Working on Holidays is Rarely a Choice

article-0-16224D14000005DC-541_964x1182 pens a “defense of working on holidays.” Though in truth it’s not quite a defense so much as an attempt to obfuscate the issue.

The extent of the post, which is less than 350 words, is Ygelsias talking to two working class people, one of whom sees working on holidays as a way to pick up some extra pay, and another who would prefer not to, “ovterime pay be damned.”

Based on this brief survey, Yglesias declares the question of having employees work holidays a complicated and morally ambiguous one.

 This Thanksgiving there are going to be people with jobs at the Gap who wish they weren’t working Thanksgiving but feel that they’d lose their jobs if they weren’t willing to take an extra shift. There are also going to be people with jobs at Radio Shack who wish they could earn some extra cash and get out from under that credit card debt. I’m not persuaded that there’s a first-order question of social justice here one way or the other.

Apparently, he was too busy rolling his eyes (up to seven times by his count) at ThinkProgresslist of stores that are open on Thanksgiving to double, triple, or even quadruple his sample size, and in the absence of any concrete data, Yglesias seems to think that 1.) it’s not a clear-cut case of worker coercion, and 2.) even if it is it’s not an instance worth devoting time or energy to.

(Note: Yglesias is putting forth these claims not from behind the checkout-counter at a RadioShack, or as someone in close contact with anyone who works in retail. One would think if he was, he might have enlisted them in his research.)

Even if some people prefer to work holidays, or a majority, there doesn’t seem to be anything confusing about the fact that those who don’t are nevertheless forced to, if not by material circumstance like their “willing” counterparts, than by the threat of being fired by their employers.

After all, it’s not as if the employees Yglesias dialogued with had any real choice in the matter. They needed the money and/or it was obligatory.

It’s not as if businesses put working on Thanksgiving to a vote, and abide by the wishes of the majority of their workers, opening on holidays only if there are enough willing to do so of their own accord. A Pizza Hut general manager abided by the popular will of his employees, refusing to call them into work tomorrow, and was fired for it.

But I think the larger issue isn’t that Yglesias thinks the possibility exists that quasi-wage slavery can be, in any meaningful sense, voluntary. It’s that he sees whatever injustice that’s associated with this sort of worker exploitation has “second order,” the indirect result of bigger problems like the lack of: full employment, universal healthcare, and affordable housing.

I don’t see the individual demands of one group of retailers on their workers as an issue easily segregated from the rest of the liberal policy agenda. In the end, how are we supposed to achieve those policies? By winning elections where opposing candidates are financially backed by that very same group of companies?

Is there any meaningful political space in which the asymmetric relationship between worker and employer isn’t just as dutifully reflected?

Many workers are forced to work holidays because they can’t afford not to. They need to pay for the necessities of life and continued high unemployment means they lack the bargaining power they require to negotiate, in a free market, without a union, for more flexibility and higher wages.

The same workers who don’t have off on Thanksgiving are then expected to find the time and the loose change to adequately fund and support political candidate who will represent them in the state legislature or Congress, winning for them the concessions they lacked the power to achieve on their own.

This doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for success.

The economic circumstance which makes holiday labor for many mandatory aren’t simply a symptom of inadequate access to “affordable” health care and housing, they are also partly the cause of continued political failure on those fronts.

The material conditions of a “middle class” weren’t simply created by a band of do-gooder technocrats who happened to find themselves in power one day, nor can they just be reverse-engineered on a case by case basis. They were fought for and earned through hard work and sacrifice. Yglesias might advocate liberals do a better job of choosing their battles, but for those behind a check-out counter “choosing” never had anything to do with it.

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263 thoughts on “Working on Holidays is Rarely a Choice

  1. I”m not sure that I understand the premise of your post, Ethan. I mean, I get that people are “forced” to work holidays in some jobs. But isn’t that the same as saying that some people are “forced” to be in the office at 8:00 am five days a week, or that people who work retail are “forced” to work on Saturdays or Sundays, or that many people are “forced” to only have an hour for lunch?

    Over the years there have been a lot of instances where I have had to work at times when other things I would rather have been doing were going on, including holidays (and in a few instances, vacations). That I might be forced to work at inconvenient times was a possibility was clear when I took the jobs. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what kind of job doesn’t force you to miss things you’d rather be doing with family or friends.

    I guess I’m just scratching my head as to why it’s an issue.

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      • No, I don’t. And to be clear, there are many things about working class jobs that I find potentially oppressive, in need of additional oversight and regulation, and symptoms of larger social problems that should be addressed.

        But that you have to sometimes have to work when you don’t want to work doesn’t seem to me to be a consequence of holding a working class job. It seems like part of having a job, period.

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    • This.

      On a related note, there are also workers whose labor is considered “essential” (I’m thinking doctors, EMS, police, critical infrastructure operators, ect.) We think it right that these persons be “forced” to work holidays, even if a large percentage of them would rather not. You could say their choice of career field makes this transaction “voluntary,” but isn’t this the same type of “voluntary” criticized in the original post?

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      • It should be pointed out that what level of coercion is acceptable isn’t really the subject of this post.

        Ygelsias and I, for the most part, seem to agree on universal health care, cheap housing, and full employment (an effect of which is dramatically higher wages). In that world, people would almost certainly have a “choice” in all of those matters.

        Your question is a bit like asking whether the person who enlists to become a solider is forced to shoot if the situation arises.

        Also: unions.

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      • Yes, of course. I meant that in both situations (retail workers and essential services) there’s a case of balancing competing values.

        If we want to have statutory holidays (again, I don’t know if this is actually a legal thing in the U.S. or more a cultural convention), then I think it’s fair that they are for everyone unless we can identify a competing value that is more important. To me, it’s easy to make the case that you need to have an Emergency Room open and more difficult to make the case that you need to have Radio Shack open.

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      • Ethan Gach

        Like Tod Kelly, I’m not getting the premise of your post. If the level of acceptable coercion isn’t the subject, then what is the locus of your concern? If not employer coercion, what?

        Your question is a bit like asking whether the person who enlists to become a solider is forced to shoot if the situation arises.

        Which is my point. Every employment situation has an element of “you knew what you were getting into when you signed up.” How are the situations you cite different?

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      • Jonathan McLeod

        I think it’s fair that they are for everyone unless we can identify a competing value that is more important.

        Identified how? By whom? According to what metric?

        To me, it’s easy to make the case that you need to have an Emergency Room open and more difficult to make the case that you need to have Radio Shack open.

        And your assessment of the competing values should control, yes?

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      • I’d assume this would be put in the hands of lawmakers, just like most issues of public policy. Since Ethan is talking about political solutions, I sort of thought that was implied (I also thought it was implied by use of the term “statutory holidays”, but as I’ve now learned, that’s not necessarily a thing in the U.S., so apologies for not being clear).

        And, finally, I didn’t make an assessment on the merits of either scenario. I just stated which of the two scenarios-to me was easier to make a case for.

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      • , most police officers, fire fighters, and EMTs have thanksgiving off. Most Walmart workers do not. Were walmart maintaining its normal hours of operation with a skeleton crew, I wouldn’t be upset–It’s not particularly difficult to find enough people that don’t have holiday plans to stay open for a holiday. The store I used to work at was open half-day on thanksgiving, and was staffed by those who wanted the extra pay and an excuse to not help cook.

        But The retail giants are actively attracting customers with deep discount sales that begin on thanksgiving day. That’s the equivalent of the police department deciding to set up a dui checkpoint and hold a community safety rally on thanksgiving.

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      • Caleb:

        The unspoken point is that some coercion is more acceptable than others. Especially if is some poor unskilled, uneducated person that the left swoons over.

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    • Isn’t the whole “working on Thanksgiving” thing a relatively new thing? So didn’t most people *not* sign up, when hired, to work on a day when they would have no expectation that stores would be open? I think it is not unreasonable to be pissed off (and for people to boycott in support of the pissed off) when employers use their relatively greater power to expand the number of workdays in a year without explicitly renegotiating employee contracts. (Then again, I also think we need to revive healthy, non-mandatory unions in the retail sector, so…)

      Also, I *strongly* believe there should be a difference between the expectations placed on salaried workers making enormous wages, and minimum wage workers who are statistically far less likely to be making enough at one job to feed their families. There could be a spectrum of “how much awfulness we the people expect you to put up with” and that spectrum could inversely correlate to wage. Might make minimum wage jobs a lot more attractive… and make paying people adequate wages a lot more attractive… I think in more overtly socialist countries this is more likely to be the case. My sister the well-paid Canadian lawyer has a lot less room to grouse or take legal action against her employer for demanding heavy workloads than her paralegal does.

      (Of course, my beliefs in this area also lead to rules, when *I* was a retail general manager (small business), such as “cleaning up bathroom disasters isn’t any of our jobs, and we can’t wait for the (better paid than the floor staff) custodians to fix this tonight, so whoever out of the people working makes the most money has to clean up”. Which was usually, but not always me.)

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      • — I actually agree with much of this. I most certainly think you have a right to be pissed off if you’re scheduled to work Thanksgiving when you didn’t think you were going to have to work. And depending on your job and your circumstance, I think it’s a pretty reasonable reason to quit your employment. But I still come back to the fact that having to sometimes work when you don’t want to is a pretty universal thing that isn’t in any way relegated to the working class.

        To your second point:

        That the degree of awfulness involved in a job is so often at odds with the wages to do it has always been something of a mystery to me. I mean, I get that being a professional musician might not pay well, be cause being a professional musician is an awesome fun thing to do. But why do people who get hired to clean up other people’s vomit and excrement get paid less?

        It would be nice if those here that specialize in econ could explain it to me, because it certainly seems to put the whole “supply and demand” thing on it’s ear.

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      • why do people who get hired to clean up other people’s vomit and excrement get paid less??/em>

        Because it takes no real skill and there are people willing to do it for low pay.

        Think of it this way: if you bid out that job in a reverse auction, where the qualified person bidding the lowest amount as their wage won the job, what do you think the winning bid would be?

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      • I think how much cleaners get paid actually depends? I mean, like I said, as the person who was paying all the bills at the store – our custodians (who had their own business) got paid more per hour than the floor staff did. I’m pretty sure (based on Googling and my own ears being open for the last six years) that our (contracted from a giant firm, but we’ve had the same ones for at least a decade) custodians here at my small liberal arts school make higher wages I do – and I’m in a job you are required to have a bachelor’s degree and management experience for. (Protip: this does not mean I make much money, but they are making more than twice minimum wage. Granted, I suspect my benefits are better than theirs…)

        I think, like most jobs, “cleaning up after people” has a spectrum of pay scales, and people who are good at it, make what most of us who don’t work 50K+ a year jobs consider to be good money.

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      • PS at the store, the custodians made more than ANY of us except the owners did, but they had a lot of costs / higher taxes / etc that we didn’t, and they weren’t getting any benefits whatsoever. I think they came out about where I did, at the end of the day.)

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      • Also, I think this:
        “And depending on your job and your circumstance, I think it’s a pretty reasonable reason to quit your employment.”
        is the part of your statement that makes it clear that you are in a relatively fortunate position, workwise. It’s not too hard for you to find a new, better job, if you are in a crappy one, for a lot of reasons, only some of which relate to your stellar character and hard work. FWIW, Jay and I are also in that position (even if due to my family background, I don’t always feel that way) – but I’ve known a lot of really great people whose options were terrifyingly constrained due to a series of absolutely awful jobs. That they took, and kept, because they really didn’t have any better options.

        People at the bottom of the food chain (as you acknowledge) are almost never in a position where they can perceive quitting their employment for almost any reason as a reasonable decision. For one thing, it’s FAR more difficult to get a new job when you don’t already have one… And if they are working a lot more than 40 hours a week to pay the bills (a fairly common problem), it becomes almost impossible to find the time to improve their employment. Not to labor-Godwin the conversation, but it’s not like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory had trouble finding enough employees. Absent strong unions, employers *always* have the advantage over low-wage workers.

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      • All of this is true.

        On the other hand, if I may allowed to circle back to Yglesias and the Think Progress list…. I must confess, when I think of the people on those very bottom rungs I don’t know that the people who come to mind are people who work at the GAP and Starbucks.

        I fully recognize that I could well be very, very wrong about this perception.

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      • What Jesse said. I don’t know from the Gap, but Starbucks employees who aren’t management almost never get full-time hours – it’s usual practice to hire lots of part-time employees because they are hungrier and it’s easier to fill the schedule with a lot of desperate people than fewer secure ones – and they make maybe a dollar fifty an hour over minimum wage. (Tips, someone might say. Tips, I snort.) While better off than many, one job won’t come close to paying their bills.

        And, more pertinently to what I was saying, looking at the thinkprogress list and seeing, as Yglesias does, the Gap, Radio Shack, and Starbucks instead of Staples, Target, Kmart, and most particularly the big one, Walmart, who aren’t exactly known for their fair employment practices… that selective vision is in itself a function of your rung on the ladder. I would also add, since we’re talking about Yglesias, that a lot of servicepeople in relatively crappy jobs, if you ask them about their jobs *while they are working* will smile cheerfully and be enthusiastic because, jeez, who wants to talk about how much life sucks when you get the same damn friendly questions from the same damn guys in buttondowns every frigging week (or sometimes day). Being chipper to the customers is a lot less emotional effort and it won’t get you fired, either. Complaining about your job is crappy customer service.

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  2. “Even if some people prefer to work holidaysMondays, or a majority, there doesn’t seem to be anything confusing about the fact that those who don’t are nevertheless forced to, if not by material circumstance like their “willing” counterparts, than by the threat of being fired by their employers.”

    Thoughts?

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      • You tell me Kazzy–was not working on that day important to you? I gather it wasn’t.

        The point is that for many, even if it is important, they have no recourse. No other vacation time, no regular schedule, no overtime or bonus pay.

        Would you care if the school called you up tonight and said they needed you to come in tomorrow around noon and mop the floors?

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      • No, they aren’t, but in another sense yes, they are.

        The aren’t because the prevailing culture of work is such that most people reasonably expect to be instructed to show up to work on Monday.

        But if your industry has a prevailing culture in which one ought to reasonably expect to be instructed to show up to work on a holiday, then what’s the real difference?

        What’s more, cultural norms evolve over time. I can’t say as I think that the evolving cultural norm of large retailers opening for business on Thanksgiving Day is one that fills me with joy, but things appear to be moving in that direction. If you work a retail job, working on Black Friday is almost certainly mandatory. If you work a retail job at a big-box retailer, chances are that working Thanksgiving in the evening is almost mandatory.

        The normative question is whether this is part of the reasonable expectation of what is expected of you when you take that particular job. If you thought that you’d take a job at Target and get both Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving off work, then it may be the case that your expectations were not reasonable.

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      • I would care because it is not my job to mop the floors.

        But let me tell you about vacation time in schools. We have the built in breaks, though they are sometimes shortened by professional development days. We get 10 sick days. And we get 2 — two! — personal days. I have missed a number of events I would much rather be at because I couldn’t take the day off. But that is the nature of the beast in schools. I have long breaks in summer and winter and spring but otherwise very, very little control over my schedule. My school is not oppressing me because I had to miss some very close friends’ bachelor parties (in some ways more important to me than Thanksgiving) because I had to work on them.

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      • “The normative question is whether this is part of the reasonable expectation of what is expected of you when you take that particular job.”

        Burt, there’s also the question of whether this trend is creating unacceptable demands on the people who have few options but to take that particular job. It’s pretty well-established that people in such jobs deserve some legal protections (eg minimum wage laws). so should we extend it to giving them stat holidays?

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      • “prevailing culture”

        I think that’s an important point. In many cases this is not “prevailing” but a more recent development in response to high unemployment and fewer unionized workers.

        Pizza Hut, for instance, decided this year to have employees work Thursday simply because other businesses were doing that.

        Clearly, at least in the general culture, there is an expectation that people have days like Thanksgiving to themselves, to do with as they please.

        Hell, why not reasonably expect people to just work seven days a week?

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      • Your point? My son was born in April. At my current school, I will have to work every birthday of his that falls on a weekday unless I opt to use one of my two personal days to take the day off. And my salary is limited by the breaks and I can’t necessarily fill the extended time off with other money-making opportunities. Oh, and it is basically impossible to switch jobs mid-year.

        So spare me the bleeding heart shtick if you are going to be heartless towards those who disagree with you.

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      • Kazzy, I wish you had more personal days. I know many teacher’s unions who have fought for and acquired more for their members.

        What I reject is the attitude, which I sense, perhaps wrongly, that because you don’t get X, and you’ve made peace with that, other’s have no right to demand or deserve better.

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      • “What I reject is the attitude, which I sense, perhaps wrongly, that because you don’t get X, and you’ve made peace with that, other’s have no right to demand or deserve better.”

        They have every right to demand it. But they have no entitlement to actually receive it. And if they deserve better — simply as a function of being a human being, I assume — than don’t I too deserve better? And if I deserve better, why are you not beating the drum more broadly? Are you going to bang the drum for the millionaire football players who play on Thanksgiving or NBA players who play on Christmas?

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      • …other’s have no right to demand or deserve better.

        They don’t. Certainly people have the right to bargain for whatever they want and I am fully supportive of workplace norms that facilitate a fair and equitable bargaining process.

        I don’t, however, see that anyone has the right to demand anything, unless they’re willing to risk their jobs in the process of that demand, or inherently deserves anything.

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      • In response to both and ‘s points:

        FLSA and state-law equivalents mandate days off, minimum wages, premium wages for time worked over defined limits, and similar sorts of protections. By design, those legal protections are not particularly extensive, so as to allow employers the flexibility to compete in the marketplace.

        We could, I suppose, instruct Congress and our state legislatures to write in expansions of those laws to protect particular discrete days. We just haven’t done that as of yet. Doing something like that would, no doubt, rebound back into the culture, as law and culture reciprocate. My prediction would be that economically, the resulting higher labor costs on those days would discourage smaller businesses from operating on those days, but would be unlikely to similarly deter better-capitalized businesses whose models focus on these particular days as peaks in their sales cycles. In other words, we’d be embedding into the law Best Buy’s competitive advantage over Localguy Jimbob’s Stereo Barn with anything short of a ban on Thanksgiving work.

        Maybe we don’t care about Localguy Jimbob’s economic disadvantage as much as we do the cultural impact on his employees getting their holiday preserved. For my own part, I’m not willing to vote for that choice, but I can see why someone else might vote the other way. But either way, we should both make that vote with our eyes open about what we’re voting on, and it’s more than “People should have their holidays.”

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      • , there are layers here.

        Again, in my locale, neither Localguy Jimbo nor Best Buy are open on Thanksgiving (save, perhaps for ones that operate in a “tourist zone”, there are some exceptions then), so I’m not sure your concern applies to some forms such a law could take.

        Further, I’m not aware of any evidence that the more protective laws of Ontario/Canada are doing such great harm to our economies, workers or small businesses.

        I’m not discounting (haha get it!) your concern, just saying that a more robust law might avoid the issue.

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      • In the past few years, Canada has started to adopt Black Friday, though it won’t be the same, as it’s not a holiday of any sort.

        There are a couple of holidays that tend to be big shopping days: 1) Rememberance Day (our “Veteran’s Day”, if you will). This is not a stat holiday (at least not in every province), but it is a federal employee holiday. In Ontario, stores are closed in the morning, but open at noon. When I was in retail, it was always a busy day, as many who had the day off were beginning their Christmas shopping.

        2) Boxing Day (Dec 26th): This is a stat holiday, but stores are open (I can’t remember how this works, legally). There tend to be a lot of sales on Boxing Day, and malls and box stores get mobbed. It’s actually quite a boon to lower-income people, as you can get a lot of stuff at really low prices.

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      • “Burt, there’s also the question of whether this trend is creating unacceptable demands on the people who have few options but to take that particular job.”

        I think this gets to the heart of my head scratching. Because I’m really not challenging Ethan so much as genuinely not understanding.

        What you say, Jonathan, seems like an issue worth addressing. The point bumped up against above seems important as well — what the hell are we doing leaving our families to go shopping at fishing Best Buy at 8:00pm on Thanksgiving? (Mind you, I even refuse to go into a store on Black Friday, so this question may say more about me than society.) There are so many other issues this touches on, such as wage and wealth gaps, the systemic difficulties in getting out of poverty, the value of consumerism over all else in our society, etc, etc.

        I just sincerely don’t get why sometimes having to work when you’d rather not be working is a working class issue; and I suspect that dwelling on it actually provides cover for the other issues above.

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      • A genuine question for and others:

        On this,

        Maybe we don’t care about Localguy Jimbob’s economic disadvantage as much as we do the cultural impact on his employees getting their holiday preserved. For my own part, I’m not willing to vote for that choice, but I can see why someone else might vote the other way.

        If you felt you faced a reasonable prospect of not having any control over whether you had to go into work on Thanksgiving Day (or evening) over the next five or eight or more years (and perhaps you do feel that way as is), do you think your sense of how you would vote/opine on this question (if a protection like the one you consider ever came to be seriously considered) would be different?

        For my part, ultimately I come down close to where you are, though I think much more narrowly. i think it would ultimately be too disruptive to a time when there is clearly high commercial demand. But it’s very close for me, and it would quite depend on exactly how the protection was structured. For example, I would strongly consider a law laying out certain days of the year for which employers can’t in any way retaliate against employees for choosing not to be available. this would make working a choice, and simply make employers entice people to work with special offers rather than coerce them by making their employment in general conditional on it. (Ultimately, I may come down against that as well, but I’d strongly consider it.)

        One thing that leads me to this view is that I think you are mistaken in seeing having to work on days like thanksgiving as an expectationthat is reasonable giventhe particularities of certain industries. In reality, it;s really not that way. Essentially, the entirety of the service sector operates on that basis (reasonably! – holidays are when people are primed to go out and spend money!). It’s legitimate to say that working holidays goes with the terriory, but OTOH, it’s not like this is the case in a few specialty industries. Basically, everyone looking to work in a job where you serve people who are out consuming faces this kind of tradeoff. There isn’t really any such things as, “Well, find a job in a different industry.” It’s not just an industry: it’s a whole sector (service) that can’t, because of its size, be waved away as a special case where people ought to know what they’re signing up, and it’s the sector that a vast swath of the labor force that doesn’t have special skills (and not a few who do) pretty have to fall back on for employment. It’s not a part of the labor market that can we can just instruct people to avoid if they don’t like the hours; that’s a practical impossibility for a broad part of the labor force.

        Given that reality, of course, any protections that we enact will be all the more disruptive, so the consideration against it is a keen one. But so is the sting of being structurally separated from loved ones or unable to fully relax with family on holidays. As you say, it’s reasonable to come down on various sides of various ideas of how to address this, if at all. I just wonder if we aren’t all pretty much stuck viewing this largely as a question of ‘how does this affect me?’ if we’re not careful. The only way to understand the issue here is to exercise very consciously imaginitive perspective-taking. Hence the question I led with.

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    • Kazzy, your edit is still perfectly correct, but the question becomes which statement (the original or yours) deserves legal action. If “we”* are going to have statutory holidays, why do certain classes of people and/or jobs get left out? Also, for those jobs/people that get left out, how many have real power to do anything about it?

      From what you’ve written in the past, I’m guessing you’re a pretty good teacher and could probably get another job if you left your current one. Me, I recently turned down a job because I didn’t like the corporate culture and demands on my time. The people who are being affected by this issue probably don’t have that luxury.

      Now, of course, we could ask if there should be statutory holidays at all (these are statutory holidays, right? Not being American, I don’t really know for sure). I tend to think ‘yes’, but I’ve only ever given it a cursory thought.

      *Uhh… Thanksgiving was last month and it was on a Monday.

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      • I would say none of it ought to be legally actionable, provided the demands of the employer are in line with the contract as signed by the employee. So if the employee is contractually guaranteed to have Thanksgiving off and the employer threatens to fire him if he doesn’t work that day, I’d say it’d be actionable.

        What we cal federal holidays, as I understand, only apply to non-essential government workers. As I said, I worked on Veterans Day (as did most people, including my wife who is a veteran) despite it being a federal holiday.

        There is one religious holiday that is a federal holiday in America: Christmas. Imagine if we legally mandated that no one in a non-essential job could work. Think of the fallout. Fuck all the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, and anyone else who doesn’t celebrate Christmas and just lost a day’s pay. And fuck all the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, and anyone else who doesn’t celebrate Christmas and wanted to go shopping or out for lunch or fill their gas tank.

        In all honesty, this is one of the sillier posts we’ve had here.

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      • Okay, this helps. So Christmas isn’t a mandated holiday then (other than for non-essential government workers)? There’s nothing stopping a store or business or school or whatever opening on Christmas Day. Is that correct?

        In Canada, we do have mandated holidays (with exceptions for certain types of businesses), so no mall is going to be open on Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever, though some other types of stores might be (convenience stores tend to be open as do restaurants). And, you know, it’s kind of nice.

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      • Do workers not get paid time off? In Canada (well, Ontario to be sure), every worker who earns an hourly wage earns 4% in vacation pay (some employers save this up for when the employee goes on vacation, some pay it on every paycheque). This works out to 2 weeks vacation. Of course, some employers are dicks and effectively don’t let workers ever take vacation, but legally they are entitled to it (and could file a labour board complaint… which of course hurts your relationship with your employer). This system seems to work well.

        Seriously, the more I learn about American labour law, the more fished up it seems.

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      • That is how I understand it. I believe that public schools — as government entities — abide by the federal holidays. But, yes, a private school could be open if it so desired (though I don’t know of any that are… even the Jewish schools).

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      • If “we”* are going to have statutory holidays, why do certain classes of people and/or jobs get left out? Also, for those jobs/people that get left out, how many have real power to do anything about it?

        I think the answer to this is that in fact just about everyone is treated the same, at least when it comes to hourly employees, which is to say that anyone can be compelled by their employer to work on a federal holiday but only insofar as they get time and a half for coming in.

        I unfortunately don’t know that there’s a realistic way to create a better outcome short of micromanaging what employers may and may not open for business on certain days or enabling private sector unions to make a comeback (which I would absolutely support, by the way).

        As things stand, I’ve never heard of anyone batting an eye over the fact that most grocery stores are open, albeit usually with limited hours, on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and are open with regular hours for most other holidays.

        We mostly just seem to have a problem with it now that this practice is expanding to big box retail stores. I myself find it really quite abhorrent, and I’m trying to make it my practice not to get any gifts from stores that open on Thanksgiving.

        The problem really is a cultural shift, but not, pace Ethan, a shift in corporate culture; by and large, the main reasons big box stores presumably remained closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas in the past was that, in no small part thanks to the aforementioned overtime requirements, it was essentially unprofitable to open on those holidays, not because they had any particular regard for their employees.

        What’s changing is a consumer culture that whines about a non-existent “War on Christmas” as cover for Christmas to invade and conquer Thanksgiving. As abhorrent as I find the notion of Walmart, et al being open on Thanksgiving, it’s hard to put too much moral blame on them – they’re supposed to be concerned primarily about their profits.

        No, instead I reserve the greatest portion of my outrage on this for those who create the demand that makes it profitable for retail outlets to open on Thanksgiving. I blame those who are so bargain-obsessed as to be willing to stampede their fellow human beings to grab the latest video game console at 50% off; frankly, part of me wonders how much of the motivation for starting Black Friday so early on Thursday is to decrease the amount of stampeding by just letting maniacal consumers in when they arrive rather than having them coalesce into a violent mob as they wait hours for the doors to open.

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      • Is there really a legal requirement for 1.5x on federal holidays, is there? I never got 1.5x for working on Columbus Day. I know one employer of mine tried to encourage people to work on Christmas by offering 2x pay*, but I figured that was a voluntary arrangement and that such were usually voluntary arrangements if they occurred.

        Hmmm. Every job I’ve ever had has had some PTO system in place for full time employees. This includes McDonald’s, movie theaters, and the phone support job. At most, there was a probationary period before you would be eligible. Does anyone have good stats on how many jobs don’t actually have vacation time for FTEs? (Not that this will help a whole lot of retail and eatery folks and the like, who work part time. But that’s a key distinction in many ways.)

        * – This was an employer that not only needed to be open on Christmas, but needed more employees than usual for Christmas.

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      • @jonathan-mcleod:
        That’s a difference. I wouldn’t call it salient. Don’t business owners (who may just be solo workers who contract with clients directly rather than through an employer) deserve the same rights and protections? A business owner can’t, strictly speaking, be fired for taking a vacation, but he can lose clients. Shouldn’t there be some protections for that?

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      • BB,

        Don’t business owners (who may just be solo workers who contract with clients directly rather than through an employer) deserve the same rights and protections? A business owner can’t, strictly speaking, be fired for taking a vacation, but he can lose clients. Shouldn’t there be some protections for that?

        Can you devise them? If you can, for my part I’d be happy to consider them, but I suspect it’s going to be difficult.

        If we were to decide to protect employees’ holidays with some tweak to employment law or other, I would be perfectly amenable to looking at ways to help business owners secure the same flexibility on those days. But, as you suggest, sometimes there are such differences in people’s basic situations that measures just can’t be devised to extend the same protections to everyone. A basic risk you take in choosing the flexibility of business ownership is that you won’t secure enough clients to keep the business afloat without doing certain things you’d rather not do. Unlike the social norms around employment that we formalize through employment law, that basic reality of business is not one that government can do much to alter. But the fact that government can;t alter those hard facts of running a business is not itself an argument that certain norms around employment shouldn’t become part of employment law. Again, we could look at ways that laws could be made to help business owners with the same concerns, but just because they cant be devised doesn’t mean these protections shouldn’t be extended to employees.

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    • Or you should have asked: how much of this is a result of

      a) Globalization.

      b) A shift from a manufacturing based economy to a services and consumption based economy.

      before writing the post.

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  3. I think you make some valid points here about the power dynamics between employers and (generally low wage) employees, but I think your rage at Yglesias is a little overdone. I read his post before you wrote this, and it seemed to me that it just highlighted some issues that the ThnkProgress piece didn’t mention. His viewpoint is valid when determining policy, and I think he’s right that whether or not people are “forced” to work on Thanksgiving isn’t the biggest social justice issue.

    Even though I tend to agree with you (to a certain extent) on the need for the law to smooth out the power imbalance, Yglesias is absolutely right that there are more pressing issues. This doesn’t mean that we/you/him/ThinkProgress/legislators should ignore the issue of working on holidays, it just means that it should be kept in perspective.

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  4. sez:

    Over the years there have been a lot of instances where I have had to work at times when other things I would rather have been doing were going on, including holidays (and in a few instances, vacations).

    I think that last parenthetical is a more fruitful avenue of exploration for power dynamic abuse than anything else.

    Your employer, if you’re a white-collar worker, typically gives you a certain amount of vacation time per year. This is not required under FLSA, it’s a perk.

    So your employer tells you “you get N days of vacation time per year”.

    At what point is it abusive for your employer to not allow you to take those vacation days? At what point is it abusive for the employer to revoke previously granted authorization to take those vacation days?

    Is it, ever? Is this an implicit contract with terms where both sides don’t know what the terms of the agreement actually are? How many employee handbooks typically spell out vacation policy in terms that prevent these sorts of disputes?

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      • So there’s two ways of looking at that, and how your thinking informs those things probably illustrates how you can start looking at blue collar jobs and holidays, federal or otherwise.

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    • My wife is sometimes given the runaround when she makes a PTO request. I tell her that the PTO is something she is contractually entitled to. Just as she wouldn’t stand for her employer withholding a paycheck, she shouldn’t stand for not being able to take her PTO. There is usually language about receiving proper approval (as there should be… if everyone took off the same day at her hospital, all hell would break lose), but otherwise those are days she is entitled to and which she ought not be made to feel guilty for requesting.

      Her employer knows this which is why their response is, “Well, it’s not a great time,” rather than, “No.” Because they know they can only say “No” so many times.

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    • Excellent questions all, and I’m not sure I have a perfect answer to any of them.

      Most places I have worked (and most places I am aware of that have more than 20 EEs) state holidays, vacation days and sick days quite explicitly in writing at the time of hire. And I have certainly seen (and worked for) employers that then went back on that agreement for various reasons. (With one exception those reasons all had to do with real or perceived crises, including worries about revenue.)

      Were most of those times a technical breach of contract? Almost certainly. Did those particular employers know they were risking suit, additional turnover, and morale issues when they made the decision? Again, almost certainly. Did that the qualify for abuse? Well, that’s a little trickier, especially in those instances where there were concerns that not making drastic moves would have had adverse consequences for everyone involved.

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      • Well, that’s a little trickier, especially in those instances where there were concerns that not making drastic moves would have had adverse consequences for everyone involved.

        Certainly it’s trickier… but I’d hazard a guess that like in Ethan’s OP, there will often be the complaint (if there is one) is that the judgment of the severity of those circumstance isn’t exactly an open discussion.

        (I mean, in my anecdotal experience, it’s much more likely for extra hours to be heaped on employees and management to keep their current bonus structure than for employee hours to remain normalized at the cost of some specific body’s car payment.)

        To some extent, though, even if, “this is the least crappy situation for everybody”… well, it might not be abusive by one way of looking at it, but it’s still at the very least a breach of contract, and failure to recognize that and provide restitution *definitely* qualifies as abuse in my book.

        “We had a bad year, so everybody has to work Christmas week, including the boss” might be the least crappy solution (over going out of business or something), but then it’s clearly on the employer to take the first opportunity to repay their employees for that sacrifice (something which is often overlooked…)

        And clearly the “you get 2 week’s vacation per year but we’re not ever going to *give* you those two weeks and we cap vacation time on top of that” is right out… and that’s fairly common.

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    • A more and more common practice among startups is ‘unlimited” vacation: instead of a fixed amount, you tell your manager when you want to schedule a vacation, and the two of you negotiate it. Of course, how much you actually get can be hard to predict. But the real advantage to the company is that there’s no accrued vacation sitting on the books as a liability.

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  5. I don’t know that it is this way today, but oncst upon a time, “Black Friday” was called that behind closed doors by retailers because this was the period that put them “in the black”. That is to say: this is the period that made their business turn a profit.

    Running with that just a hair further, let’s say that your business will close its doors unless it is fully staffed for a very particular month (give or take six days).

    To what extent can you be expected to ignore the fact that your business will close its doors unless it is fully staffed when you are asking your prospective employees about whether they can work crappy hours from late-November up until Boxing Day?

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  6. Maybe I am missing something here, but I don’t see an actual refutation of Yglasias’ point. I don’t even really see an argument. What I see is a lament of the assertion that workers are largely powerless pawns, modern-day sharecroppers. And even that assertion is somewhat questionable; your language belies this fact. The phrase quasi wage slave implies that these workers are not, in fact, wage slaves even if they appear to be.

    Anyone who has ever managed employees will tell you that workers have a lot of power, even low-skilled workers. They can quit on you at the last minute, throwing your schedule into chaos. They can steal merchandise or give friends discounts and cut into your bottom line. They can shirk and malinger. All of these things are very good reasons for companies to invest in good employee-management relations. For that reason, I have zero sympathy for companies that don’t or for companies whose employee-management relations are unambiguously one-sided.

    Form a policy perspective, however, it is unclear that there is some unambiguous set of laws or regulations that you could pass that would solve these problems. You could declare Thanksgiving a holiday and mandate that all businesses close down. Would that be a clear gain for workers?

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    • I’m for mandatory PTO, in-line with mandatory minimum wages, etc.

      Where I break with Yglesias is on whether this is a side-issue, or part of the central one. As a matter of organizing and concentrating political power, I don’t see the fight for time off as separate from the one for the policies he advocates.

      A follow up post to this one, or a better version of it, would focus simply on the issue of more PTO, rather than the significant of employers giving off on this one particular day.

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      • If you want to criticize Yglesias from the standpoint of what the progressive policy agenda ought to be, I’ll just say fine and bow out. I’m not a progressive, so I don’t have much to say about that.

        From the standpoint of the ethical and economic merits of your proposal, however, I don’t see it. Your argument is basically, workers don’t have enough choice, so let’s mandate a set of changes that give them even less choice.

        More PTO would benefit some workers, but not those who want to work as many hours as possible to make as much money as possible. Remember that from an economic perspective, there’s no such thing as paid vacation. The wage rate represents what your employer is paying you for the hours that you do work. So, more vacation time equates to a slightly lower wage (or more likely a slightly lower rate of wage growth since wages tend to be downwardly sticky). And if employers can’t legally lower wages, they’ll just cut hours.

        Also, where we are technologically, it is only a matter of time before lots of the low-skilled work (and some of the skilled work) presently being done by people is going to be done by machines. The more difficult you make it for firms to hire workers, the faster you accelerate the process.

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      • It looks to me like you yourself give the reasons why being able to take holidays off is, in and of itself, a secondary issue. The primary issues you list are that the working class can’t afford to influence the political process, and they can’t afford to take off. And I suspect that if you polled a million working class workers, you’d find that the holidays are secondary to increased pay and benefits.

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    • Form a policy perspective, however, it is unclear that there is some unambiguous set of laws or regulations that you could pass that would solve these problems. You could declare Thanksgiving a holiday and mandate that all businesses close down. Would that be a clear gain for workers?

      Yes, unquestionably. Certainly there are corner cases where certain workers benefit more from the present arrangement. But it’s not as though Target being open at 6pm on thanksgiving day has summoned millions of additional customers out of the aether. Instead, existing customers are making purchases they would make anyway, just earlier. The retail giants aren’t making more work for their employees by this practice–they’re just shifting the work to less convenient times.

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      • Unless those workers and/or their families run out of soft drinks and need to take a quick trip to the store that isn’t open. Or they’re driving to visit family and are hungry on the road.

        Elsewhere, you made a great point about there being a difference between a place being open to serve holiday traffic with a minimum of crew and a place actually trying to draw customers during the holidays in a zero-sum game of trying to get the jump on competitors. (You didn’t put it in those words, but that was where my mind went with it.)

        This law doesn’t make that distinction, though. Nor does it acknowledge that workers are also consumers and there are some goods and services that they would benefit from being available on holidays.

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      • James, again, do you think most of them would’ve rather had an actual day off and did more work the next day instead? Because, anecdotal area alert, I’ve worked a retail-ish job and guess what – the vast majority of people I worked with, if they had the choice, would’ve much rather had a certain holiday off instead of a little extra for working.

        Of course, the bigger problem isn’t so much these places are open on T’Giving. Quite frankly, if they were open normal or less than normal holiday hours (9AM-3PM just for an example), I’d still wish people could take that day off, but hey, at least they have the rest of the day to be with family and friends. The problem is basically, these people have no real T’Giving unless they have T’Giving dinner at Noon and are done by 3 or 4 with everything, especially since it’s not like you can show up at work at 5:55PM when the store opens at 6.

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      • Guess what, Jesse, I’ve worked retail, too! So has my wife. She’s been fuming a bit at this post, because she liked the extra money. At her place the choice went by seniority, because people wanted the bonus pay. I liked the extra dough, too. You’re persuaded you’ve got everyone’s best interests at heart, but you’d deny folks more pay for the same amount of work.

        For my part, I think there’s something wrong with people who can’t wait until after dessert to shop. I don’t understand the Bkack Friday shopping culture at all, and the shopping on Thanksgiving itself strikes me as pathetic. But treating holiday work as some issue of social justice makes me shake my head in wonder at some folks’ lack of perspective.* And to think you’ve got the moral high ground as you’d take money put if people’s hands is a knee-slapper. Meanwhile, some liberals are also objecting to a proposal in Congress to allow businesses to give time and a half comp time instead of time and a half pay for overtime because–gasp!–it would take away pay and give people…time. The irony is delicious.

        You want to get somewhere with your political arguments, Jesse, you need to eventually figure out that thinking an issue through will get you a lot further than smug moralistic outrage.

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      • Well, the main reason I’m opposed to that law is that the modern Republican party is putting forth the idea and I have about as much trust in them as I do a Nigerian Prince sending men an email about how he needs helping moving money.

        The secondary reason I and many other liberals are opposed to it is we see multiple ways workers can be pressured to take the comp time instead of the overtime and then be pressured to never actually take the comp time, lest they suddenly find their hours halved the next week and when they try to complain to their local department of labor, they find its funding has been slashed and laws have been changed and you have a bunch of conservative politicians talking about voluntary contracts without coercion.

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      • , often not. At my old workplace, you’d either get paid double-time for working the holiday or a paid vacation day–it worked out the same either way.

        Working an overnight shift that starts on thursday night and continues to Friday morning doesn’t pay holiday pay after midnight. In many cases workers aren’t working during dinner time, they’re sleeping in preparation for work–and sleep doesn’t pay extra.

        My boyfriend, who normally works a night shift, is going to work early. That means he’s getting half a day of holiday premium, but he’s also losing half a day of night-shift premium. He comes out ahead, but not by very much. When you factor in the free turkey dinner he’s missing, he comes out behind.

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      • Jesse, there is a really obvious answer to your second concern. If employee cannot take comp time when they would like, they can request request the overtime pay at any time. And if they leave the job, for any reason, they get the money. There are ways that this could theoretically still be abused in the “interest free loan!” sort of way, but if the employers are bad actors to that extent for that marginal amount of money, they are probably not following the law anyway. It’s seriously dumb that everybody should be denied a comp time option for that reason.

        (I have to confess, comp time is one of those not-all-that-common issues where the left position really pisses me off.)

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      • Different liberals differ on particular questions of how to best serve the interests of the working class! So EXquisitely deliciously ironic! YUM!!!

        Of course liberals can disagree among themselves. But if this is an issue of social justice, then the conservative proposal for allowing comp time would seem to be the social justice position, and those liberals who oppose it are supporting a social injustice. And then you have individuals like Jesse who both supports time and a half pay and opposes it. That is a delicious irony, indeed.


        the main reason I’m opposed to that law is that the modern Republican party is putting forth the idea and I have about as much trust in them as I do a Nigerian Prince sending men an email

        Such an amazing demonstration of analytical intelligence. You don’t need to think about an issue; all you need to do is look at who supports it. Good god, Ewiak, didn’t your college teach you the value of thinking, instead of just feeling? If not, they owe you a refund.

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      • – And then that law can be ‘interpreted’ by the Supreme Court to mean you lose that overtime pay if you don’t specifically ask for it in your last check and/or within 90 days, you lose all rights to it. See the Supreme Court case that led to Lily Ledbetter law for an example of the Supreme Court screwing up the interpretation of a relatively straightforward law to favor corporations. That’s one of the reason I like the minimum wage – it’s impossible to ‘interepret’ incorrectly. It’s in black ‘n’ white – you work more than 40 hours, you get time and a half. Period.

        As for companies not following the law. Even with the current laws in place, companies already have no problem stealing workers wages – http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/cepr-blog/the-attack-on-workers-wages – so I see no reason why they wouldn’t see a law like this as an opening. I mean, personally, I’d just pass a law guaranteeing a few weeks of paid vacation and mandatory sick days like the rest of the Western world, so people wouldn’t have to negotiate comp time instead of overtime pay, but I’m a crazy socialist.

        – Actually James, it’s not feelings. It’s the actions of the conservative wing of the Republican Party that Eric Cantor is a member of since about 1981 or so.

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      • Jesse, if companies made a habit of not giving people their earned comp time, then people can opt to get paid right away. Which would make them no worse off than they are now. That was the proposal (in 2004-05, anyway, and I’d assume so now). It can be as clearly stated as the minimum wage and overtime requirements.

        Depending on my financial circumstances, I may want the money rather than your mandated vacation. Or I might want the comp time instead of the money. It would be pretty nice to have that choice (if the employer agrees to it, in the latter case), rather than great liberal protectors protecting my from my incompetent life decisions.

        (Like I said, this is seriously one of the relatively few issues that stirs up a fair amount of contempt on my part for some members of the left.)

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      • – Considering the amount of wages and overtime pay being stolen by companies already per my link, saying it’ll have the same rules and regulations, only with a more complicated situation, doesn’t exactly fill my optimism meter, Will.

        Frankly though, yes, for the middle and upper middle class, choice is wonderful. For the working class, “choice” usually ends up meaning “you get the worst case scenario 90% of the time and learn to love it because we’ve got 100 people outside willing to take your job for 10% less.”

        If I have to make a ‘choice’ between middle and upper middle class lives being slightly less flexible while still giving them an improvement in their lives in the form of mandated vacations and sick leave for a massive increase in the security and well-being of the working and lower middle class, I’ll take that every day. If you ‘hate’ the left as a result of that, so be it.

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      • Jesse,

        All you really have is feelings. You never have grasped the concept of an analytical argument. I have students like you, some liberal, some conservative (previous few libertarians, but on rare occasions, and in those cases my job is the same). Wretched little ideologues. My job is to teach them to think instead of just reacting emotionally. I don’t care whether they change their underlying views or not, don’t care if they leave college as liberals, conservatives, socialists, or what have you. Sometime I succeeed, sometimes I fail. I watch some of them walk across the stage to receive a diploma and shake my head because I watched them soend 4 years refusing to ever give serious thought to any idea that challenged their ideological comfort zone.

        I can only imagine that if you went to a college where the faculty knew you individually, there was at least one sitting there shaking his/her head, thinking, “nice kid, but never did have the courage to challenge himself; never could get him to honestly entertain any idea that didn’t reinforce what he already believed; never got a true education.”

        That’s why I have no patience with you. You’re fundamentally no different than my Young Republican who graduated last year, always coming to class wearing his George Will/Tucket Carlson bow tie, Old Glory lapel pin, and smug used car salesman smile. He didn’t want to kearn anything except factoids that reinforced the beliefs mommy, daddy, and Sunday School taught him about Jesus the capitalist (mommy and daddy who came to campus with him wearing an American flag tie and her an American flag scarf, and both with the requisite flag pins and smug smiled). You think you’re different from them, but at the core, you’ve just chosen a different stance on the issues while intellectually–using that term loosely–approaching them in the same closed-minded, emotionally pre-committed way.

        Be libetal, by all means. But look at the other liberals here who actually consider issues instead of just being purely reactive. Let them be your role models. They earn my respect even as we disagree, because they bother to use their brains.

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      • I’m not clear how a bill to replace overtime pay with paid time off is the solution to the “problem” of people not being able to take particular days off. In some cases, people may both lack enough PTO in order to get paid on, eg., Thanksgiving AND not be able to take it on that day anyway even if they had it, but the problem we’re talking about here is the one where, regardless of having enough PTO to be paid for not working or just a willingness not to get paid on the day, a person wants to be able to not work on a holiday but is told that if they want to retain the job, they’ll be there on the clock anyway.

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      • James,

        Then I don’t know what the substance of this claim, “But if this is an issue of social justice, then the conservative proposal for allowing comp time would seem to be the social justice position” is, and I still don’t understand what’s ironic about people not wanting to be disallowed from taking specific holidays off even if they have the PTO to do it or if they don’t but are willing to give up the pay (the desire at issue in this post), while also opposing the proposal to allow them to accept more PTO rather than more pay for overtime. They’re not inconsistent; they’re not even in tension. They’re unrelated. It’s not ironic in the least to hold both positions.

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  7. The title of this post is curious. Matty Y used a sample size of two and finds a 50/50 split. You argue that his sample was too small but don’t seem to offer any actual evidence that “working on holidays is rarely a choice”. Your sample size appears to be zero.

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    • I think Ethan is looking at the underlying power dynamics rather than the preferences of workers. I’m not sure he really needs a sample size, per se.

      (I also think Yglesias using his anecdotes to make an observation is fair game, also.)

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      • “Even if some people prefer to work holidays, or a majority, there doesn’t seem to be anything confusing about the fact that those who don’t are nevertheless forced to, if not by material circumstance like their “willing” counterparts, than by the threat of being fired by their employers.”

        This would be the key ‘graph. I guess I should say that his argument was building off of the underlying power dynamic, but was not exploring it. And since this is a “A Healthy Commotion” post, I tend to assume that the liberal/progressive viewpoint is kind of an assumption built into the arguments.

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      • this is a “A Healthy Commotion” post

        This is a definite drawback of the (no-longer-very-)new site design — it’s not easy to tell that this post is actually in the sub-blog, especially if you come to it by way of a comment link rather than the main post link. I agree that the expectations are a little different given its location.

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  8. Contra Kazzy above (if that “sillier post” was directed at the original post), I think this post presents totally fair criticism of Yglesias. He has a tendency to carve up the liberal policy agenda into individual units and undervalue significant elements of that agenda, rather than conceptualizing the agenda as a coherent, interconnected whole with many, many individually important pieces. His whole “second order” line is definitely worthy of critique. Not least for being the kind of thing someone with privilege directs at those without.

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    • It was unfair of me to call this one of the “sillier posts” and for that I apologize. I’m on some heavy duty antibiotics which have left me feeling ill and ornery. My disagreements stand, but that potshot was unnecessary. My sincerest apologies.

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  9. The material conditions of a “middle class” weren’t simply created by a band of do-gooder technocrats who happened to find themselves in power one day, nor can they just be reverse-engineered on a case by case basis. They were fought for and earned through hard work and sacrifice.

    That’s true, but not in the sense that you mean. The material conditions of a middle class were created through saving, investment, and technical innovation, which created a stock of physical capital sufficient to raise productivity to the level where employers were forced to bid wages up to middle class levels. Not by unionism.

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    • The great employers of the past didn’t bestow better working hours, conditions and wages out of munificence nor did they do it out of a clear sighted economic desire to acquire and motivate better workers BB; they handed those improvements over once unions and unionization (and public sympathy for unions and their goals) wrenched them from the employers white knuckled grip (with the battered bodies of cops, pinkertons and striking workers as a backdrop).

      Savings, investment and technical innovation allowed the economy to develop to the point where there was excess capacity to create a modern middle class but that capacity was not given; it was taken- by unions. Then government and management caught up afterwards.

      I’d be interested to read Ethan’s diagnosis of unionism in America, why it has become so enfeebled, what would be required to revive it, what the costs would be.

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      • Perhaps Patrick, yet unions (while granted not flourishing) are significantly healthier in other western nations like Germany despite the progress of technology.

        Heck, if anything I’d lay the illness on unionization at the feet of globalization not tech.

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      • That’s a contributory factor, too.

        Generally speaking, I think the unions ought to file suit to overturn the time requirement to strike in Taft-Hartley on the basis that it is un-Constitutional.

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      • North,

        That is a made up fairy tale. Economists and historians attribute better working hours and conditions to rising prosperity which led to higher wages. In other words, Brandon is right.

        See questions 32 and 33 on the survey of randomly chosen economists and historians. Five to six percent of those surveyed attributed the improving work week primarily to unions.

        http://employees.csbsju.edu/JOLSON/ECON315/Whaples2123771.pdf

        Case closed.

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      • North:
        Ford was a non-union shop when they introduced the 48-hour workweek and $5/day wage. Ford did this specifically to address problems with personnel retention, and competitors followed suit to compete.

        When the marginal value to your firm of an additional worker is, say, $10/hour, then you’ll be willing to pay up to that much to hire an additional worker. Sure, you’ll pay a lower wage if you can, but there are only so many workers available. A prevailing wage rate of $5/hour cannot hold when employment is full and there are firms willing to pay up to $10/hour. Nor can unemployment persist under such conditions.

        As Roger says, the idea that unionization is responsible for the middle class is just a fairy tale.

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      • If the marginal value of an additional worker to my firm is $10 an hour, I will try and pay that worker $9.50 per hour, or less. Chances are good that the individual worker will not perceive a substantial difference between the value to my firm and the value of what I offer. The difference between $9.50 an hour and $10 an hour is called “profit.” There must be some.

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      • In Mike Schilling’s world, people who study a subject can’t understand it as well as those who don’t. That’s why he keeps encouraging his boss to fire him and hire someone who thinks software is a synonym for lingerie.

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      • It’s a tenet of a sportswriting that everything, once it has happened, was inevitable. It’s why you see very serious analysis proving that the team that won the seventh game of a seven game series in extra innings was obviously superior.

        But when an economist says that something was in no way connected to the struggles of people who worked desperately to achieve it, rather it was an inevitable result of the laws of economics, I should believe him, because look at how good they are at predicting the consequences of those laws in general.

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      • Patrick, I’m with you on Taft-Harley. If it was ever a good deal for unions it has long ceased to be.

        Roger I’m pretty unmoved by the survey. Question 32 has 50% of the experts agreeing. Question 33 indeed has the majority saying unions were not responsible. In both cases they specify a time period “before the great depression” and are tailored only to the subject of the work week. If you really want to assert that the company towns, the coal mines horrors, the horrible treatment of workers etc.. across the developed world would have gone away all on their own without unions feel free but as far as my own limited experience and understanding is that is an alternative history. It’s possible, I admit, I have respect for economists but all else being equal I remain unconvinced that businesses would have paid more absent incentives to do so. How many times, for instance, was the pre-depression/world wars economy at full employment?

        I’m sure it’s probably my raging liberal bias but I’m baffled at the idea of all that conflict, violence and clashing was over… nothing?

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      • Mike,

        “In no way connected”? That wasn’t what was said. Like your “dregs” the other day, you have misrepresented what was said, then attacked the misrepresentation. Brave man, attacking straw men of your own making.

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      • North,

        As with Mike’s misrepresentation, they’re not saying it was an all either/or thing. The economic growth was the more fundamental aspect, though. Because it made two things possible. One was creating more opportunity for workers, so employers had incentive to pay better to avoid excessive turnover. The second was to create enough value that there was something there for labor to demand a larger share of.

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      • North,

        You are an extremely reasonable person and in no way an ideologue.

        Economic growth is a sufficient explanation of improving average working conditions, despite large increases in the working population over the century. I am not arguing unions have no impact, or did not make a difference to counteract isolated company abuses.

        Working conditions and wages are primarily a factor of competition between employers for a scarce resource. I have been in the room many a time with senior leadership as we discuss how we would construct our compensation packages. We study the competition for wages and benefits. We analyze turnover and quality. In some cases we test our new ideas in a market. Sometimes HR builds a case for a new benefit (such as an employee product discount), based upon a hypothesis that this will appeal to one subgroup or another (our preferred groups were usually working families or minorities).

        Market forces. Competition.

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      • North:
        You understand the logic of the economic argument, right? If employers are getting a screaming deal on wages, then they’ll want to hire more workers. But at full employment, they can’t do that—there are only so many workers available, and if there are no unemployed workers to hire, they have no choice but to lure them away from competitors with higher wages.

        What if the economy isn’t at full employment, you ask? Well, how would that work, exactly? If employers are making $10/hour on their marginal employees and the prevailing wage rate is $5/hour, then why aren’t they hiring more workers? The incentive to do so is pretty clear.

        And even if they’re making money hand over fist by underpaying their workers, the extraordinary profits invite new entrants into the market, and then those new entrants have to hire workers.

        Note that “full employment” doesn’t literally mean that unemployment is zero. There’s always some frictional unemployment, and some workers are, for a variety of reasons, just not very attractive to employers. It’s also field specific. If almost all of the people capable of doing some particular type of work are already employed in that field, then that field is at full employment, and employers who need to hire that type of worker will have to outbid current employers.

        That’s theory. In practice, as I pointed out, this is exactly what happened in the automobile industry during a time of rising productivity, and it was a non-union shop, Ford, that led the way.

        Look at software engineering for a more modern example: Despite a total lack of unionization and a generally lousy labor market, software engineers have been doing very well in the past few years. Why? Because there aren’t enough to go around, and employers have had to compete for them. High unemployment among construction workers is totally irrelevant.

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      • Roger, James, if you read up the thread we’re talking about history here; not current economic theory. Brandon’s assertion was that the improving worker conditions, wages and hours in the developed world came about exclusively from economic development/technological development and that unionism played no part.

        In my very first comment I flat out agreed that economic development and technological advances were indispensable (without them there’s no wealth to spread) but reject, simultaneously, the assertion that unionism historically played no part. What Brandon is saying in this thread, and what you seem to be agreeing with, is that without all those strikes, without all those clashes, all the gains that were claimed by those strikes would have accrued to workers anyhow. You’re saying that if the workers hadn’t walked out in the Anthracite Coal Strike in 1902 that J.P. Morgan would have eventually raised their wages anyhow; that if the 20,000 workers in Philadelphia hadn’t struck in 1835 that their employers would have accepted a ten hour work day (with an hour off for breakfast and dinner) and increased wages anyhow.

        If what you are saying is true then would that not mean that unionism throughout history was a massive, colossal waste of effort, labor and time? A massive collectivist crime against civilization and humanity; a historic case of widespread mass delusion (and presumably marxism and communism just appeared out of nowhere as well)? What exactly is your support for this complete re-reading of history? This astonishing elevation of the past employers from mere businessmen to shimmering beacons of humanity who would have showered benefits on their workers at the expense of their own bottom lines and who were pointlessly harassed and stymied by the foolish ignorant masses of their workers?

        I’ve no particular objection to the economic theories you’re citing. It strikes me as entirely possible that greater grasp of economics, coupled with improved transportation and information technology and globalization are at the heart of the problems unionism faces today. My objection is to this rereading of history. Are you saying these theories were known and employed by the industrialists and economists in the 1800’s; in the early 1900’s? That company stores, working people to death in coal mines and all the other labor standards of the time were just what? Applied to improve the workers moral character?

        Brandon, nothing you say here is backing up your historical assertion that unions played no part in the improvement of working and living standards over the industrial and modern era. If you believe the historical industrialists (and Ford is remembered at least partially because his business model was so unusual at the time) were going to lavish these benefits on their workers anyhow then what is the basis of that belief?

        Frankly I’m impressed; usually on the subject of unions libertarians and conservatives have roll out the line that unions were helpful once but now they are a hindrance. This is the first time I’ve heard organized labor denounced in toto through all of time.

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      • I don’t think I would say it was a massive, colossal waste of effort. My assumption is that in isolated, short term cases, that it was a use of coercion to offset coercion from the employers. In which case, it probably did good. In addition, as I wrote above, there are non coercive roles that unions can and did play.

        Overall, over the long haul, I suspect unions have done substantially more harm than good. They have in total lowered long term average wages and human prosperity, not raised them. Whether this is a collectivist crime or not is not for me to say. I would settle for collectivist mistake.

        My support is my understanding of how rent seeking works. It lowers overall economic growth. An economist can prove this, I can only fumble around the edges, but would recommend looking at a supply and demand chart and picturing what happens when coercion is used to manipulate prices up or down. Assuming freely chosen interactions are positive sum (win/win), the number of win wins will be reduced. Translation, fewer jobs.

        Without blabbing too long on thanksgiving, my argument would also include:
        1). Cartels work by limiting competition, in this case competition from less experienced workers. Unions beggar the truly disadvantaged.
        2). Cartels empirically lower profit, growth, R&D, investment, etc in the industry and firms they dominate. I can supply the papers illustrating this. The take away is that union cartels hobble the industries they dominate. They effectively act as a negative feedback loop, slowly starving themselves.

        The appropriate courses of action was for liberals of all stripes to demand that coercion by employers be prohibited as it is wrong. The inappropriate response was to create a countervailing source of coercion. It probably solved some problems short term, but created lower net worker prosperity long term.

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      • Yes Roger, and the liberal counterargument is that capital and the capital owner classes were historically massively rife with illiberal coercion, pretty much shot entirely through and through with it in fact. Classism, feudalism, mercantilism, graft and plain old coercion was baked into the corporate cake. Absent solidarity, unionization and similar movements those old scourges would have taken enormously longer to extricate from the economic and governmental system of the industrial and modernizing world. We shouldn’t forget, for instance, that classical liberalism (aka libertarianism) came first and that labor and then the horrific overshot of communism were respectively forceful and wildly violent reactions to classical liberalisms either slow or nonexistent progress against those older scourges it opposed. Chemotherapy is poison but we still use it to kill cancer.

        It’s entirely possible that with feudalism mostly extinct; mercantilism in retreat and coercion reduced (though different liberals differ on just how reduced it is) then organized labor may not have the virtues it once did. To try to write it out of history altogether as BB did (and the libertarians endorsed) strikes me as incorrect, though typical for modern republican thought.
        It’s not sufficient for something to be ineffective now or no longer useful as it once was, it must be evil, wrong and it must have always been wrong.

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      • Mike Schilling.

        Was “made up fairy tale” an answer kn the survey chosen by a majority of economists? No?

        No, what I think about you is that you’d rather pretend that not making any effort to study economics leaves you equally qualified to talk about it as those who have made the effort. And I don’t think you’d apply that to many things in life. I especially don’t think you’d apply it to anything you have studied. So I think it’s how you excuse your ignorance of an area that affrcts things you care about, but that you can’t be bothered to take time to learn anything about. So you fall back on what you are good at, being funny, as a substitute for actually knowing your ass from your elbow. That’s what I think. And I don’t think you’d be as sanguine if it was someone else doing the same about something you actually do understand.

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      • You suggest illiberal coercion was baked into the cake of capitalism and corporations. I think you understate the problem. These are baked into the cake of human nature.

        I have already conceded that on an isolated basis fighting fire with fire can and probably did work. The root solution all along was of course to take everyone’s matches away. See James’ proposed Amendment for details.

        Two other parting thoughts this morning…

        1). On the slow rate of progress. My answer is compared to what? Prior to the beginning of the 18th century, progress was so slow or nonexistent that nobody even noticed it. Per capita growth rates shifted to approximately two percent per year about two hundred years ago, and have pretty much held around this level since for the lead nations. Communism and these other scourges of collectivist thought took a rising escalator, complained about the pace and promptly proceeded to break the motor. The leading edge of economic progress came from the places least dominated by collectivist thought.

        Good intentions leading to bad results is still a mistake. Unions were in my opinion a good intention leading to a perversely bad result, especially for the least advantaged. If you can point out the mistakes in my logic, I would be appreciative.

        2). Yes, I think coercion is wrong. I think that it destroys lives and impoverishes people with the one exception listed above (as a last resort to withstand coercion from others). It is indeed the scourge of humanity. To the extent a union or corporation uses coercion or government coercion to form a cartel I think it is reprehensible.

        I am anti arms race. I am for am pro cease fire.

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      • Right, when I assert that people are not always paid the marginal value of their labor, because consumer surplus exists, relative bargaining power helps determine its size, and labor markets are exceptionally imperfect ones, it’s because I don’t know my ass from my elbow. Likewise when I don’t necessarily believe that a majority vote determines absolute historical truth.

        I didn’t see you disagreeing with “made-up fairy tale”. Is it a fair statementor not?

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      • North,

        You counterpose history and economic theory as though they are necessarily im contradiction to each other. There’s a lot that could be said about economists not having good training as hostorians and historians not having good training as economists, and the lack of good communication between the disciplines–deispie the existence of some economic historians who have both skill/knowledge sets–orobably explains why the two things seem, but only seem, at odds. Done right, both must agree (note that says nothing about which way is the “done right” way).

        For one view, here’s Arnold Kling criticizing the economic illiteracy of high school history.

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      • Mike,
        “Made up fairytale” is an overstatement, not really fair. I didn’t see it before.

        But if you do know your ass from your elbow, why don’t you normally write in a way that shows that?

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      • James,

        You’re mostly correct, I am counterpointing economic theory and history as if they’re opposing. They’re not, of course, the laws of economics would have applied then as they do now. Our understanding of the laws of economics then and how we behaved economically, however is absolutely nothing like our understanding of the laws of economics and how we behave regarding them now.

        So far in this thread, to defend Brandon’s (to liberals risible) assertion that organized labor had no part in the improvement of the lot of the working class over the centuries that it has existed (note that this a historic assertion) libertarians have deployed economic arguments typically couched in the present tense.
        I can do this too:
        -It is impossible that Alaric I and his Visigoths would have sacked Rome. Economic theory demonstrates that the net value of the city would be enormously higher if Alaric I had merely occupied the city intact allowing the business activity of the ancient metropolis to continue unabated and thus allowing the barbarians to engage on non coercive exchanges leaving everyone better off than if the city had been sacked. Therefore the first sack of Rome never happened.
        -Economic theory shows that free trade between nations who can utilize their respective natural advantages to allow both partners to be better off than they would be with trade barriers. Therefore mercantilism wasn’t the dominant economic theory from the 1600’s to the late 1800’s.
        If Ewoks come from Endor then you must acquit.

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      • Ewoks? Just referencing the furry bastards invalidates every bit of your argument!

        I agree, though, that Brandon’s argument went too far. Whatever gains from industrialization/efficiency there are, employees may be able to gain a larger share of that through collective action than through the unilateral decisions of the firm’s owners/managers.

        But it is important to recognize that employers do find it in their own interest at times to improve wages and work conditions, because doing so is less costly than continual recruitment and training.* There seems to be a tendency among some–not you–to insist that better wages and work conditions will redound to the firm’s benefit while simultaneously insisting that there’s no way in hell the firm’s managers/owners would ever improve wages/work conditions without employee action. And that is an incoherent position.**
        _____________________________
        *Nucor Steel, for example, pays and treats its employees so well that when union organizers come around the management has to require employees to sit and listen (as a matter of federal law), because the employees just aren’t interested.

        **Granted there are irrational business owners. I have a former student who used to own a restaurant with her now ex-husband. According to her, he treated employees very badly. I asked if they had high turnover because of it, and she affirmed that they did. I followed up by asking her how it affected their bottom line, and she confirmed that it was very costly, both in the need to constantly train new people and because it negatively affected customer satisfaction, which limited their repeat business. But, and I think this is important, the very fact of high turnover indicates that nobody was actually stuck working for such an a**hole, and unable to escape that work environment. So ultimately the cost was not really paid by employees, but by the owners.

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      • Right, when I assert that people are not always paid the marginal value of their labor, because consumer surplus exists, relative bargaining power helps determine its size, and labor markets are exceptionally imperfect ones, it’s because I don’t know my ass from my elbow.

        Consumer surplus isn’t the difference between marginal productivity and wages—it’s the difference between average productivity and wages. Because of declining marginal productivity, average productivity is usually greater than marginal productivity. Consumer surplus doesn’t require a gap between wages and marginal productivity.

        And again, there’s no reason to expect a significant gap between wages and marginal productivity, because if that is the case, then the obvious thing to do is hire more workers until marginal productivity and wages meet.

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      • North,

        Brandon’s statement was that it was economic progress (investment, productivity, etc) which is responsible for the improving material conditions of the middle class. Not by unions.

        He is correct. Nobody argues that unions cannot negotiate superior compensation packages within the range dictated by supply and demand. Indeed, I have mentioned several times that this is exactly what unions should do. To the extent a union accomplishes this it has made the economy slightly more efficient. Unions good.

        In addition, nobody argues that unions cannot get wages above the market rate by forming a coercive cartel. The cartel works by limiting membership. Thus it effectively works partly by eliminating the leverage a lower skilled, less experienced, unemployed worker has in favor of those who are employed. It creates a privileged position backed by state coercion. It is simply inadequate to argue that unions raise average wages within the union when we ignore the effect they have to wages and employment levels outside those privileged to be in the union.

        Next there is the impact on prices, investment, R&D, growth in productivity and profit. In general, unions lower (in case of prices, raise) these compared to non union firms or industries. Even Krugman used to argue that right to work states have 4.1% higher standards of living than non right to work, due to lower cost of living, faster growth rates and lower unemployment.

        Coercive cartels make the economy less efficient. They lower productivity growth (there is plenty of research on this I will gladly link) and starve off the industries and firms they dominate. They also take from the least advantaged.

        Brandon is right. Indeed, my reading of the data is that it is quite possible that unions on net harmed middle class standards of living. We are less well off now due to the net effects of the labor cartels. My only reservation is that it is possible that unions had a positive effect of limiting similarly harmful employer coercion.

        Myth busted.

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      • Roger,

        This is a strange comment. You wrote

        my reading of the data is that it is quite possible that unions on net harmed middle class standards of living. … My only reservation is that it is possible that unions had a positive effect of limiting similarly harmful employer coercion.

        implying – it seems to me – that the data as well as your own views are indeterminate regarding the positive/negative role of unions in US economic history.

        Yet, you conclude by saying Myth busted.

        Strange.

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      • The myth to which Roger was referring is that unions essentially created the middle class—that if it weren’t for unions the average person would be drastically poorer. Saying that maybe unions helped a little and maybe they hurt a little is very much a rejection of that myth. Real incomes increased severalfold during the 20th century. Unions didn’t do that.

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      • The myth to which Roger was referring is that unions essentially created the middle class—that if it weren’t for unions the average person would be drastically poorer.

        Fair enough. But I want to remind you of what you said at the top of this subthread – the comment that everybody’s been discussing:

        The material conditions of a middle class were created through … [a list of factors] … Not by unionism.

        Are you saying that you now disagree with this comment? Because if you (and Roger) are willing to concede that unions played a role, then I think the main criticisms you guys have levelled at Ethan and North are without merit and they’re arguments are sustained.

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      • Stillwater,

        Several additional points.

        1) I think the data shows that within state enforced unions (labor cartels), average wage packages are about twenty percent better. But note my comment mentioned that average prosperity is not just a factor of those within the union, but those also includes those prohibited from getting a job — and it is the prohibition of getting jobs that empowers the union. That is how cartels work. Lower skilled workers are unfairly prohibited from applying to a job and undercutting union workers. Why this doesn’t piss off progressives I will never understand.
        2) Next you have to consider the effect of unions on prices before figuring out the average benefit in living standards to the average worker. My Krugman paraphrase that workers are better off on average in right to work states makes that point.
        3) finally, and this totally trumps the other two, you have to consider growth rates. Over the long run, as Brandon mentions, you have to explain a tripling, quadrupling and more effect on average living standards. Getting a larger piece of the pie via coercion does not lead to multiples of living standards– it can’t. Twenty percent higher is twenty percent higher and done.

        Growth rates over time trump everything. And here the data shows that unions are terrible for growth rates in competitive firms and industries where they dominate. Again this is explained in theory and backed up by empirical data.

        From the research on unions which I can link to if interested. “Unionized firms have profits that are 10% to 20% less than non-unionized firms (this is considered a feature not bug of union sympathizers)
        Capital investment of an average unionized firm is 6% lower than that of a comparable nonunion firm
        The average unionized firm made 15% lower annual expenditure on Research & Development
        In studying 510 manufacturing firms, median growth of non-unionized firms was 27%, while the growth rate of unionized firms was zero.”

        Capital flows toward profits and away from lower profit levels. Unions starve themselves.

        Most importantly PRODUCTIVITY GROWTH is lower in union firms and industries than those without. Productivity growth is the only potential source of these huge gains in living standards.

        Thus, unions help those in unions via rent seeking while they possibly on net lower the standards of living of the average person.

        This is, by the way, the standard classical liberal argument against rent seeking and privilege. It is a process which leads to high concentrated benefits for those advantaged. While leading to lower but opaque reductions in living standards for everyone else. The net effect, like the prisoners dilemma which models it tends to be a reduction in living standards for all.

        So, how much better off would the average person be if unions had never existed? Beats me. I would be surprised if the net effect was any improvement in living standards though, and it certainly wasn’t a multiple of per capita GDP.

        Brandon is correct.

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      • Over the long run, as Brandon mentions, you have to explain a tripling, quadrupling and more effect on average living standards.

        In the US? That was a result of unionization, innovation, bi-lateral trade agreements, a whole bunch of stuff.

        Getting a larger piece of the pie via coercion does not lead to multiples of living standards– it can’t.

        No one is arguing that it does. WEll, except you, by continuing to attribute a view to people that they do no hold.

        Twenty percent higher is twenty percent higher and done.

        Sure. We agree on that.

        Growth rates over time trump everything.

        Well, now we’re deviating significantly from a subjective theory of value, it seems to me. If objective data trumps everything, then individual’s subjective determinations can be thrown right out the window. We’re right back in objective land.

        And here the data shows that unions are terrible for growth rates in competitive firms and industries where they dominate.

        Maybe by a contemporary analysis. But North made an express and explicit effort to say that he was talking about historical context in his belief that unions made a significant contribution to establishing the middle class. And Ethan’s comment (the one quoted by BB and by my reading anyway) was clearly talking about gains won by effort which otherwise – all other things being equal! – wouldn’t have been realized.

        You have a theory which rejects the “all other things being equal” claim, it seems to me. But that’s so counterfactual to the views people are expressing I really don’t see how it’s a relevant counter-argument.

        And to add my own specific views to the issue, I have no problem with people creating a closed shop as a way to extract increased compensation when the circumstances permit it. You object to that view because it deprives another person of undercutting the price for labor. I view it differently: that someone is going to perform that task, and the person who does might as well get paid more for doing so.

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      • Stillwater,

        Let me get this straight then. You guys agree that unions now are destructive to growth in productivity and thus today have no net positive impact on standards of living. However, you suspect that in the past they did, even though I started with a link showing economists and historians totally disagree with this myth?

        Do you guys care to elaborate what it was about this golden age of the union between the depression and the modern era which made it special? I would like to hear both your theory and your evidence. Is it perhaps that they countered/neutralized the exploitative impacts of employers? ( I am feeding you possible answers, but you can anticipate my counter)

        I am skeptical but will keep an open mind.

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      • Roger, of all the people the people on this board, you probably have the least open mind of anyone I’ve encountered. (Well, maybe Blaise. Whatever happened to him?) I mean, you can’t even correctly repeat “our” arguments!

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      • “….I have no problem with people creating a closed shop as a way to extract increased compensation when the circumstances permit it. You object to that view because it deprives another person of undercutting the price for labor. I view it differently: that someone is going to perform that task, and the person who does might as well get paid more for doing so.”

        This final sentence encapsulates progressive ideology to a tee. So perfectly, in fact, that I will not even attempt to counter it. It works better as an eternal monument to leftist thought.

        “…someone is going to perform that task, and the person who does might as well get paid more for doing so.”

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      • Do you and North have an argument? Can you state it clearly?

        I think you’re the first person to challenge North on making an argument, let alone making a clear one. Way I see it is that you disagree with North – and me, of course – but the fact that we can’t provide an argument sufficient to change your views is pretty irrelevant. People who believe in alien abductions won’t be persuaded by anyone’s counter argument either. So your demands for something you find compelling aren’t indicative of whether those arguments are valid, or sound, or even can be justified.

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      • In addition, Roger, I’m curious about the argumentative dynamic you support. It seems to me to be this: you assert a definitive claim about a complex system; challenge people to refute you; then disagree that they’ve done so. You’re whole premise in these types of discussions is to challenge other people to refute your views rather than to include those other arguments into your frame of reference.

        Unless you think you’re talking about a Pure Description of Objective Reality and all!!

        Is that what you think you’re doing?

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      • Do you guys even have an argument?

        Argh.

        North made extensive comments justifying his view upthread, arguments that I happen to agree with and which are pretty damn clear. Ethan made an argument in the OP which Brandon criticized, but I think that his criticism was misplaced and read more into the claim than was actually expressed (hint, hint!). I’ve made many comments – for self-serving purposes I like to think of them as arguments even tho I realize you may dispute that I’ve done so, and as a result challenge me to refute your conception of what An Argument in fact is – expressing disagreement about the framing and target of your claims. I think you’re arguing straw here, insofar as you’re actually engaging in an argument.

        If you’re just proselytizing against unions, then you’re clearly doing a good job.

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      • Ironically, Roger, the only time when your comment addresses the subject of this tread; the historical impact of unions, you appear to concede the point:

        “My only reservation is that it is possible that unions had a positive effect of limiting similarly harmful employer coercion.”

        That point implodes Brandon’s initial assertion and blows the ground from beneath all your present tense couched economic arguments. For what it’s worth I would agree that it’s -possible- that unionism is no longer effective in a modern more open and liberal economy like we have today. It’s also possible that unionism today is so hampered by regulation and undercut by the (hopefully temporary) imbalances of labor/capital brought about by globalization that it is only ineffective now.

        That said, I’ll repeat myself in noting that you’ve not made a single historical argument nor have you addressed or defended the historical subject of this sub thread except in your concession above. I am assuming you’re just misreading or misunderstanding me rather than intentionally trying to drag the subject to the present tense where you actually have arguments to make (that do not address the historical context of this discussion).

        I recommend you read my previous comment to James about the Ewok defense you keep employing. Your economics don’t read as unreasonable to me but they don’t address the historical question at hand. Using this same reasoning you could argue, for instance, that libertarian economics tells us that slavery is deeply economically inefficient; coerced people are poor and unmotivated workers and much labor must be diverted from productive ends to police and coerce the slave work force.
        Therefore the trans Atlantic slave trade never happened.

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      • North,

        Good questions and thanks for getting us back on topic.

        I assume the survey of historians and economists counted for something with you for the history prior to the Depression. Again their overall opinion is that the improving working hours and wages was due primarily to increasing prosperity brought about by increased productivity, and specifically NOT primarily by unions.

        If you agree, that leads us to the era since 1930.

        Is your argument is that perhaps the negative economic effects of labor cartels could have done some good by offsetting the evil intentions of otherwise unrestrained corporate cartels? If so, you are right that there is no real way to counter that claim conclusively.

        However, I think we should go with the most parsimonious explanation, which basic economics handles nicely.

        Despite the argument that unions are necessary to extract the employee’s fair share from companies, standards of living, employment rates and growth rates are BETTER in right to work states. Not just equal, but actually better (per Krugman). This at least suggests the union hypothesis is unnecessary, and possibly even counterproductive to the plight of workers and the economy overall.

        As an additional argument, note that workers have historically tended to be paid according to theory in non union industries, fields and firms. That is, they have been paid based upon their marginal productivity. Again the narrative that unions were necessary to extract the fair wage appears superfluous

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      • Roger- I did look a bit at your completely conclusive proof that ended the debate but i didn’t go through all of it. Was there a description of the political beliefs of the people surveyed? What were their biases? There ideological predispositions? I’m assuming, of course, the people who did the survey made sure the econ historians were evenly distributed across the spectrum from right though to the left.

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      • Roger,
        I admit, I’m beginning to get discouraged. I directly answered your survey point much further up the thread. You appear to have either never read it or have ignored it. In the interest of magniminity I will repeat my previous response:
        I’m pretty unmoved by the survey. Question 32 has 50% of the experts agreeing. Question 33 indeed has the majority saying unions were not responsible. In both cases they specify a time period “before the great depression” and are tailored only to the subject of the work week. If you really want to assert that the company towns, the coal mines horrors, the horrible treatment of workers etc.. across the developed world would have gone away all on their own without unions feel free but as far as my own limited experience and historical understanding is that is an alternative history that exists only in your and Brandon’s imaginations.

        The survey is narrowly worded and specific on the subject of labor (shortened work weeks) and where it’s more broadly worded it garners only 50% support. Not very useful for supporting Brandon’s massive, sweeping dismissal of the entire history of organized labor. Do you have any historical assertions or argument other than (a very weak) appeal to the authority in the survey? I have, up thread, cited specific instances of historical strikes either directly yielding shortened work hours or mobilizing public opinion in favor of the same.

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      • Greg and North,

        Since the survey covered 178 random members of the a Economic History Association, my guess is they were primarily from the left. There may be a few conservative historians out there, but they are certainly rare. Academia attracts those of the left. However, for arguments sake let us assume this survey overcame all odds and actually represented an evenly distributed sample of the political spectrum.

        Five to six percent agreed that unions were the primary cause of a shorter workweek. North then argues that only unions could equalize the harmful exploitation of corporate towns and such. I agree that unions counteracting corporate monopolies and cartels was a good thing. Pretty much irrelevant to the tripling or quadrupling of living standards and vast improvements in average American working conditions, or for those of us not being exploited by a monopoly, but good just he same in these cases.

        The next bit of data that I provided was the theory of supply and demand which suggests workers will be paid based on marginal productivity in reasonably competitive markets. I supplied references that in reality, right to work states have better, not worse, standards of living. Finally, I claimed that oddly enough in industries, professions, locations and firms without unions, that wages and working conditions “magically” improved despite the absence of unions.

        So, where am I at the end of this discussion? I agree with you guys that in isolated cases union cartels were necessary to offset corporate monopolies. In the broader sweep of history, unions were not necessary in raising wages or working conditions. Indeed, I believe that since they often work as a rent seek cartel which undermines economic efficiency without improving productivity (I have studies tracking productivity too) that they probably reduced per capita GDP growth.

        Later guys. We are just starting to repeat ourselves.

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      • Roger, you have again ignored that the survey addresses only the working week, a very narrow slice of all the benefits unions are alleged (by liberals) to have wrested from the grip of employers.

        Setting aside that you’ve dodged or ignored most of my points the fact remains that even what you have conceded falsifies Brandon’s initial sweeping assertion that there was no historic gains from unionism and that any such gains are liberal fairy tales. No liberal in this thread has claimed that unionism was the sole mover of improving living standards, merely that they played a part. In that you’ve reluctantly admitted such; I’m content to accept victory as that’s all I was asserting in the first place.

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      • I apologize. I assumed I was discussing the issue with the same North that wrote this little manifesto…

        “The great employers of the past didn’t bestow better working hours, conditions and wages out of munificence nor did they do it out of a clear sighted economic desire to acquire and motivate better workers BB; they handed those improvements over once unions and unionization (and public sympathy for unions and their goals) wrenched them from the employers white knuckled grip (with the battered bodies of cops, pinkertons and striking workers as a backdrop).”

        If you don’t think my evidence on the half the country that was right to work, or the millions of cases of workers with improving work conditions and wages who never joined unions, or the basic economic theory, or the survey of economists doesn’t make my case, then so be it. Perhaps nothing will ever make the case to you.

        I know better than to argue with religious fanatics on evolution. Perhaps arguing with lefties on unions is similar.

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      • I think the paragraph that followed the part you quoted:
        “Savings, investment and technical innovation allowed the economy to develop to the point where there was excess capacity to create a modern middle class but that capacity was not given; it was taken- by unions. Then government and management caught up afterwards.”
        strikes me as salient. Also I don’t think a reply counts as a manifesto.

        You repeatedly act as if the discussion in this subthread was liberals defending the assertion that unions alone caused improving working conditions; that is an utter straw man- no one here has asserted any such thing. The assertion being defended in this thread was Brandon’s assertion that unions had absolutely nothing to do with the improvement of working conditions over the entire historical lifetime of organized labor and your impressive raise on that theme stating that the history of organized labor is a fairy tale.

        First I am still puzzled by you repeatedly overlooking answers to your assertions. The survey for instance had two salient questions:
        32. The reduction in the length of the workweek in American manufacturing before the Great Depression was primarily due to economic growth and the increased wages it brought.
        33. The reduction in the length of the workweek in American manufacturing before the Great Depression was primarily due to the efforts of labor unions.

        The former has only 54% agreement both of these questions -only- addresses the workweek, not wages or worker conditions and restrict themselves to the pre-depression era which is a strange exclusion to say the least. That’s weak tea if you’re trying to prove you and Brandon’s assertion of 0% union contribution to the welfare of workers in the entire history of organized labor.

        With regards to “right to work laws” I am utterly astonished to see you espousing them. You’re a pretty enthusiastic libertarian, at least when it comes to capital, but you are evidently all for the boot of regulation so long as it’s forbidding agreements that benefit labor. Either way right to work only came about with Taft-Harley in 1947 so that leaves all of the 1800’s for unions. Again, this point fails to demonstrate 0% union contribution to the welfare of workers in the entire history of organized labor.

        As to the rest of your economic theory I do not contest it but I do submit it’s irrelevant. We are arguing history, not economics here. If you wish to argue economics you can but there’s no contest here. As I previously noted; providing evidence that something is economically sub-optimal does not prove that said something never historically happened. It’s just an ewok argument and it doesn’t have bearing on the historical question being debated.

        I have bent over backwards to give investment, savings and capitalism their due in creating the economic surplus necessary to improve working conditions. Eventually I persuaded the Prof to agree that Unions historically played a part in distributing that economic to workers in the form of better working conditions/hours/wages. Even you have been forced to admit that unions may have played a roll in countering employer coercion (coercion that I note, is a historical fact). Technically I suppose I could just declare victory and go home. Maybe I could pronounce “case closed” or ‘Myth busted” to raise the level of discourse but it’s not my style.

        To be honest Roger I’m puzzled by the general vibe I get off you that you dislike organized labor. From your (very unlibertarian) skepticism that unions are over regulated; your outright endorsement of union busting regulation all the way to your signing on with Brandon’s attempt to airbrush unions en toto out of the past 200 years of history you really seem to have it in for organized labor in general. Libertarians usually at least try to be even handed between labor and capital and couch their issues with unions only in the present tense rather than trying to claim they never were of any utility at all.
        What gives? Did Beach-Workers Local 200 try and unionize the surf shop at your beach or something?

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      • North,

        The myth I was addressing was yours as stated in your quoted paragraph.

        I certainly agree that my survey is imperfect in focus. It was the only one I have.

        I am not arguing for right to work laws. My argument was simply that the fact that right to work states outperform their opposites is pretty devastating to the argument that unions are necessary to extract better wages or working conditions.

        The concern I have with unions is in a word COERCION. I have no concern at all with non coercive ones. I do find it odd that most people agree that coercion and privilege/rent seeking is wrong. Then they buy into the myth that rent seeking by coalitions of workers is not just OK, but good.

        I agree that to the extent unions used coercion to counteract coercion on the other side of the negotiation table that they did net good. The better solution would have been to prohibit either side to use coercion. If this was the only thing unions ever did, I would accept their role for good though. However, it is not their only role, and much of what they do is exploit non union workers and lower economic efficiency. Thus they make the world a worse place. When an institution makes the world a worse place, I tend to argue against it. Arguing the opposite would make me a monster no?

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    • To what extent did the Fair Labor Standards Act and National Labor Relations Act make contributions to constructing the material conditions of the middle class in America?

      Overall, I don’t think it is necessarily an either/or – unions’ activism or savings/investment/innovation. Monocausal history for something as complicated as the expectations and conditions of the US middle class over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries doesn’t make sense to me. Circumstances could sensibly have numerous contributing factors including significant work by unions before and after landmark federal legislation on the workplace.

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      • The role of unions is to represent workers in such a way as to negotiate a better package in terms of utility. By representing workers various utilities and trade offs they can effectively negotiate for a package with higher utility at the same net cost to the employer.

        In this way, they are likely to have some small impact on working conditions, assuming workers tended to prefer better conditions to higher pay. Unions cannot get substantially higher long term net compensation packages over the market rate absent threats of violence or privilege seeking from the state which threatens violence.*

        Employees compete with similarly capable prospective employees for wages. That is how they are set. Absent forming a cartel, which by definition screws over prospective employees (often young, lower class and minority), unions are incapable of doing any heavy lifting of total net compensation packages. Light lifting short term on the edges, yes.

        *the state also provides privileges to companies! basically setting off an arms race of rent seeking and campaign contributions. The house always wins.

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      • You’re describing a micro picture, I’m referring to a macro picture. So insofar as we discuss the role of a union in a particular firm, I largely agree with your description, “The role of unions is to represent workers in such a way as to negotiate a better package in terms of utility….”

        But there is also unions’ role in the larger society to consider, the labor movement’s* role in shaping the expectations and conditions of labor writ large, far beyond the small impact on the margins you identify. (* was a link to the wikipedia labor movement page, but I decided to use my one link later)

        Also, I’d highlight a further means by which unions achieve their ends beyond the “violence or privilege seeking from the state” you identify. Unions, through negotiations, help ensure the gains from increasing productivity are more evenly spread between capital and labor. I’m not 100% sure of these figures offhand, but I’d wager that in countries with higher union density than the US, the CEO to shop floor employee ratio hasn’t reached the outrageous chasm of the US, among other measures of the disproportionate capture of gains from productivity from the capital/ownership class. (Yes, that’s a simplification/shorthand, I know that there is not necessarily an easy divide between owners and workers, but for the sake of brevity.)

        I’ll close with a link pointing to the International Labor Organization’s 1969 Nobel Peace Prize citation. It will give you a larger sense of the role of unions’ broader role in advancing social justice (and peace).

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      • Actually your one link didn’t work.

        A few things. I think unions would be great for raising the awareness of society on worker issues. I just wish they would spend less of that on economic myths and propaganda. The union rallying cry is often workers against capital. It is a sleight of hand. A misdirection. The competition is between prospective workers for scarce jobs, and between employers for scarce labor.

        The illusion amounts to *pay no attention to the unemployed guy asking to do your job for less, let’s sock it to the capitalists!*

        Unions certainly and empirically change the balance between wages and profits. I have the links proving that case, so no argument there.

        However, a central principle of economics as I understand it is that risk adjusted returns are drawn toward the same level over time. Thus if profit is reduced in a company or industry, that industry or company will shrivel up over time until such a time as the profit gets back to normal. Capital seeks higher returns. With lower returns, there is less incentive for new factories, new shifts, new product lines, etc. This is not just theory, this is how I made decisions when I was responsible for various product lines or regions at a major company.

        Thus, to the extent that labor captures a greater share of profits, the net effect is less investment, less R&D, less jobs, more outsourcing, more replacement of labor with automation and a lower industry or firm growth rate. Again, I have some good links on the trends if anyone is interested. Success on this dimension starves the industry. It is self defeating over time.

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      • Capital seeks higher returns.

        I think this is actually false. I’d phrase it this way: capital seeks the highest possible return (given risk and whatnot). The liberal argument (or “a” liberal argument) is that a bare desire to maximize ROE in the form of policy and decision-making requires some justification. I mean, simply citing that “that’s the way the financial world works” doesn’t really suffice, does it?

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      • a bare desire to maximize ROE in the form of policy and decision-making requires some justification. I mean, simply citing that “that’s the way the financial world works” doesn’t really suffice, does it?

        Suffice for what? It’s not clear–to me, anyway–what you’re asking.

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      • Man, this is funny. In a good way. I mean, you and I seem fundamentally to talk past each other.

        I don’t know how to ask the question more clearly than to simply repeat it.

        The liberal argument (or “a” liberal argument) is that a bare desire to maximize ROE in the form of policy and decision-making requires some justification. I mean, simply citing that “that’s the way the financial world works” doesn’t really suffice, does it?

        I really don’t know how I can be any clearer than that. Without some help about what I’m missing.

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      • Um, adjusted for risk and all, if you can get a higher return elsewhere you are dumber than a monkey to pursue lower expected returns. The deeper explanation is that money is a fungible good which can be used to purchase goods and services which satisfy our needs. Thus people rationally will tend to pursue higher profits all else equal just as a worker pursues higher wages all else equal and just as a consumer pursues lower prices all else equal.

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      • if you can get a higher return elsewhere you are dumber than a monkey to pursue lower expected returns.

        Well, if if *that’s* not a refutation of subjectively determined value, then I don’t know what is.

        As we speak, I’m involved in a business venture with people who will lend us money at a lower-than-market-value rate precisely because they believe in the project we’re pursuing. They *value* it, and want to see it realized.

        Isn’t value determined by more than merely dollars, Roger?

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      • Stillwater,

        Are you talking about ethical justification for pursuing gains/ROE?

        Are you talking about ethical justifications for pursuing gains/ROE in particular ways?

        Are you talking about explaining why (as an empirical matter, rather than an ethical matter), people pursue gains/ROE?

        Any of those is a plausible interpretation of your question (although the third seems least likely), but they’re not necessarily the exclusive set of plausible interpretations, so perhaps none of them catch your meaning.

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      • Well, if if *that’s* not a refutation of subjectively determined value, then I don’t know what is.

        But it’s not, a dollar equals a dollar, yes, but dollars aren’t real value–it’s what they can do for us that is real value, and we use them for different ends because real value is subjective. Money is just a tool that allows us to more easily compare different subjective values to each other by providing a common terminology for our different values.

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      • Stillwater,

        E.g., in your example we can measure how your investors value your venture by hiw many dollars they’re willing to forgo. Put amother way, they are substituting some consumption value for some of their ROE. So it can stll all be measured in dollars, but because their consumption value in your project is their own, and not what some other might value in it (e.g., someone else might not loan to you at below market rates because their consumption value of your project is nil), we can see that value is still subjective, even though measured by money.

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      • James, in the initial comment I was claiming that ROE measured in purely monetary terms requires justification. (Roger provided that, by saying that anyone who doesn’t maximize monetary ROE is “dumber than a monkey”. (That settles that!)

        You bring up more interesting permutations, which were more in line with what I was asking. The identification of the concept of “maximizing ROE” with “monetary return” seems like something that needs a justification if value is subjectively determined. And given that it’s subjectively determined, ROE can be measured in multiple ways, some of which aren’t directly tied to FROE (financial ROE). So…

        Are you talking about ethical justification for pursuing gains/ROE?

        Subjectively determined ethical rewards, yes.

        Are you talking about ethical justifications for pursuing gains/ROE in particular ways?

        Sure. COOPs, profit sharing for stake-holders, ownership-stakes for certain individuals or groups. Those sorts of things. The barrier to those being “acceptable” business strategies strikes me as more culturally than business-ly determined. (People with the gold think they get to make the rules, no?)

        Are you talking about explaining why (as an empirical matter, rather than an ethical matter), people pursue gains/ROE?

        No. As a descriptive matter it’s pretty clear why people purse financial ROE. My comment is more directed at the cultural presuppositions that normalize and reinforce that pursuit rather than alternatives.

        Any of those is a plausible interpretation of your question (although the third seems least likely), but they’re not necessarily the exclusive set of plausible interpretations, so perhaps none of them catch your meaning.

        Yes. I’m not providing anything like an analysis here. I’m just a strange guy wondering about other people’s arguments!

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      • But it’s not, a dollar equals a dollar, yes, but dollars aren’t real value–it’s what they can do for us that is real value,

        Not according to Roger. He said that anyone who would take less expected ROE is “dumber than a money”, by which I take him to mean both amoral as well as completely irrational!

        I mean, who ever heard of a monkey making money investing!

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      • Actually, what I wrote isn’t quite right. If a dollar equals a dollar and those dollars can be traded for value, then having more dollars means being able to realize more potential value.

        So dollars = value.

        But dollars don’t = value. Or so I’ve been instructed. :)

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      • Eh, I don’t think much justification for defining ROE in monetary terms is needed. As noted, money provides a common measure for differing values, and that’s sufficient justification, I think. If I read you right, you suspect that taking a lower ROEmeans you’re valuing something else over money, but I’d say that’s not quite correct. The money gained through ROE is ultimately meant for a consumption purpose, your investors, for example, are simply taking their consumption up front, so to speak. Forgoing dollars returned from investment to get the value of feeling good (not meant as derogatory) is fundamentally no different than earning those dollars and spending them on so ething else that makes them feel good (hookers and blow!). Either way we measure it in dollars (but the dollars are merely a measure, not the value itself.

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      • Stillwater,

        Dollars measure value, they are not value itself. If we double the number of dollars in the community overnight, dollar prices shoot up, but the real values of things don’t. I wouldn’t trade any more labor, for, say, a gallon of milk, even though I am trading more dollars.

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      • Stillwater,

        Read Roget charitably, as you’d like to be read. He’s talking about the average, standard, investor. You’ve posed a special case. I’ve explained how that case is still measurable as money; the investor is just taking some consumption up front. I think Roger would agree there’s a logic there if you’ll agree you’re not talking about a nirmal case, as we was.

        Put another way, it looks to me like you weren’t so much making a good faith effort to explore niche cases–which this is, and which are appropriate to explore–as trying to use this as a gotcha case, to argue instead of try to understand his point. And with that, I’m afraid I must be off to bed.

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      • If we double the number of dollars in the community overnight, dollar prices shoot up, but the real values of things don’t.

        Yeah. So I’m talking about a different thing, yes?, which is the relative difference between ROE *all other things being equal*. In a situation where investment X yields greater monetary rewards than investment Y, is it necessarily irrational to choose Y?

        We both say it isn’t. (I think!)

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      • James, re: the read Roger charitably comment:

        I’d like to. Believe me. It’s the lack of charity from him that constrains me on that front. If he were to make narrower arguments, refuting actual claims people have made rather than the supposed General Propositions they he thinks they hold, I’d be willing to grant him some slack. But … Well…

        I hear ya, tho, and I try to be polite in addressing his comments, especially when trying to tease out the relevant wheat from the more general anti-liberal chaff. I’m doing my best.

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      • And one other thought about this stuff:

        What I presented wasn’t intended to be a “gotcha” moment, but rather an example of why where liberals disagree with Roger-type libertarians on this stuff. If rational value is subjectively determined, then monetary trade offs are subjectively determined, hence, the idea that maximizing return on monetary value (on either the investor end or the retail end) isn’t a matter of either logical necessity or even “market-based” necessity, but rather determined by psychological value-states.

        And maybe that’s why Roger evangelizes so strenuously against liberal views.

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      • Yeah. So I’m talking about a different thing, yes?, which is the relative difference between ROE *all other things being equal*. In a situation where investment X yields greater monetary rewards than investment Y, is it necessarily irrational to choose Y

        I don’t understand the first statement. The second statement seems to me to miss out, still, on the fact that all rewards are measured monetarily, so to say your investors aren’t receiving as high a monetary reward is correct, but misleading–they’re still receiving just as high a reward, and that reward is measured monetarily. The fact that they’re “spending” their dollars on consumption by forgoing them isn’t really relevant. It’s an interesting detail, but not substantively meaningful because ROE is ultimately about making money which ultimately is about ability to consume. The “when” and “how” of the consumption is not so terribly important.

        And it’s not the kind of thing Roger was almost certainly talking about, which is what investors normally–the overwhelming majority of investors the overwhelming majority of the time–do. You’re banking an awful lot on an unusual case that on inspection doesn’t really do what you want it to do. Yes, technically, it’s a case where going for a strictly lower ROE isn’t irrational, but not much of significance flows from that.

        What I presented [was] an example of why where liberals disagree with Roger-type libertarians on this stuff. If rational value is subjectively determined, then monetary trade offs are subjectively determined, hence, the idea that maximizing return on monetary value (on either the investor end or the retail end) isn’t a matter of either logical necessity or even “market-based” necessity, but rather determined by psychological value-states.

        I think my response covers this. Your investors are maximizing return on monetary value; they’re just “spending” some of it up-front on the consumption value of “believing” in what you’re doing. I think you are misunderstanding because you’re looking at the surface, not digging down to a deeper level of what’s going on.

        As to uncharitable, we’re almost all uncharitable at times in our readings. I don’t see Roger as being any more uncharitable than most others here.

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      • Stillwater,

        When I write the term “all else equal” three times in a paragraph and then point it out again in the subsequent post and then you go on to ignore it for the next four or five posts, I have to come to the conclusion you are not interested in a real discussion.

        Furthermore your propensity to turn every other comment from the topic at hand to me is kind of creepy.

        Hasta la vista.

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      • James, I don’t disagree with the broad description you presented in the above comment. I’m actually assuming something similar in my earlier comments. So the description isn’t the source of the apparent disagreement between us (at least from my pov – you could certainly see it differently and think I’m confused on the details).

        My argument – or view, really – is pretty simple and perhaps not all that contentious and actually follows from what you’ve written in this passage re: investors:

        The fact that they’re “spending” their dollars on consumption by forgoing them isn’t really relevant. It’s an interesting detail, but not substantively meaningful because ROE is ultimately about making money which ultimately is about ability to consume. The “when” and “how” of the consumption is not so terribly important.

        First, I’m disinclined to describe the situation in the terms you use – that an investor who trades higher expected monetary return for lower expected return + a subjectively determined non-monetary value is “spending” their dollars up front when they make that choice. It seems more accurate they’re trading the (difference in) expected monetary returns for some other non-monetary value. But that’s a quibble, one which I could be wrong about in any event.

        Second, the claim I’ve been making (obliquely, perhaps) is one I don’t think you’d object to all that strenuously given what you’ve said, namely, this: given that an investor is rational to pursue investments which might not maximize expected monetary value (because those investments are justified by other non-monetary values), the tendency to think that investments must maximize monetary returns requires justification.

        Now, I know the broad outlines of the argument: in a competitive market, a firm which doesn’t reduce costs/maximize profits will be less desirable from an investment pov then it’s competitor. But that argument – or description,m really – assumes (it seems to me) that rational investors will (as a matter of fact? a matter of logic?) desire to maximize monetary returns independently of non-monetary values. That is, it assumes precisely the thing I’m asking for a justification of.

        Oh, and thanks for your patience in this discussion. I’m struggling a bit with language here, so my comments aren’t as clear as I might like.

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      • But that argument – or description, really – assumes (it seems to me) that rational investors will (as a matter of fact? a matter of logic?) desire to maximize monetary returns independently of non-monetary values.

        Well, it doesn’t require that rational investors all do it. All it requires is that most people care more about monetary values. One or two counter examples thus do not necessarily undermine what is a good approximation about human behaviour when it comes to investment.

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      • All it requires is that most people care more about monetary values.

        Yes. As a matter of pure description, I agree: most investors care more about maximizing monetary value than trading higher expected monetary value for lower expected value + a non-monetary value.

        Here’s the question: is the desire to maximize monetary value to the exclusion of other values economically justified? Does it even require a justification? Is it just a bare fact which constitutes an atomic and unalyzable foundation for economic systems (I hope that’s not the answer!)?

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      • Btw, to be clear(er) here: what I’m asking is directed more at theoretical side of things, so bare descriptions don’t suffice as an answer. It seems to me that a justification for an institutional structure which maximizes monetary value to the exclusion of non-monetary value would be justified by some other concept or property: for example total utility, or consequential considerations, etc.

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      • monetary value to the exclusion of non-monetary value would be justified by some other concept or property: for example total utility, or consequential considerations, etc.

        1. Wealth is a primary good, so it is useful for a whole range of other things regardless of what your particular final ends are. (though whether that requires maximisation or constrained maximisation or maximin is a separate issue)

        2. Wealth is public in a way a lot of the other values are not. To elaborate wealth provides a public basis for interpersonal comparison. If my principle is ensure that the worst off have enough wealth. I can at least go about checking whether they have enough wealth to get the stuff necessary for participation in society. Things like happiness and preference satisfaction are subjective measures which make such comparisons and assessment of distribution more difficult, if not impossible.

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      • is the desire to maximize monetary value to the exclusion of other values economically justified? Does it even require a justification? Is it just a bare fact which constitutes an atomic and unalyzable foundation for economic systems (I hope that’s not the answer!)?

        To the exclusion of all other values? That’s really broad. If I maximize monetary value to the exclusion of refraining from causing you involuntary harm, that probably requires justification (assuming it can be justified).

        But assuming I’m just choosing to invest in Joe’s Outstandingly Innovative New Tech Startup (JOINTS) instead of corn futures and pork bellies, why should it require any justification beyond “I have plausible reasons to predict that JOINTS will do more to increase my standard of living than pork bellies”? We could, of course, go down one more step to justifying trying to increase our standard of living, but if we take the argument down to that level we’re calling into question an awful lot of things that I don’t think you’re intending to call into question.

        But as a practical matter, since few people–and even fewer of any practical influence–question the pursuit of increasing one’s standard of living, it very nearly is an atomic fact of the economic system. Not actually unanalyzable, but generally treated as a bedrock assumption because that is in fact how people do, for the most part, act. But somewhere in here–perhaps in multiple places–we are dancing around the line between normative and positive analyses. It’s not clear to me in all places which side of that line you’re on. That’s not meant as a criticism, but to make clear my own uncertainties about the proportions of your arguments.

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    • Roger, here’s the quote from Brandon which North commented on:

      The material conditions of a middle class were created through saving, investment, and technical innovation, which created a stock of physical capital sufficient to raise productivity to the level where employers were forced to bid wages up to middle class levels. Not by unionism.

      So, in one sense (at least from my pov) your above paraphrase of BB is correct. But North’s objection is that the actual process of bidding up wages during the first half of the twentieth century can be attributed – at least in part and perhaps in substantial part – to the power of unions to leverage higher pay rates than would otherwise have existed.

      North is making an empirical claim here, one which seems to follow not only from a casual perusal of history, but also from the types of negative critiques that both you and Brandon like to make against unions: that they leverage compensation rates above “free market” value. Or in other words, your negative critique of unions (it seems to me!) relies on accepting precisely the same claim North is making here.

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      • @north
        Nobody’s disputing the fact that unions are able to secure wage increases for their members. Specifically, by collective bargaining, the unions are able to get employers to pay wages above marginal productivity. What we reject is the claim that this “created the material conditions of a middle class”—that this was anything more than a small contributor to the dramatic increase in real wages during the 20th century.

        And while unions help their members, they do so at the expense of pretty much everyone else, including not only capital, but also consumers. When the costs of higher wages for the union members are passed on to consumers, this lowers the real wages of other workers. If all workers unionize, raising nominal wages but also prices, it’s not at all clear that it’s not a total wash, or worse, due to the deadweight loss from higher prices and possible productivity loss due to work rules and strikes.

        The overwhelming majority of the increase in real wages in the 20th century was due to rising productivity increasing the demand for labor much faster than its supply was increasing. The claim that under such conditions employers would not have raised wages without pressure from unions is absurd. I gave a solid theoretical explanation of why this happens, and then an actual historical example, and yet North still says I’ve provided no basis for my claim. Huh? What do I have to do? Bring back history books from a parallel universe?

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  10. I agree with you Ethan.

    What is interesting to me how this seems to have become a red v. blue issue. Burt talks about this above as a kind of prevailing or changing cultural norm. A highly unscientific study of my facebook feed shows that a lot of people on the left do care about businesses open tomorrow. Cost Co is getting praised for being closed. Others are getting damned because of being opened.

    I wonder if there is a counter movement on the right to praise stores being open on Thursdays and shopping.

    I can’t imagine who is going out to shop for non food items tomorrow. All of our Thanksgiving shoping involved picking up stuff from a bakery and something that we forgot from the list for recipes.

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  11. I see this as being a question of citizenship and American identity as much as worker rights. Many of the federal holidays celebrate particular aspects of American identity. The Fourth of July is about the creation of our American identity. Thanksgiving is about the planting of the seed that led to the creation of our identity. They are supposed to be communal holidays observed with your country people, either in public with fireworks for the 4th or in family celebration for Thanksgiving. Making people work on these holidays does not permit them to engage in the communal celebration of American identity.

    Liberals are often accused of engaging in anti-American beliefs in the culture wars but in this case it is the conservatives who are being anti-American. We want Thanksgiving and other Federal holidays to live up to their potential as communal celebrations of American identity. That means giving people the day off to observe them or at least potentially observe them.

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  12. I thought of a solution:

    The National Federal Holiday Anti-Retaliation Act would give every employee the right to choose whether to work on Federal Holidays or not presuming they are non-essential. Employers would not be able to terminate/retaliate against employees who choose to take off on this day or face stiff fines and civil penalties. If employers want to be open, they need to come up with proper incentives beyond threat of termination.

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      • Essential: Hospitals, Nursing Homes/Assisted Living Facility Staff, Police, Firefighters, Military, Air Traffic Controllers, EMTs/First Responders, Public Transport Workers.

        Non-Essential: Almost everyone else including Doormen at fancy apartment buildings, servants/household staff. Best Buy is almost axiomatically non-essential.

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      • , if the people in the categories you are suggesting can’t be sufficiently incentivized that enough of them are willing to work to provide a decent (albeit reduced) service level, the company they work for is Doing It Wrong.

        My own college closed at noon today, but I’m still here until 8 – partly because everyone is cool with me not exactly working my hardest on a day like today (cf this comment – though I spent the last 15 minutes before this helping a patron), and partly because I’m more than willing to work, given the trade-offs I am offered. We *never* have to force people to work in my department, and yet, we provide more coverage than the rest of campus does.

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      • So if a hotel has to “properly incentivize” (per the government) its staff to work on the busiest travel weekend of the year, what’s to stop the staff from demanding 10x salary to work that day? If they do, who absorbs the costs? The consumer. Congrats… the law just ruined everyone’s holiday.

        But wait… surely there are people who will work for a mere 9x salary that day. Well, fire the regular folks and hire them. But then there will be someone willing to work at 8x. Or 7x. Etc, etc, etc. Eventually, you’ll end up at what the typical wage is.

        I’m not sure this law will do what it intends to do. Or anything at all, for that matter.

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      • , why would you end up at the typical wage? The wage represents what people are willing to get paid to show up, yeah? If people are less willing to show up on thanksgiving than they are on other days, then an employer will have to offer them more money than he normally would.

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      • I’m not sure that’s quite right, Kazzy. Currently they can choose one of two bundles: Working the job on a schedule that includes holidays, or not working the job at all (or, I suppose, working up until the holiday and then quitting).

        If employers were required to give employers the option to take holidays off without sacrificing the rest of the job, then it’s likely that many people who currently choose the job-with-holidays package would instead opt for the job-without-holidays package, and refuse to work on holidays without bonus pay.

        This kind of reminds me of how unions work, in reverse. By making employers choose between hiring the entire union or none, they can get wages closer to average productivity rather than marginal producivity, i.e., higher.

        Don’t take that as praise for unions. In a competitive industry, the extra wage costs get passed on to consumers.

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      • In a competitive industry, the extra wage costs get passed on to consumers.

        Can you elaborate on this Brandon? For example, your use of the term “competitive industry” – which strikes me as doing lots of work here.

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      • Suppose that a particular non-union industry is currently earning roughly average rates of return on investment, which is to say, someone investing in that industry can expect to earn about as much as he would by investing in most other industries.

        Now the industry unionizes, and wages rise across the board. The shareholders of that industry take a bath. Suddenly their investment is earning a below-average rate of return, which causes the market value of stocks in that industry to decrease. When companies in that industry try to issue new stock, they can’t raise as much money. And since profits are down, they can’t reinvest profits, either.

        So what happens now? Well, maybe some firms that were marginally profitable before go out of business. That means less competition, so firms can raise prices. Maybe no firms go out of business. But the existing firms are still limited in their ability to raise capital. Which means that they can’t expand as much if demand grows. Maybe they can’t even afford—or don’t consider it worthwhile—to maintain existing capital investments at current levels of output.

        Incumbent shareholders do take a one-time hit, but the bottom line is that an industry cannot attract investments if shareholders expect it to underperform the broader market. Something has to happen to bring its ROI back up to average levels. And that typically means lower output and higher prices than there would have been otherwise.

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      • I said competitive because if a monpolistic firm unionizes, this may just transfer the monopoly rents from the owners to the workers. And public employee unions can extract rents from taxpayers, of course.

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      • So the competition you’re talking about isn’t directly at the price point on the retail end but rather on the investment end? If so, then your argument isn’t that wage increases are passed onto the consumer, but that such increases adversely affect the attractiveness of that firm to investors. Is that about right?

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  13. I believe working Thanksgiving should be voluntary and not coerced. Certainly it can be included — whether explicit or not– in a voluntary contract of employment.

    Workers should feel free to negotiate this as a term of compensation, and unions should be allowed to negotiate on their behalf with the agreement of the worker.

    Workers should have the freedom to leave employers that require this and go to employers who don’t.

    Employers should have the freedom to choose and retain employees that agree to the terms, and to refuse to hire or retain those that don’t.

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    • Since of course, workers at Big Box retailers have no actual leverage in employment, what this means in reality, is, “you’re not important enough to be part of the communal American experience of Thanksgiving as we’ve understood it for the past fifty years. Sorry, but in the new globalized market, you’d best be at least middle class to have a normal Thanksgiving.”

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      • Actually they do have leverage and they have been using it.

        Their leverage is as such….

        * I will do that job that the other guy is competing for and I will work Thanksgiving too.*

        Any law restricting this disempowers the lower skilled worker. It is effectively a law saying workers cannot underbid other workers by offering to work holidays. It is almost certainly discriminatory in effect against the lower classes, the unskilled and minorities.

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      • * I will do that job that the other guy is competing for and I will work Thanksgiving too.*

        That’s not an example of the existence of leverage. It’s an instance of a person acting on a choice.

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      • The less experienced or skilled worker leverages her willingness to work longer hours or for less money. It is his or her competitive advantage.

        These kind of rules are effectively harmful to less skilled workers.

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  14. There are mandatory closing laws for most retail businesses in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine on Thanksgiving (and Christmas).

    http://www.newser.com/story/178235/new-englanders-thankful-for-holiday-shopping-ban.html

    As the above story indicates these laws are apparantly quite popular. Apparantly these states all had laws mandating Sunday closings which also mandated closing on Thanksgiving and Christmas. When these were repealed in the 1960s-70s to permit Sunday openings the restrictions on Thanksgiving and Christmas were retained.

    I don’t see much prospect of getting a Thanksgiving closing law through any state legislature today,. It would be interesting to see what would happen if a state that has initiative and referendum had a vote on it. And while they’re at it they should mandate closing not only on Thanksgiving Day itself but until 8 am on Black Friday, so everyone may not merely celebrate Thanksgiving but also have a good night’s sleep therefafter.

    In most of the country

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      • I became aware of this a couple of years ago ( I live in NY, not one of the states with Thanksgiving closing laws) when Walmart announced they would be open on Thanksgiving. Someone in the MA state government announced that that if a Walmart in MA opened the store manager would be arrested (or possibly just issued a ticket, I’m not sure of the detals) and that was that.
        I also recall the MA Chamber of Commerce announced that, while they opposed the closing law, it was not a high priority for them.

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  15. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/pizza-hut-manager-says-fired-042328900.html

    A former manager at an Elkhart, Ind., Pizza Hut trying to give his employees some time off says he was fired for refusing to open the store on Thanksgiving, local CBS affiliate WSBT is reporting. Tony Rohr, who started out at the pizza chain as a cook before working his way up to general manager, confronted his superiors after being told the store would need to be open on Thanksgiving.

    In years past, Rohr said, Pizza Hut stores have been closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to Fox 8. “Thanksgiving and Christmas are the only two days that they’re closed in the whole year and they’re the only two days that those people are guaranteed to have off and spend it with their families,” he told WSBT.

    His bosses told him to tender his resignation, but he wrote a scathing letter instead.

    “I am not quitting. I do not resign, however I accept that the refusal to comply with this greedy, immoral request means the end of my tenure with this company,” Rohr wrote, according to WSBT. ” … I hope you realize that it’s the people at the bottom of the totem pole that make your life possible.”

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  16. AND ANOTHER THING! I used to be irritated by the whole “have Jaybird work on Christmas, he doesn’t have any kids!” thing except for the fact that I didn’t have any kids and that usually meant I could get New Year’s Eve/Day off (if only because I traded with the people who had kids).

    But if you want to look at injustice, look at how “So-and-so doesn’t have kids… have him work the holiday” plays out.

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    • I haven’t commented here much in a very long time, but I had to break silence to slow clap this comment. Yes. A thousand times yes. I had one employer who did this so often, and I ended up accruing so much unused vacation and comp time that I continued to receive a paycheck 3 months after I left. I HATED that attitude and still do.

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  17. This is some touchy, elephant-in-the-room territory and I’m hesitant to go here. But I’m going to.

    I’m actually really unhappy about the effect that Yglesias seems to have (on liberals particularly) on these kinds of discussions. It seems to have gotten to the point where it’s almost more important that *he* has said something than what it is he said, much less what the fundamentals really are of whatever issue he’s raising. So I’m reluctant to go down the road of engaging a particular flaw of the way he has structured his argument here. But he offers this perspective completely openly in his post, and I think it needs to be pointed out in order to understand the issue.

    Here it is: in order for Matthew Yglesias to really pen a “defense of (the system we have in place for dealing with the issue of) working on holidays,” wouldn’t he need to take a position against the prevailing way that Jewish holidays are treated in the business world? I admit I am not completely schooled on the particulars here, but my impression is that there are a number of days in September on which people are allowed, without question or consequence, to be unavailable for work (not necessarily, presumably with PTO, to be sure) in order to be free to celebrate holidays. Now, as a matter of law, my sense is that this is a function of First Amendment law, but in fact that is not how Yglesias frames the issue. He frames the issue of working on “holidays,” not “religious holidays” as one of “choice.” And, indeed, choice is the operative way that non-mainstream religious holidays are dealt with: you can choose not to be available for work without consequence (as I understand it). The issue is that that choice is not (necessarily) available (anymore?) on mainstream (i.e. Christian and secular, particularly secular) holidays (or maybe that is where my mistaken apprehension lies – I suspect anyone who claims religious exemption on any given holiday will enjoy the same protection).

    …In any case, the particulars of the religious protections are not what I’m raising the issue with; rather it’s with the simplistic way in which Yglesias opposes to deal with this issue. So perhaps I raised the question wrong above: perhaps I should have said, if Yglesias is for “choice” as the way to deal with the issue of working on “holidays” (“holidays,” that is, with no further distinctions being made among them), shouldn’t he in fact not be for the status quo, but rather for a system in which choice is protected on all holidays in the same way it is for the Jewish holidays – where you are protected from retaliation for making yourself unavailable (i.e. protected from having keeping your job for the rest of the year be conditioned on not doing so)? Or, if he wants to defend the status quo on many mainstream holidays (though, when you think about it, perhaps it’s simply that Thanksgiving is kind of a uniquely ambiguous case) as the way to deal with holidays, then shouldn’t it be the case that the definition of “choice” he is working with here – i.e. the status quo even for retail workers on Thanksgiving weekend – be how he proposes to deal with all holidays? That would mean that, sure, Jews can not show up on Yom Kippur, but however the employer feels about that, that’s how they feel about it (i.e. you could legally get fired for making that choice).

    …OR, he can, completely reasonably and I think correctly, make clear that his operative distinction is between “a holiday like Thanksgiving,” which is not really a religious holiday at all, and a holiday like Yom Kippur, which is the solemnest of religious holidays, where one is completely unrelated to First Amendment concerns, and the other is core to them. That is a totally reasonable, and I think justified and correct way to deal with this problem, but it’s not one you can ascribe to while pretending to have some kind of simple “choice”-based prescription for how to deal with the question of people (needing to, choosing to, being “forced” to…) work on “holidays.” Under that system (the system that is in place), there are holidays, and then there are “holidays,” and there is choice, and then there is “choice.”

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      • I think you’re onto something here. I think it also highlights the narrowly Christian perspective here. Thansgiving is a social justice problem, but the Jewish person who’s expected to work Yom Kippur isn’t?

        Or what about Christians expected to work Sundays, or the Jewish, Muslim, or 7th Day Adventist folks expected to work Saturdays?

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      • My impression (again – correctable) is that, very broadly, Jewish people are not expected to work on the high holidays, probably except people in positions of very high responsibility, and then only for very important work reasons (again – impression from personal experience). Also, even if people raising the Thanksgiving issue are saying it’s a really weighty social justice issue (something I’m not persuaded is generally the case), it doesn’t follow that they think that, anywhere where Jewish people *are* forced to work the Jewish holidays, it’s *isn’t* a major social justice issue. Presumably, if they think the one is, they’ll think the other is (or would be) – certainly, we ought to be able to point to that inconsistency clearly existing before we conclude that it does.

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      • This is secular discrimination. I am a practicing Druid. We pray to rocks, the ocean and nature and stuff.

        If you religious types get thanksgiving, Christmas, Yom kipper and such off, I DEMAND to get days off when the waves are good.

        I have known several good people who were fired because they had the nerve to call in sick whenever a good swell came in. This is so wrong.

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    • Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are indeed issues more connected to both First Amendment Law and also Title VII of the Civil Act of 1964.

      In theory, this should also cover Christmas (at least for Christians) though I know of no case law on the point. Perhaps we will find some soon.

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    • An employer can require me to make up the time or take a paid vacation day for a Jewish Holy Day or observation right. They cannot require me to work though or retaliate for requesting/taking the time off.

      There was a case from the 1960s involving 7th Day Adventists. South Carolina required welfare recipients be available for work on Monday-Saturdays. The plaintiff said she was a 7th Day Adventist and Saturday was her sabbath. The Supreme Court agreed with her and said the policy violated her First Amendment rights.

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      • It’s odd that the state would insist on her being available Monday-Saturday rather than Sunday-Friday. You’d think that they’d prefer to have some people available for Sundays.

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      • A friend of mine is a Pagan and he works as a technician for a cable network. His job requires somebody doing it 24/7. Since he’s not actually a Christian, he doesn’t get Christmas and Easter off, nor does he receive the extra pay associated with working those days (and they don’t substitute it for his own religious holidays). Which he is always scheduled for, since he doesn’t mind working it.

        Which is, to me, insane. Here you have a guy who is more than happy to work on Christmas, and you’re going to discriminate against him on the basis of religious beliefs that allow you greater scheduling flexibility? Even if that’s legal – which I don’t think it should be – that’s just out-and-out dumb.

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      • The case was from the 1960s, it was a different time culturally. Many places were not open on Sunday and the Supreme Court was just starting to get strong on separation of church and state issues.

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    • , see what ND said. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are protected because of the First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of religion. The same goes for every other religious holiday of every other religion. An employer can make an employee take a sick day or vacation day to observe the holiday but otherwise can’t really penalize an employee because of the Civil Rights Act. Our civil holidays get less protection because they are less religious.

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    • I’m going to co-sign your comment on the Yglesias effect. Too often it seems that discussions about topics on which he has commented turn into discussions about him, to an extent. I don’t know how much it applies in this situation, but the phenomenon is quite real.

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    • ND & Lee,

      Right, I completely understand that those holidays are protected in a way some other ones aren’t for a good reason (though just because a Constitutional protection applies to them doesn’t mean a smilar kind of protection couldn’t be extended to everyone by statute on certain particular civic holidays if that’s what we wanted to choose to do). My point is that Yglesias doesn’t mention that distinction, and advances a simple “choice”-based account of how we do & should deal with the issue of having to work on “holidays” (not particular holidays – this one but not that one). He suggests it’s good that people get to “choose”whether or not to work on holidays (and does so on the occasion of Thanksgiving, which is not a holiday when people enjoy the fullest kind of protection of that kind that we give). And that’s true to an extent, but we also protect people’s ability to choose to work or not on different holidays quite differently. So it’s not a simple, straightforward system for protecting that choice that he’s endorsing (“people should just get to choose.”) I guess I’d just like to see him explicitly endorse and defend the distinctions we have in place if that’s what his position is, or describe what should change if anything. In any case I’d like to see him acknowledge the distinctions, not suggest that there’s some highly simple, straight-forward, and uniform way we approach the issue of having to work on “holidays.” We definitely have a Holidays-and-“Holidays” (or “Holidays”-and-Holidays) system for dealing with these issues, not just *a* system for dealing with “holidays” in general.

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  18. In Singapore, the only businesses that close on all public holidays are public libraries. Retail outlets close on just 1 day during Chinese new year. When I was in Tucson last thanksgiving, all those restaurants closing on Thanksgiving had me walking around in the cold for 3 hours looking for a place where I could eat. Not everyone has a family they could conveniently go home to.

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  19. Unions hated Taft-Hartley. Truman won is famous and unexpected 1948 election partially because he vetoed Taft-Hartley and Unions went to bat for him.

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  20. The increasingly small number of workers who actually have Thanksgiving off should cause us to reflect on what holidays are, why they were instituted, and whether or not we should observe them at all.

    I think it is remarkable that holidays were first created by people who really and truly HAD to work 24/7; early societies in nearly every culture on Earth were, even in the best of times, only a single crop failure away from starvation. Yet they created and observed days off, when no work was done. Even more remarkable, in these societies which were all constructed of rigid class hierarchies, the holiday (Holy Day) was observed by all classes, from the King to the serf.

    This implied that there was something above all classes, something universal that bound both master and servant.

    Why should 21st century people still do this? Are holidays now just negotiated employment perks, like a 401K or flex spending account?

    What if we just scrapped the entire notion of “holidays” as a relic of primitive superstition, and made Dec 25th just another day, observed by those with a particular religious identity, but irrelevant to all others?

    Of course it will surprise no one that I find it outrageous that I am expected to get wildly excited about participating in Christmas shopping, and expected to be perfectly willing to go to absurd lengths to spend as much money as I possibly can on this oh-so-very-special magnificent day, while I am simultaneously scolded that Dec 25th is nothing more than a day to be negotiated with one’s employer, either for extra money or time off.

    That is this bizarre contradiction that Ethan is touching on- that a holiday is either special and meaningful or it isn’t.

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    • Small number? What percentage of workers do you think work on Thanksgiving? My impression is that it remains comparatively a small number.

      It seems to me “If we’re not going to give everyone the day off, we ought to consider just calling off the holiday” is a problematic threshold. Should I tell my wife she isn’t observing our anniversary if she works on it?

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      • Smaller than before, larger than in the future. The trend line is pretty clear, that fewer and fewer people are, and will be, given the holidays off.
        Even today, how many workers will answer their cell phone beeping with work email or texts? Does anyoe believe that 10 years from now more people will be this day off, or fewer?

        Anniversaries are interesting, because they are personal and not universal, so we get to dictate what they mean, and how to observe them. When you decide to “observe” your anniversary, what does that mean to you and your wife?

        Why does the word “observe” – universally, all over the world and throughout history- mean “stop working”?

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      • Why does the word “observe” – universally, all over the world and throughout history- mean “stop working”?

        Does it?

        But to get back to my point, does Valentine’s Day not exist – or is it not celebrated – because we work on it? Mother’s Day? Father’s Day?

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      • I don’t think these holidays are “observed” in any meaningful sense of the word.

        I think that laying down our tools, stopping work, and forgoing income for one day reflects a gravity and seriousness of purpose that very few other things do.

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  21. Pingback: Hit Coffee

  22. The billl in question makes the choice of overtime or time off up to the employer and not the employee, that seems ripe for abuse.

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    • Led by the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., a mother of two, the legislation aims to give private-sector employers the same ability that government workers have to take either comp time or overtime pay. […]

      Here’s how it’s supposed to work: A person who works more than 40 hours a week can arrange with their employer to take that time in the form of compensatory (comp) time, instead of overtime pay. Each hour of extra work is worth an hour and a half of time off.

      According to the bill, agreeing to time off instead of overtime pay can’t be a condition of employment, and the employee can also choose to take the money instead of time at any point. Employers can deny requests for time off at any time, as long as they can show that it might “unduly disrupt the operations of the employer,” according to the bill.

      ABC News

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    • Here is the text of the bill as passed by the House. Important to this discussion are the “Conditions” of the rule.

      (2) CONDITIONS- An employer may provide compensatory time to employees under paragraph (1)(A) only if such time is provided in accordance with–

      (A) applicable provisions of a collective bargaining agreement between the employer and the labor organization that has been certified or recognized as the representative of the employees under applicable law; or

      (B) in the case of employees who are not represented by a labor organization that has been certified or recognized as the representative of such employees under applicable law, an agreement arrived at between the employer and employee before the performance of the work and affirmed by a written or otherwise verifiable record maintained in accordance with section 11(c)–

      (i) in which the employer has offered and the employee has chosen to receive compensatory time in lieu of monetary overtime compensation; and

      (ii) entered into knowingly and voluntarily by such employees and not as a condition of employment.

      As I read it, that does not leave the choice solely up to the employer. Rather, it leaves overtime as the default and requires mutual agreement between employee and employer.

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      • If you and Will are correct, this is okay.

        I still would wish for some more employee friendly language but overtime as the default with mutual assent is okay.

        I just don’t like the idea of say a retailer jamming everyone during December and then giving the entire month of January off without choice or pay for the month.

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  23. Work for pay is going to be a very short lived part of the human condition.

    Hunters and gatherers, and early agriculturists, worked only as much to feed themselves and theirs as was required. When one’s “pay” was food, excessive labor was stupid — expending calories with no payoff is a fool’s game.

    In a future where machines can make themselves and most of what we currently call “work” can be automated, there will be enormous economic pressure to do just that – automate wherever and whenever we can.

    Our natural state (looking at the whole of the human experience over the last 100,000 years or so) is just sitting around the fire absently jawing at one another. We’re going to get back to that state in the near future, but it will be very interesting to see how. How we address this issue will likely be the most contentious issue of the next 100 years – I hope it goes well, but if we game out our recent history, it may not.

    Regardless, we’re going to end up either extinct or sitting around the fire absently jawing at one another.

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  24. Pingback: Do we have a right to take holidays off? | Ordinary Times

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