Sunday, December 22, 2013

The 6 hour workday is still a bad idea

I saw this posted as a serious argument today by an adult who should really know better.

The idea is to change the standard workday from eight hours to six. This is a pretty old, dead idea once championed by labor unions to "spread the work." The idea is to make people work 30 hours a week and hire more workers to fill the gap, and increase everyone's pay 33 percent so they don't lose any income.

Henry Hazlitt demolished this argument about 70 years ago, reminding people that if we increase the labor cost by that much, the products and services will get more expensive as well. Once again, there is no free lunch.

But this author tries to dazzle the reader with new scientific-sounding idea, but they all fall flat when one tries to take them serious. We're told that workers are the most productive two to four hours after they wake up, so starting the workday later will make them more productive.

I wonder if the author has ever interacted with college students. When you start later in the day, you tend to go to sleep later and wake up later. There goes that idea.

That wasn't the only productivity-increasing argument.

A shorter workday works particularly well for knowledge workers - people in creative or professional jobs - who can work productively for about six hours a day, compared to the eight hours manual laborers can churn out, according to Salon. Unlike machines, humans operate on a cyclical basis, which means our energy and motivation fluctuate in peaks and troughs. Cognitive workers tend to be more focused in the late morning, getting another energy boost in the late afternoon when lung efficiency peaks.

The unstated major premise here is that productivity will more than compensate the loss of one-quarter of the workday. There's no evidence that this difference in productivity per hour is particularly large. It would need to be 33 percent just to break even. The differences in productivity- if they actually exist - might be so small to the point that they are unnoticeable, and even then they only apply to a limited number of jobs. Productivity would fall, not rise, under this scheme.

Losses to productivity and/or higher prices equal a fall in real wages. That doesn't help anyone.

Another benefit of the shorter workday, Kellogg’s discovered, was that employees were happy to work less when they were paid 12.5% more per hour, meaning the company was able to offer more jobs. Maybe the six-hour workday could be a solution to the US’s current minimum wage debate.

Maybe not, as this last paragraph practically proves the scheme will make workers poorer. The union activists from a century ago had the good sense to demand a 33 percent increase in wages so their paychecks don't change. This scheme is asking for the same reduction in hours, but a pay increase of only 12.5 percent. That's nearly a third less.

Cutting supplies, increase the cost of goods and services and reducing how much each worker receives is not only a bad idea, it's an unoriginal one.

1 comment:

  1. I propose cutting the work week to one hour and increasing pay by 4000%.

    If you are going to do a thing, you might as well do it properly.