Oh dear, another NEF trainwreck

They’ve got a new book out:

Cutting the hours we work each week to 30 instead of 40 would improve our wellbeing, our family life, friendships and communities, they say.

Combined with a range of new career breaks, it could also lower carbon emissions, it was argued.

The claims are made in new book by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), in which experts say that aiming for a 30-hour week could be possible through gradual changes to the labour market.

A 30 hour working week would be good, yes, and it will indeed come with time. Working hours have been falling for centuries. But it’s still a trainwreck. One contributor is this woman:

Juliet Schor

She’s the barking mad American who claims that medieval peasants worked 1300 hour years. That animal owning peasants had 70 days holiday a year. Entire weeks off for wakes and the like.

Her mistake, and one made by nef all the time, is to fail to distinguish between market working hours and domestic or household production hours.

“We must rethink the way we divide up our hours between paid and unpaid activities, and make sure everyone has a fair share of free time.”

Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany have shown it is possible to make changes like these without weakening their economies, the books claims.

It adds: “Time spent providing unpaid care constitutes an important civic contribution that is often unrecognised.

“A shorter working week would both ease the pressure on carers, most of whom are women, and enable their responsibilities to be more widely shared with men. It could therefore help tackle the entrenched domestic bases of gender inequalities.”

“Caring” is work and you’ve got to include those caring hours in the work hours. As you’ve got to also include cooking, cleaning, spinning, weaving, collecting firewood, mucking out the byre and all the rest of it. You’ll note that some of those things had to be done by medieval peasants and not by us. Our working hours have indeed fallen.

They’re simply galloping off with the idea that paid working hours are the only hours that are done and making a colossal mistake as a result.

Just as an example of the mistake they’re making the average German woman works longer hours than the average American one. Because she does so much more of that unpaid domestic labour.

20 thoughts on “Oh dear, another NEF trainwreck”

  1. Cutting the hours I work each week to 30 from 60-70 would be good for starters. Remind me again why all the assorted lefties consider the higher marginal rate I pay is not even my “fair share”, given that I do more than my “fair share” of the productive work around here.

  2. And of course, she treats medieval peasants as if they were working in a modern economy without treating them as if they were working in a modern economy. Because in a modern economy we have the notion of paying workers to be ‘on call’. Not actually working but available if required. And recompense them for the inconvenience of holding themselves available. And medieval peasanting is a 24/7/365(6) ‘on call’ activity because the responsibility for the needs of those crops & animals doesn’t go away, ever.
    Wonder how she’d factor in a requirement for military service without recompense for death or injury?

  3. Looks from the blurb on the internet that Ms Schor has fallen for age old “lump of labour” fallacy. That’s the idea that there some sort of fixed amount of work to be done, hence if hours are reduced, there’ll be more work for the unemployed to do.

  4. Medieval peasantry was less “spare time” than “regular unemployment”. For many farmers, once the seeds were planted there was not a great deal to do besides waiting for the harvest. Hence there are all sorts of traditional celebrations and such as a way of filling the time. Given the grinding (actual, absolute) poverty of the period, I dare say most medieval peasants would have leaped at the opportunity to do more hours of productive work.

    Tim adds: No, it’s actually worse than that. She’s added up the hours the villein had to work on the demesne and then concluded that that’s all the work the peasant had to do. Missing out the farming their own land, collecting the firewood, taking care of their own animals, spinning, weaving, baking, brewing…..

  5. Andrew, once the seeds were planted farms need maintenance, a lot of maintenance. So the farmers would not have been celebrating to fill the time. They would have been doing everything and anything to feed, clothe and house themselves.

  6. Of course it *would* reduce carbon emissions, by around one-quarter. We’ve got 7-8% unemployment rate – around 12% if you include those on ESA, some of whom could do “light work” if given the chance. Average male works 45 hours (ignoring the salaried/self-employed few whose 60-70 working week isn’t officially measured so doesn’t get into statistics), so reducing that by one-third and adding roughly one-tenth to the labour force ends up with only 74% of the production. Simples!
    That’s ignoring the lower efficiency of the shorter week.
    What’s that? Consumption will have to reduce by one-quarter? That’s the whole point, dear!

  7. @ Andrew Pearson
    Caring for animals, weeding, scaring away birds, making farm implements by hand, gathering fruit and nuts to eat (and acorns to feed the pigs); and for women cooking, weaving, cleaning, washing clothes, …

  8. Tim Newman,

    The Frogs have a 35 hour working week and from the workers’ perspective it’s not bad at all. As Tim Worstall likes to say, look not at the producer interests, but at the consumer outcome. (Not all consumers are workers, but certainly a lot more than producers.)

    They do have a separate supply-side issue that companies can’t hire because they can’t afford to fire; but that’s unrelated to the 35 hour week.

  9. Actually, if NEF is really serious about reducing everyone’s work week, all they need to do is to get the UK to adopt Obamacare.

  10. “The Frogs have a 35 hour working week and from the workers’ perspective it’s not bad at all.”

    A look at France’s unemployment and labor participation rates suggest that “workers” are a rather small demographic, though.

  11. The Frogs have a 35 hour working week and from the workers’ perspective it’s not bad at all.

    I work with an awful lot of Frenchmen, and none of them are particularly impressed with the 35 hour week. In fact, I might even be working in Paris myself in the next few weeks, having just been kicked off my current project for upsetting Nigerians with a blog post. I’ll let you know what I think of it. 🙂

  12. @ Richard
    Because they only commute 4 days a week instead of 5
    110 x 4 = 440 which is less than 100 x 5 = 500
    That’s in the bit which Tim didn’t quote.
    So if you try to ‘phone someone there will be one chance in three that they aren’t in

  13. The 35 hour week in France thing is only half true. As with all things French it’s complicated but if you want to work more than 35 hours it is possible – you often get compensation (pay or time off) for hours exceeded. For example, I work >38 hours a week and get between 9 and 11 days off a year extra, of which 4-5 are imposed by the employer.

  14. Sure, from a working point of view, a 35 hour week would be all fine and dandy, but as a worker (paid hourly), I’d be bankrupt in about 6 months (I probably average 50 hours or so a week).

    Would also cause my employer lots of grief – most of the stuff I work on, I’m working on my own on a project, where it would be impractical to try and share my work between two people… so each finished project taken from drawings through assembly to completion and testing would take about twice as long. Then there would be the extra costs for employing more people – two people to send on a lifting and slinging course, twice as many weld ing codes to pay for, twice as many people to insure on the vans, extra ciss cards, more hi vis jackets, etc etc etc – employing more people to do less is bound to cost more.

    Still we all know that all employers do is exploit people, so who cares if they suffer some…

  15. “having just been kicked off my current project for upsetting Nigerians with a blog post. ” Aha, as I suspected, Watson: the dogs that did bark in the night.

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