Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"A Very Complicating Influence on the Theory of Distribution"

Google co-founder and CEO, Larry Page:
I totally believe we should be living in a time of abundance, like Peter Diamandis' book. If you really think about the things that you need to make yourself happy - housing, security, opportunities for your kids - anthropologists have been identifying these things. It's not that hard for us to provide those things. The amount of resources we need to do that, the amount of work that actually needs to go into that is pretty small. I'm guessing less than 1-percent at the moment. 
So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people's needs is just not true. I do think there's a problem that we don't recognize that. I think there's also a social problem that a lot of people aren't happy if they don't have anything to do. So we need to give people things to do. We need to feel like you're needed, wanted and have something productive to do. 
But I think the mix with that and the industries we actually need and so on are-- there's not a good correspondence. That's why we're busy destroying the environment and other things, maybe we don't need to be doing. So I'm pretty worried. Until we figure that out, we're not going to have a good outcome. 
One thing, I was talking to Richard Branson about this. They don't have enough jobs in the UK. He's been trying to get people to hire two part-time people instead of one full-time. So at least, the young people can have a half-time job rather than no job. And it's a slightly greater cost for employers. I was thinking, the extension of that is you have global unemployment or widespread unemployment. You just reduce work time. 
Everyone I've asked-- I've asked a lot of people about this. Maybe not you guys. But most people, if I ask them, 'Would you like an extra week of vacation?' They raise their hands, 100-percent of the people. 'Two weeks vacation, or a four-day work week?' Everyone will raise their hand. Most people like working, but they'd also like to have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests. So that would be one way to deal with the problem, is if you had a coordinated way to just reduce the workweek. And then, if you add slightly less employment, you can adjust and people will still have jobs.
It's not a new idea. Sandwichman has been on this file for a couple of decades. As some media commentators observed, Keynes mooted the idea of a 15-hour workweek back in 1930. But it wasn't a new idea then, either.
Prince's Tavern, Princess-street, Manchester,
Monday, Nov. 25, 1833. At a meeting called, at the above time and place, of the Working People of Manchester, and their Friends, after taking into their consideration—
That society in this country exhibits the strange anomaly of one part of the people working beyond their strength, another part working at worn-out and other employments for very inadequate wages, and another part in a state of starvation for want of employment;
That eight hours' daily labour is enough for any human being, and under proper arrangements, sufficient to afford an amply supply of food, raiment, and shelter, or the necessaries and comforts of life, and that to the remainder of his time every person is entitled for education, recreation, and sleep ;
That the productive power of this country, aided by machinery, is so great, and so rapidly increasing, as from its misdirection, to threaten danger to society by a still further fall in wages, unless some measure be adopted to reduce the hours of work, and to maintain at least the present amount of wages:— It was unanimously Resolved, 
1. That it is desirable that all who wish to see society improved and confusion avoided, should endeavour to assist the working classes to obtain ' for eight hours' work the present full day's wages,' such eight hours to be performed between the hours of six in the morning and six in the evening; and that this new regulation should commence on the first day of March next. 
2. That in order to carry the foregoing purposes into effect, a society shall be formed, to be called 'the Society for Promoting National Regeneration.' 
3. That persons be immediately appointed from among the workmen to visit their fellow-workmen in each trade, manufacture and employment, in every district of the kingdom, for the purpose of communicating with them on the subject of the above Resolutions, and of inducing them to determine upon their adoption. 
4. That persons be also appointed to visit the master manufacturers in each trade, in every district, to explain and recommend to them the adoption of the new regulation referred to in the first Resolution. 
5. That the persons appointed as above shall hold a meeting on Tuesday evening, the 17th of December, at eight o'clock, to report what has been done, and to determine upon future proceedings.
O.K., but it wasn't yet a respectable idea when just a bunch of working people and their friends thought it up. Thirty-nine years later, Thomas Brassey Jr. made it respectable, with the publication of his book, Work and Wages, which was based on the extensive empirical evidence accumulated in the account books of the worldwide railroad engineering firm established by his father, Thomas Brassey Sr. Chapter Six of Work and Wages was titled "Hours of Labour" and presented the empirical observation that, no more than wages are an adequate measure of the cost of labor, "the hours of work are no criterion of the amount of work performed."
Thomas Brassey, Senior

Another 35 years would pass before Sydney J. Chapman would provide the theoretical explanation for Brassey's observation, published in the Economic Journal in an article conspicuously titled, "Hours of Labour." Chapman, who had been one of Alfred Marshall's star pupils at Cambridge, also collaborated with Brassey on a three-volume "continuation" of Work and Wages, with Brassey providing the introduction to each volume.

Chapman's collaboration with Brassey wasn't "out of the blue." In The Wages Question (1876), General Francis Amasa Walker, credited Brassey's Work and Wages as containing "by far the most important body of evidence on the varying efficiency of labor..."
Mr. Brassey's father was perhaps the greatest "captain of industry" the world has ever seen… The chief value of Mr. Brassey, Jr.'s work is derived from his possession of the full and authentic labor-accounts of his father's transactions.
Fifteen years later, in his Principles of Economics, Alfred Marshall praised "the lead taken by General Walker and other American economists" for its effect in:
...forcing constantly more and more attention to the fact that highly paid labour is generally efficient and therefore not dear labour; a fact which though it is more full of hope for the future of the human race than any other that is known to us, will be found to exercise a very complicating influence on the theory of Distribution." 
What those complications are can only be fully comprehended in the context of Chapman's analysis of the hours of labor. Brassey to Walker to Marshall to Chapman (to Pigou to J. M. Clark to Kapp) OR (to Robbins to Hicks to oblivion).

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