This is true today if you wanted to live at the same standard of middle class living in 1929, complete with eating only meals hand cooked from base ingredients and no concern with the environmental effects of things like burning coal and garbage.
So even if you want a rising standard of living, work hours could conceivably be shorter.
That said, the fundamental point that most of us wouldn't accept 1929 lifestyles for any amount of leisure is right.
It's perfectly possible to opt for 1929 levels of health care.
Washing machines, for example, use less water than dish washing by hand. Laundry machines similarly. I bet printing presses have gotten better too.
If you accept that maintaining a 1929 lifestyle you can do 16 hour weeks: the price of food alone has dropped immensely, I bet fridges are more efficient than they were in the 30s, not even to talk about automation... Shouldn't we be able to do our current lifestyle with less than 16 hours
So, if 16 hours of donating effort to society, in exchange for a standard of living means status quo, would investing in 32 hours now, mean improvements that move the needle forward?
Or... is it possible that we wouldn't be able to exactly measure when 16 real hours are logged, because it would require totalitarian surveillance?
Every office I've worked in is filled with people blathering innanely about things that have nothing to do with finishing up our shared miserable toil, and getting the fuck away from my personal nightmare dungeon.
Then there's the meetings.
The meetings where you sit in a room with people who do almost nothing but talk in meetings. To them? That's what work actually is.
Pointless meetings. Hours long meetings. Reading emails. Emails upon emails. Alerts for alerts. Noise without signal. And why? For what?
Somewhere in all this, there's probably a reason for it, but honestly, I get the feeling that half the people with white collar day jobs serve no purpose other than to dress nice and demostrate headcount to rival departments, to justify budgets and win BIGNESS perception contests among "executives." (my staff meeting is bigger than yours, so who's more important?)
If you started extracting "work that matters" from these kinds of corporate heirarchies, I get the feeling we'd start hemorhaging employment rate, and so it must be prevented because people need boondoggles to feel useful, and have a reason to dress nice and belong somewhere for some reason or whatever.
I know a number of people who've intentionally decided to live pretty much like that. Mostly they don't do it anymore after a few years, but it's totally an available option if you really want it. Saying "society poses" an expensive standard of living is not much proof that you're being forced to do anything.
But iceboxes were certainly common, as were fans. I guess my point being: the people of the 1920s weren't savages, and while it's obvious that they didn't enjoy the same comforts we enjoy today there were still many conveniences that did exist.
The past is a strange place, with odd customs, but it's not totally alien or barbaric.
With an extra 3 days of leisure every week I'd think I could handle not driving 80 mph on the highway. There are pictures of these 20s and 30s cars at the top of dirt roads in the rocky mountains so what ever power they had still let them go places.
Do I really need all the car that the civic is?
And for an extra three days of leisure a week, you'd be giving up not just driving on the highway, but indeed a whole load of things.
Again - for most things, nobody is making you consume these additional goods and services above the 1930 average. But, as we can see, they're quite popular and people apparently prefer to work more and consume more rather than work less and consume less.
Yes, a high infant mortality rate skews the figures. Still, I'd be willing to bet that the average 40 year old in 1929 had a life expectancy at least 10 years less than the average 40 year old in 2017.
Edit: Table 21 in this report is informative: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_11.pdf Expected years remaining for a 40 year old in 1929-31 was 29.67. In 2011 it was 40.58.
If it's per-capita income, is there any weighting done for different groups of income? I feel if the statistics group together Silicon Valley CEOs and Starbucks waitresses, it's easy to get a non-representatively high (though technically correct) per-capita income.
Also, how much of the increase is from the economy simply recovering from the 1929 crisis back to normal levels?
> So even if you want a rising standard of living, work hours could conceivably be shorter.
2) That assumes that jobs that provide such increased wages are also flexible enough that you can freely choose how many hours per week you want to work. That assumption doesn't seem to be the case in practice.
I'm sorry? Are you suggesting that by working 16 hours a week each, a modern couple could live to the same standard as their 1929 middle class counterparts, i.e. owning thier home and supporting a family on one full time sallary and with one full time housekeeping and child-rearing?
This will be news to the masses of modern couples who are both working full time for a sallary, housekeeping in their spare time, and with no hope in sight of owning a home or being able to afford to start a family.
If you can arrange a remote working gig, you can live comfortable in a by-now first world country like Taiwan on 16 hours/week of American salary. (It might be easier to find a place to work 40% of weeks of the year fulltime, instead of 40% of hours each week. Same principle.)
< insert endless " I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?" with Dan Hedaya sequence from the intro to "Joe vs the Volcano" here. >
There is some literature which shows that returns to capital are just as weak as returns to labor.
I don't think you can really blame employees for presentism, I think it's generally more difficult to make part-time work arrangements in the white collar world, whereas at the lower end of wages, where it benefits capital owners, blue-collar workers are forced to be part-time...
I'd argue that it only benefits capital owners in the sense of having a convenient thing ( that's hopefully nearly irrelevant ) to measure.
Edit: I think Piketty glosses over what's actually capital and what is not. It's not the complement of labor - production is the mixing of land, labor and capital. That's three things.
I think this a chronic strawman tactic ( present company cheerfully exempted ) - misclassify land as capital, then complain about capitalism.
If slavery were legal, then labor would be capital too.
Your second point is sort-of true. That's why when Britain freed the slaves they bought them free.
Next: let's please not confuse accounting and economics :)
And your argument is weird: using the market you can exchange all kinds of things for each other. What's the difference between exchanging land for capital vs labour for capital in that argument?
One of the things that's interesting about this - if you can substitute capital for it, it's not really land. "Land" also means something abstract, in a manner similar to the ellipsoid used in GPS calculations in aviation. Its a "where", less a "what".
But then again, we tend to conflate rents and profits, which creates a lot of confusion.
In Marx's definition, for instance, capital is defined by currency, and by the liquidity of one's assets. Therefore, considering land as capital would make sense.
Microeconomics analysis is another realm where separating land and capital does not necessarily make sense : because of the liquidity effect described above, it may be useless to distinguish land and capital when you have no macro concern.
My point here is that the definition of capital, and the classification of land related to capital is intimately related to the analysis you're making, and, therefore, to the position you're defending. As a consequence, what you understand as a person building a strawman is related not to that person building that strawman, but to that person's analysis being in conflict with semantics you take for granted. And ironically, when you try to establish a distinction that makes no sense in that person's logical framework, they may think that you're trying to drown the matter.
In fact, they may even be right, in the context of the analysis of social capital, because you're in fact struggling to establish your capital as more legitimate than theirs.
This kind of problematic is why it is so important for the one of us which build products for our clients, to take the time to understand their domain, their vocabulary and the context limits to this vocabulary.
You can of course express the original observation in Marxist terms as well: it's not just any capital owners that are getting a bigger slice of the pie, but especially land owners.
Thanks to the existence of market prices, we can even abstract away from the specific owners and say that the factors of production themselves get different slices of the pie.
That works because even when some piece of capital is bought and sold, the new owner gets roughly the same amount of return on them as the old one. (If it wasn't so, we would classify whatever the new owner is doing differently as having input their own labour into the process.)
Ie building a multi-story building swaps capital for land. Georgism is (among other things) about untaxing capital and labour, so that such substitutions can work out better.
Making a clear distinction between capital (which we can produce more of) and land (which is fixed in supply for as long as we stay on earth) is just good economics. See also Henry George's Progress and Poverty (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progress_and_Poverty), the book that essentially kicked off the Progressive Era in 19th century America.
Yeah what a nightmare. Where's soylent goo when you need it??
I don't see any compelling reason (but I haven't thought about it too hard) to believe that we couldn't have some sort of an increase in standard of living and a decrease in average hours/week worked.
The trade offs are obviously complex, though.
- not having to fake looking busy
- not rushing through contradictory orders
- no draconian hierarchy that forbid solving problems
Each one is different but many desk jobs ended up straining me more than prepping sandwiches from 7am to 2pm. In the latter I was sweating but passed a 3 week adaptation phase things were swift and smooth.
That's where you get the joke: "how many people does it take to dig a hole?"
"One person to dig a hole. One person to make sure they are working under union regulations. Another person to make sure they are compliant with environmental regulations. Another person to handle payroll." And so on.
If it's "make a pencil" rather than "dig a hole", then the number seems to go up quite a bit.
 reference to "I, Pencil"
And so on.
Sure if all things remained equal, if basically nothing changed at all from 1929 to 2029 then yes his prediction would be accurate. But did he actually believe that?
And that, really, only in the US.
I wished you stopped at "eating only meals hand cooked"
It's garbage that people in 1929 had "no concern with the environmental effects of things like burning coal and garbage"
OK, they probably had no concern, but that was because there was none to have.
They didn't buy stuff and throw it away, there was no disposable society. They lived simply. Not travelling the world, or large distances to go to X every weekend.
But whats worse in your comment to me is you can live a much much better lifestyle than 1929 on 16 hours a week, traveling the world and having great things while respecting the environment.
You just can't have the things society says you should have.
The author argues that technology has made us more productive, and as a result we spend more of our time doing ancillary tasks (e.g. writing emails, attending meetings) and that since this isn't directly producing value, it's reducing productivity.
I'd argue that as the work has become more complex-- designing software is not as easy as say manufacturing the same widget 200 times each day-- the planning tasks (e.g. writing emails, having meetings) have grown, though perhaps not entirely linearly.
The author also implies that people are spending more time now looking busy and being busy, perhaps over fears that if they completed their job in 16 hours and spent the remaining 24 hours of the work week twiddling their thumbs, they would be fired.
Or is it because of the cult of Process and Bureaucracy? Skunk Works is/was one of the badassest engineering units in world history. They did projects that made sense, they had high individual responsibility, very flat organization , and encouraged communication between disciplines above all.
The book "Skunk works" by it's former director Ben Rich contains as an epilogue a lamentation to the new way of doing things by lengthy meandering process and bureaucracy with an inflated middle management - instead of just doing things right.
The book is the best book on the subject on how to do great technical things - but not by way of theory, but by of example. And I can tell you, it does not contain an inch of Scrum, six sigma, RUP or any of that. They had a simple high level process, and then they drilled down on specific processes on per project basis, as needed.
Yes, Skunk Works is amazing. But I don't think it's fair to view their accomplishments in isolation.
Skunk Works didn't have to worry about where to get money from, Lockheed provided Kelly Johnson with money and trusted him to spend in appropriately. In a normal company you have a lot of people dedicated to sales, marketing, and finance. The first two didn't apply at all to Skunk Works, and while I imagine they did have to plan and budget, I don't know to what extent they had to do controlling/taxes, etc.
> The book "Skunk works" by it's former director Ben Rich contains as an epilogue a lamentation to the new way of doing things by lengthy meandering process and bureaucracy with an inflated middle management - instead of just doing things right.
Yes, and is it not the least bit ironic that Skunk Works was within a company which got into its position through lengthy meandering bureaucratic processes which awarded them contracts for defense programs?
> And I can tell you, it does not contain an inch of Scrum, six sigma, RUP or any of that.
Please don't interpret my comment as saying "and I think the status quo in business is just fine." It's not. The current business processes we have created reward bureaucracy and paper pushing, at the expense of innovation.
This being said, I also don't think the correct solution is to have engineers running everything. It would certainly help people in management to have relevant technical experience, but I studied around and work with engineers. The average engineer would fucking hate things like controlling finances, but it's necessary for the business to comply with tax regulations, etc.
I was not targeting your comment when I erupted about process frameworks - sorry about that. It was an outburst against the percieved "best practices". Like Cato's "By the way, Carthago needs to be destroyed".
I agree - orgs need finances just like cars have instrumentation, but they should not be running all things unless that happens to be the orgs core business.
The most pressing question is how well these techniques can be exported. Joel on Software gave us a great take on this quite a few years ago: https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2001/01/18/big-macs-vs-the-na...
Basically, the best 'process' for a small team of smart, skilled people is for someone to hand them a blank check and a vague goal, and turn them loose for a few months. This is basically what Skunk Works did, and the results were exceptional.
With a bigger team, or a less brilliant team, or a team less skilled at execution, blank checks and no guidance is far more likely to produce overspending and wasted time. Six Sigma doesn't have a hope of improving efficiency over Skunk Works, but it was at least intended to provide a minimum efficiency better than "screwing up a lot".
The best cases are certainly hobbled by Process, but most of the world is too big and dysfunctional to match the best case. (None of which is to say that Skunk Works style projects are bad - I still think we need more of them. In particular, pseudo-startups without the time and fundraising pressure can be uniquely effective.)
Eventually you find that a basket of crabs needs no lid. You can hear the click when tolerance for that sort of behavior ends, it's time to fresh up the resume and go.
It's a really loud click if you are listening.
Shouldn't management recognize such an abnormally productive employee and a) let them go home after their work is done, no matter when that is, or b) give them more work to do (and a corresponding salary increase)?
such an abnormally productive employee
b) give them more work to do
1) http://dilbert.com/strip/2011-12-21 -- 2) http://dilbert.com/strip/2016-05-17 -- 3) http://dilbert.com/strip/2017-01-01 -- 4) http://dilbert.com/strip/2016-08-14
Using what metric? This is really hard to implement in reality, especially when the average corporate management has no idea what engineers spend their day doing.
> b) give them more work to do
This already happens. See companies looking to hire "heros"
> and a corresponding salary increase
Hah! Yeah, maybe at your company. Mine would work you 80 hours per week for peanuts if they could.
- He: I never see your car in the parking lot after hours.
- Me: Yeah, I've been done with everything I was given
for months now.
Please note - it was a layoff exit interview.
But we can dream, right?
Exceeding 40% makes collisions go up.
The proliferation of these kinds of work is not necessarily out of "filling space," but because information technology has drastically decreased the marginal costs of this kind of information-only work, and so lowered the barrier of marginal utility required to justify it. So, we have information work where the workers actually carrying it out can't perceive the value, because it's too distributed and too many layers removed from the individual, but it's there. The apparent lack of productivity increase is because those metrics, too, are flawed and do not account for these kinds of value.
Now, the question of whether that work is then worthwhile at a societal level is entirely different.
TFA argues that productivity is squandered by Office Space style ass-covering wastes of time. But I think even good intentioned beaurocratic nonsense can still account for the strong headwind against productivity.
Take a look at the great improvements in supply chain management and JIT manufacturing techniques for true process improvements which result in measurable productivity rise. Kanban works there in ways it simply does not for software, for example.
There's a lot of business 'motion' that's fundamentally a mismatch between something looking good at an individual level, and achieving nothing on a corporate or national scale.
This does not apply to scientific research of course, but actual scientifically valuable research is a different thing entirely.
But the flip side is also true -- blanket dismissal of information work as "self-preserving bullshit" is equally, or more, naive.
This is what value added data enrichment scheme looks like.
I'm sure the analogous thing can be done to all sorts of organizations and processes.
It's not about gathering obscure metrics, running them through excel and creating powerpoints with no actionable items.
I'm struggling to understand this bit. The ultimate purpose of information work is improve profitability, typically by making more efficient use of their inputs. The appropriate metric therefore surely is whether overall productivity actually changes, and the article argues that it tends to indicate that corporations are not becoming more efficient.
Now I can see one tenable line of argument why work might be valuable to a company even as it drags down the measure of productivity: the information work is positional and therefore valuable for the individual corporation to ensure it doesn't fall behind the others even though the net result of the industry reinvesting productivity savings in additional information work is that generates the same returns as before. (The author of the article, incidentally, chairs a big group of marketing and ad agencies). Another would be the existence of diminishing returns to scale, so if firms are continue to grow they have to spend productivity savings from process improvements on additional labour to allow them to expand into more difficult markets. That certainly applies at a market level, but I'm not so sure whether it's true of individual firms.
But I'm not sure whether those were what you were trying to imply?
I see your point and sympathize with you, but accurate metrics are a necessary but not sufficient to gain results.
If it's percent GDP I dunno, probably similar.
It just. Isn't. Done.
Features like auto-complete make it a breeze to invite 8 people to a meeting. You can burn up 16 person-hours of time with a few keystrokes (assuming these are actual productive people like developers, whose schedules are impacted by more than the duration of the meeting).
I wonder if the OP observations of "(box-ticking, arse-covering, fatuous self-exculpating emails, the collection of ever more stupid metrics)" occurs more often in the advertising business? I searched for a chart that broke down stupid metrics by industry, but the closest one I could find is this: http://www.infosecisland.com/uploads/remoteimg/aa043ae12a097...
Sales boosters like coupons are already tricky - did they create new buyers, reengage existing buyers, or do customers just hold off on buying until there's a discount? And brand awareness ads are even harder - did your Toyota add two years ago drive a sale today? You can't even survey for that, since in theory it works on people who don't remember it consciously.
So I have a dark suspicion that advertising is more full of stupid metrics than most roles, simply because real analytics are harder to produce.
If firms A and B can create a product a cost $X that sells for $X+$Y firm B can create the same product for $X, then A and B will waste $Y on advertising in an attempt to win consumers for each other, for no benefit to anyone (except in any artistic/entertainment value in the advertising, and the possibly useful wealth-redistribution from firm's owners to advertising employees).
This seems like a good time to plug Givewelll. Their entire goal is quantifying the good done by charities and promoting the most efficient. They compare globally, but even if you want to give to something specific like animal welfare or local homelessness, they have some good efficiency tips.
"I defy anyone who has worked in an office over the last 25 years to write and say that my theory does not fit the observable facts"
Seems a bit lazy.
"I suspect X, does anyone have data to invalidate that?" is a great question. You just have to avoid argument from ignorance, and follow up with "If not, can we get data to actually support this theory?"
> The author's theory is completely
> unsubstantiated ... Seems a bit
«Keynes was partly right, and many people today are working a 16-hour week. By which I mean that they spend 16 hours each week engaged in activities which create some useful form of economic value. The other 20+ hours in the office are spent supporting the monstrous extra informational, bureaucratic and administrative burden made possible by new technology.»
Is the bureaucracy in your company so huge? Are engineers in a startup, where bureaucracy is close to zero, several times as productive as in a large company? Are any commercial companies shrewd enough to kill most of internal bureaucracy and crush the competition? Are there any numbers to support this?
You mean 3 times more productive? Easily so. Probably more than that.
Yes, we could call work '16 hour weeks' and maintain a 1940's standard of living. But to make progress, we need 40 hour weeks.
At least for the time being, we've come to resonate around 40 hours as being 'how long someone should work' - and so we will work those kinds of hours.
Sure - we could all work less hours, but it would mean another kind of social contract.
You can see this in Europe vs. USA vs. Asian attitudes.
And yes, 'more hours' generally does mean less productivity per hour, but you still get more output.
Here's an introduction: the GI Bill sent 2 million men to college for free from 1945-1955. In 2017, by contrast, the US has $2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt.
The US spends more as a % of it's GDP and more $/capita than any nation on earth on higher education - and sends a considerably larger share of it's population to college than most other nations, certainly any European nations where college is free.
The % of young people going to college has increased dramatically from 1950 to 2016.
And FYI - if you join the Army today, you can still get your education subsidized :)
'Raw' dollars debt doesn't help us understand the picture that much, moreover, if everyone in America started going advanced degrees, that would also increase student debt, but that would be a good thing, no?
Americans are on the whole much wealthier, and the opportunity that young people have today vis-a-vis 1950 is so much that it's basically unthinkable back in the 1950's.
That said, it's not so good for working class people without jobs, and little job stability.
The 1% do not earn their income in salary, they earn it in capital gains.
What matters is 'actual tax receipts' not necessarily the brackets.
The fact you quoted is effectively correct, but it's a common 'internet meme distortion'.
Aside from a 'blip' due to WW2, US Government share of GDP has been increasing over time, since the dawn of the Republic, not decreasing - meaning that there has been consistently more socialization of services and industry - not less.
The reason it was ok back then was because it incentivized long term growth. As a result of the tax "reforms" of the 80s, it became easier than ever to leverage yourself into a hostile takeover, gut a company, sell it, and pocket the cash for yourself at a far lower tax rate than most of the corporate raiders had ever seen in their careers.
Not to mention the innocent people who had their livelihoods upended and pensions gutted, and blamed, then as now, for not working hard enough.
So we have more money chasing financial gain than productive output, less support if not absolute disdain for the average worker, and corporations paralyzed to do anything but push short term gains as high as possible lest Wall St alert an "activist investor" to their next target.
How do you make a resilient society to last through generations when the foundation is being sold out from under it?
Again - the 90% tax bracket in the 1960's applied to income - not capital gains.
Ergo - a reduction in that income tax bracket would do nothing to incentive M&A activity wherein surpluses would be taxed as capital gains (i.e. at a lower rate than income).
In fact - the reduction in income tax breaks would have the opposite effect you describe - it would encourage companies to pay more regular income, as opposed to M&A type transactions which will be taxed via capital gains.
Second - M&A activity does not inherently have anything to do with 'short term' or 'long term'. M&A is just as much a strategic activity as anything else. You are a ware that 'HN' is part of YCombinator, at the very heart of this kind of activity, right?
Do you think that YC - which creates companies that will likely fail, or be bought - are an example of 'short term' and 'myopic' thinking? Seriously? No way.
The very site you're writing your words upon is probably the best example of how important M&A and financial transactions are to the health of an economic ecosystem.
Some samples (cap gains rates, via whatever method is used on the site above):
Cap gains rates policies have fluctuated a bit throughout the decades as well. One could argue (unless it's in one's interest NOT to) that there is at least some correlation between rates lower than 25% and hyperactivity leading to crashes. E.g. 1925/1930; 1985; 2000-2010. Or one could argue that correlation is not causation (in which case, why not "fund the commons", since tax rate doesn't affect business cycle outcomes, anyway).
Also - they need to be taken into context with the other tax rates: dividends + income. And arguably corporate rates as well.
Productivity is 5x what it was in 1929. So yeah, most of us wouldn't willingly revert to 1929 standards of living. But realistically, I think a lot of people would take a 20% cut and shave 1-2 hours off their workday.
The counterpoint I find most compelling is that "more hours" lowers personal productivity, but raises organizational productivity. If you have a blocking issue that only one person can resolve, the whole organization does better if they're around full time. That's a serious bar to giving out things like time off in lieu of raises.
People willfully disregard the most basic principles in organizational design and the result is reduced productivity.
So, while individuals might be less productive ... on the whole, it does add to a level of total productivity by the machine.
Example: I worked with the 'pricing' team for a large service oriented product with 100's of millions of customers.
Sometimes they were inactive, argued for months about things etc. - and at the end of the year they did relatively little - but their impact was huge on the market, and our businesses. Much like a Uni of profs don't seem very productive until every once and a while, one of them strikes it huge with some innovation.
Is this type of thing happening and not widely reported? Is it an under explored opportunity waiting to be tapped? Or is there something else going on that leads the inefficient model to win in the long run?
We will probably never know if most of the work is bullshit or vital in a way we can't understand.
From personal experience, it's still motivational to wonder whether your next paycheck is coming out. Not always pleasant, but it was a great incentive to push back against busywork and time-wasting management even if the reception was bad. "We might go bankrupt" really shifts the balance on "how much should I invest in fighting for good decisions?"
I think the author is on point, but i sense the article will be a litmus test of reader's perception of what Harvard Business School calls 'bullshit' in modern business.
TL;DR - If automation could save work, but people are dependant on work to survive then automation will not actually save work. Who'd have known.
Does anyone know what this observation is based on? GDP per capita adjusted for inflation has been rising for at least the last hundred years.
Found a primer (Google link in case paywall)