Worked To the Bone I

Conservatives did their usual thing with a recent CBO report on the ACA – the real dumb ones didnt understand it and said a bunch of stupid stuff. The dishonest ones – who’ve long appreciated the benefits of saying stupid stuff to a base only too happy to hear it – did the same. The press dutifully reported their inanity as “viewpoints” if not “information.”

After 48 hours spent spewing the lie that the ACA will cost 2 million jobs, things have cooled down – but the typical dim conservative has now stored it as “fact”. We’ll surely hear the lie repeated right on through the 2016 election – because that’s the way it goes in conservative politics. The dumber your constituency, the freer you are to say what you like, no matter the facts.

The reality behind the CBO report is that the ACA has given workers more options. No jobs are going to be eliminated because of new ACA benefits, but rather, as CBO says explicitly, workers are expected to CHOOSE to work fewer hours – as a matter of personal preference. People arent getting fired or seeing their hours reduced. The new law simply provides workers with new opportunities – to work less to care for children or elderly parents – or simply to take some personal time – without worrying about losing their health insurance. Economists pass no judgment on your desire to work more or less – any more than they’d judge your choice of ice cream flavors – it’s a matter of pure preference – de gustibus non est disputandum.

But the entire episode passed without pundits seizing on this fundamental fact: Americans work far more hours than people in other rich countries. Compared to the 1790 hours worked by the average American full-time worker per year, the average Canadian works 1710; the average Brit: 1650; the average Dane: 1550; and the average German: 1400!

For fear of perpetuating the stereotype of the lazy, party-crazy German, and the sober, hard-working Mexican, I hesitate to mention that, within OECD, Mexicans work by far the most hours (2200) – 55% more than Germans. The EU conflict between Greece and Germany could be attributable to cultural differences: hard-working Greeks put in 40% more hours than indolent Germans – more than 2000 hours per year.

But America’s not losing its nose-to-the-grindstone edge anytime soon – CBO says that total hours worked by already worked-to-the-bone Americans will still increase over the coming decade – only that the increase will be smaller than it would have been in the absence of the ACA. How much smaller? 2%, tops. Given that Americans are already working 5% more than Canadians, 10% more than Brits and 35% more than Germans, this cannot possibly be a serious concern. For the average American worker, less is more – especially when it’s the worker who’s making the decision to work a little bit less. Conservatives are all about personal choice – except when it concerns real people making real life choices. After all, what’s liberty without the freedom to be a slave?

Pondering these numbers, one might grow curious as to why Americans put in so many hours compared to workers in other rich countries. Is it a superior work ethic? Not nearly. Tune in Friday when we investigate the source of long American hours.

Note: The Field Guide, effective this week, will have new material every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with the possible threat of Bonus Material on weekends. Yes it’s true that Krugman only does 2 columns per week – but CT loses far less time dodging undergrads and trimming his beard….



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