Porritt´s twits

In particular, market economies have placed a high emphasis on labour productivity. Continuous improvements in technology mean that more output can be produced for any given input of labour. But crucially this also means that fewer people are needed to produce the same goods from one year to the next.

Yes, really, he´s saying that rising labour productivity can be a bad thing.

I hope Nursey doesn´t let him handle sharp things.

The truth is that there is as yet no credible, socially just, ecologically sustainable scenario of continually growing incomes for a world of nine billion people.

Jesus, what a loon. Hasn´t he bothered to read the SRES?

16 thoughts on “Porritt´s twits”

  1. “Rail travel at high speed is not possible because the passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.”

  2. If each time the economy doubled (from now say), the amount of resources used was only half that of the previous doubling (a pluasible enough possibility given the holy trinity of ingenuity, free markets and capitalism), it would mean we could go on doubling ad infinitum never reaching double our current resource use.

  3. You could argue we’ve already had Porrit’s prosperity without growth for the last decade – debt funded spending in an economy that has had GDP kept in check by inflation.

    Substantial increases in productivity has caused job losses in manufacturing only for them to be more than replaced with unproductive ones in the State so no growth there either.

  4. Which is what I have been explaining to people since I wert teenager. That rising labour productivity is the answer to the question not immigration.

    It. Is. So. Feckin. Simple.

    If Porrit could think about anything other than making money for himself and just be honest for once in his life he would realise this and say something akin to ‘my work here is done’.

    And then we could, once again, breath easy and expel CO2.


  5. He’s only talking all big like he understands it because I explained it to him a year ago. 🙂

    Quoting myself-“So, the only way to stop economic growth (in any society which has not reached some endpoint with nothing new left to discover or invent) would be to rigidly prevent progress. Not only no new inventions (and that would mean no improvements in solar panels or wind generators either) but no organisational improvements either. That means an utterly rigid command economy with innovation in all things entirely verboten. It means no freedom for any business to hire, fire, change wage levels or reorganise their business in any way. That’s fascism.”

  6. But anyway, the point is there is an enormously widespread misapprehension, actively promoted by the likes of Porritt (and I really can’t fathom whethere he’s disingenuous or dim, probably the latter) that “growth” is an imposed thing. I’ve even encountered people calling themselves libertarians that believe this. Governments actively promote this idea by claiming responsibility for growth, and greens demand that this programmed-growth must be stopped. Looking at Porritt’s claptrap above, he’s saying that the private sector does a Bad Thing (it gets more efficient and needs less labour and resources, creating “unemployment”) and so growth is forcibly created by some agency unspecificied to “deal with this problem”. It’s the idea that some evil genius is placing a “highe emphasis on labour productivity” as if a cabal are sitting there saying that this year’s policy is to make people work harder. So all you do is take away this policy and we don’t have growth and everybody has a job and is happy.

    It’s very hard to get people to understand that growth is a natural consequence of individual human action and that we all just naturally tend towards it. A person choosing solar panels picks the more efficient one, thus leading to growth in the solar panel market- more solar bang for your buck.

    We have to keep trying to find channels to challenge this nonsensical notion that you can have any kind of non-growth advanced (i.e. beyond the truly primitive) economy. We all create growth, and do so simply by interacting in the marketplace.

    Plus, it’s a Good Thing anyway, but that’s a separate issue and challenging the “growth is bad” mantra means challenging the denialist, hardship is next to Godliness, moralitarianism that underpins anglosocialism.

  7. To be fair, if they admitted that their role was more brake than turbo charger, it wouldn’t be good for their political prospects.

  8. That should have said:

    Governments actively promote this idea by claiming responsibility for growth

    To be fair, if they admitted that their role was more brake than turbo charger, it wouldn’t be good for their political prospects.

  9. Please call ME a name, Mr. Worseall. It’s so clever of you to call people twats, twits, loons and idiotarians. Very impressive.

    Since you’re so clever, maybe you can help me out with a few little thought experiments I was puzzled by.

    First, imagine there is this country, called Hometopia, were people are extraordinarily discrete about their housing. They are so discrete in this country that there are laws forbidding the national statistics agency from collecting information about expenditures on rents, mortgages, house purchases, the incomes of residential construction firms and workers, etc. It is all strictly off the books. Now let’s imagine that in this country there is a baby boom. Lots of people form families and buy houses and the demand for houses causes lots of houses to be built.

    None of the activity in housing shows up in the national statistics though. So what would be the real growth rate in that country? The amount that the statistical index goes up or some unknown quantity that includes the value of all that new housing?

    Now, imagine there was another country, called Baronia, where the traditional wage pays for 24 hours of a worker’s time each day and the worker then buys back as many hours as he or she wants to reserve for sleeping, eating, domestic chores and leisure. At some point in Baronia’s history, playing chess, singing in choirs and reading books suddenly get very popular. Everybody decides to cut down their working time from 10 hours a day to 7 hours to make more time for chess, singing and reading.

    Assuming the average wage is $10 an hour and credit usage doesn’t change, the consumption of goods and services will fall by $30 a day per person but the consumption of leisure will increase by the same $30. So total consumption stays the same.

    In a neighbouring country, Erronia, everything is the same except the wage system, where people are paid by the hour for those hours they actually work. The same fads breaks out there. Consumption of goods and services falls by $30 per day per person but there is no accounting for the increase in leisure time. Total consumption, as measured by “GDP” thus falls by 30%. Does this mean that people in Erronia are now 30% worse off than people in Baronia, even though they both still work the same number of hours at the same pay?

    Since you know so much more about economic growth than does the that other Tim — Tim Jackson — I’m sure you can clear up my confusion about whether measured growth are actual growth are the same.

    Tim adds: Oh my! What cleverly constructed little thought experiments! Iam of course ashamed to have been caught out so. Then I recall that everyone knows that GDP is not the be all and end all of anything at all. It was, after all, Keynes, who said that when a man marries his housekeeper recorded national income goes down.

    That doesn’t mean that GDP isn’t a useful measurement at times.

    However, if you want to delve into these intricacies of such national income accounting then you need to be rather careful if you’re to be following the Porritt line. For he makes an opposite but larger error.

    I’ve written a number of times, here and elsewhere, about the mistake that people about working hours. Such working hours are not, or should not be, measured purely by the number of hours we do in the cash economy. We should also include those hours we spend in household production (ie, in the non cash economy, that one that isn’t measured of captured by the GDP statistics). The balance after we’ve accounted for both sets of working hours is leisure time. And it’s leisure time that has been going up in recent decades, meaning that total working hours have been falling. So much for the ever longer working hours, eh?

    Further, when you look at leisure time the pattern of working hours around the world seems to change. American women, just as one example, appear to have more leisure time than German women. More paid working hours, yes, but fewer devoted to home production.

    And then we get to the Porritt error. Perhaps the world would be a better place if we all grew our own veggies. Baked our own bread. Spent more time cooking food from scratch rather than purchasing ready prepared. Sorted through our rubbish to recycle it, all had compost heaps. But do note that all of these things take time. Labour in other words. We’re simply moving those working hours from the cash, paid, economy into the househiold production one.

    Now that we’re looking at the proper measure, the impact upon available leisure hours, we can ask the question of whether more home production will increase leisure or reduce it? Are there any measures we can use to decide which is more likely? We could go and look at the working and leisure hour statistics, like that American/German comparison. Or we could think a little more theoretically. We do tend to think that mass production, what with the division of labour and its specialisation, reduces the amount of human labour needed to make just about any product or service. Thus that goods produced in the cash economy, as opposed to by household production, leave more leisure time for a given level of production.

    Thus we would, if leisure time was what we want to maximise (certainly that’s a goal that I would endorse) we would want to maximise that part of the economy done on a large scale, efficiently in its use of labour, in cash markets, so as to reduce the more inefficient use of labour in household production .
    That’s something that the green movement generally seems to foget. That that time spent knitting the tofu flavoured yurst is also work, even if it’s not in the cash economy. The flip side of the very problem you detail above about GDP statistics. There is one difference though. I do (and have, repeatedly) acknowledge the problems, failures and gaps in GDP accounting. I’ve yet to find a green who even understands, let alone acknowledges, this flip side.

    Caroline Lucas, for example, told the Today Programme that green energy, renewables, was better precisely because it took more human labour to create a given level of output. That is, that she thinks it is good that leisure time is deliberately restricted. A pretty cock eyed view of the world, don’t you agree? Porritt continually shouts about creating “green jobs”….and refuses to see that the employment of such labour is a cost of his schemes, not a benefit.

    In short, motes and beams old chap, motes and beams.

  10. Tim,

    We agree entirely that it’s leisure time we want to maximize. But we’ve been around the block before on whether or not leisure time is increasing (or is increasing fast enough).

    You refer (implicitly) to the Aguiar and Hurst “Measuring Trends in Leisure” study as if it was the final word. Never mind that the study reached its conclusion by comparing a 1965 survey of 2000 people in Michigan, one-third of them from Jackson, Michigan, with a survey using a different set of questions of 27,500 people nationwide in 2003. Never mind that the authors’ own definition of what constituted leisure was retroactively superimposed on activities whose status as leisure or home production are inherently ambiguous. Beyond that ambiguity, the relationship between the survey questions, the study authors’ definitions and any classical notion of leisure (see, for example, Josef Pieper’s Leisure: the Basis of Culture) is almost entirely arbitrary.

    Aside from those questions of measurement and definition, even if we assume that leisure has increased over, say, the last forty years, the question remains whether it has increased fast enough to absorb the increased productivity of labour. This is a question, as Pasinetti’s analysis demonstrates, not merely of the “choice” between increased consumption of goods and services or increased leisure but of the necessity of increasing them to avoid increasing unemployment.

    Increasing consumer demand is not as simple as it sounds. Although increased productivity makes more goods available and human wants are expansive, there is no guarantee that the increased desires will be for the same goods as are becoming more plentiful and in the same quantities. People have to learn to want not merely what they spontaneously do but specifically those goods that new technology makes available. If the adjustment was automatic and seemless, we could dispense with all the teeth-gnashing about “economic stimulus” plans.

    I would have to attribute your failure to find “a green who even understands, let alone acknowledges, this flip side” of the GDP measurement problem to a dilatory search process, if not to an exaggerated sense of the relative magnitudes and consequences of the flip side and the front.

    Following the trail of footnotes and acknowledgments from Prosperity Without Growth through Peter Victor’s book, “Managing Without Growth” and beyond, one eventually arrives back at a pretty intense reliance on the analysis in H.W. Arndt’s 1978 The Rise and Fall of Economic Growth and Fred Hirsch’s 1976 Social Limits to Growth. There’s no question that Arndt understands and acknowledges the flip side and in fact he concludes with a qualified endorsement of growth. Sort of “let’s grow but let’s do it with our eyes open to the potential down sides.” Have you got a problem with that? And Fred Hirsch was no tofu-frotting simpleton, by the way. He was formerly financial editor of the Economist and a senior advisor to the International Monetary Fund.

    In a nutshell, that’s the paper trail of the growth critique of a report you dismiss out of hand as the lunatic ravings of a bunch of twits and twats. It’s pretty comprehensive, even-handed and nuanced. You don’t have to agree with it. I’m sure I can find elements I object to. But “Prosperity Without Growth” is oodles more substantive than the “Measuring Trends in Leisure” article you embrace wholeheartedly. Talk about cherry-picking one’s facts and one’s interpretations of facts!

    As for Caroline Lucas, I never heard of her. Every day I see statements by erstwhile allies that make me cringe. Do I agree that favouring labour-intensive, green techology is cock-eyed? Well it depends. Is the work itself intrinsically rewarding or drudgery? Is the green energy going to be used to crank out what Adam Smith called “trinkets of frivolous utility”?

    Tim adds: “You refer (implicitly) to the Aguiar and Hurst “Measuring Trends in Leisure” study as if it was the final word.”

    Nope. Try again. Every single study of leisure hours since then shows increased leisure hours. All of them. Every single damn one. It ain’t some oddity, it’s reality. ONS, Federal Reserve……capitalism delivers and ain’t that just fabulous?

  11. Federal Reserve? You mean Federal Reserve Bank of Boston? Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst? I guess that must be another Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst then? What a coincidence two completely different papers on the same topic by two completely different authors WITH THE SAME TWO NAMES coming to the same conclusion! What are the odds?

    And ONS? What’s this a comparison between 2000 and 2005?

    “Table 3.1 shows that the percentage of people who spent some of their diary day on socialising with friends, family or neighbours had decreased from 60 per cent in 2000 to 50 per cent in 2005. The amount of time spent on socialising increased from 56 minutes a day in 2000 to 82 minutes per day in 2005. Combining these two trends, the amount of time spent socialising for only those people who spent time on their diary day socialising had therefore increased from 93 minutes in 2000 to 164 minutes in 2005.”

    So fewer people (-10%) spent more time (+71 minutes) socializing… What does that mean??? Just a quick glance at the report raises questions for me about methodology, particularly demographic weighting. I didn’t see any comparison in the demographics of the two studies or discussion of weighting if there were different response rates in the two surveys. If by some chance they got a better response rate from older people in the 2005 survey, that could skew results significantly. In short: inconclusive.

    So what’s this about “every single study… All of them.” Two articles by the same authors rehashing the same analysis and a third inconclusive data set covering an epochal 5-year span? “every single study… All of them.”

    Assertion is not evidence, Tim. Repeating an assertion doesn’t transform it into evidence. Capitalism delivers (just ask Bernie Madoff) but Tim Worstall doesn’t.

    Tim adds: You got any studies showing that leisure time is decreasing?

  12. Yes. Stats Canada time stress surveys, for example. Jerry Jacobs and Kathleen Gerson, The Time Divide. The analysis is that on the one hand leisure is decreasing for full-time employed families while at the same time underemployment is increasing for others.

    One of the many methodological problems of Aguiar & Hurst, for sure — and apparently Gershuny too (although I only skimmed the ONS) — is that they don’t distinguish between ‘voluntary’ and ‘involuntary’ leisure.

    So for Aguiar and Hurst leisure time has gone way up for low income folks. Whoop-de-do. Applying the same reasoning to the latest unemployment numbers, “leisure” has been soaring over the past year.

    You don’t really need to be a philosopher or a sociologist to know that enforced idleness is not leisure as Aristotle would have it. In our culture, unoccupied time without income is a curse, not a blessing.

    But back to your original point, which was that analysis of the time-use data revealed a ‘flip side’ of the GDP critique that no greens understood or acknowledged. Well, I do understand them and so do many of my colleagues. No, we don’t agree with the pollyanna view that the redeeming ‘flip side’ of underemployment is ‘more leisure’.

    A fellow named Don Boudreaux once said, “One of the hallmarks of sound economic thinking is the ability to distinguish costs from benefits.” You seem to be able to do that when thinking about Gordon Brown’s “job creating” promise of a new low-carbon economy. The “leisure-creating” bonanza of underemployment is that same swindle. Re-label a cost as a benefit.

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