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Working Hours Laws

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Rios9000 Posted: Thu, Jan 24 2008 7:22 PM

What are your guys opinions on laws requiring businesses to cap the number of hours an employee can work per week. Like 40 hours in the US then overtime pay or the 35 hour cap in France. I assume most here are against them, but if we look at the average working week from the laizze faire period in the United States from 1870-1900, it was something like 60-80 hours a week (I can find more exact stastics if anyone is interested).

Some might not think that's horrible, more productivity and all. But I think there's more to life than work and 60-80 hours is pretty brutal. So what is the answer to this, if there is one at all? Would the productivity of that period allowed us to work less even with out labor laws due to increased prosperity, advancement in technology and more efficient production techniques? Was government-corporate collusion to blame for restricting the competition for labor? Was it the corporate form itself which came to prominence around that time? Are some mild labor laws acceptable? What do you guys think? 

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Bogart replied on Thu, Jan 24 2008 8:17 PM

All labor laws are IMMORAL!!!  Labor laws force suppliers of labor, workers, to take all sorts of things that the worker would not want otherwise.  For example, an employeer may be forced to provide health insurance when the worker does not want the insurance.  The same is true for the buyer of labor.  They have to obey a dizzying volume of rules and regulations.  Obedience to these rules and regulations means that labor costs are artificially inflated compared to other costs.  The end result is that employeers want less labor and workers are forced to take less of what they want, be it liesure time, work flexibility, cash, etc.

The work time caps are particularly bad for workers as workers commonly trade their time for other benefits like cash(overtime) or time off.  The time cap forces the workers to stop when these workers could spend extra time to finish their duties.  These are also bad for employeers as they do not get deadlines met as easily.  Furthermore there is a limit on time for new employees so employeers have a financial incentive to use equipment, forgo business or outsource labor.

The worst of these rules is MINIMUM WAGE.  Minimum wage stops the lowest skill workers from competing with higher skill workers on price.  It makes equipment cheaper relative to labor.  Furthermore, it has weird side effects like removing the cost of racism and sexism: I would hire a minority at a cheaper rate than a person in the majority.

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It is blatantly wrong to prohibit a voluntary exchange between two consenting individuals, such as for instance employment. If people want to work in excess of a given amount of hours, it is their choice. This, however, is a moral position. On an economic level, these laws tend to either cause job losses or a reduction in the hours offered to work for particular employees. Furthemore, employers have little incentive to overwork their employees (the efficiency wage hypothesis - happy workers are more productive.) Why, if in fact, those many hours were worked is an interesting question, but is still no justification for such laws.


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Deist replied on Fri, Jan 25 2008 10:55 AM
Besides the immorality of working hour laws they are down right pointless. The period from 1870-1900 was a brutal work week but if you look at the work weeks after that period you notice an increasing falling in the hours and rise in benefits such as vacation days and other non monetary payments. When technology made every work hour more productive and more employers had to compete with increasingly richer (in terms of living standards not just wages) workers they had to offer more. One instance is when Henry Ford offered an amazing pay rate and a much shorter work day and week. His pick of the labor market increased substantially and other employers had to follow suit. On top of that this happened without government orders. The United States Supreme Court only allowed state governments to regulate the hours of work in very specific circumstances (women, children and miners). But the vast majority of male workers still experienced a rise in standard of living and an increasingly shortening work week. Lets also not forget that agricultural work prior to the industrial revolution was simply back breaking. If you have the time I suggest you read two books to help you with this question, one is "Capitalism and the Historians" by F.A  Hayek and the other is "Myths of Rich and Poor: why we're better off than we think" by Michael Cox and Richard Alm.
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Deist replied on Fri, Jan 25 2008 11:19 AM


I also left out that Henry Ford eventually started to become a little tryannical towards his employers by demanding all sort of things from them such as no smoking or drinking in or out of work and a host of other things. This is much talked about today but what is left out is that it gave the labor market to other employers who offered more lax employment contracts and hence Ford lost his labor market advantage after the other employers caught up with him in employee benefits. He also made the same mistake in regards to his product, the Model T. He refused to sell it in any other color and eventually lost a good part of the consumer market to his competitors. Also last but not least since the passing of work hours legislation in the United States the work week has still shortened even when leaving out part time workers and at the same time paid vacation days and other benefits have increased. Flex time is increasingly being offered as a term of employment now too. All of this has happened without government mandates.
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