What do we want from work?

And why do Americans work so much?

February 16, 2022

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This is an interesting piece about a remarkable decline in work hours.  I think there is in addition a bifurcation between the highly-paid workers doing 90 hours/week and the modestly-paid workers doing 20-40 hours/week.  The former may be lawyers, doctors, the finance industry and business owners.  Their incentives are strong because the extra hours can deliver enormous salary and profit returns in their later careers.  But for the modestly-paid, who may be manual workers in the hospitality industry (cleaners, waiters), or in construction or agriculture: extra hours may be unpleasant and tiring or boring, and even if they bring in some overtime pay, there is no chance of becoming rich later in life.  So for the modestly-paid, a good welfare improvement is to reduce hours which may be effected by trade unions or through political representation. 

This bifurcation explains the difference between the US where work hours on average stagnated between 1990 and 2019, while in most other countries they continued their secular fall.  In the USA trade unions—never strong—have been weakened by direct political moves, and the class of entrepreneurs has grown faster than has the class of employees.  So the pressures to reduce hours have been less in the USA than in other rich countries.

Peter_G_Moll - 2022 02 19

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