© 1998 Phil Hyde, The Timesizing Wire, Box 622, Cambridge MA 02140 USA (617) 623-8080

Calming Common Fears with Design Solutions and a Dash of U.S. History

Isn't timesizing socialist?

Get the full answer to this one by clicking on The Unrecognized Republican Key to Small Government. But to summarize:
socialism is a burgeoning maximum of stifling, detailed controls.
Timesizing is a stable minimum of freeing, generalized controls - (ideally just one).
What we do carry over from socialism is the design criterion of social integration vs. the splitting of society into two or more increasingly separate income brackets (in capitalistese, "united we stand" vs. the income gap; in socialistese, solidarity vs. class warfare).

Isn't timesizing impractical?

Note to literally minded readers: the next four paragraphs contain irony.

Let's review some American history. We started in the late 1700s with low wages and six or seven 12-hour days. That's an 84-hour workweek. Over the next century and a half, hours fell and wages rose. (That's a century and a half of history rebutting the charge that 30 hours work for 40 hours pay is impractical, uncompetitive or ruinous.) In 1863, Republicans enacted a piece of huge governmental intervention in the "free" market that was fought tooth and nail by Democrats: Republicans had the supreme unmitigated socialist GALL to cut the workweek of a huge number of Americans south of the Mason-Dixon line and raise their wages to boot! That socialist Republican president, that hick Abraham Lincoln actually had the nerve to abolish, once and for all, the 168-hour workweek of African Americans and raise their wages above zero! A lot of them didn't even want it, or so their employers claimed. They were happy the way they were. It was an arrogant impractical step. It just made it easier for the working people in the Northeast to compete in the nation's labor market and get raises, with or without productivity increases (never mind advancing mechanization). It slowed down the concentration of wealth and hurt the discipline of the workforce (and of the nation's customer base). It was the Emancipation Proclamation, fought by the slavery-embracing, Declaration-of-Independence renouncing Democrats (in 1844) every step of the way. Man, was that ever impractical!

In 1941, we entered World War II with a much shorter workweek (40 hours) and much higher wages. The book on the 150-year process of workweek reduction is Roediger and Foner's "Our Own Time" (1988). 150 years? That's three quarters of U.S. history. The workweek has only been rigid for 58 years. Is that your idea of "practical." Let me get this straight. You're saying that for three quarters of American history, we were impractical in cutting the workweek? And it's now practical to keep a rigid workweek forever, regardless of technology? This is Mike Dukakis' feeling. He's fine with the 40-hour workweek. He's interested in wage controls like minimum wage law. But if you shorten the workweek enough, market forces raise wages and in a much more flexible way than minimum wage laws. Keep raising the minimum wage and you just motivate employers to cut jobs and raise hours. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Or maybe you're saying that longer workweeks are more practical? If 30 hours' work for 40 hours' pay is so impractical, let's try going back to that old 84-hour workweek for 40 hours' pay.... Oh I forgot, that's what we're already going back to! I walked every street in Somerville last year and met all kinds of people who haven't seen the north end of the "standard" 40 hour workweek for 10 years now. They're on a 40-hour workweek salary yet they're working 60-70-80 hour weeks routinely, some of them on work-saving software! Or they've got two or three or four part-time jobs and, same thing. But I guess you'd say that's practical.

So why not go the whole hog and bring back slavery?! 168 hours a week you're on call and you get room and board, that's it. Is that your idea of "practical"? And even that doesn't compete with robots which aren't just "on call" - they're WORKING all 168 hours a week! How far do you want to go with your "practicality"? You want to talk seriously about replacing people with robots? Was Hitler "practical" killing off his minorities one by one and waging war on the rest of the world?

And speaking of war, as Will Rogers said (6/24/34 - "Autobiography"), "We used to think that war couldn't last long because one or both sides had no money, why there is no industry under the sun you can get credit as quick for you as war." Is total war your idea of "practical" - after all, that's what really solved the Great Depression in 1941 after we blocked the Black-Connery 30-hour bill in 1933 and went for government job creation instead of private-sector work sharing. War goes one step beyond gunboat diplomacy which forces other countries to take our exports. War doesn't bother getting money from the other countries for our products - it just ships our products over there and leaves 'em there, either in one piece or blown up.

Two practical, fiercely competitive capitalist companies in America have been timesizing instead of downsizing for decades - expanding and shrinking their workweek instead of clobbering employee morale by expanding and shrinking their workforce. They are Lincoln Electric of Cleveland, OH and Nucor of Charlotte, NC. Kellogg Cereals instituted a 30-hour workweek for 35 hours of pay in 1930 and got pay back up to 40 hours (for 30 hours' work) by 1935. See Ben Hunnicutt's "Kellogg's Six Hour Day" (Temple U: Philadelphia, 1997).

Wouldn't timesizing be globally uncompetitive?

The top executives are trying to zero all tariffs and deep-six "protectionism" (except maybe where it's of direct benefit to themselves at the moment) on the theory that competing with sweatshop economies is somehow good. True, it increases their profits in the short term because for Americans to compete with low-wage unsafe-condition third-world countries exerts downward pressure on American wages and working conditions, which means more immediate profits for top executives and stockholders.

But what's the longer term effect? Stagnant domestic markets in the USA. Why? Because active spending power has shrunk. Why? Because the more you shrink general wage levels, the more wealth gets concentrated into the top income brackets, and
the more concentration, the less circulation.
In other words, the more concentration of wealth, the less economic dynamism and growth. Some top executives and economist-spin doctors try to deny this with the myth that "concentrated wealth works just as hard as spread-around wealth," but this contradicts the well-known neoclassical economic law of "the marginal utility of wealth."

So in the longer term, prioritizing "global competitiveness" via simplistic free trade does exactly what top executives always accused the Communists of doing, - it reduces us all to the Lowest Common Denominator. And with an accelerating rate of change, the "longer term" is arriving faster every year.

So choose one:

Won't we fall behind in technology? So what, if our economic theory is so primitive that technology is just disemploying people anyway? - because we've got no smooth and automatic mechanism to pass along the toil-saving benefits of technology to the general public in the form of increasing, financially secure leisure? Instead, we're getting the blessings of technology as the curses of under-employment and bulging prisons on one hand and astronomically concentrated wealth on the other - the dreaded Black Hole economy. With our Neanderthal level of thinking on all this, we have made technology a curse. We are passive Luddites, unwilling to stop technology, but unable to obtain any progress from it except technological whizzbang.

Here's where Gene Roddenberry really let us down. He had the right spirit of cooperation in the original "wagon train to the stars" (Star Trek series) but by ruling out the subject of money from the start, he guaranteed that his whole series would be superficial - a mere projection of wars, wars and more wars as our ultimate solution to technological disemployment. He NEVER faced the most obvious question, now coursing thru the brains of more and more software engineers, namely, if this is such great time-saving technology, when do I get the payoff of MORE FREE TIME? We try to lord it over Europe because we're "more competitive" and have "low unemployment." But they have defined their unemployment rates so they really count something. Ours is leaky. They have strong domestic markets borne of high domestic spending power, widely spread around. Ours is concentrating in the top income brackets. They have 6 week vacations. We have 2. They have low crime rates. Our hottest growth industry is prison construction (ref...David Nyhan, "The prison population is rising...", in Boston Globe, 8/5/98, p.A23). They have strong family and community values borne of short workweeks where parents have time to bring up their own children instead of whining for government help to hire strangers to do the "childcare" (such an antiseptic word!). We have kids doin drugs, packing guns to school, blowing each other away.... Part-time employees in Holland have full benefits. We have even our most employee-friendly companies (viz. UPS) trying to part-time their workforce to save their benefits - our second best industry (hi tech) going after their older employees to save their pensions (17% unemployment in the over-50 age range). If this is uncompetitive, maybe we better change contests and stop competing in a race to the BOTTOM.

Isn't the overall regulation of working hours unconstitutional?

This question was thoroughly discussed in the 30s. Hugo Black, then a senator, wrote to R.K. Van Zandt of the Mobil Register of 1/24/33 regarding the consitutionality of 30-hour legislation - "My investigation leads me to believe that there is not the slightest constitutional objection on account of the constitutional provision with reference to contracts. The Supreme Court has heretofore passed upon this is a decisive way.... It is my belief that the Court would today hold this bill constitutional" (cited in Hunnicutt, p.364-5). And of course when the Federal Labor Standards Act came out in 1938 with (ineffectual) maximum workweeks at the 44-42-40 hour levels (1938-39-40+), there was no constitutionality problem.

Wouldn't timesizing clobber small business?

There are plenty of ways to ease burdens on small business, - for example, if we visualize an overtime tax to discourage firms from overworking existing workers instead of hiring new workers, we can apply a percentage of the tax determined by the number of employees in each firm. For example, zero employees, zero percent overtime tax payable. One employee, one percent tax payable. Two employees, two percent tax payable.... One hundred employees, 100% tax payable from that company size and on up.

Ulltimately the best thing for small business is booming consumer markets. As long as we're concentrating wealth and heading into a "black hole economy" where it's entirely possible that 99% of the wealth will be owned by 1% of the population, we are clobbering small businesses. "The more concentration, the less circulation." And wealth will continue to concentrate as long as we have a huge, growing, and totally denied aggregate labor surplus. Timesizing has the capability of reducing that labor surplus in an appropriately general and market-neutral way. This, in turn, gives it the capability of centrifuging and dynamizing wealth on a wartime scale without the war.

Wouldn't timesizing be inflationary?

Inflation is in the eye of the beholder. The P/E ratios of our stocks today are way inflated, but that's not regarded with the fear and foreboding it deserves (nor was it in 1928). On the contrary, our chief purveyor of Ptolemaic economics, Alan Greenspan, has repeated recently (7/21/98) that the Asian crisis is slowing US growth but the risk of a pickup in inflation outweighs the danger of a slump. This is the man who worries about the widening income gap between rich and poor out of one side of his mouth and out of the other side, worries about keeping economic growth slow enough to keep the nation's low 4.5% "unemployment rate" from falling further and triggering "inflationary wage increases." (Boston Globe, 7/22/98, p.C1)

Wages would indeed rise as we bridged the gulf that is yawning between rich and poor in America. But how else is that gap going to be bridged? Slow inflation is nature's way of penalizing inactive wealth and centrifuging it anyway. Inflation is only bad in the form of fast inflation or "hyperinflation" such as Germany's in the 1920s. This type is usually engineered by cynical bankers like Stinnes to get rich quick and who cares if they starve to death a few thousand elderly and people on fixed incomes - see Max Shapiro, "The Penniless Billionaires" (Times Books: New York, 1980). Slow inflation, which indicates a stable or growing national consumer base, is a lot healthier than our current (and late 1920s) hyper-inflation in the stock markets, which symptomizes a powerless, redundant workforce and an anorexic national consumer base.

The built-in inflation control in timesizing to rule out hyperinflation is the fact that timesizing harnesses volunteerism and entrepreneurialism by its unique ART feature. The ART (automatic reinvestment threshold) is the design of the top of the workweek which stops only money-motivated people from working overtime. If you're willing to become part of the job creation solution by reinvesting overtime profits and earnings in on-the-job training and hiring, instead of grabbing them for more disposable income, you can work all 168 hours of the week if you want. The payoff for you is helping your neighbors in the most germane way - making it easier for them to earn a living, and getting "project manager" or some such on your resume. If you quit working overtime, the payoff is more family time for more family values. Either way, you win.

But so-called "timesizing" is nothing but the Lump of Labor Fallacy!

This is usually said with such a superior sneer that it's difficult to calm down enough to discuss it rationally. But that's its substance, its assumption of superior rationality and pained condescension - 99% rhetoric - the tone that William F. Buckley does so well. Not that he has used this argument (tho I wouldn't be surprised). Recent known culprits are the editors of The Economist magazine out of London. Alone among the 15 economic principles texts on my shelves, Paul Samuelson's Economics lists "Lump-of-labor fallacy" in the index, but I only have his 1973 edition (9th ed, McGraw-Hill, pp. 575-76) and he may have dropped it in embarrassment since then too, as all my other Principles authors seem to have done.

Basically what we have here is the spectacle of an otherwise intelligent group of professionals trying to argue against something extremely basic and common-sensical to human beings, the truism that you can make work easier by sharing it. This has so many phrasings in so many different contexts that it's hard to even begin to give the flavor - I'll be collecting them in this spot for months. Here's one now - "sharing the work lightens the load." Another - "two heads are better than one" (- for intellectual work). Another, overheard countless times when someone has rented a truck, bought some beer, and invited some friends over to help them move from one apartment to another - "it's surprising how fast all this stuff moves when there's a bunch of us."

What IS the "Lump of Labor Fallacy"? It's the charge levelled at shorter hours advocates that they believe there is a fixed amount of employment that must be divided up, when as any fool knows, the amount of overall employment in an economy is burgeoning and unlimited. It's there for the pickin' - if you stop your lazy whining, exercise some initiative, roll up your sleeves and are willing to work hard. Work breeds work. We will never have to worry about there being enough work. (If any of you who side with the Lump of Labor critics feel this is an unfair presentation of your views in any way, email me and I'll present your version(s) - email timesizing@aol.com ). Samuelson directs his presentation against unions that "pursue policies to restrict labor and effort," apparently ignoring the American Medical Association and the thousands of other professional organizations, including universities and his own Sloan School itself, whose spoken purpose is to spread professional skills but who, in practice, greatly restrict them to protect their air of exclusiveness and their high salaries and benefits. The result? - high professional salaries and low unskilled wages. In some fields the restriction process doesn't work, as the legendary glut of PhDs driving cabs in Cambridge can testify, but these are fields like Classics and English which have become little more than disguised makework campaigns to keep people out of the job market as long as possible.

Let's soften up the Lump of Labor rhetoric with a little linguistic analysis. There are several misnomers in this articulation of the Lump of Labor charge. It used to be called the Lump of Labor Theory, but then some "superior" intelligence decided to jump to judgement. Since it relies 99% on rhetoric without substantiating its dismissal of shorter hours theory, its substitution of the word "fallacy" is unsupported and premature.

And we're not talking about a fixed amount of labor (job holders and seekers). We're talking about a fixed amount of employment (jobs and job openings). So the whole criticism, properly named, would be called the Lump of Employment Theory, not the Lump of Labor Fallacy.

The Lump of Labor (LofL) charge basically depends on the 19th century (and previous) view that "work breeds work" - and this had a great deal of truth in the long, backward stretching times before ever increasing portions of the workforce were working on work-saving technology. The assumption of the LofL critics is that the amount of work is infinite, there's always something to do, because
technology creates more work than it destroys. There may be isolated situations where that's true, and Timesizing can roll with them because it's bidirectional. Both Lincoln Electric and Nucor occasionally 'accordion' to workweeks longer than 40. Lincoln came down from 55 in the early '80s when it experienced that 40% sales drop, and Nucor, when the contracts are rolling in, can mount as high as 56 (7x8). But Timesizing is ultimately a looong-term whole-systems approach, and fixed-workweek economics (FWE) isn't. Even in cases where technology is creating more jobs, FWE doesn't automatically train people for them and move people into them like Timesizing. So even in its best case, FWE still scares people, injects job insecurity, thereby slows spending and stagnates markets. It's a dinosaur. It just ain't flexible.

And let's think about this for a second in terms of the whole American economy in the timespan of centuries, not just the next quarter. If technology really creates more work than it destroys, why did we cut the workweek in half, 80 to 40, between the start of the Republic and 1940? If technology really creates more work than it destroys, it's inefficient and there's no incentive for introducing it. Timesizing's bidirectional flexibility calls the bluff of the fixed-workweek economists who prattle on about "Lump of Labor." The smear just won't stick. Timesizing's too flexible.

So what can possibly make sense of this LofL carp? Well, it must mean that although technology A, here and now, appears to be throwing people out of work, technology B at some other place and time is re-employing people and demanding even more labor. The proof of this is that world population keeps growing and employment is still roughly the same, women have entered the workforce and employment is still roughly the same, plus although horse-drawn carriages, and then cars and trucks and roads, got technologically better and faster and more efficient, new technologies like airplanes developed and started whole new industries that didn't exist before. Unthought of industries like telephone companies cum telecoms, fibre optics, transistors cum radio and TV, transistors cum computers and PCs, biochemistry cum biotech....

So, some catch-up linguistic analysis. To be more accurate, the Lump of Labor critics have conceded that there charge must be levelled with a time qualification, to wit: You shorter-hours advocates naively believe the amount of labor to be limited, but in fact it is unlimited in the long run. This form of the argument begins to borrow strength from the truism that "anything is infinite in infinity." However, shorter hours advocates are not concerned with infinity or even the long term, however defined. They are concerned with the short term, even the immediate term (Marshall's "market term"), in which real employees are being converted into real jobless by layoffs. Technology (material, market-determined) is NOT creating more jobs in that term, whether immediate, short or market. Timesizing, as a different kind of technology (social-cultural, pre-market), IS creating more jobs in that term, by dividing the existing work and keeping everyone employed. Instead of a 10% layoff, timesizing (put into practice in France's Robien Law 1995-96) does a 10% hours cut, job reassignment, and employment stabilization.

The actual situation, as more and more of the workforce is working on work-saving technology, is much worse than the Aunt Sally/straw man that L of L critics are criticizing. They're sneering at shorter hours advocates for believing that the amount of employment is limited, i.e., stable, in the long run (whereas shorter hours advocates specify short run). In fact, so much of the labor force is now employed in employment-saving innovation that the amount of employment in the long run is no even stable - it is shrinking. And the long run itself is getting shorter every year. The acceleration of technological efficiency is getting so great, and the lag before technology B comes up with the replacement 40-hour jobs is becoming so significant, that we are never getting to a long enough term to re-employ everybody.

So I call upon the gentlemen in The Economist editorial room to wake up and smell the coffee. Cut the rhetoric and realize that it's a new world out there. Technology is saving work and that means displacing 40-hour workers. The realization was most dramatically driven home by *Jeremy Rifkin in "The End of Work" (though I disagree with his fatuous prediction of a post-market era and prescription for an expanded non-profit sector). Juliet Schor served the appetizers in her "Overworked American" (and then went off on a crusade against consumption - hardly our top priority in a downsizing economy). Mainland Europe has partially realized this seachange and accommodated it with much longer vacations and slightly shorter workweeks - they still don't really get it. The English and Japanese speaking economies have absolutely not "got it" and are still parrotting the Puritan work ethic and cultivating karoshi (death by overwork).

Conclusion: the Lump of Labor criticism is a misworded anachronism that began to lose validity at the start of the Industrial Revolution and in the age of robots and automation is just neuralgia creating nostalgia (or vice versa).

The real issue is captured by the Ford-Reuther anecdote: on an apocryphal tour of a newly mechanized auto plant in the late 1930s, industrialist Henry Ford said to labor leader Walter Reuther, "Let's see you unionize these robots." And Reuther simply said, "Let's see you sell them cars."

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