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O Tempura O Morels

By Al Schumann on Friday June 24, 2011 10:19 AM

Just a bit of digital scribbling on intellectual allergies.

There's something butlerish about mainstream economists. They believe in a way their masters do not. When they rail against something, for example the Lump of Labor, they do it sincerely. But no one else has ever seriously entertained the thought that there is a completely fixed amount of work to be done. It's a laughable idea. More often than not, work creates more work, much of which detracts from quality of life. The merest brush with manual labor is enough to prove the truth of that.

This being the case, why on earth do they spend so much time attacking it? The simplest answer is: projection. Bootlickers, cretins, sneaks, snitches, managerial Stakhanovites, etc. constantly find their own flaws, magnified, in everyone they intend to harm.

That's harsh and overstates the situation in most cases (although...). The "good education" they receive has a whacking dose of operant conditioning. When they're out of the brain grinder, they're faced with the reality of their sunk costs and the need to make a living. The easiest thing is to find a niche within the status quo. A shared allergy is very helpful with that. When everyone is sneezing, force of numbers reassures them that the allergen actually exists.

Comments (23)


May I request a quick definition of the Lump of Labor fallacy, and, more importantly, why it's of such particular interest to SMBIVA?

Al Schumann:

The Lump of Labor fallacy is actually a straw man. But, taking it seriously, the phrase "Lump of Labor fallacy" is used to describe any labor policy based on the belief that there is a fixed amount of work to be done.

The classic examples of the canard were its application to proponents of the 8 hour work day and 40 hour work week. Proponents argued that better hours would lead (among other benefits) to more productivity and fuller employment—both empirically proven to be true, by the way. Their detractors countered with the accusation that they favored the shorter hours policies because they (proponents) secretly believed that there was a fixed amount of work to be divvied up by a fixed workforce—which is of course complete hogwash. The number of workers and the amount of work to be done are both constantly changing. The goal was and remains a better quality of life for the people who create and preserve value.

SMBIVA's interest is generically Red. Pushing a mop is worth much more than the mop-pusher will ever get. Lugging the garbage and handling sewage is the foundation on which civilization rests. They have to be done, they're not nice jobs and the compensation should reflect the fundamental social reality.

Truly disposable time, that is time in which workers are free to pursue their own interests, is true wealth. Better pay and shorter hours are essential to that.


I'm paraphrasing and probably getting it wrong in the process, but it's a refutation of the idea that labor demand/output/availability is fixed, and therefore if you drop employment hours you'll get more people in jobs.

"The simplest answer is: projection."

Bingo! And that was the explanation given to me by a lumping economist from the OECD (the OECD!) who noted that ALL economic analysis is based on laughable assumptions. So the lump is supposed to be a pedagogical device to remind the cadets of how precarious their assumptions are. It's like that "critical thinking," though, which only teaches solipsists to be more doggedly critical of other people's ideas.

A quick definition of the Lump of Labor fallacy?: "It's an idea economists view with contempt" (Paul Krugman).

The Sandwichman has posted a colorful video at ecologicalheadstnad of Krugman's image reciting his quick definition. A less quick definition is that it is an archaic reactionary doctrine disguised as a pretzel so that it can be used by friends-of-labor "progressives" to glorify primitive accumulation and the national security state. (See S's Open Letter to der Krug).

Is the Sandwichman's monomania infectious? Shoeman appears to be coming down with a dose.

Al Schumann:

Quite likely, Sandwichman. The Lump pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow is a better quality of life for the other 99%. If this is monomania, I'm okay with it. I also think it makes good sense, in the broader life-living, life-loving scheme of things.


Thank you comrades.


i second electric AL's endorsement of workless

"Truly disposable time, that is time in which workers are free to pursue their own interests, is true wealth. Better pay and shorter hours are essential to that."

Can someone here please explain to my girlfriend the importance of 'disposable time'? She thinks I'm nuts!

Al Schumann:

Paul, I'm almost afraid to try. The idea is so susceptible to over-explanation. But, for what it's worth... in any society, of any complexity, time that's entirely for your own use is rare. If your basic needs are met, it's the cornerstone of luxury.

"After all their idle sophistry, there is, thank God! no means of adding to the wealth of a nation but by adding to the facilities of living: so that wealth is liberty -- liberty to seek recreation -- liberty to enjoy life -- liberty to improve the mind: it is disposable time, and nothing more."



Also, my manuscript, "Jobs, Liberty and the Bottom Line," (listed on the header at ecologicalheadstand) is a sustained meditation on disposable time and its rightful place at the center of an emancipatory mentality and politics. A shorter version of the main argument is in "Time on the Ledger: Social Accounting for the 'Good Society'."

Thanks Al and Sandwichman. That quote is so wonderful and yet so taunting. I can see it but I can't have it.

Time is what I strive for. A lot of people have been so beaten down that they can't imagine what they'd do with themselves if they didn't have to work or go to school. What's worse is that they think it's unreasonable for people who don't have such a problem to aspire for free time because it seems so immoral. Everyone needs someone to tell them what to do with themselves, unless they're Jack Welch or the president, who require time to repose and ponder on what our society requires from their charges.

I will have to read that Sandwichman, and then make my girlfriend read it.

Al Schumann sez on 06.24.11 @12:00:
...Pushing a mop is worth much more than the mop-pusher will ever get. Lugging the garbage and handling sewage is the foundation on which civilization rests. They have to be done, they're not nice jobs and the compensation should reflect the fundamental social reality.

Excellent point, Schumann.

Y'know, I don't know how much my city (Washington DC) pays its garbagemen, but I agree it ought to be a shit-ton more than what they're making now. It's grubby, filthy, nasty, grueling and thankless work, but important as hell, because if the garbage were left to pile up at the curb, we'd be overrun with rats and plague and cholera and who knows what else -- but most folks don't seem to appreciate that.

And come to think of it, cartooning is a pretty goddamn' grubby, filthy, nasty, grueling and thankless job as well, because if all those snarky political cartoon gags went un-drawn and left to pile up, socio-political discourse would be overrun with... ...d'ahh, never mind.


Marx's son-in-law wrote a little essay entitled, "The Right To Be Lazy". Apropos?


Very. Marx wrote the following resolution for the Congress of the International Working Men's Association:

"The legal limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition without which all further attempts at improvements and emancipation of the working class must prove abortive..."

From Lafargue's The Right to be Lazy

Instead of taking advantage of periods of crisis, for a general distribution of their products and a universal holiday, the laborers, perishing with hunger, go and beat their heads against the doors of the workshops. With pale faces, emaciated bodies, pitiful speeches they assail the manufacturers: "Good M. Chagot, sweet M. Schneider, give us work, it is not hunger, but the passion for work which torments us". And these wretches, who have scarcely the strength to stand upright, sell twelve and fourteen hours of work twice as cheap as when they had bread on the table. And the philanthropists of industry profit by their lockouts to manufacture at lower cost.

If industrial crises follow periods of overwork as inevitably as night follows day, bringing after them lockouts and poverty without end, they also lead to inevitable bankruptcy. So long as the manufacturer has credit he gives free rein to the rage for work. He borrows, and borrows again, to furnish raw material to his laborers, and goes on producing without considering that the market is becoming satiated and that if his goods don't happen to be sold, his notes will still come due. At his wits' end, he implores the banker; he throws himself at his feet, offering his blood, his honor. "A little gold will do my business better", answers the Rothschild. "You have 20,000 pairs of hose in your warehouse; they are worth 20c. I will take them at 4c." The banker gets possession of the goods and sells them at 6c or 8c, and pockets certain frisky dollars which owe nothing to anybody: but the manufacturer has stepped back for a better leap. At last the crash comes and the warehouses disgorge. Then so much merchandise is thrown out of the window that you cannot imagine how it came in by the door. Hundreds of millions are required to figure the value of the goods that are destroyed. In the last century they were burned or thrown into the water.

But before reaching this decision, the manufacturers travel the world over in search of markets for the goods which are heaping up. They force their government to annex Congo, to seize on Tonquin, to batter down the Chinese Wall with cannon shots to make an outlet for their cotton goods. In previous centuries it was a duel to the death between France and England as to which should have the exclusive privilege of selling to America and the Indies. Thousands of young and vigorous men reddened the seas with their blood during the colonial wars of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

There is a surplus of capital as well as of goods. The financiers no longer know where to place it. Then they go among the happy nations who are leafing in the sun smoking cigarettes and they lay down railroads, erect factories and import the curse of work. And this exportation of French capital ends one fine morning in diplomatic complications. In Egypt, for example, France, England and Germany were on the point of hair-pulling to decide which usurers shall be paid first. Or it ends with wars like that in Mexico where French soldiers are sent to play the part of constables to collect bad debts.

These individual and social miseries, however great and innumerable they may be, however eternal they appear, will vanish like hyenas and jackals at the approach of the lion, when the proletariat shall say "I will". But to arrive at the realization of its strength the proletariat must trample under foot the prejudices of Christian ethics, economic ethics and free-thought ethics. It must return to its natural instincts, it must proclaim the Rights of Laziness, a thousand times more noble and more sacred than the anaemic Rights of Man concocted by the metaphysical lawyers of the bourgeois revolution. It must accustom itself to working but three hours a day, reserving the rest of the day and night for leisure and feasting.


Remarkable, however, the way the overwork ethic gets internalized. I have had more than a few arguments over the years with overworked, underpaid Americans --- juggling family time, childcare and such --- who mocked (mocked!) the French for the 35 hour workweek. "More time with their families," I noted to a decidedly Family Values sort, who retorted, "Ah, just more time to hang out in bars." As if THAT were a problem!


Can someone explain how underemployment fits into all this? A worker getting no more than 30 hours per week at a job certainly has extra leisure time, but also receives no benefits and much less than a livable wage. I see plenty of them in my nabe.


...It's grubby, filthy, nasty, grueling and thankless work, but important as hell, because if the garbage were left to pile up at the curb, we'd be overrun with rats and plague and cholera and who knows what else -- but most folks don't seem to appreciate that.

Damn straight. Modern sanitation and sewerage has done more to reduce disease and mortality than modern medicine. If I had a choice between gifting more money to Big Pharma's white-coated army of drug salesmen and hiring more sewer workers, I'd toss the purse to Ed Norton before Dr. Kilpatient.

There must not only be a right to be lazy, but to be lazy in the manner you see fit, rather than within the parameters set by the workplace and our righteous guardians of moral probity.


I'm glad to say the topic has come up here before:

Lazy workers

In praise of underachievement

Mr Doolittle tells it



labor itself must be abolished, especially so if we are serious about private property and the state 'fading away' into an absolutely new and real set of human[e] social relations which transcend any which have ever historically existed [other than, perhaps, within 'primitive communism'].

ending labor does not mean ending work but creating the time for individuals to actively engage in the latter, to destroy alienation and become human.


Can someone explain how underemployment fits into all this?

normal attempt by businesses to maintain/increase profits during a so-called slowing [actually depression]. Yes, it's contradictory.

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