It goes without saying that it’s probably not good politics to say your plan to move the country forward is that everyone needs to work longer hours. It approaches 47% level toxicity. Even more damning is that it makes zero sense in policy terms. Indeed, Jeb’s ‘work harder’ prescription provides harrowing look at the level of derp that can be produced when you take a guy who isn’t all that bright and push him to the head of the national leadership line without ever having put in an honest day’s work or support himself in his life.
Let’s look at what Bush said. In order to get to 4% economic growth forever, people need to work longer hours.
As our piece here notes, American workers already log dramatically more hours a week than they did a generation ago. They also work more hours a week than workers in any other industrialized economy. It’s sort of a judgment call whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But unless American workers are part of a different species than people everywhere else in the world there are obviously limits to how many hours people can work every week without severe adverse effects on health, basic perceptions of quality of life and the quality of the work they do. The whole point ‘growth’ in the economic sense is that it is real and something that can be built upon in compounded terms over time, providing ever expanding levels of prosperity without limit. But there are only 16 hours between 8 hours and 24. Eventually you will simply run out. Whatever other countries are doing better than we are can’t be hours worked a week since no one else works as many hours as Americans.
There are arguments that more people need to be working (there are also good arguments to the contrary). And there is a real problem with underemployment – people who are involuntarily working less 40 hours a week. But Bush didn’t say that more people need to be working (questionable) or that more people need to be able to get full-time jobs (true). He said people need to work longer hours.
It’s unclear to me whether Bush doesn’t even fully understand the policies his advisors are trying to explain to him or whether this is just standard patrician work ethic morality. Whichever it is, the real structural problem in our economy is stagnant wages for more than a generation for most of the population. Advances or just keeping up have largely been accomplished by working more hours at the same wages (in real terms). Meanwhile, wealth and income from labor productivity gains have tended to go the very wealthy rather than wage earners. This is all known and discussed to the point of being a cliche. But this is the gist. There’s a decent argument that people working longer hours is the problem; it’s definitely not the solution.
This again is something you say about work when it’s something other people do.
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