Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Consistency is for wimps
I was thinking about this 21-hour week thing (at the moment I'm having to do my best to put in far, far more than that in order to write up a PhD: would they stop that, too?) and remembered that another of nef's insane ideas is to stop all economic growth.There are two ways working hours can be cut. The first is through economic growth. As we get richer, we exchange some of those riches for leisure time. Different societies do this to different extents: the US and Korea have done less of it, and Europe more. If you want to get more leisure time for workers through this route, then you have to be aggressively pro-growth. But nef has already said it doesn't want to see economic growth: to be consistent with their own ideas, we are not allowed to get richer and use the increased wealth to increase leisure time.Moreover, if you take this economic line that growth will give us more leisure, then you cannot put either a scale or a timetable to it. It will be whatever people make of it. Moreover, it is difficult to argue any sort of moral case for a given length of working week: it is simply a matter of choice, and of negotiation between employers and employees. The unthinking-tank, however, does present a moral case, asserting that it will be good for the climate, and families, and society.So as much as they protest that they are not proposing imposed change, they must be doing so. If you read the detail you find out that this is true: they want to increase the minimum wage, which will result in some people having a lot of free time; to increase taxation and redistribution, which will have a similar effect; to incentivise different working patterns, which will screw up the efficiency of labour employment; and to 'standardise' working hours, which is straight down-the-line coercion.Let us consider the broad sweep consequences of this kind of wages and hours policy. If you want some level of imposition on the working week, then you would be forcing people to work less than they might want to. In consequence, there would be fewer goods and services produced and consumed: we would be poorer. This effect is already with us through the working time directive (the forty-eight hour week), although I would guess that it is not very significant, especially given the UK's opt-out (long may it remain!). Certainly, restricting weekly hours to forty-eight would not do anywhere near as much damage as restricting them to twenty-one.So in conclusion, nef wants to make us all poorer. That's the only consistent conclusion one can draw from their reports. How can we get journalists to start asking them how much poorer their barmy proposals will make us?