Tuesday, October 18, 2011

An addendum to more musings about Occupy Wall Street


A reader contributed, via email, some thoughts about an international perspective on shortening the workweek. He remarked that salaried French employees whom he had supervised had work habits similar to their American peers, i.e., focusing on the task rather than the hours spend on the job. His anecdotal assessment is that well-compensated salaried employees, in general, produced as much after the implementation of the 35-hour workweek as before enactment of the 35-hour legislation.

He made a second important observation:

What did have an impact on how multinational corporations parceled out white-collar jobs across different countries: the relative cost of doing business in France, such as prices of commercial real estate in Paris; and the near impossibility of layoffs in France should it become necessary. One didn’t create a position in France unless one was very certain that either the position would exist indefinitely or the corporation would go bankrupt and lay off everyone.

In an increasingly global economy in which multinational corporations seek competitive advantage in their decisions about where to locate employees, legislation about the length of the workweek, minimum wage, etc., will frequently effect labor markets in ways that are difficult to quantify. For example, did the 35-hour week reduce, increase, or have little effect on the number of hourly workers in France? Given the amount of statistical noise in labor data, even tentative conclusions are difficult.

What globalization does suggest is that the world is in a transitional period, moving from national economies to an international economy, i.e., the European transition begun with a single currency toward a single, integrated economy is also occurring on a global basis, albeit more slowly and with much greater complexity.

Transitions often create new winners and losers. Transitions are also very difficult on people whose lives the friction of changing dynamics destroy. I suspect that the anger and frustration of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its sister protests elsewhere (one began today in London) express some of that transitional pain. The pain is not a reason to end the transition abruptly but a reminder that walking the Jesus path requires special concern for the most vulnerable, a priority that includes those squeezed by basic social transitions over which they have no control.

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