Timmy elsewhere

At CapX. Being allowed to make fun of NEF is fun again:

It was Giles Wilkes, now of the Financial Times, who said that the New Economics Foundation should stand for “Not Economics, Frankly”. And reading today’s Guardian, I could see what he meant.

The paper carries an op-ed by Anna Coote, a senior fellow at the think-tank. She’s making the remarkable claim that as productivity rises, we will all have to work harder and harder to keep our jobs and incomes.

33 thoughts on “Timmy elsewhere”

  1. Tim, firstly you’re too young – you’ve missed pointing out that the vacuum cleaner transformed housework roughly a century* ago: the washing machine came second.
    Secondly, Ms Coote has simply got the +/- sign wrong in “More efficient processes (including more robots) reduce the amount of human input required. So those who have jobs must work harder – and longer hours – to hang on to what they’ve got and to keep the economy growing.” As less human input is required those with jobs should work less hard and/or less hours.
    *My grandmother married in 1913, so I’m quoting her as an authority on the subject.

  2. Errr… hold on, isn’t, fundamentally, productivity the inverse of workforce size? Two people making 100 shoes in one day are less productive than one person making 100 shoes in one day. Productivity rises are a *result* of people losing their jobs, not a cause of people losing their jobs.

  3. jgh – shurely you’ve got it backwards.

    I am a shoemaker and I need to make 100 shoes. If it takes two people to make them I employ two people. If it takes one then the other loses his job.

    The corollary is that as shoes now cost less, I sell more and perhaps manage to need to make 200. And that is how growth happens.

  4. BiI: Yes, but if some process occurs so that instead of it needing two people to make 100 shoes it needs one person to make 100 shoes, that is an increase in productivity. It doesn’t matter if you then continue making 100 shoes with one person or you keep both people and now make 200 shoes, the increased productivity is a result of some process that has reduced the amount of workforce, 2 persons per 100 shoes down to 1 person per 100 shoes.

  5. Mal Reynolds (Serenity)

    jgh: ” Productivity rises are a *result* of people losing their jobs”

    So if I fire half of my workers then the others become twice as productive?

  6. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Yes, that’s exactly right. The canonical example is man hour per tonne of steel. That’s fallen by two orders of magnitude in the last century. A BOC furnace needs far fewer people than a twenty thousand tonne blast furnace. And it’s not just the basic industrial processes that are more efficient. B2B software reduces the number of pencil pushers you need; JIT manufacturing means lower inventory costs and fewer warehouse people; lower energy use means fewer people digging or mining for the fuels to fire the furnaces.

  7. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I should say “yes, that’s exactly right, if and only if their aggregate output remains the same“. Put like that it’s tautological.

  8. “Secondly, Ms Coote has simply got the +/- sign wrong in “More efficient processes (including more robots) reduce the amount of human input required. So those who have jobs must work harder – and longer hours – to hang on to what they’ve got and to keep the economy growing.” As less human input is required those with jobs should work less hard and/or less hours.”

    Yes, that’s what I actually say has happened.

  9. Bloke in Germany in Germany for a change

    @matt Reynolds,

    Yes they do become more productive, for a while anyway. As anyone who has survived a downsizing can attest.

    Though much of the extra productivity is actually increased consumption by the employer of (unrecorded) overtime.

  10. Bloke in Germany in Germany for a change


    German unemployment stats out today. While we are approaching technical full employment, it remains stubbornly high among the unskilled (20%). You’ll be delighted to know that some of the homoeopathic increase there is being attributed (at least by the liberal press) to the minimum wage

  11. I presume that the Coote family earn significantly above the minimum wage. They spend most of their earnings out-competing their peers for positional goods (e.g. London housing). She’s asking for an arms-limitation treaty, thus reducing the amount that everyone can spend on positional goods. Ideally everyone maintains their rank in society but works fewer hours.

    This idea demonstrates the three tenets of socialism:
    (a) the impulse to control other people’s lives;
    (b) the impulse to pull up the ladder behind oneself (Polly Toynbee is usually best at this);
    (c) it’s completely unworkable in practice.

    Perhaps she’d like to see how it works out in the real world. I understand Southern Railway’s employees are already working a three-day week. Imagine what we could achieve if all the NHS’s doctors and nurses took a few more days off.

  12. Anna Coote – guardianista, femiloon, ex-wife of Laurie Taylor, and with roles at the NEF and the Sustainable Development Commission….*sigh*

  13. ” you’ve missed pointing out that the vacuum cleaner transformed housework roughly a century* ago:”

    Hows that work, then, John? Speaking personally, I haven’t had a vac in the house for 20 years. They’re used for cleaning carpets* & I haven’t had carpets. UK or here.
    And the proliferation of carpet is very much after the turn of the C20th. Most homes had very little. It’s prosperity’s put fabric on floors. What would have been leisure time diverted to Axminster.

    *Why do I get the idea that it’s only the UK & parts of the States fitted carpet. Most other parts of Europe I see, the folk use rugs. I’ve an idea it started as a time efficient floor covering for shops & offices & spread into homes. Correct? But horrible stuff. I’ve had to take far too much up. What lives in & under it’s disgusting.

  14. Bloke in North Dorset

    After the vacuum cleaner and washing machine what was 3rd? I’d guess the fridge?

    And as for the shoemaker losing their job, they can now go off and do something more productive, as time notes in the peice, they could become a doctor or nurse. Yes I know it’s not that simple for the individual.

  15. Bloke in Costa Rica

    OK, bis, but whether it’s rugs or carpets, you still have to clean the bloody things, and without a vacuum you have to take them outside and smack them with one of these while trying not to choke in all the shite that comes out, which is a giant fucking pain in the aris and doesn’t get them one quarter as clean as does a nice shiny Dyson.

    My floors are tile and wood ‘cos I lives in the bleedin’ tropics but had I floor coverings then yes, I would buy una aspiradora.

  16. bis
    There are flats where you have to have fitted carpets as noise dampeners. It’s in the lease.
    Bug infested, need the bloody useless dyson twice a week, don’t last long, I’ll grant you. But them’s the rules.

  17. Bloke in Costa Rica

    BiND: the electric iron has to be up there. Dishwashers? Then there’s kitchen gadgets. An electric hand beater trumps a whisk by a margin that’s not even fair. I couldn’t make a good fraction of my favourite recipes without a food processor. Microwaves taken as food prep devices rather than food cooking devices are amazing (butter too hard? Leave it out of the fridge for an hour or whack a lump off and blitz it for six seconds in the microwave. I know which gets my vote).

  18. @ bis
    I use the vacuum for wood and tiled floors as well as for carpets – it is much more efficient than a dustpan and brush. Having lived on my own for more than a dozen years between leaving home and getting married, I may have more experience than you in using them. Maybe you are 8 feet tall so you can eliminate cobwebs with a duster?
    In the first flat that I owned, everything was cleaned by vacuuming or washing. It was untidy but clean.

  19. @ BiND
    Only if you include shopping in housework. My middle-class mother’s first fridge was a hand-me-down (or, pendantically hand-me-up) from my little sister who bought it for her shared flat in her third year at uni.

  20. @ bif
    Forty-odd years ago my lease demanded that I put in fitted carpets with proper underlay as the flat had underfloor central heating – they were still OK when my wife (whom I first met about eight years later) persuaded me to move out.

  21. Bloke in North Dorset


    Why wouldn’t shopping be classed as housework? It was the housewife who had to traipse to the shop most days and the fridge freed her of a lot of that time.

  22. @ BiND
    Er – house!
    If your grandmother could call the grocer/butcher/baker and instruct them to deliver food then it could be classsified as housework. Otherwise: no.
    I classify shopping as part of my share of chores but not as housework

  23. “German unemployment stats out today. While we are approaching technical full employment, it remains stubbornly high among the unskilled (20%).”

    So you imported another half million of them. Probably not a good idea.

  24. Bloke in Germany in Germany for a change


    You will find very little dissent with that view around German bar tables. Except it was closer to a million.

  25. It’s perfectly possible for overall man hours to go down while individual man hours goes up. As productivity goes up and you need fewer workers the jobs will go to those prepared to work the hardest. This is an observable phenomena is it not? Nobody sacks the keen guy and keeps the lazy guy.

  26. But jobs aren’t disappearing. They’re being replaced, and often with better paid and easier work.

    One change I’ve seen as machines and processes have developed, and have become more computer-based:

    The engineer / handyman with spanners and hammers has mostly been replaced by the local IT guy. Guys with spanners get called in instead from 3rd parties.

    The IT guy will be paid maybe 2 or 3 times as much, and will work maybe half as many hours. There is a difference in training required, but it’s certainly not always obvious that the IT guy is more skilled. And the IT guy stays clean.

  27. Following on from Jack C’s comments about automation, here’s something puzzling me about importing low-skilled labour:

    These jobs are the ones that are easiest to automate, and most cost-effective – especially as the minimum wage goes up.

    The McD’s near where I work has replaced much of the order-taking with touchscreens, with the staff still cooking and handing out. But it’s conceivable that soon the food will just pop out of a slot in the wall when you scan your ticket.

    So these arguments that immigration is good for the economy and makes us richer: given that we have a minimum wage and automation, how much does that really include low-skilled workers?

    Easy to see that having the best Syrian brain surgeon or German software developer is a benefit that makes us richer.

    But low-skilled work: isn’t that just holding back automation by keeping the price to the business down, while ignoring the externality (?) of increased demand on taxpayer-funded services. Doesn’t that only make us richer if the cost to business plus the cost to taxpayer is less than the cost of automation?

    Hoping to be schooled in economics a bit.

  28. Bloke in Germany in Germany for a change


    Because a lot of work is still done by hand. Personally as one of those “skilled professionals” I resent my wage being capped by global competition while the price of plumbing (incidentally also a skilled profession), taxi driving, street sweeping etc – in short – the labour I have to buy- is protected to some extent from said competition

  29. Try journalism with all these fuckers willing to do it for free!

    Quite seriously, and this is seriously, nominal payments are down on 30 years ago…..

  30. @BiG

    “…by hand”: yep, that’s why I was differentiating between high- and low-skill, rather than the manual (or not) nature of the work.

    “…global competition…”: fair point. My career’s involved a fair bit of changing what I do to stay ahead of the outsourcing, but it could catch me eventually.


    With notable exceptions like yourself that do provide insight, I think the interweb has shown up how piss-poor a lot of journalists are.

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