Why We Have to Go Back to a 40-Hour Work Week to Keep Our Sanity

Yves here. It would be nice if I could work only 40 hours a week. It’s never been that way for me. Even when I had a more reasonable life, I’d go from periods of being in overdrive to off. Despite what this article asserts, I could not get done what I do in fewer hours. For instance, I researched adn wrote ECONNED in six months…while also blogging half time. That was well more than eight hours a day, every day. But I am also not doing physical work nor being pushed around by a boss.

But the article also fails to mention that for a lot of office workers, a fair number of those hours are chewed up in meetings, which IMHO are mainly a waste of time. Similarly, I am told Germans behave very differently in the office than Americans. They work…really work, save for lunch time, and get done in 7 hours by not being social during the work day (except as job-required, like dealing with customers) what would take 10 hours in an American company.

By Sara Robinson, a social futurist, journalist and former editor of AlterNet’s Visions page. Follow her on Twitter. Originally published at Alternet

One hundred fifty years of research proves that shorter work hours actually raise productivity and profits — and overtime destroys them. So why do we still do this?

If you’re lucky enough to have a job right now, you’re probably doing everything possible to hold onto it. If the boss asks you to work 50 hours, you work 55. If she asks for 60, you give up weeknights and Saturdays, and work 65.

Odds are that you’ve been doing this for months, if not years, probably at the expense of your family life, your exercise routine, your diet, your stress levels, and your sanity. You’re burned out, tired, achy, and utterly forgotten by your spouse, kids and dog. But you push on anyway, because everybody knows that working crazy hours is what it takes to prove that you’re “passionate” and “productive” and “a team player” — the kind of person who might just have a chance to survive the next round of layoffs.

This is what work looks like now. It’s been this way for so long that most American workers don’t realize that for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was stupid, wasteful, dangerous, and expensive — and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management to boot.

It’s a heresy now (good luck convincing your boss of what I’m about to say), but every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. And it may sound weird, but it’s true: the single easiest, fastest thing your company can do to boost its output and profits — starting right now, today — is to get everybody off the 55-hour-a-week treadmill, and back onto a 40-hour footing.

Yes, this flies in the face of everything modern management thinks it knows about work. So we need to understand more. How did we get to the 40-hour week in the first place? How did we lose it? And are there compelling bottom-line business reasons that we should bring it back?

The Making of the 40-Hour Week

The most essential thing to know about the 40-hour work-week is that, while it was the unions that pushed it, business leaders ultimately went along with it because their own data convinced them this was a solid, hard-nosed business decision.

Unions started fighting for the short week in both the UK and US in the early 19th century. By the latter part of the century, it was becoming the norm in an increasing number of industries. And a weird thing happened: over and over — across many business sectors in many countries — business owners discovered that when they gave into the union and cut the hours, their businesses became significantly more productive and profitable. As Tom Walker of the Work Less Institute puts it in his Prosperity Covenant:

That output does not rise or fall in direct proportion to the number of hours worked is a lesson that seemingly has to be relearned each generation. In 1848, the English parliament passed the ten-hours law and total output per-worker, per-day increased. In the 1890s employers experimented widely with the eight hour day and repeatedly found that total output per-worker increased. In the first decades of the 20th century, Frederick W. Taylor, the originator of “scientific management” prescribed reduced work times and attained remarkable increases in per-worker output.

By 1914, emboldened by a dozen years of in-house research, Henry Ford famously took the radical step of doubling his workers’ pay, and cut shifts in Ford plants from nine hours to eight. The National Association of Manufacturers criticized him bitterly for this — though many of his competitors climbed on board in the next few years when they saw how Ford’s business boomed as a result. In 1937, the 40-hour week was enshrined nationwide as part of the New Deal. By that point, there were a solid five decades of industrial research that proved, beyond a doubt, that if you wanted to keep your workers bright, healthy, productive, safe, and efficient over a sustained stretch of time, you kept them to no more than 40 hours a week and eight hours a day.

Evan Robinson, a software engineer with a long interest in programmer productivity (full disclosure: our shared last name is not a coincidence) summarized this history in a white paperhe wrote for the International Game Developers’ Association in 2005. The original paper contains a wealth of links to studies conducted by businesses, universities, industry associations, and the military that supported early-20th-century leaders as they embraced the short week. “Throughout the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, these studies were apparently conducted by the hundreds,” writes Robinson; “and by the 1960s, the benefits of the 40-hour week were accepted almost beyond question in corporate America. In 1962, the Chamber of Commerce even published a pamphlet extolling the productivity gains of reduced hours.”

What these studies showed, over and over, was that industrial workers have eight good, reliable hours a day in them. On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day. Likewise, the overall output for the work week will be exactly the same at the end of six days as it would be after five days. So paying hourly workers to stick around once they’ve put in their weekly 40 is basically nothing more than a stupid and abusive way to burn up profits. Let ‘em go home, rest up and come back on Monday. It’s better for everybody.

As time went on and the unions made disability compensation and workplace safety into bigger and bigger issues, another set of concerns further buttressed the wisdom of the short week. A growing mountain of data was showing that catastrophic accidents— the kind that disable workers, damage capital equipment, shut down the lines, open the company to lawsuits, and upset shareholders — were far more likely to occur when workers were working overtime and overtired.

That sealed the deal: for most businesses, the potential human, capital, legal, and financial risks of going over 40 hours a week simply weren’t worth taking. By World War II, the consensus was clear and widespread: even (or especially!) under the extreme demands of wartime, overworking employees is counterproductive and dangerous, and no competent workplace should ever attempt to push its people beyond that limit.

The Overtime Exception

There was one exception to this rule. Research by the Business Roundtablein the 1980s found that you could get short-term gains by going to 60- or 70-hour weeks very briefly — for example, pushing extra hard for a few weeks to meet a critical production deadline. However, there were a few serious caveats attached to this which used to be well-known, but have mostly been forgotten.

One is that increasing a team’s hours in the office by 50 percent (from 40 to 60 hours) does not result in 50 percent more output (as Henry Ford could have told them). Most modern-day managers assume there will be a direct one-to-one correlation between extra hours and extra output, but they’re almost always wrong about this. In fact, the numbers may typically be something closer to 25-30 percent more work in 50 percent more time.

Here’s why. By the eighth hour of the day, people’s best work is usually already behind them (typically turned in between hours 2 and 6). In Hour 9, as fatigue sets in, they’re only going to deliver a fraction of their usual capacity. And with every extra hour beyond that, the workers’ productivity level continues to drop, until at around 10 or 12 hours they hit full exhaustion.

Another is that overtime is only effective over very short sprints. This is because (as Sidney Chapman showed in 1909) daily productivity starts falling off in the second week, and declines rapidly with every successive week as burnout sets in. Without adequate rest, recreation, nutrition, and time off to just be, people get dull and stupid. They can’t focus. They spend more time answering e-mail and goofing off than they do working. They make mistakes that they’d never make if they were rested; and fixing those mistakes takes longer because they’re fried. Robinson writes that he’s seen overworked software teams descend into a negative-progress mode, where they are actually losing ground week over week because they’re so mentally exhausted that they’re making more errors than they can fix.

The Business Roundtable study found that after just eight 60-hour weeks, the fall-off in productivity is so marked that the average team would have actually gotten just as much done and been better off if they’d just stuck to a 40-hour week all along. And at 70- or 80-hour weeks, the fall-off happens even faster: at 80 hours, the break-even point is reached in just three weeks.

And finally: these death marches take a longer-term productivity toll as well. Once the crisis has passed and that 60-hour-a-week team gets to go back to its regular 40, it can take several more weeks before the burnout begins to lift enough for them to resume their typical productivity level. So, for a while, you’ll get significantly less than a full 40 out of them.

Wise managers who understand this will a) avoid requiring overtime crunches, because they’re acutely aware of the serious longer-term productivity hit that inevitably follows; b) keep the crunches as short as possible when they are necessary; and c) give their teams a few days off — one to two comp days per overtime week worked is about right — at the end of a hard sprint. This downtime enables them recuperate more quickly and completely. It’s much more productive to have them gone for the next week — and then back on the job, rested and ready to work — than have them at their workstations but too fried to get anything useful done for the next month.

So, to summarize: Adding more hours to the workday does not correlate one-to-one with higher productivity. Working overtime is unsustainable in anything but the very short term. And working a lot of overtime creates a level of burnout that sets in far sooner, is far more acute, and requires much more to fix than most bosses or workers think it does. The research proves that anything more than a very few weeks of this does more harm than good.

Enter the Knowledge Worker

After WWII, as the GI Bill sent more workers into white-collar jobs, employers at first assumed that the limits that applied to industrial workers probably didn’t apply to knowledge workers. Everybody knew that eight hours a day was pretty much the limit for a guy swinging a hammer or a shovel; but those grey-flannel guys are just sitting at desks. We’re paying them more; shouldn’t we be able to ask more of them?

The short answer is: no. In fact, research shows that knowledge workers actually have fewer good hours in a day than manual laborers do — on average, about six hours, as opposed to eight. It sounds strange, but if you’re a knowledge worker, the truth of this may become clear if you think about your own typical work day. Odds are good that you probably turn out five or six good, productive hours of hard mental work; and then spend the other two or three hours on the job in meetings, answering e-mail, making phone calls, and so on. You can stay longer if your boss asks; but after six hours, all he’s really got left is a butt in a chair. Your brain has already clocked out and gone home.

The other thing about knowledge workers is that they’re exquisitely sensitive to even minor sleep loss. Research by the US militaryhas shown that losing just one hour of sleep per night for a week will cause a level of cognitive degradation equivalent to a .10 blood alcohol level. Worse: most people who’ve fallen into this state typically have no idea of just how impaired they are. It’s only when you look at the dramatically lower quality of their output that it shows up. Robinson writes: “If they came to work that drunk, we’d fire them — we’d rightly see them as a manifest risk to our enterprise, our data, our capital equipment, us, and themselves. But we don’t think twice about making an equivalent level of sleep deprivation a condition of continued employment.”

And the potential for catastrophic failure can be every bit as high for knowledge workers as it is for laborers. Robinson cites the follow-up investigations on the Exxon Valdez disaster and the Challenger explosion. Both sets of investigators found that severely overworked, overtired decision-makers played significant roles in bringing about these disasters. There’s also a huge body of research on life-threatening errors made by exhausted medical residents, as well as research by the US military on the catastrophic effects of fatigue on the target discrimination abilities of artillery operators. (As Robinson dryly notes: “It’s a good thing knowledge workers rarely have to worry about friendly fire.”)

“Passion,” De-Unionization, and the End of the 40-Hour Week

How did this knowledge, which was so deeply embedded in three generations of American business management that it was utterly taken for granted, come to be so lost to us now? There are probably several answers to that, but there are three factors in particular that stand out.

The first is the emergence of Silicon Valley as an economic powerhouse in the late 1970s. Since WWII, the valley had attracted a unique breed of worker — scientists and technologists who carried with them a singular passion for research and innovation. Asperger’s Syndrome wasn’t named and identified until 1994, but by the 1950s, the defense industries in California’s Santa Clara Valley were already drawing in brilliant young men and women who fit the profile: single-minded, socially awkward, emotionally detached, and blessed (or cursed) with a singular, unique, laser-like focus on some particular area of obsessive interest. For these people, work wasn’t just work; it was their life’s passion, and they devoted every waking hour to it, usually to the exclusion of non-work relationships, exercise, sleep, food, and sometimes even personal care. The popular stereotype of the geek was born in some real truths about the specific kinds of people who were drawn to tech in those early years.

The culture that grew up in the valley over the next few decades reflected and valorized the peculiarities of what Lockheed’s company psychologists were calling by the late ’50s “the sci-tech personality.” Companies broadened their working hours, so programmers who came in at noon and worked through till midnight could make their own schedules. Dress codes were loosened; personal eccentricities were celebrated. HP famously brought in breakfast every morning so its engineers would remember to eat. The local 24-hour supermarket carried microchips alongside the potato chips, so techies working in their garages could stop in at 2am for snacks and parts.

And then, in the early ‘80s, Tom Peters came along, and promoted the Silicon Valley work ethic to the rest of the country in the name of “excellence.” He extolled tech giants like HP and Apple for the “passion” of their workers, and told old-industry employers that they could move into the new age by seeking out and rewarding that kind of passion in their employees, too. Though Peters didn’t advocate this explicitly, it was implicitly understood that to “passionate” people, 40-hour weeks were old-fashioned and boring. In the new workplace, people would find their ultimate meaning and happiness in the sheer unrivaled joy of work. They wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

There were two problems with this. The first is that this “passion” ideal didn’t recognize that the vast majority of people have legitimate physical, emotional and psychological needs — things like sleep, exercise, relaxation, and the maintenance of strong family and social support bonds — that these engineers didn’t have to nearly the same degree. The second was that most managers, lacking windows into their workers’ souls, decided to cut corners and measure passion with one easy-to-chart metric: “willingness to spend your entire life at the office.” (It was about this time, with gourmet company cafeterias and in-house fitness centers and on-site child care sprouting up in high-tech campuses all over town, that I realized if a company is working that hard to make the workplace feel like home, it’s a strong suggestion that their employees risk sanction if they ever attempt to visit their actual homes again.)

These were the early morning-in-America Reagan years. The unions — for 150 years, the guardians of the 40-hour week — were falling under a conservative onslaught; and in their place, the new cult of the entrepreneur was ascendant. All the old paternalistic contracts between employers and employees were torn up. Where companies once hoped to hire people young and nurture their careers through to a pensioned retirement — a lifelong relationship that required managers to take the long view about how to keep their workforces sustainably healthy and happy — young Gen Xers were being given a 401k and told to expect to change jobs every three to five years. Even while employers were demanding new levels of “passion” and commitment, they were also abdicating their old obligation to look after the long-term well-being of their employees.

The rapacious new corporate ethic was summarized by two phrases: “churn ‘em and burn ‘em” (a term that described Microsoft’s habit of hiring young programmers fresh out of school and working them 70 hours a week until they dropped, and then firing them and hiring more), and “working 90 hours a week and loving it!” (an actual T-shirt worn with pride by the original Macintosh team. Productivity experts estimate that we’d have probably had the Mac a year sooner if they’d worked half as many hours per week instead.) And this mentality soon spread from the technology sector to every industry in every corner of the country.

The new ideal was to unleash “internal entrepreneurs” — Randian übermenschen who would devote all their energies to the corporation’s success, in expectation of great reward — and who were willing to assume all the risks themselves. In this brave new world, the real go-getters were the ones who were willing to put in weekends and Saturdays, who put their families on hold, who ate at their desks and slept in their cubicles. Forty-hour weeks were for losers and slackers, who began to vanish from America’s business landscape. And with their passing, we all but forgot all the very good reasons that we used to have those limits.

Within 15 years, everything America’s managers used to know about sustaining worker productivity was forgotten. Now, 30 years and a few economic meltdowns on, the cafeterias and child-care centers and gyms are mostly gone, along with the stock options and bonuses that were once held out as the potential reward for the long hours. All that remains of those heady, optimistic days is the mandatory 60-hour work-week. And, unless you’re an hourly worker — still entitled to time and a half by law — the only inducement employers currently offer in exchange for submitting yourself to this abuse is that you get to keep your job.

Can We Bring It Back?

Bringing back the 40-hour work-week is going to require a wholesale change of attitude on the part of both employees and employers.

For employees, the fundamental realization is that an employer who asks for more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week is stealing something vital and precious from you. Every extra hour at work is going to cost you, big time, in some other critical area of your life. How will you make up the lost time? Will you ditch dinner and grab some fast food? Skip the workout? Miss the kids’ game this week? Sleep less? (Sex? What’s that?) And how many consecutive days can you keep making that trade-off before you are weakened in some permanent and substantial way? (Probably not as many as you think.) Changing this situation starts with the knowledge that an hour of overtime is a very real, material taking from our long-term well-being — and salaried workers aren’t even compensated for it.

There are now whole industries and entire branches of medicine devoted to handling workplace stress, but the bottom line is that people who have enough time to eat, sleep, play a little, exercise, and maintain their relationships don’t have much need of their help. The original short-work movement in 19th-century Britain demanded “eight for work, eight for sleep, and eight for what we will.” It’s still a formula that works.

For employers, the shift will be much harder, because it will require a wholesale change in some of the most basic assumptions of our business culture. Two generations of managers have now come of age believing that a “good manager” is one who can keep those butts in those chairs for as many hours as possible. This assumption is implicit in how important words like “productivity” and “motivation” are defined in today’s workplaces. A manager who can get the same amount of work out of people in fewer hours isn’t rewarded for her manifest skill at bringing out the best in people. Rather, she’s assumed to be underworking her team, who could clearly do even more if she’d simply demand more hours from them. If the crew is working 40 hours a week, she’ll be told to up it to 50. If they’re already at 50, management will want to get them in on nights and weekends, and turn it into 60. And if she balks — knowing that actual productivity will suffer if she complies — she won’t get promoted.

Of course, hiring new people is out of the question — again, especially when the workers are salaried. Squeezing extra time out of an employee when you’re not going to have to pay extra for it is seen as a total freebie by managers who cling to the delusion that they’re getting 50 percent more work in 50 percent more time. This belief also drives the fallacy that you can fire one person and divide their job between two other people, who will work an extra 20 hours per week for free — and that there is no possible downside to the company for doing this.

And of, course, that’s wrong.

And it hurts the country, too. For every four Americans working a 50-hour week, every week, there’s one American who should have a full-time job, but doesn’t. Our rampant unemployment problem would vanish overnight if we simply worked the way we’re supposed to by law.

We will not turn this situation around until we do what our 19th-century ancestors did: confront our bosses, present them with the data, and make them understand that what they are doing amounts to employee abuse — and that abuse is based on assumptions that are directly costing them untold potential profits. We may have to appeal to the shareholders, whose investments are at serious risk when employees are overworked. (At least one shareholder suit has already been filed against a computer game company that was notorious for working its people 80 hours a week for years on end. It was settled out of court on terms favorable to the plaintiffs.) We may have to get harder-nosed in negotiating with our bosses when we first take the jobs, and get our hours in writing up front — and then demanding that they stick with the contract down the line. And we also need to lean on our legislators to start enforcing the labor laws on the books.

But the bottom line is: For the good of our bodies, our families, our communities, the profitability of American companies, and the future of the country, this insanity has to stop. Working long days and weeks has been incontrovertibly proven to be the stupidest, most expensive way there is to get work done. Our bosses are depleting resources from of the human capital pool without replenishing them. They are taking time, energy, and resources that rightfully belong to us, and are part of our national common wealth.

If we’re going to talk about creating a more sustainable world, let’s start by talking about how to live low-stress, balanced work lives that leave us refreshed, strong and able to carry on as economic contributors for a full four or five decades, instead of burned out and broken by a too-early middle age. A full, productive 40-year career starts with full, productive 40-hour weeks. And nobody should be able to take that away from us, not even for the sake of a paycheck.

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  1. jerry

    How about *gasp* a 30-hour work week, or dare I say.. 10-20?? What is wrong with our society that we force ourselves to incessantly toil away for some future point that never comes? It boils down to our inner dissatisfaction with life and fear of death; running away from the silence, simplicity and joy of just being because our minds cannot tolerate that void of emptiness. I’ve met many types like this, oftentimes very successful (financially speaking), and they simply cannot stop. They are addicted to this push for more more more as our culture dictates, because if you keep chasing you never have to stop and face the inevitable.

    Of course, the other aspect is that we are wage slaves for the oligarchs and so we aren’t really given the choice to begin with. 50-60 hour work weeks or you can go be homeless. But the motivation is the same for the oligarchs – the insatiable hunger for power/ego and more and more, which ironically only brings about the opposite, spiritually speaking.

    “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” and all that jazz..

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      Oh, yes. I’d give up 25% of my pay for a 30-hour week in a heartbeat. Lack of time is the biggest problem in my life right now.

      And one of America’s biggest problems right now is its two-tiered workforce. There are the 40+ hour full-time employees who usually get decent pay and benefits (like health insurance), but have to hand the majority of their waking hours over to their employers. And then there are the part-time workers, who have more flexibility to pursue hobbies and spend time with friends, but are typically barely scraping by financially.

      There needs to be a middle ground. A shorter work-week would help with that.

      1. Carla

        I agree. When I was a young mom, I was lucky enough to be able to work 30 hours a week at a job I quite liked. The pay was very modest, but I was productive during each of those 30 hours, and therefore easily accomplished as much as my full-time colleagues. That halcyon period ended when my then-husband lost his job and I had to go to a full-time schedule. Nevertheless, I’ve always been grateful that for quite a few years, I could be there when our daughter got home from school, and could take her to various appointments, etc.

        For many people, a 20 – 30 hour work week would make for a very civilized lifestyle, if only the money were sufficient. For a couple with young children, having one parent work 20 hrs., and the other 30, could be just about ideal seems to me. Now we just have to change the world to make this an actual possibility!

      2. Keithmo

        Keynes predicted we would be working a 15-hour work week in the 21st century. Imagine a living wage at 15 hours a week! Well here we are. Where is it? Instead with gains in productivity, employers would rather cut pay and hours and force many people to piece together multiple jobs to make a living.

    2. cocomaan

      I negotiated work from home with my employer. I abuse the hell out of it and still manage to hit all my goals.

      But it took a decade of toiling to get to my current position. and the pay is kind of crappy. But the freedom is nice.

    3. Pete

      Yes. Note that the article says most office workers have 2-6 high quality hours per day in them. This lines up w/ my personal experience (another engineer w telecommute and flextime privileges here). 5 days x 6 hrs = 30. Use those days for critical quality intensive project phases. “Goal line” push phase can be 12 hrs for a few days but no more.

      An important assumption to this, in the western world, is that work that is not critical or is routine, can and will be either offshored or automated. This whole discussion does not apply in Juarez or Shenzen. For them, unions.

      Also, not mentioned: managers who work masochistic hours (b/c their bigger bonus incentives) – become awful planners. In a corporate environment, the project schedule trainwreck phenomenon compounds the costs of personell overload.

    4. Andrew Dodds

      A couple of years ago, I was off for several months as a result of illness.

      When coming back to work, I did a phased return, starting with 3×5 hour days and working up. I noticed that working 4x 6 hour days a week I was getting almost as much done as I ever did in 5 x 7.5 hour days.

      I could see 30 hour standard weeks working well in tech, with perhaps a caveat that you would have to take an hour for lunch. The tricky thing would be ensuring that employees slept properly. As the article says, it’s bizarre that sleep deprivation – fully known for terrible effects on performance – is seen as a badge of honour. Imagine replacing ‘We only slept 4 hours a night so we could release this product’ with ‘We wrote this product while 3-pint drunk’.

      Fixing it.. I think that mandatory overtime payment laws should be introduced. Forget trying to legislate hours directly – that requires employees who are prepared to speak up, and legal representation to protect against employers who flout the law. Simple make it a law that contracts must stipulate a standard hourly rate no matter what the job, and employees must be paid for every hour worked. Over 40 hours, and weekends would be time and a half. Over 60 hours, double time. Suddenly, that manager who forces everyone into 70-hour weeks is costing the business a fortune. Short surges would be fine, and employees appropriately rewarded. Politically, those who opposed such a law could be casting as pro-slavery and pro-working-for-free.

      1. EoH

        A sales engineer friend became self-employed and worked at a distance with a partner. He worked from about 6.30 am to 12.30 pm. In summer he then went fishing. In winter, he went to Florida and did the same.

        He felt he achieved as much or more in that shorter work day as he did working in an organization. He avoided most of the then mandatory time spent in meetings, socializing with co-workers, waiting while trying to get essential resources, and accounting for his time and spending. He did well and enjoyed life a great deal more.

        That’s not a recommendation for self-employment. He had a special personality and skill set well-suited to it. It is a suggestion that we rethink how we work. To paraphrase from the Bourne Ultimatum, “Do you even know why you’re supposed to [kill me] work like this?”

    5. J Sterling

      I don’t believe it’s about running away from death or that psychoanalytic stuff. I think the key lies with a nineteenth century ecologist (not economist) called Justus von Liebig, who stated that a plant thrives or not based on whatever is in minimum supply. Too little water and it doesn’t matter how much phosphorus you supply it with, and vice versa.

      No matter how we try to pay people fairly for their hours of work, they just go out into the housing market and bid against each other for a place to live. They bid living space up, and therefore themselves down. When the culture operated an effective bar on women being employed, houses strangely didn’t require dual income couples in order to be affordable. When more women entered the workplace (let me be clear, I do not regard this as a bad development) houses did not become more affordable. Darwin was saying something similar when he likened the evolutionary environment to a “tangled bank”, with every new entry necessarily putting pressure on the existing players.

      The other eighteenth/nineteenth century economist/ecologist to nail this was Malthus, but you mustn’t mention him as he was a bad man who said uncomfortable things.

  2. Bill Smith

    “On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day. Likewise, the overall output for the work week will be exactly the same at the end of six days as it would be after five days.”

    In my experience – having been self employed – this is not true. And even today in some counties people still work more than 40 hours and 5 days a week.

    But 40 hour weeks are great. By the way, the 40 hour weeks where bought to us by unions.

    1. gearandgrit

      Being self employed is a whole different ball game. Typically you’re taking on what would be 2 or more positions yourself to get started and maintain a small business, often for years. You’re also taking on a lot of risk at the benefit of a lot of potential reward. Most people are punching a clock and feel no real connection or loyalty to the widget maker that in turn doesn’t give half a crap about them.

    2. Michael Fiorillo

      “By the way, the 40 hour week was brought to us by the unions.”

      Not to be pedantic, but saying the unions “brought” us the 40 week neglects to acknowledge that it was struggled and fought for by the unions, with much suffering and violence along the way.

      Also, what on earth is the author talking about by referring to the unions “150-year guardianship” of the 40-hour week? The 40 hour week in the US dates from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The struggle for the 8-hour day in the US goes back at least to the Haymarket struggle of the 1890’s, but that was still in the context of a six-day work week. In the context of industrial capitalism, the 40-hour week is a wild aberration, the result of the social contract between Labor and Capital after WWII, which Capital started reneging on in the 70’s. Now, people are either expected/forced to work more than 40 hours (for free/without overtime), or in the case of retail and other workers, don’t get enough hours and have unpredictable schedules.

      Also, the discussion of “passion” in the workplace neglects the real dynamic behind it: power, control and conformity. Many if not most jobs suck, and as David Graeber has pointed out, are “bullshit jobs.” To associate “passion” with them is preposterous, defies common sense, and avoids the role of employer’s desire to dominate and control their workforce. It’s an organizational psychologist’s wet dream for getting employee’s to police themselves and each other, and get them to internalize the bosses’ desires. Barbara Ehrenreich has written eloquently about the pressure that employees are under to always be positive and “passionate.” Anything less brands you as a “not a team player,’ i.e. a malcontent. And that kind of thing can be contagious.

      At one time, not too long ago, it was enough to come in to work, do your job and go home. No longer: now you have to be a passionate believer; you have to be your job, and will be replaced if you can’t keep that smile pasted on your face at all times. We’ve all read the stories about the few clear-minded people working for the banks and on Wall Street who recognized the dangers of MBSs and CDOs, and we’re fired for “being so negative.” We’ll hear them again.

      1. john buell

        And it hurts the country, too. “For every four Americans working a 50-hour week, every week, there’s one American who should have a full-time job, but doesn’t. Our rampant unemployment problem would vanish overnight if we simply worked the way we’re supposed to by law.”

        What is missed here is that this is a feature not a bug. Control of the workplace depends on the discipline of the sack, as Kalecki pointed out in the forties. In a full employment economy employers lose the discipline the possibility of the sack imposes. So bosses fight hard to have a core of very long hour jobs and a pool of insecure, unemployed and/or involuntary part timers. Then for the full time workers the work pace is intensified and deskilled. All of this could be changed but only as part of a broader class struggle. Not to say, however, that there is not some good contribution to such a struggle in this post.

        1. J Sterling

          And Marx. He called the unemployed fifth man the “reserve army of labor”, available for strike breaking at any time.

    3. Boomka

      If science was done based on polling people on what is true based on “in my experience” observations, we would likely still believe the earth is flat and were doing witch hunts.
      First of all, of course there are some outliers (people and/or situations) on a “number of hours for max productivity” distribution – after all it cannot be a delta function. But it is the trends and averages that matter for setting workplace policies.
      Second, your observations are subject to severe cognitive biases. The same research that shows maximum total output in software is achieved at 35-40 hours per week, shows that developers who put in more hours are not aware of the severe cognitive degradation they experience. As they pump out tons of code late at night on Tuesday they feel great about themselves and believe they have just done a lot of great productive work. On Wednesday morning they come in to discover loads of bugs in that code, and spend the entire day hunting and fixings those bugs. At the end of the day they again feel like they had a great 16 hour day full of productive hours. But the reality is that if they were working sustainably, the code they were writing on Tuesday would have been shorter and smarter, and would not require working until late night, and it would not contain all the bugs that then require entire Wednesday to fix. Of course, developers themselves cannot see that because they cannot run the same exact project twice, at different pace, and see how it compares. But the productivity researchers can do exactly that, by setting many teams on identical projects many times, rotating them through different work policies, and teasing out the real effects in resulting statistics.
      Third, one should always take care when applying findings based on measurements done in specific ways to situations where measurements are done very differently. If you work as a night guard somewhere, and you actually sleep through the night because your only responsibility is to be there if alarm goes off, then technically you “worked” for the entire night which may be 10 or 12 hours, but the findings of this research would not apply to you because you were actually just sleeping.

  3. IanB

    As a small business owner, thank you for this. I’m summarizing and forwarding it to my HR person and senior management this morning.

    1. cocomaan

      As someone with a small company/self employment, I am fearful of bringing it up with my boss. Retaliation can be ugly.

  4. EoH

    I agree with Yves’s comment about the German work culture. The same is true with the Dutch. No messing around during the day, barring set lunch breaks and the odd cup of coffee, to which they are addicted. Yum. Meetings are brutally direct, to the point, and over.

    In the west, it’s the US, with the Brits coming up fast, that is bonkers about demanding 24/7 availability. The spreading of no hours contracts, with no minimum hours, and frequent changes in work schedules are debilitating. Worse is the abuse of employment relationships. The so-called gig economy mischaracterizes employment as self-employment, or “employment” through a contractor, when all rules are set by the client. It is an abuse built around tax avoidance and socializing the costs of low paid labor.

    It does not rationally seem to be about squeezing out more work. It does seem to be about socializing costs and privatizing profits, and about keeping people from having any focus to their lives but a precarious hold on work.

    1. Arizona Slim

      The gig economy should be called the frig economy. Because it keeps frigging us over.

      1. ProNewerDeal

        I feel as though the gig job workers, working multiple PT/seasonal/gig jobs, are in a “feast or famine” mode. Some weeks may have 70+ hr wks, in which it is hard to maintain any personal/family tasks/responsibilities. Other weeks may be underemployed at under 40 hrs, which require the weeks where overwork is available. Both type of workweeks are stressful, each in a unique way.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      The French are similar. I once worked in London with a joint venture engineering company with an equal share of British, American and French engineers (I worked for the US partner and part of my job was ensuring all the different teams were coordinating). The French all claimed not to speak English so they never attended meetings and only replied to memos or emails if a very senior manager was brought down to force them to answer. The were first in the office the morning, but at lunchtime they all went for long, wine filled sessions, and basically snoozed at their desks for the rest of the afternoon and wandered off about 5.

      The US and British engineers were openly contemptuous about them, until about 2 years into the project when they suddenly realised the French were way ahead of schedule and waiting for everyone else to catch up. I reckon they did about 4-5 hours of solid concentrated work in the mornings fuelled by coffee, and that was enough to ensure everything that needed to be done, was completed, they had no interest in any of the superfluous aspects of office life.

      1. EoH

        I agree about the white collar business French. Long lunches involved enjoying food and the company you shared it with. Time on the job was focused and productive. Weekends, absurdly early or frequent late hours were right out.

        Just as America has a radical form of business culture and capitalism, it has radical expectations about the intensity of one’s focus on work. It pays only lip service to other aspects of life. Homo economicus is one expression of that intensely narrow focus, which benefits only capital.

        Europe is just as productive as the US, with much higher satisfaction with life scores. Relatively low cost education and universal health care might be one reason for that, just as the absence of those things in the US is touted as freedom, at least for someone.

        1. Catsick

          On the subject of boozy lunches, when I started work in London in the early nineties on a Friday lunchtime the whole office headed down the pub and basically spent all afternoon there with the secretary running back and forth with any important messages. Shortly after moved to a US firm with a much more puritanical outlook but much more time wasted on inane meetings. I think we lost something allong the way when long boozy lunches are so frowned upon wile execs instead sneak off and spend 2 hours in the gym at lunch.

          As an aside if you are going to drink then lunch is by far the best time to do it, the body can process all the alcohol in the afternoon and you get a good nights sleep and then voila ! No hangover and a productive next day ….

          1. Wukchumni

            I worked for a firm that had a bar in their building, and it was a mortal sin for either keg of light beer or better quality suds to ever be empty. There were probably 40 other choices of libation as well.

            We’d congregate after work and b/s about our day whilst hoisting something fermented, and yes, it seems like a tailor made lawsuit now driving home drunk from your workplace bar, but this was the 80’s, and we didn’t think about such matters, ha!

      2. zer0

        I worked as an engineer for a decade in auto, water and pharma industries designing implant devices, hydraulic valves, powertrain systems, basically complex electromechanical devices.

        When you are an engineer, you quickly learn that you are holding about 80% of the entire projects workload while everyone else pretty much goofs off and holds meetings to waste your time explaining “the status of the project”.

        There is no such thing as a 40 hour work week for an engineer. It doesn’t matter if you are French/German/American/Chinese/Polish and unless you are working in a slow paced R&D setting, you are going at break neck speed designing, prototyping, validating over and over until you start calling China every other day at 8-9pm to walk them through making it. You are working 55+ hours regularly sometimes close to 70, making 2/3rds the pay of the finance department, and getting almost no credit. So I have very little respect for those that are in constant meetings and call it ‘work’, or talk about how they can get all of their work done in 30 hours (‘so why 40 hours?’ they ask). They have no clue what it means to work 24/7 for a living in an environment where your work can actually be quantified DAILY and not doing something means the entire project stalls and your fired. This is opposed to the analyst or program manager, where not doing work is fine as long as they do everything their boss says to do (which is like 50% of what they should be doing).

        I had a friend, a brilliant engineer that worked at a valve company that had recently been asset strip-mined by a PE firm. He basically rebuilt the company from the ground up working 60+ hours a week getting the company back on track, designed 2-3 product lines in 4 years when the company hadnt introduced a new product in a decade. When the PE firm finally sold it (to another PE firm – imagine that), they quickly fired the CTO (who obviously thought my buddy was amazing) and promoted a recently hired “program manager” over him. He worked 60+ hours/week while his dad died of cancer and his girlfriend left him. He was about 45 yo at the time, unmarried, no kids, but by far the most brilliant engineer I had ever seen. He was a walking reflection of going through the grinder that is being an American engineer.

        He talked about the Chinese and French engineers all the time, and pointed out that they did about HALF the work that the American team did. Yes even the Chinese were not as driven as the American team as they had more holidays, longer too. And dont even get me started on the French. The only thing I have seen French engineers do well is bitch about the aesthetics of a particular project and get everything done late or not at all. They also always make snide comments on the poor design sense of Americans (completely unprofessional), and love complaining about virtually everything. But ask them to design a simple plastic hinge? It’s akin to asking yourself to re-design it about 6 months later after they f*** it up. Ive been through this time and time again, in auto, pharma, water, etc. I have no idea what you have seen or where but that is very much the exception to rule.

        I also take offense to the “doing less is more”. What a load of crap. You think the Chinese or Japanese tell their much more academically successful kids to work less? We can have a philosophical discussion on whether or not it is healthy to work long and hard, but let us all be honest for a second: the guy working harder and longer is getting smarter and more efficient than the guy working less, because the human brain is like a muscle. Im sure they dont tell Olympians to ‘run less’ when they are training for a marathon, so telling an engineer to work 40 hours a week when HE KNOWS that 40 hours a week wont cut it, is not only stupid but frankly disrespectful.

        So what I get most frustrated about is not the 40hr work week, but the fact that work is not rewarded evenly AT ALL by the current system of over-consolidation of money, wealth, and power in the hands of the immature few.

        1. Andrew Dodds

          OK, and now breathe..

          I’m not sure what your point really is here..

          – You talk about a guy who worked 60+ hour weeks and destroyed his life in the process. That’s an argument for a 40-hour week in my book.

          – You think that working longer and harder automatically makes you better without limit. This is trivially false. Would a 168-hour week be optimal? Should we just throw all the research on sleep and cognitive performance out of the window?

          – The brain is not ‘like a muscle’, it’s like a neural network. Neural networks – artificial or biological – require downtime for memory reinforcement processes; this seems to happen in sleep. There will also be a limit to the amount of change/learning that can happen between rest periods. Nothing will get around that.

          – Overtraining. Google it. Olympians do in fact limit their training schedules to the optimum.

        2. EoH

          Where did all the benefit from those super long hours go? Retained by the firm as a going concern, used on better working conditions and pay so that more and better ideas could be designed and commercialized?

          Or was it strip-mined by one PE firm after another, imposing debt burdens no going concern could pay and remain a going concern? A line from Hamlet comes to mind.

        3. Steve

          I’m pretty sure every end of life research program ended up with one of the top answers to the question “What would you have done differently with your life?” being “I wish I had worked less!”

        4. uxxx

          Yeah, been there, done that as a product development engineer (formerly mech/fluid systems, now fluid systems/software).

          As you are clearly aware, it’s a sucker’s game.

          I have the utmost respect and gratitude for people such as you and your colleague, the world indeed owes you a giant thank-you. But just step back a second.

          Alternative 1: Your time to market can be a little longer, the world can turn a tiny bit slower – and you can live a better life.

          Alternative 2: Employers such as the one you describe can afford extra technical staff to spread the workload. This should be obvious, since they can afford entire departments spending 20 hrs a week on the powerpoint circlejerk and the social grooming behaviors of the C-suite. (exception to this is sales… the fluff is justified in their case)

          If you give way your 40th to 60th hours for free, your employer will gladly accept. They’re a business, not a charity. And so are you.

  5. James Trigg

    As a poor man I liked time and a half for overtime. Also for a small shop to pay time and a half overtime is better than hiring an extra worker. Sure I would have liked more money and better working conditions but I have to work in the real world. A strong honest capitalist system is best for poor people. Working in Great Britain in the 60’s would have been depressing. Although depressing English working conditions did produce the Beatles.

    1. a different chris

      How often did you work time and 1/2? Could they have just given you a raise and got the same work done in 40 hrs? Becasue it is quite possible that you subconciously didn’t get what was needed done because you wanted the money.

      At a Navistar plant I visited, the engineers claimed it wasn’t subconcious at all. Senior assembly workers, at least they claimed, would “fail” to plug in a radio or whatever. QC would flag the truck as having a failed radio, and it would go to the rework area. Then the same guy would fix it by pulling the unit and putting it back in, this time actually connecting the wiring.

      I don’t know who to believe, but it is quite plausible. A great Dilbert is about how money doesn’t necessarily drive the right behaviors. When the Boss says he would pay for “bugs” found, Wally said he was going to essentially code himself a new Minivan.

  6. a

    Following comment on Ben Hunnicutt’s research on Kellogg’s 6 hour work day (Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt, Kellogg’s Six-Hour Day. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, November 1996):

    By 1941, when the union struck Kellogg’s for the first time, a sizeable 8-hour
    faction had emerged. During World War II, the company switched to a 48-hour
    workweek, but promised to revert to 6-hour shifts after the emergency ended.

    In mid-1946, employees reaffirmed their commitment to the short workday, with
    87 percent of women and 71 percent of men voting for six hours. Over the
    course of the next decade, however, the tide turned. By 1957 most departments
    had opted to switch to the 8-hour shift, so that only about one-quarter of the
    work force, mostly women, retained the six-hour shift. Finally, in 1985, the last department voted to adopt an 8-hour workday.

    What happened between the end of World War II and the late 1950s that caused
    workers to change their minds about how much to work and how much to earn?
    Hunnicutt points to a new approach by Kellogg’s management, part of a broader
    trend in management during this period. Managers became coaches rather than
    authoritarian drivers and tried to “sell” workers on the importance of doing
    their jobs and seeing work as the center of their lives. Management began to
    denigrate and “feminize” shorter hours.

    National union officials were very willing to trade shorter hours for offers of
    hourly wage increases. But most importantly many workers, especially male employees, seem to have changed their tastes.

    They became embarrassed by the short hours that they were working–shorter
    than the shifts worked by men at other local jobs. They changed their rhetoric,
    down-playing the freedom that leisure gave, and asserting that they were
    “unable to afford” a six-hour shift, that longer hours were needed to “‘keep
    the wolf from the door,’ ‘feed the family,’ and ‘put bread on the table’” (p.
    140). Hunnicutt confronted some of his interviewees who made these assertions.

    “If the author dared to ask, ‘You don’t really mean that you would have starved to death if you kept on working six hours?’ the typical response was defensive, as if the author had accused the speaker of lying rather than of making his point strongly” (p. 140). In the end, most of Hunnicutt’s witnesses are incapable of telling us why they decided that eight-hour workdays were preferable to six-hour workdays. Moreover,
    hyperbole seems just as evident in the responses of those favoring six hours and lamenting its demise. They exaggerate–saying that eight-hour advocates are willing to work themselves “to death” and claiming that workers on a six-hour shift produced as much as those on an eight-hour shift. It seems that the historical record is incapable of explaining this shift in tastes (if indeed there was a shift in tastes) because the actors have reinterpreted their own earlier decisions, exaggerating either the marginal costs or the marginal benefits, so that their choices can be more readily rationalized. Only a few workers profess that the choice was a close call.

    Ultimately, most men during the 1950s needed little convincing that eight-hours
    and higher pay were preferable. Six-hour workdays wouldn’t let them keep up with the Joneses and many men did not receive much enjoyment from their marginal leisure hours. “Like management, senior male workers were concerned about the loss of status and control. Several men told about the friction that resulted when the men spent too much time around the house: ‘The wives didn’t like the men underfoot all day.’ ‘The wife always found something for me to do if I hung around.’ ‘We got into a lot of fights.’ Many of the men confessed that they were at loose ends when they were working six hours” (p. 142). In Hunnicutt’s interpretation, it was a
    combination of outside pressures and the inability of men (but not women) to learn how to use their leisure time, that caused the reversion to eight-hours. An alternative interpretation emphasizes broader macroeconomic events.

    In the 1930s and again in 1946 when soldiers returned to take back their old jobs, workers were willing to accept shorter hours as a way of minimizing their odds of becoming unemployed and, more altruistically, “sharing” work with unfortunates. During the 1950s, the threat of unemployment evaporated and the moral condemnation for being a “work hog” no longer made sense. In addition, the rise of quasi-fixed employment costs (such as health insurance) induced management to push workers toward a longer workday.

    1. a different chris

      Well that is interesting: 6 hrs put the husbands “underfoot all day” but 8 hrs did not? Using the rough 8/8/8 rule that means that going 6/10/8, that is going from 8->6 hrs, made an unexpectedly major difference.

      I’m thinking that it shows clearly that much past 6 hrs is not healthy. Simply because “working” those men – more accurately, confining them – an extra 2 hrs of Phase I (work) made a major change in their Phase II (home, awake) behavior per their wives. From “being underfoot” to, I suspect, quietly collapsed in a chair. Anybody want to check the below timeline with the American obesity epidemic?

      In mid-1946, employees reaffirmed their commitment to the short workday, with
      87 percent of women and 71 percent of men voting for six hours. Over the
      course of the next decade, however, the tide turned. By 1957 most departments
      had opted to switch to the 8-hour shift, so that only about one-quarter of the
      work force, mostly women, retained the six-hour shift. Finally, in 1985, the last department voted to adopt an 8-hour workday.

  7. a different chris

    >Even when I had a more reasonable life, I’d go from periods of being in overdrive to off.

    Yes, me too (although I’m reversed, *now* is my “more reasonable life”). But you (and I) went to OFF. They article is talking about working excessive hours, then “only” (from the employer’s perspective) getting out of bed, leaving your home/family, struggling thru traffic and spending the nicest 8 hrs of every day in the same cube. And if you aren’t the boss, the internal pressure is to “look busy” so you try to do something.

    Another part of my life, in a group of about a dozen in a layer just below the original 3 founders, my group did work 40 hr weeks. We usually spent Monday morning trying to figure out what all they broke in the code since Friday @5, Monday afternoon discussing why they broke it and if we should do it right or do it differently, and sometimes into Wednesday acting on it however it was decided.

    These were brilliant people, and their weekend work simply sucked. But nobody could stop them.

  8. Wyoming

    Interesting implications here regarding Musk and Tesla.

    He is quite clearly in the Silicon Valley mode of work ethic and approach. And trying to adapt? it to the heavy manufacturing world which all those statistics in the article talk about. Sleeping at the factory, three shifts, pulling in workers from other areas to supplement those actually trained to do the work, expecting nerd passion for some idea out of assembly line workers. What could go wrong.

    So is he doomed to failure or not. IF the gist of this article is correct Musk is heading inevitably towards failure and the harder he pushes the quicker it will come.

  9. Left in Wisconsin

    1. Here’s an idea: how about unions?
    2. Yes, we need a shorter workweek. No, this article is not convincing. I have spent a lot of time looking at industrial engineering in the early 20th century and I have never come across the claims made in this article, particularly the claim that it was well-known a firm could get more (absolute) output, not just higher output per hour, from a 40-hr week than a 50 or 60 hour week.
    3. As Yves points out, many of us do our best work in ‘boom-and-bust’ cycles, working all out on a project and then taking it easy for awhile. Not that, to my knowledge, Yves ever takes it easy.

  10. LJ

    One reason for the rise in longer hours is the unrealistic deadlines set for tasks to be completed. The TSB debacle might be the latest case study but it is widespread. In most cases, the timeline is set is not for any good reason and a more relaxed and reasonable timeline would not result in financial or other real consequences. Moreover, so often things were left undone and then there was a mad rush to finish things as hard deadlines approached. Time management was very poorly done and it usually came from the top. In small business/start ups and some other areas, a longer workday is necessary in many cases as other commenters have noted. But in larger enterprises it is often unnecessary and based bad philosophy.

    1. EoH

      Abusive managers often set unrealistic deadlines. It’s an ego thrill and creates more opportunity for abuse.

  11. Ape

    What our ancestors did primarily was to discipline each other – then the bosses followed. These progressive type discussions miss that – individual freedom to work more in a market equals lack of freedom to work less.

  12. bruce wilder

    Political thinking about work (on the left, does any thinking take place on the right?) seems wildly fragmented to me. I just left off reading articles about Basic Income and Job Guarantee policies, at least one of which struck me as a variant of “flying cars” (i.e. why can’t the future be like Star Trek?). Mainstream economics just barely admits there are employment relationships (“labor markets” — as if there are such critters in the wild). Meanwhile, climate change and ecological collapse looms on a dark horizon. It is a mad jumble, leading to cacophony.
    It does seem to me that human beings need to find the collective political will to constrain ourselves pretty severely in our use of all energy. Everything we do produces so many “externalities” as the economists would say, that there would be great benefits is dialing back and dialing down. Just having fewer people commuting to work in a major metropolis on any given weekday would reduce congestion and frustration and time-waste.

    In the U.S. at least, finding ways for people to “make money” pushes lots and lots of people into work that benefits no one on net: how many cold calls do I get on my business cellphone trying to sell services I do not need? There are good arguments, often linked to or presented on this blog, that hint pretty strongly that Americans would be healthier and happier if the country spent a great deal less on health care; there’s a strong case for chopping the financial sector down in size, which would turn a lot of people out of jobs that pay well but do work that is not worth doing.

    I guess what I am trying to argue is that there is a Big Picture context for work sharing / work reduction that makes the argument more complicated but also, maybe, more deeply persuasive as well as urgent. We need to connect revising the cultural norms around hours of work to solving these other economic problems: the environmental problem of using too much energy and therefore causing too much pollution and waste; the economic problem of unrestrained capitalism generating too much salesmanship and fraud and annoyance and waste and excess at the margin.

    1. tomk

      Thank you for this excellent comment. It is so clear that reducing production and consumption of material goods and reducing energy use will help our well being, but the need for growth in our economy makes it difficult to work towards that goal. The economy is imaginary, the planet and its inhabitants are real and should take priority.

    2. JBird

      Political thinking about work (on the left, does any thinking take place on the right?) seems wildly fragmented to me.

      I have come across some. The American Conservative is focused on the political and social but also does economics. Like much of “liberal” acceptable mainstream economic thought has been only neoliberal think-tanks funded by such like Silicon Valley or Wall Street, so too with any conservative thinkers. Serious and honest conservative thinkers are already fewer in numbers and have few ways to make a living, publish anything or get an audience.

      With the pushback of leftists against the neoliberalism, I’m hoping that rightwing thinkers will also get organized and start pushing. We need good thought, real discussions, and multiple viewpoints.

      On that fragmentation. It is deliberate. There has been an effort for decades to push aside and ignore everyone not of either neoliberal or libertarian economic thought although that comprises a small part of economic thought. If some 1% gives you a new building or funds a chair you will hire the type of people he wants for that building or chair.

  13. Kevin the Cynic

    As someone who is bound to participate in the existential wasteland of the American Low-Wage Corporate economy, my observation is that that the instability (or required 24/7 availability) of scheduling is designed to destroy any semblance of a Routine, and the stemming benefits. Often schedules are posted in weekly fragments, with only two or three days before the new work week is revealed, leaving employees unable to properly organize around their free-time, whether it be social or for personal pursuits. This reality is compounded by the common practice of Off Days being non-consecutive, which allows only 24 hour windows of opportunity to accomplish tasks, rather than a 48 unbroken period. This arrangement can create conditions that potentially require a person to work ten days straight without a single day off: having Sunday-Monday off the first week and Friday-Saturday off the next, without a single hour of overtime during this entire period, since the 40-hour Work Week is based off pre-structured periods (Sunday through Saturday) and not on unbroken work days. While management usually states that “requests” can be made to have certain days off on a non-recurring basis, these requests are non-binding and often require a non-social reason before they are approved. The end result is a work force that is often exhausted, devoid of regular socialization outside of the workplace, and effectively trained to justify how they use their free-time to those in positions of authority.

    The structuring of the work week, however, is only a small portion of the conditioning that employees are subjected to in the workplace. The Write Up system, which often operates off of a “Three-Strikes” Policy, often times has a clause built into it in which a Write Up is given if a previous one is contested, and even if the first is later retracted the second one remains. This effectively punishes any rebellion against unjustified punishment, making the entire point of the affair an exercise in Obedience. I often characterize the relationship between employees and management/employers to be akin to that those portrayed in 19th Century Literature, especially that of the proper English vein. Management acts with an almost puritanical condescension towards the employees, who are often characterized—albeit indirectly and through innuendo—within business culture as shiftless, disorganized, and lacking the proper guidance to succeed, which can be provided through proper submission to Authority. All of this is wrapped up in a puerile “We’re all family!” façade that attempts to create a “workplace culture,” in which the end result is not the fostering an actual sense of camaraderie among workers but instead to effectively reinforce internal Corporate Propaganda through insincere gestures.

    I would describe the workplace environment of the lower end of the workforce as increasing resembling something akin to a modern Dickensian Landscape in which a near cult-like mentality is propagated within the workplace with the ever present socio-economic abyss of unemployment being tacitly exploited as a passive means of enforcing this indoctrination. Given that employers are increasing sharing employment history, to be fired or quite now and in the future will possess a level of stigma that elicits negative consequences. It’s an increasingly bleak reality, especially in light of increased workplace surveillance in which every business owners conducts their own miniature NSA. Fear is the name of the game. I see the only way out as being the path outlined by John Michael Greer, which is to effectively take the plunge out of the system entirely and reconcile one’s self to a life of dignified Poverty.

    1. juliania

      Thank you for posting this. It is much more to the point, as I see happening to my youngest son – and rather than having too many hours, his workplaces have seen to it that never did he qualify for overtime, or for that matter reach a forty hour week. He was supposed to be part time, with a second job – but how could he do that when the schedule was always changing? The weeks would overlap as you describe, so in effect some “weeks” were indeed overtime, though he never ever got overtime pay.

      You can’t last on such a cruel schedule.

      1. ambrit

        The cruelty is deliberate.
        When the ‘Salvage Store’ chain wanted to get rid of me, they cut my hours progressively until I was “working” four hours a week for three weeks in a row. I not taking the hint, I was told to look elsewhere for work. Never was I given a layoff notice.
        Luckily, I qualified for what passes for Unemployment here.
        Now, the salaried employees of the same chain were explicitly told to work for fifty hours a week or more. It was in their orientation booklet, in black and white. Through reading between the lines, I discovered that all the lower level salaried employees were not being paid that much. The manager had the now standard salary plus bonus arrangement.
        Now, compare that “Infarcation Station” to the head office, also in our small city. A medium small sized lobby. A single well dressed woman behind a four foot high bar style desk. Imagine a nurses station or security checkpoint in a hospital. In that room, several pieces of “Modern Art.” Most are medium sized prints of financial themes. One of the Statue of Liberty overlaid on the Wall Street temple facade. Another of something looking like a psychedelic bank note. Finally, a larger sized, as in a three foot by four foot print of the AMEX exchange floor by LeRoy Nieman. Numbered and signed, no less. A message is being sent, to those who can see it.
        Inside, a cluster of cubicles with very busy looking people. Around the perimeter of the room, quite a large room, small private offices. On the wall of the office of one of the middle level managers I was on speaking terms with was a Rodrigue “Blue Dog.” “That yours?” I asked. “Heavens no,” was the reply, “I couldn’t afford that. It’s the boss’s. He likes to decorate the offices from his private collection.” When I was ready to leave, I noticed the ultimate in-joke hanging next to the exit door from the office; a send up version of Andy Warhol. A four panel grouping of the company logo, a goofy chicken, in complementary colours. About three by four, gracing the entrances and exits of the workforce. Message received.

  14. Another Anon

    This attitude that one must work 60 or more hours a week is common
    in American university science departments. This attitude is mostly, but not completely directed at graduate students and post doctoral fellows. The latter are people who are in their first (or second) job after getting a doctoral degree and are temporary lasting usually 2 or 3 years.

    This letter was written to the graduate students at a very well regarded astronomy department in the Western US in response to a first year graduate student who innocently asked what was expected of him and the complete letter with some
    comments who are mostly professional scientists can be can be found here


    Here is the first part:

    Dear Grads,

    The Academic Program Committee (Professor A, Professor B, Professor C, Professor D, Professor E , Professor F, Professor G, Professor H, Professor I, Professor J, Professor K) just completed its review of the grads. Below is a long letter (which is usually better than several shorter ones) summarizing that review, some information for graduate students, and the concerns that you expressed in your department evaluations.

    In general, we are pleased with how our students are progressing through our program.

    There are, however, several areas of concern that we want to bring to your attention.

    First, while some students are clearly putting their hearts and souls into their research, and spending the hours at the office or lab that are required, others are not. We have received some questions about how many hours a graduate student is expected to work. There is no easy answer, as what matters is your productivity, particularly in the form of good scientific papers. However, if you informally canvass the faculty (those people for whose jobs you came here to train), most will tell you that they worked 80-100 hours/week in graduate school. No one told us to work those hours, but we enjoyed what we were doing enough to want to do so. We were almost always at the office, including at night and on weekends. Nowadays, with the internet, it is fine to work from home sometimes, but you still miss out on learning from and forming collaborations with other graduate students when everyone does not work in the same place at the same time.

    We realize that students with families will not have 80-100 hours/week to spend at work. Again, what matters most is productivity. Any faculty member or mentoring/thesis committee will be more than happy to work with any student to develop strategies to maximize productivity, even in those cases where the student is unable to devote more than 60 hours to their work per week.

    You were all admitted to our program because you expressed the ambition of becoming a research astronomer. We know that you are concerned about the market for post-docs and faculty positions. Yet the market is no worse or better than it is has been for at least a decade or two. The people who will get the best jobs are the type of people who always get the best jobs, those with a truly exceptional level of dedication to science, who seize ownership of their research and careers, and who fix problems instead of blaming others for them. If you find yourself thinking about astronomy and wanting to work on your research most of your waking hours, then academic research may in fact be the best career choice for you.

    There is more to the letter and it got some push back as can be seen here:

    The comments are also interesting and mostly from professional scientists. I have been told by a colleague who had a friend in that department that in the next year there was a big decrease in the number of graduate school applications. I myself was once berated by a visiting senior scientist who told me that I really need to be putting in more hours at work. Semi-politely, I told him to piss off and made a note never to apply for a job at his institution.

    This general attitude that one needs to put in the hours is also in US Chemistry departments. Though written in 1996, the writer says it is still current . Here is the link:


    Imagine the gall of not showing up at work on
    weekends and at night,

    1. Catsick

      Wow that email is a real eye opener what a nasty place to be ….

      The reason I did maths at uni was it meant I only had to do a max of 10 hours work a week, so I guess my entire undergraduate 3 years would equate to about 9 weeks of real work to these grad students…

    2. cnchal

      Interesting comment. According to Philip Mirowski and his article linked to in yesterday’s Water Cooler about the neoliberalism movement, scientists are the latest group of people about to or already have their jawbs crapified into a gig economy “science version 2” jawb.

      I am sorry for your loss.

  15. Wukchumni

    “If work is so important, how come they have to pay us to show up?”

    From some New Zealander I met

  16. Altandmain

    I think that the brutal reality is that management is not after the highest profits, but rather they want to dominate their employees.

    It has been said before that many companies would be a lot more profitable if they adopted a more democratic system of management. It is likely that the same would be true about the amount of hours worked.

    That is not what management is after. They are after relative wealth (ex: high inequality) rather than absolute wealth. At least not at larger corporations anyways.

    The same could be said about vacations too, with the corporate culture of looking down on people who take vacation.

    1. Temporarily Sane

      I think that the brutal reality is that management is not after the highest profits, but rather they want to dominate their employees.

      I believe it. It is especially blatant at the unskilled and semi-skilled end of the employment spectrum where micromanaging employees and treating them like criminals who can’t be trusted is the rule.

      It’s like management’s greatest fear is workers becoming used to, and therefore demanding, being treated with basic respect. The horror! Next thing you know the ingrate proles will start grumbling about a “living wage” and other Stalinist entitlements that erode the company work ethic…

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I believe it [the will to dominate] is also especially at the skilled end of the employment spectrum. Engineers and programmers are micromanaged to extremes but they are less often treated like criminals who can’t be trusted. They are treated as slow, or incompetent, or lazy if they miss deadlines. I still want to call this will to dominate, or will to power, the Managerial Demiurge as C. Wright Mills termed this feature of work life in “White Collar”.

  17. PKMKII

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the end of the 40 hour work week began at the same time that first-line management stopped being people who promoted out of the firm’s labor, and started being graduates fresh out of their MBA programs. It’s one thing to read a bunch of papers about workday lengths, another to experience firsthand what it’s like to work 9+ hours a day. Plus, the MBA’s notion of what a 9+ hour day looks like includes a lot more downtime (travel, time spent in meeting where they’re not actively participating, meetings that are really lunches, promotional activities) than what is in labor’s 9+ hour day.

    1. Altandmain

      Yes I agree with you. The MBAs have been a terrible drain on society.

      I wonder if there is a selection bias going on in the MBAs programs, where the most ruthless climb on to the top of the corporate ladder.

      Part of it though is due to the way that MBAs are taught. Case studies do not make MBAs graduates experts, no matter what they might think. They are extremely limited to the context of the case study. Worse, they are often modified to make students think the way that the corporate elite want them to think.

  18. Irrational

    I’m one of those pesky Europeans and I have tried i) 60-70 hour weeks sustained for several years, ii) 60-70 hour peaks for 2-3 weeks and iii) normal workweeks of 40-45 hours. Don’t wish the first option on anyone – I was shattered (coupled with commuting every other weekend to see my husband), second option was feasible and the last (my current) option is manageable and I am a lot more productive (throughout in a white collar-type job). Why does anyone think 50-60-70 hour weeks are a good idea?

    1. Wukchumni

      We Americans have been trained to feel guilty about taking vacations, not that we get anywhere near the duration of most any European, and we try and give 140% of 40 hours of work whenever possible.

      It’s a sad commentary on what we’ve become…

      1. JTMcPhee

        And the Pure-itans, the progenitors of neoliberalism, brought us that deathless phrase, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop…”

  19. Jeremy Grimm

    I have long been fond of Bertrand Russell’s essay “In Praise of Idleness”. I think a couple of selections from his essay might be of value in considering this post.

    “The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich. In England, in the early nineteenth century, fifteen hours was the ordinary day’s work for a man; children sometimes did as much, and very commonly did twelve hours a day. When meddlesome busybodies suggested that perhaps these hours were rather long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief.”

    “We have been misled in this matter [moving matter about — manual labor] by two causes. One is the necessity of keeping the poor contented, which has led the rich, for thousands of years, to preach the dignity of labor, while taking care themselves to remain undignified in this respect.”

    Russell wrote from the perspective of what is a very different time than our own … and not so very different.

    1. JBird

      Your and Kevin the Cynic’s earlier comments touch on some important points including the desire to control through abusive working conditions including unhealthy working environments; it is unprofitable to treat employees that way as it causes a loss in productivity, therefore income, and finally profit; this was understood by employers in the 19th century, but they did it anyways. It also was not a shortage of labor as usually they could easily hired enough people to run shorter shifts.

      It appears that the desire to create a class of overworked, exhausted, impoverished, hungry, and sickly workers that they could lord over was more important than being as profitable as possible. That is just disturbing. The owners and managers were willing to pay for the fun of torturing their created class of what we might call the Deplorables.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I recall reading somewhere that the poor quality and health of the mass conscripts available for World War I — the class of overworked, exhausted, impoverished, hungry, and sickly workers — shocked the British military. They were almost too used up to become cannon fodder.

  20. pat b

    ” By World War II, the consensus was clear and widespread: even (or especially!) under the extreme demands of wartime, overworking employees is counterproductive and dangerous, and no competent workplace should ever attempt to push its people beyond that limit.”

    I point out to people that in WW2, we beat the Nazi with a 40 hour work week.

    1. JTMcPhee

      We did not beat the Nazis (so many of whom ended up working comfortably 40-hour weeks for “Uncle Sam’s Great Empire) with a 40 hour week and a huge black market and corruption all around, certainly not all by ourselves — finally people are recognizing that it was the Russian Commie Army that did most of that beating, coupled with geographic realities, and you can bet that Russian war workers and soldiers would laugh at the idea of a 40-hour work week. It was quite a bit later that the populace humor declared “They pretend to pay us, so we pretend to work.”

      Credit where it is actually due

    1. Grundrisse Appreciator

      As someone who reads both Jehu and NC (though admittedly the latter much less as of late), I’m tickled to see him referenced here. Most NC commenters are certainly of a heterodox mindset re: economics, but not quite that heterodox! Not that I’m complaining; I think Jehu’s arguments are compelling and the modern left could learn something from him. A good corollary to your link–and I believe this one is from the same post-series–is this (https://therealmovement.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/according-to-the-central-intelligence-agency-we-almost-reached-communism-by-1980/) wherein the CIA itself confirms the logic of labor hours reduction.

  21. The Rev Kev

    Trying to make sense of this is plain nuts. There are a whole raft of practices that I read about being done in the workplace that make no sense when compared to productivity studies. Hot-desking is one hated practice and as is all these extended hours workplaces. And yet they are standard practices. I went looking for an old article that I read talking about all this and I give the link below-


    Maybe someone should have told Elon Musk about all these studies but I do not think that he would listen to you. It seems that places like this want your life to be the workplace and for your outside life to be merely a place where you eat and sleep and go away for a while. Nor are they any fans of you having a partner. The British Army use to have a saying about this that said: “If they wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you with one.”
    I knew that countries that had two hour lunch breaks like the Mediterranean countries were standard. However, until I went there, I had no idea that this was the standard Swiss practice as well. You can use many names to describe the Swiss but work-slackers will not be one of them. They work hard but also took the time to enjoy their lives. It was like work to live instead of live to work. I guess that this all happens when you treat your people as disposable temporary assets instead of people. It is like a cookie-cutter culture where the shape of the cutter is “enthusiastic, smiling, work fanatics” instead of accounting for how people work at different rates with different rates of productivity.

  22. skthetwo

    Similarly, I am told Germans behave very differently in the office than Americans. They work…really work, save for lunch time, and get done in 7 hours by not being social during the work day (except as job-required, like dealing with customers) what would take 10 hours in an American company.

    I very much relate to that. It was a culture shock for me when I moved to the US 25 years ago from the UK. I was so surprised to see the amount of gabbing going on. I used to say – “who says “Americans work so hard” – they spend far more time at work than we used to, that’s for sure, but in terms of actually getting stuff done.. nope.

    This was in the IT environment in finance related businesses in the UK and the USA. YMMV may vary in other businesses.

  23. sd

    Entertainment has a 12-hour day as it’s base for a 60-hour week. The recent trend is double up and triple up days on television production which is just what it sounds like, double or triple the work simultaneously with only a short turnaround, often 8 hours between wrap or quitting time and the call time the following day. After a 1-hour commute, that leaves just 6 hours for sleep.

    There’s a reason accidents on set are growing…..

  24. Eclair

    What are the really crucial duties we humans must perform to maintain our species (well, assume that maintenance of our species is vital, which some of us may question at this point)?

    Find, grow, store and prepare food. Build shelters and make some form of protective clothing. Reproduce, protect, care for and teach our young. Maintain and nurture our local ecosystem so that it continues to provide our food, shelter, clothing and doesn’t poison or kill off our children. And, finally, because we are social beings who communicate via language, create and maintain some form of structures that govern our domestic lives and enable us to function with ‘outsider’ groups. Oh, and probably develop some kind of spiritual/philosophical framework that gives meaning to our lives.

    Basically, that is our ‘work.’ Think of the Native Americans who inhabited this continent. Over millennia, they had developed successful systems. My sense is that, after providing for food and shelter, they spent a lot to time in discussion (meetings?) where they talked through the daily problems of keeping a group of humans humming along together in a functional manner. Care and training of children was done 24/7. Same with care and maintenance of their ecosystem.

    Like Henry Ford’s auto plant workers, we have specialized; some of us tighten bolts on the left front wheel, others polish the hood. Few of us grow or hunt or own food, instruct our children, build our own houses, or run our own communities. We have delegated it all. We have factory farms, Monsanto-controlled agribusinesses, dysfunctional schools, the Vatican. And, here in the US, elections. We are forced into a semi-slave relationship with the owners of production, in order to earn money to buy all the ‘stuff’ (including elections) we no longer make or control.

    In the process, we have completely trashed our eco-system, both locally and on a planet-wide basis. The polar ice caps are melting, the permafrost is on the brink of releasing vast amounts of methane, rising oceans are threatening millions of people on continental coasts, permanent droughts and increasing rainfalls are changing interior ecosystems and threatening food supplies.

    And, we are arguing over how many hours per week we should be subjecting ourselves to our slave-masters! Is the magic number 30, or 40, or maybe 60? Do you think it is maybe time to kick the current paradigm, stop nibbling around the edges, and stop this crazy death spiral?

  25. Jeff Bennett

    What a terrific article. I am now reading the white paper by the author with a similar last name.

    I am eagerly awaiting the next installment, wherein you discuss the mythical ‘two weeks’ vacation offered by most companies now. What used to be a true 10 days of vacation has now become intermixed with federal and state holidays, sick time, etc. to become a slurry known as “PTO” or paid time-off.

    This results in less than 10 days vacation, and, in situations where the entire company shuts down for a holiday period, that time must be used by the employee and it comes from the PTO pool of days. So, even if you could get away for a week of R&R, there may simply not be enough time on the books to actually do it. Actually being able to tell the teams you work with that you are planning vacation and getting sign-off is very difficult to achieve because of all the different projects being worked.

    The flip side of this is the company that lets employees take vacation when they want regardless of scheduled obligations (provided that they have it on the books). I have been in several project Go-Live events where there was only one guy that had the skillset to make some middle-ware application work, and that person was not present, preventing the successful rollout. This rollout was usually scheduled on a weekend, and because it failed, the next weekend would also belong to the company.

    The fault in the situation above lies with management. Having a single resource for a vital application is foolhardy, but it exists in even the largest of companies as budgets are reduced. I was working for a company with over 75,000 employees, and major projects occurred with multiple points of failure due to exactly that situation.

  26. Luke

    Some personal observations on the whole overtime issue…

    I work on oil rigs as a type of low-level onsite geologist (“mudlogger”, in industry parlance). The work I do is obtaining samples of the rock fragments (“cuttings”) produced during drilling, examining and testing them, and adding the results to lengthy reports I compile from various sources. My shift is officially 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Realistically, it’s more like 13 hours a day, 11 off, with the requirements for handover at shift end/beginning. I left home (my wife and young children live 1300 miles from where I work, so I don’t see them much) Jan. 2nd, and have planned to go back there for several weeks next month, during May.

    Most of the time, I have something of a routine. The rig periodically does go down (trips, casing, get stuck, etc., in industry parlance) that gives on average a few hours extra off. If I don’t just spend the time sleeping, I typically drive to the nearest town to launder my clothes (usually includes sneaking coveralls semi-drenched in a ground-in mix of diesel, axle grease, and clay past attendants who don’t want them washed there), buy groceries, and perhaps hit a fast-food drive-through for hot town food I will eat while driving back to the rig (no time to waste in a sit-down pay-by-the-bite place, really not even at a buffet).

    The past 3 weeks have been unusually rough, though. In addition to my usual ~13 hours on shift per day in the work trailer, I have had to nursemaid a trainee. Normally, those are brought in as “third hands”. That is, typical practice is to send one out to a wellsite where there are two trained guys already logging the well, and he works on shift with either one of them, or split shift (6 hours with each). However, my employer got seriously overextended with projects they agreed to do, relative to their trained staff. So, for the past 3 weeks, in addition to my shift, I have spent my ostensible off shift sleeping two hours at a time, coming in to analyze the cuttings samples (it takes YEARS to really get good at this)/catch up the log/compile and send in the reports (those are done around the clock, 7 days a week as long as we’re on the well). This catching up takes up to 2 hours or so, so I get on average no more than two of those 2-hour sleeps each 24 hours. I get an extra 100 bucks a day for this, but it’s really not worth it.

    Oh, and I’m 56-YO, with B.S. and M.S. geology degrees from U.S. colleges. But, I’m a white male, with affirmative action long keeping me out of a corporate (office) job that pays above technician wages, so this is how I support a family of four. (It is common now for an oil company geology department of ~14 geologists to contain ONE American-born white male, diversity hiring pressures on hiring managers to keep their jobs getting that intense.) When I got my Master’s something over a decade ago, I sent out 400 resumes, and got back less than 40 responses, all form letters of under five lines telling me I had nothing to offer them. (That’s with a Geology GRE subject test score in the top fifth.)

    I net under 72K a year living like this. Yeah. I almost said screw getting remarried and going the fatherhood route, just working about 4 years, saving up, and going hiking the rest of my life. I absolutely love my daughters (the oldest is about to turn 6), but I do miss what could have been. (I am certain I would have lived longer had I taken the other path.)

    Now? I just hope I can stay alive working long enough to fund my kids through college, and then die rapidly enough I’m little bother or expense to anyone. I’ve met multiple people in this line of work still working on rigs well into their 60s, with the oldest 82 YO. My wife has not worked since before the first child was born, and adamantly refuses to ever do so again, so it’s all on me.

    1. Eclair

      Luke, thank you for taking the time to explain for us the details of your job. Or, should we call it, your ‘enslavement.’

      The things that really matter in life, at least for most of us … love, companionship, watching your children sleep and teaching them how to ride a bike, cooking and eating with family and friends, living in, caring for, enriching and becoming proud of your community …. all these things you have given up; been forced to give up so that you can make enough money to ‘support’ your family. But, not be with them. And, final irony, your job is killing the planet. (I don’t say this to judge you; so many of us have planet-killing jobs that we are forced into.)

      Your wife seems to have made a sane decision; raising children is important work, perhaps our most important.

  27. Luke

    Hi, Eclair. Thank you for taking the time to read my screed about my situation.

    Several thoughts…

    1) If my wife indeed were devoting her time to our children, I would agree with you 100%. We originally agreed to homeschool them, due to its superiority to virtually any mass primary schooling, but she became too indolent for that. Sleeping 11 hours a day, spending endless time on Facebook/Farmville/Candy Crush/watching cable TV, etc., while rarely cooking the children a hot meal — that’s how she rolls. (The year I was home during the 2014-2015 oil bust, I made major hot meals with numerous vegetables every meal for them, while driving a taxi 100 hours a week.) So, they attend a private school, for which we managed to get nearly for free, given my low income during the last oil industry bust. I cannot get a straight answer out of her what she does while they’re in school 7+ hours a day, 5 days a week, but I know it’s not paid employment.

    2) You really don’t have to worry about human-caused global warming from our use of fossil fuels. Part of my reasoning, posted earlier:

    “The Earth’s atmosphere is what, 21% Oxygen, and 0.04% Carbon Dioxide. So, we have 525 times as much O2 as we do CO2. There is clearly a huge amount of excess capacity by photosynthetic plants to metabolize CO2 into O2, apparently a major limiting factor to their growth. (Plants are currently basically being starved for CO2.) If the CO2 were in fact to go up, the plants would love it, and with higher metabolisms from the higher CO2, predictably would jump on the CO2 and bring it back down to the point they can barely survive (where we are now). It would be Le Chatelier’s Principle on a large scale. So, what’s the problem with humans temporarily returning some of the sedimentary Carbon (that plants in most cases put there in the first place) back to the air?”

    Also, as noted in Peter Huber’s book “Hard Green”, despite the U.S.’s substantial use of fossil fuels, air entering the U.S. from the NW actually contains more CO2 than when it leaves to the SE. Yes, the U.S. is a net REDUCER of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, unlike India, China, or Europe. This is due to our reforestation programs (more of the U.S. is forested now than was in 1900) and our massive landfilling of cellulose (paper, cardboard, wood, etc.), which is a way to sequester Carbon. So, the rest of the world may need and deserve the Kyoto Treaty, being part of the (possible) problem. The U.S. does not deserve it, not being part of the problem.

    Further, the fraud among grant-accepting Earth/climate scientists is so extreme, it approaches Lysenkoism. Just look up the East Anglia email scandal to see just how rampant, even routine, that is.

    Anyway, the energies required long-term affect climate on an entire planet are just too enormous, relative to human powers at this time.

    My job in the oil industry helps in a very small way make it possible America to exist as a modern nation. Shut down the oil industry worldwide, and in 6 months 90% of Americans would be dead, easily, and that’s no exaggeration. (Environmentalists in my experience commonly want almost everyone else to die off, but figure they have ironclad reservations for first-class ark staterooms, despite rarely having any critical skills.)

    So, that’s at least one worry you can skip. Demographics, now, that’s where you should look, if you want to forsee real doom coming down the pike.

  28. Luke

    Where a lot of the nongrowth in real terms in wages in the productive part of the private sector over the past 45 years or so went:

    From https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/27/sam-dogen-a-middle-class-lifestyle-now-costs-over-300000-a-year.html

    ” In order to comfortably raise a family in an expensive coastal city like San Francisco or New York, you’ve got to make at least $300,000 a year. You can certainly raise a family earning less as many do, but it won’t be easy if your goal is to save for retirement, save for your child’s education, own your own home instead of rent and actually retire by a reasonable age.

    Who makes $300,000 a year?

    Before we look at the income statement, I’d like to go through a list of various workers who will eventually make ~$300,000 on their own or in household income if they find someone who also works.

    A Bay Area Rapid Transit janitor made $234,000 + $36,000 in benefits in 2016

    A Bay Area Rapid Transit elevator technician made $235,814 + $48,429 in benefits in 2016

    Starting salaries for 22 year old employees at Facebook, Google, and Apple range from ($80,000 – $120,000) + ($10,000 – $50,000) in annual equity grants.

    30 year old first year Associate in banking earns $150,000 in base salary + ($0 – $120,000) in bonus

    A 26 year old Airbnb employee shared he got a $250,000 total compensation package back in 2015

    A 26 year old first year law associate at a firm like Cravath make $180,000 base + $20,000 sign on bonus. By the end of their 6th year they are making over $300,000

    A 29 year old Director of Marketing at a startup makes between $120,000 – $180,000

    A personal finance blogger with 500,000 pageviews earns between $150,000 – $600,000

    A 42 year old college professor at Berkeley makes $235,000 on average and $279,000 at Columbia and NYU

    The average specialist doctor finishing his or her fellowship at 32 makes $300,000. The average salary for a primary care physician is $200,000

    A 26 year old middle school teacher making $55,000 a year plus her $250,000 a year VP of Marketing wife (sic)

    A 56 year old high school athletic director making $100,000 a year plus his $200,000 a year management consultant husband (sic)”

    1. sd

      From https://dqydj.com/income-percentile-calculator/

      Making $300,000.00 annually was percentile 98.9% in 2017. This percentile ranged from $291,435.00 to $300,800.00 a year. There were roughly 172,303 workers in this bracket and 1,895,340 workers made $291,435.00 or more in full-year 2016.

      From https://dqydj.com/household-income-percentile-calculator-2016/

      A household making $300,000.00 annually was percentile 97.9% in 2016. This percentile ranged from $295,092.00 to $300,188.00 a year.

  29. watermelonpunch

    It’s easier to not have to be social if you’re not forced to work in an open office plan setting.

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