Bill Lumberg

There’s talk in some economic circles now of reducing hours worked in the US in order to create more employment opportunities. I’m not actually going to address that or pretend to understand all of the arguments against and in favor of the lump sum theory of labor. But it’s refreshing to think that some people are considering the amount of labor we provide, and what we - individually and a society - get in return.

Just as there is nothing morally good about working in excess, there is nothing morally wrong with working a lot. If that is engaging or important or financially rewarding I don’t see anything wrong on its face with working a lot. What we should question is the silly arrangement by which employers pay a fixed rate and can expect free overtime.

This is the arrangement by which the white collar world operates. Let me motivate the ethical question: if you are paid to work full time, by which we assume 40 hours for purposes of example, you are expected to work those 40 hours. If you do not, if you work 20 hours and take pay for 40 hours of work, you are shirking your job. Moreover, you are defrauding from your employer. You have taken pay for twice the work actually performed.

Now when the employer expects additional labor beyond the implicitly contracted labor, this is rewarded by a nice commendation, maybe. If anywhere else the buyer took more of the good purchased without paying more this would be called stealing. I can’t go buy a bag of coffee and then say, “thanks, I’m going to add 20% more to this bag and leave without paying.”

Something about the takings in this arrangement strikes me as very coercive and incompatible with the ethics of a free market.