianism and laissez-faire?" After a few minutes of the gravest silence, FDR answered, "If that philosophy hadn't proved to be bankrupt, Herbert Hoover would be sitting here right now. I never felt surer of anything in my life than I do of the soundness of this passage." But this statement returned to haunt Moley many times since as he watched FDR's "administration lurch between the philosophy of controlling bigness and the philosophy of destroying bigness, between the belief in a partnership between government and industry and the belief in trust busting." 17
This ambiguity, this vacillation, this political slipperiness, between government control over vs. government cooperation with industry, may have been entirely unnecessary because there existed an entire, prematurely rejected, third path. However, this third path was in the center between the Hoover and Roosevelt approaches, not outside the range they defined. Its existence casts Roosevelt's reaction into the character of an over-reaction. The Great Fork in the Road actually had three outlets, not just two. And Roosevelt careened from one side to the other, missing the middle way because... because why? That is the subject of our next part.
But before we leave this part, let's inquire into the nature of the paradigm that we're dealing with here, in the sense of Kuhn's scientific "paradigms." We're not dealing with a dialectic of actiion-reaction. We're dealing with a potential continuum on which three points are staked out, in the simplest form characterized as "thesis, antithesis, synthesis." Or if the Great Fork consists of only two paths, then they aren't the Hoover and Roosevelt paths, but rather, the Black and Roosevelt paths, or terms of the two books that defiend the Fork, the Dahlberg and Tugwell paths. For truly, although Hoover held it in his hand, he did not realize waht it was, how central it was, and how fast he had to move with it. So his way is out of the question. But in the chaaotic slippage from Hoover to Roosevelt, a middle way briefly appeared in a primitive inflexible form, only to be misunderstood, vilified and plowed under by the massive propaganda campaign of the Blue Eagle of the NRA in particular and Roosevelt's way in general, the New Deal. But that mistake kept us patching a bloating bandaid for the last 71 years. If we had by some miracle been able to accept that middle way, imperfect though it was at the time, we could have at least been tinkering in the right garage and building a real economic edifice over the past two generatinos instead of completely wasting our time extending and propping up and patching, painting and decorating a straggling series of crisis-driven, lean-to, jerry-built, fish houses on a melting iceberg down a totally, blind, alley.
The clue to the more specific nature of this particular paradigm is given by Art Dahlberg in his towering but entirely neglected Jobs, Machines, and Capitalism, published in 1932. In Chapter 1, he has this striking sentence, "For I believe that our balking, backfiring profits economy can - by injecting one planned adjustment - be made to work in socially desirable ways, and even be made to satisfy high-grade engineering standards of efficiency, with even less involved governmental interference and industrial control than we already have."
This suggests the three-way paradigm of (Any Private-Sector ->) "No" Controls, (Any->) Many Controls, and (Few->) One Control. And in a sense the fork is really just two-way, because the Hoover-outgoing way is just a straight continuation of the unacceptable Hoover-incoming way.
Part Two: "The stone that the builders rejected shall become the chief cornerstone." Mark 12:10 (Matt. 21:42, Luke 20:17)
To explain FDR's powerful flight into this rather extreme and risky hodgepodge, Moley dwells on the Administration's fear of the Black bill. In his later book, he remembers, "My notebook contains Roosevelt's reaction to the Black bill under the category of `Threats.'" 18 Again, "...I could not move swiftly enough to stave off the menace of the Black bill...." 19 He recalls that John Dickinson, assistant secretary in the Department of Commerce, wrote to him on April 28, 1933, to say that it would be "politically disastrous for the
Administration if it were to be put in the position of making the Black bill...an Administration measure, and if the bill were to pass." 20
This is pretty strong stuff considering that the majority of voters probably agreed with Will Rogers at the time, who opined, "The whole country is with [President Roosevelt]...Even if he does what is wrong they are with him, just so that he does something...If he burned down the Capitol, we would cheer and say, `Well, we at least got a fire started anyhow.'" 21
Most particularly, it is pretty strong stuff considering that only two years later, Roosevelt himself voices regret that he "did not get behind the Black-Connery Bill and push it through Congress." 22 Already the previous year, famed economist Keynes, who backed the New Deal and later lent his name to the whole New Deal approach in the academic arena, admitted that the whole approach of borrow and spend was "abnormal," at least in the sense of temporary. He says in a 1934 letter to the New York Times, "How soon will normal business enterprise come to the rescue? On what scale, by what expedients and for how long is abnormal government expenditure advisable in the meantime?" 23
What was this terrifying Black bill and why was it such a powerful and menacing bogeyman that it could trigger and spawn the whole burgeoning New Deal, from NRA to Lend Lease, merely by existing and functioning passively as a reverse compass? Today we have the advantage of 71 years of hindsight, hindsight that has to acknowledge the admitted chaos of the New Deal, the inherently temporary aspect of its loan-based funding as well as the temporary nature of one side of its split-from-the-start personality - plus its apparent and admitted failure even as a temporary expedient until World War II (except in popular myth and legend), while admitting that it did extend the life of the old vote-sharing balance over another complete cycle - much longer than Keynes ever dreamt. With the wisdom of that hindsight, can we at last admit the possibility, as Roosevelt himself did, that the Black bill may have been an "angel of light masquerading as an angel of darkness," a "diamond in the rough"?
Today with the "robust"-economy borne American dream turned into hitting the lottery or suing the deep pocket by record mergers, downsizings, bankruptcies, homelessness and prisons, plus rising numbers of people who can't read and people who can't get health insurance, when there's no end in sight to the recessions in Asia and Latin America though both Russia and China have abandoned the extreme Keynesianism of pure socialism in favor of the moderate Keynesianism of mixed-market economics, and when we recall that the New Deal itself sputtered until World War II, maybe, just maybe, the time is over-ripe to consider an alternative to the whole Keynesian, New Deal/Great Society approach. An added inducement is the reflection that freezing the workweek at 40 hours blocks any substantial benefit from technology in terms of job security and continues with War as our ultimate unemployment "solution." If business needs predictability, how can we build business predictability while destroying predictability everywhere else?
The main reason the shorter workweek didn't go through in 1933 was one big design flaw identified by Frances Perkins - the inflexibility of Black's 30-hour version of it. This flaw is correctable. It's possible to design workweek reduction as an extremely flexible program - step-by-step, win/win every step of the way - educational and voluntary at first in the private sector; then legislated first as voluntary, then standard and automatic. For details, see my book Timesizing, Not Downsizing or visit my website at www.timesizing.com.
The economy that goes furthest fastest with this revolution in the technology of sharing will resolve so many of its problems with one stroke and unleash so much energy for creativity and competition that it will have the world at its feet in 10 years, just as Britain did with its loom and locomotive revolutions in steam power.
1. John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 14th Ed. (Little, Brown: Boston, 1968)
2. Look in the index for workweek, working hours, hours of labor, labor hours, forty-hour week, thirty-hour week, Black bill. You won't find them. Present- day economics completely ignores worktime as a variable let alone a control variable.
3. Present-day economics ridicules any mention of sharing rather than creating work by calling it the Lump of Labor Fallacy, a misnomer which has nothing to support it but the superstition, exploded by the Crash and the Great Depression, that the amount of employment available would always increase. See Samuelson.
4. Raymond Moley, After Seven Years (Harper: New York, 1939) pp.185-86.
5. Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (Viking: New York, 1946) p.166.
6. Quoted in Arthur Schlesinger, Politics of Upheaval (Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1960) p.691.
7. Will Rogers, Golden Age Radio Blockbuster Doubles, 1990, Audio Tape 2, Side 1.
8. The Black bill was S.5267, 72nd Congress, 2nd Session and it passed the U.S. Senate on Apr. 6, 1933 by a vote of 53-30. Noted in Roediger & Foner, Our Own Time (Verso: New York, 1989) p.355,248.
9. Raymond Moley, op.cit., p.186.
10. Frances Perkins, op.cit., p.196.
11. Ibid., p. 210.
12. Quoted in Arthur Schlesinger, op.cit., p.691.
13. Noted in Benjamin Hunnicutt, Work Without End (Temple University: Philiadelphia, 1988) p.249.
14. Frances Perkins, op.cit., p.197.
15. Raymond Moley, op.cit., p.190.
16. Raymond Moley, op.cit., p.197.
17. Raymond Moley, op.cit., p.189.
18. Raymond Moley, The First New Deal (Harcourt, Brace & World: New York, 1966) p. 287.
19. Ibid., p. 289.
20. Ibid., p. 288.
21. Donald Day, Will Rogers (McKay: New York, 1962) p.304.
22. Quoted from Labor 10/8/35 in Roediger & Foner, op.cit., p.252.
23. Quoted in Robert Heilbroner, Worldly Philosophers, 6th Ed. (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1986) p.277.
For more information, see our laypersons' guide Timesizing, Not Downsizing, which is available online from *Amazon.com and at the Harvard Sq Coop (3rd floor) and Porter Sq Bookcellar (basement), Cambridge, Mass.
Questions, comments, feedback? Phone 617-623-8080 (Boston) or email us.