Did Jeb Bush really mean to say that Americans need to work more hours? It’s hard to say. But as Brian Beutler noted, that interpretation goes along with his policy ideas — and that of the whole of the conservative movement. It is certainly true that a big conservative argument against the progressive income tax is that it remove the incentive for people to work more. And certainly requiring overtime pay makes employers less likely to allow employees to work more than 40 hours per week. Or, as Beutler pointed out, “Supplement people’s incomes, and they have less incentive to work.” So get rid of the unions! Get rid of the minimum wage! We want people to have a real “incentive” work!
You may remember that there was a big conservative dust up when it turned out that some people were choosing to work less because of Obamacare. That was actually a good thing. What has happening was that people who had been working a lot of hours just to get health insurance, were lowering their hours. These weren’t people who were involuntarily working part time; these were people who were thrilled to be working less. Hooray for Obamacare! But of course conservatives were angry as though individuals should work more hours just to keep the economy pumping. (Not to mention that the slack could be taken up with companies hiring more people.)
So regardless of what Jeb Bush meant to say, he and the party he represents think that people should work more. But I can’t help but think of Greece. Conservatives all over the world think that the Greek people should pay for their past big spending ways. But here’s the thing: they are paying by not being allowed to work. Austerity is always that way, and it makes no sense at all. If a woman overspent last year, she would work more this year; she wouldn’t choose to work less.
People like Jeb Bush seem to think that people are unemployed just because they don’t feel like working. This is just not the way the economy works. And I don’t really believe that anyone actually thinks it does. I know there are certain conservative economists who claim that it does, but that is clear apologetics. No serious person thinks that the 25% unemployment rate in 1930 was due to people just not wanting to work. But the truth is that we should all push for people working less.
Part of the problem that we have here in America is that those who do have jobs are pushed to work far too many hours. This means there is less work for people who don’t have jobs. This is something that Germany has been really good at. For one thing, Germans just don’t work as much as we do. Last year, Germans worked an average of 1,371 hours and we worked an average of 1,789. We work almost a third more hours than they do. But it’s generally true: we work more hours than people in most advanced economies. Even the Japanese work less than we do.
But what Germany is really good at is their work sharing program. In recessions, instead of laying a bunch of people off, people work fewer hours. The government makes up the difference — think of it as a special approach to unemployment. The economy doesn’t collapse on itself — thus reducing the impact of recessions. But most conservatives would see such things as un-American. For one thing, they reduce suffering. But for another, conservatives think everyone should work more and more and more. It’s curious, because the more you work, the less time you have for things that conservatives claim to value like the family.
This is something I commented on during the 2012 presidential race. It was claimed that Ann Romney was some kind of hero for staying home and caring for her family. And great for her! But the people who thought it was so great that she was home with the kids were the exact same people who thought that poor mothers ought to have to dump their kids at daycare and take the bus to some minimum wage job. So sure: Jeb Bush and the rest of the vile party he represents want the rest of us to work more hours — for less pay — so that the rich can capture an ever greater share of the economy. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone.