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News Would a 32 hour work week help create more jobs

  1. Dec 6, 2011 #1
    I have been thinking about this for a while.

    One of the biggest causes of lost jobs is that automation has eliminated
    more jobs than it has created. With all the computers we have, work should
    be like in a Jetson's cartoon where you just go in push the "start" button
    and then sit back with your feet up.

    I'll be honest, when I go to work I don't spend the full 40 hours working.
    If I walk around the office many others aren't either. If I wasn't at work
    I might be out spending money "stimulating the economy".

    For those that are working hard, the shorter hours would mean someone
    else would need to be hired to do the extra work. This would create more
    jobs and maybe make some peoples lives easier.

    I think ambitious people would continue to work additional hours.

    Most important: I would rather share my job with someone than share my
    wages with someone that is not working. I think the latter is where we
    are now and it is going to get worse.

    Problems are that unless this was done world wide, American labor would
    become even less competitive (although the Europeans already get
    more vacation than we do). In addition, it would make the cost of benefits like
    health insurance a larger part of the wage.

  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 6, 2011 #2


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    More people to do the same amount of work? No, it makes no sense for employers, they would have to pay more money to cover benefits for these people, sick leave, vacation, more training, more supervision due to more people, etc...
  4. Dec 6, 2011 #3


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    Or you might be figuring out how to survive on 32/40 of your current salary and 40/40 of your current mortage, health insurance, kid's schooling costs, etc ...
  5. Dec 6, 2011 #4
    I don't think this is true.
  6. Dec 6, 2011 #5


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    I agree. Usually what happens is that one job becomes obsolete, and new opportunities appear for different kinds of jobs.

    As an example, at some point horses became useless for travel, but then along came a job known as a car mechanic for automobiles.

    As much as many jobs are becoming obsolete, so many other opportunities are also coming in and many people are aware and taking advantage of the changes that are happening in our world.
  7. Dec 6, 2011 #6


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    I think Adam Smith figured that out more than a century before horses because obsolete.

    Or as my late grandfather (who lived through the horse-obsolescence era) used to put it, "every new labor-saving device needs six men and a boy to work it".
  8. Dec 6, 2011 #7
    Its really important to keep in focus what it means for there to be "no jobs." What that means is that there is nothing productive for people to do for their fellow man/woman. We are very clearly NOT in that situation- we have factories that aren't operating at capacity AND we have unemployed people. What we have is a coordination problem.

    Always remember that the economy is just an organizational structure- its an attempt to answer "how can we divide up labor and distribute what we produce?"
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2011
  9. Dec 6, 2011 #8
    In the past technology has eliminated some jobs and created new ones.
    Our standard of living has also improved and allowed us to consume all the
    new items (like smart phones and wide screen TVs). Western nations have
    benefited most since we had all the technology.

    Things are changing however. The rest of the world is becoming more educated
    and can now compete for the high tech jobs. High tech jobs probably do not scale
    as well with population as menial jobs. Resources (energy and material)
    are becoming more limited which limits how many fancy widgets we can make.
    Not everyone seems to be smart enough to do high tech. We may run out of
    new ideas (after all there has not been much practical new physics for 50 years)
    quite a few fields reached their peak years ago.
  10. Dec 6, 2011 #9


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    I could not agree more.
  11. Dec 7, 2011 #10


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    When I was a teen, I used to work summers in a local birch veneer mill. Years before, the owners had invented a chain-driven, self-fed steam press. Just load the input side of the press (x about 20 or more layers) with the layers of glue-coated wood veneer, and let them get loaded as each load of finished plywood panels exited the back of the press. That invention didn't cost jobs - it made more jobs, because it took more people operating de-barkers, lathes, dryers, trimmers, etc to supply enough birch veneer to feed that beast. Not to mention more people in the woods with chain-saws, trucks, etc, to get the raw birch to the mill.

    That mill was in its prime during WWII. The marine-quality birch plywood made up the hulls of PT boats. After the war was over, the company started up a division called "Bristol Yachts" and made birch-hulled power-boats for the wealthy. By the time that I was a youngster, the company had established a separate "boat shop" where almost all of the fabrication and fitting took place. I used to love hanging out there and helping when I could. In my teen years, the mill got lots of red mahogany from Africa to use as center-plies/backing for the birch veneers. Every bale of that lathed mahogany sheeting came in bound with mahogany timbers and metal strapping, and none of that material ever "walked". Every bit of that timber went to the boat shop and was turned into cabinetry and trim for the boats.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  12. Dec 7, 2011 #11


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    I'm not sure if I agree with this.

    Automation makes things more efficient. This means more things get produced in less time. Many things that get produced require maintenance, upgrades, marketing, sales, transportation and all sorts of other things you can not automate.
  13. Dec 7, 2011 #12
    But right now there are unemployed high tech workers! There are people with engineering masters working in bars! Again, its a coordination problem!

    You know that physics is a huge, broad field right? Look at the huge improvements in computer harddrives that have happened over the last 50 years! Physicists lead a lot of that research. Do you really think physics hasn't progressed since the 1960s? What fields "peaked" years ago?

    You are simultaneously trying to argue that increasing innovation is putting people out of work AND ALSO that innovation is slowing down because of diminishing resources/ideas. If the latter is true, its a solution to the former!
  14. Dec 7, 2011 #13
    I read, back in the 1980s, that the advances in computer technology and mechanisation, would lead to such a massive creation of wealth that by the millenium, nobody would have to work more than fifteen hours a week. Hah! We were also told that we would have paperless offices.

    Well, the world economy has expanded as predicted, in many cases the expansion has far exceeded the predictions, but people are working longer hours and with far less job security than they had then.

    So what went wrong? In order for the predictions to have come to fruition the wealth would have had to have been shared more fairly throughout societies whereas, in all political systems, most of it has actually been hi-jacked by greedy self interested groups or individuals.

    The only way to create wealth from nothing in an economy is to do one of three things:-
    1. Grow something in the ground
    2. Dig something out of the ground
    3. Make something, using something grown in the ground or something dug out of the ground.

    It is a sad reflection that is almost all societies and all political systems, the people actually creating the wealth that all other economic activity depends upon, are usually those at the bottom of the economic inverted pyramid.

    One of the few exceptions to this general trend seems to be the Brazilian industrialist Ricardo Semler
  15. Dec 7, 2011 #14
    I definitely agree with this. Automation yields more output in less time, for cheaper. That means more goods produced per unit cost. That means that you and I are able to have more.

    I think a good point to make about the latter half of this thread is that our definition of wealth has changed drastically since WWII. I'm born and raised middle class, but if I'm walking around with my iPhone, laptop, and headphones that's a cool 2000 bones (a conservative estimate) in technology on my person. We're all rich, but none of us know it because the guy next to us is richer.

    With that being said, I think its silly to blame unemployment rates on automation. I think it was mentioned earlier in this thread, but any inefficiency (such as unemployment) caused by automation is a result of poor planning. It could be on a demographic level, where the government hasn't allocated educational resources properly, or on an individual level where a person has blindly educated themselves in a struggling field.

    A theme that keeps coming up in my discussions similar to this one is entitlement. People feel entitled to success, and that notion is absolutely ridiculous. Cutting down the hours of employed people so that all the unemployed people can have jobs only makes the problem worse. I couldn't conjure up a better way to thwart ambition on a societal level than to give everyone a job
  16. Dec 7, 2011 #15


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    I think the O.P. should feel free to march right up to his employer and volunteer himself for the 32 hour work week because he spends a lot of time "not working." Let us know how it works out.
  17. Dec 7, 2011 #16
    This is a separate issue I think. spending 2 hours every day not doing anything is probably excessive, but I also think that a couple long lunches and some chats by the coffee maker throughout the day are important for a company's morale and overall work environment. It's important for everyone to feel comfortable at their job. When people enjoy coming into work in the mornings I can guarantee that it yields more productivity and communication throughout the day. Joking around, maybe a warm-spirited office prank here and there can make a big difference. This is not the issue at hand though.
  18. Dec 7, 2011 #17
    Is that really physics though, or hardware engineering in which physicists apply physics knowledge to advance that engineering field...? On physics itself, it does seem to have hit a wall in terms of understanding more about how the universe works. I mean yes they have string theory, and they can discover new particles, and so forth, but no one has really made any major advancements akin to the General theory of Relativity that really advance our understanding of the universe it seems.
  19. Dec 7, 2011 #18
    I think this also demonstrates how many of the politically-driven arguments about "inequality" don't really hold up. If anything, I'd say we are more equal today than ever before. Never before has the material standard of living of the average person been so close to that of a wealthy person. Being wealthy used to give a person access to things no one else could have. It still does, and always will to some degree, but a great many things that used to be available only to the rich are now available to everyone, as we're all rich, just unequally rich. You look at the difference in goods available to the average person forty years ago versus now (1971 versus 2011). Now think about what will be available to the average person in 2051, forty years into the future. It boggles the mind.
  20. Dec 7, 2011 #19
    The OP's basic fallacy seems to reside in a belief that there is a permanently fixed number of jobs or job-hours available and that jobs somehow just exist on their own. Therefore, putting everyone on half-time should double the number of jobs. Right? Actually, the number of jobs is very fluid. Jobs are created when capital meets opportunity. Opportunity is increased by having good laws that don't strangle the business environment, and keep a market fair and free. Capital is increased by generating wealth. Wealth is the result of productive labor. It is not the result of checks from the government. Increase productivity and you increase wealth, and thereby create capital which leads to more jobs. Automation increases the net number of jobs because it increases the productivity. The same number of people can generate more wealth when they are more efficient, and the increased wealth eventually ends up as capital that creates more jobs.

    If a company were to reduce all of its employees to part time and change nothing else (assuming the employees are generally productive), it would generate less wealth, have less to invest in new projects, and lead to a net loss in jobs in addition to the people forced to go on part-time pay. Now, if the employees who got reduced work hours are wholly non-productive, than such a move would increase the productivity of the company and lead to more jobs.
  21. Dec 7, 2011 #20
    This was my point. If you look at physics that can be used to build things, it only goes as
    far as QM, almost 100 years old!

    For stagnant fields, look at aeronautics and aviation. They reached their peak in the
    late 60s. A Boeing 787 (or what ever the latest is) takes the same time to fly from
    LA to NY as the 707, the seats are about the same size etc. (although it does pollute
    less, uses less gas and is quieter). But there are no SSTs, rockets with ion drives etc.

    Guns still shoot bullets, not laser beams.

    This is not due to lack of money or people but rather that we hit physical barriers.

    I'd say almost all useful (ie that you can sell) progress in the past 40 years has been
    related to information technology (mostly semiconductors) and biochemistry.
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