The Art of denial: 1982 Edition

Sociologists (and others, I don’t mean to pick on one group) are still insisting that people are being forced to work more hours in the exploitation of labor. While this was certainly the case in 1982, a lot has changed in the economy – just since 2000. Some data I ran from the OECD two years ago suggests that people are actually working less hours globally, and a new paper from both The Brookings Institute (PDF) and the NBER suggests the same trends in the U.S. since 2000. It’s not 1982 anymore.

Even when we hear reports that people are working in precarious jobs, requiring more than one job, especially in the G7, the data still shows that people are working less hours overall.

 

Avg hrs G7

What was striking about the OECD data is that outside of the G7, even those countries that are known to “exploit” their labor are doing a little less exploiting.

Avg hrs other

There’s no OECD data from the global south, but considering the trends from Mexico and Chile, it would be interesting to look at. Of course, after the global financial apocalypse in 2008 average hours worked fell off a cliff for the G7 countries from their previously declining trends.

Both Brookings and the NBER papers point to “labor fluidity” as being the cause: where workers from shrinking firms can no longer transfer their labor skills to growing firms. They point to the idea that both employer and employee are “risk adverse” to taking a chance – because after all, people seeking jobs have a choice whether or not they want to pay their bills. The idea of the sellers and buyers of labor being on equal ground in negotiation is a false premise. I suspect that the story is much deeper.

And I suspect that in the labor marketplace, time (vis-à-vis quantity of hours supplied by the employer) plays a much bigger role.

Those social sciences that keep insisting that people are working more hours needs to be relegated to the same dustbin of history that Reganomics is in. Exploitation may indeed be happening, but just not in the direction that it is traditionally thought of. Not only isn’t it 1982 anymore, it’s not 2000 anymore.

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