lump of labour

rc-am rcollins at
Thu Feb 11 20:55:09 PST 1999

from tom walker.....


The "lump-of-labor fallacy" you ask about is, to be blunt, a hoax. I am attaching a copy of part of a draft [not for circulation at this time, please!] I'm working on that addresses your question "what is the lump of labor fallacy?" The real lump-of-labor fallacy has to do with the restriction of output and explicitly *not* with the reduction of work time.

Your second question, can reducing the workweek reduce unemployment?, is more complex. The answer is yes, but probably not in the way you might think. What the shorter workweek does is put competitive pressure on management to manage properly and reduces the opportunity to accumulate unwarranted profits by the expedient of shifting the social costs of labor onto society in general. Although initially there may be some pure "redistribution" of hours to new workers, over the longer term the employment gains come from disciplining investment (and squeezing out parasitic profiteering), not from merely redistributing a given amount of work.

Reducing the workweek is a necessary condition for reducing unemployment, but it is not a _sufficient_ condition for maintaining full employment and this is where a lot of confusion comes in. It's not a question of a choice between either reducing the workweek or using reflationary fiscal and monetary policy, but a judicious balance of the two. The ideal Fordist/Keynesian countercyclical policy regime would see reductions in worktime and fiscal surpluses being used during economic expansions to dampen speculative booms and discipline capital and then deficit spending during economic contractions to stimulate growth. The way that it works in the real world, though, is that the pressure for worktime reductions typically come during slumps, at precisely the time when they can have the least immediate impact.

-----Original Message----- From: Michael Pollak <mpollak at> To: lbo-talk at <lbo-talk at> Date: Thursday, 11 February 1999 10:42 Subject: Lump o' labor

>Whenever The Economist, or the New York Times, or most any mainstream
>paper discusses the proposals in France and Germany to fight
>by lowering the workweek, they dismiss the idea out of hand as
>It can't possibly lead to lower unemployment they say; it's simply
>instance of the "lump of labor" fallacy.
>And yet smart minds in countries with strong unions persist. So I
>-- is there something to the idea that reducing the work week can
>unemployment? And if there is, what is the flaw in this lump of labor
>fallacy? (Well, to be honest, what is the lump of labor fallacy? Is
>more complicated than it sounds?) Any suggestions or reading
>recommendations greatly appreciated.

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