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More on the Extremely Rich Man Who Hasn’t Had Job In 8 Years Who Wants Other People To Work More

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Jeb Bush was not being taken out of context in the remarks Erik cites below — it was a Kinsleyan gaffe.  (And kudos to Vox’s visual people for showing the “job” Jeb! has had for much of his life.)  Josh Marshall is really good on this:

As our piece here notes, American workers already log dramatically more hours a week than they did a generation ago. They also work more hours a week than workers in any other industrialized economy. It’s sort of a judgment call whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But unless American workers are part of a different species than people everywhere else in the world there are obviously limits to how many hours people can work every week without severe adverse effects on health, basic perceptions of quality of life and the quality of the work they do. The whole point ‘growth’ in the economic sense is that it is real and something that can be built upon in compounded terms over time, providing ever expanding levels of prosperity without limit. But there are only 16 hours between 8 hours and 24. Eventually you will simply run out. Whatever other countries are doing better than we are can’t be hours worked a week since no one else works as many hours as Americans.

There are arguments that more people need to be working (there are also good arguments to the contrary). And there is a real problem with underemployment – people who are involuntarily working less 40 hours a week. But Bush didn’t say that more people need to be working (questionable) or that more people need to be able to get full-time jobs (true). He said people need to work longer hours.

It’s unclear to me whether Bush doesn’t even fully understand the policies his advisors are trying to explain to him or whether this is just standard patrician work ethic morality. Whichever it is, the real structural problem in our economy is stagnant wages for more than a generation for most of the population. Advances or just keeping up have largely been accomplished by working more hours at the same wages (in real terms). Meanwhile, wealth and income from labor productivity gains have tended to go the very wealthy rather than wage earners. This is all known and discussed to the point of being a cliche. But this is the gist. There’s a decent argument that people working longer hours is the problem; it’s definitely not the solution.

This again is something you say about work when it’s something other people do.

The “it’s what you say about work when it’s something other people do” issue also applies to people who want to raise the Social Security retirement age.  If you have a pleasant white collar job that affords you substantial autonomy (or even better, like Jeb Bush, are independently wealthy), this sounds perfectly OK.  If you’re working in a coal mine or doing data entry or cleaning toilets for a living…really not so much.  And it’s never the latter group of people who want people to have to work until they’re 70.

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