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What we have in common with Jeb

REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl
The usefulness of Jeb’s “work more” comment, while idiotic on several levels, is that it exposes a fundamental contradiction that we all perpetrate: Hard facts about the planet and prescriptions about growth simply do not align.

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush says we should work more hours. Fortunately, “Jeb!” has been appropriately chastened, with many pointing out (among other things) that Americans already work a ton of hours and productivity gains have gone to the 1 percent.

JT Haines

But while inartful and misguided, Jeb’s comments also reflect a sacred goal that is actually shared by most in American politics, including those doing the chastening: growth.

The examples are everywhere. Minneapolis’ Democratic Mayor Betsy Hodges — the same mayor who has recently been invited to the Vatican to discuss climate change — had this to say at her inaugural address last year:

“To grow our city, and make it more than great, means above all that we must grow a population where 500,000 people — no, 500,001 and more people — live and thrive in Minneapolis, with the greatest density along transit corridors.” [MinnPost]

The current population of Minneapolis is 400,000.

The whole system relies on it

Of course, it’s not difficult to understand why mayors trumpet growth. The whole system relies on it, and Mayor Hodges still needs to show up for work in the morning.

But how does growth align with the real world in the broader sense? In addition to the increasing social pressures and infrastructure costs that accompany population growth — which seem to go underappreciated by elected officials seeking to increase budgets — we are faced with a much larger problem as well.

By that I mean, it’s odd, to say the least, to receive the daily mythology about growth alongside the increasing number of articles about climate change, drought and population overshoot.

The same day I read about Jeb’s comments, I also took note of Dahr Jamail’s article in Truthout entitled “Mass Extinction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” The article is about University of Arizona ecology professor Guy McPherson and his research on the possibility/likelihood of near-term human extinction. (Sorry, say again?) McPherson says “we’re in serious population overshoot,” and that “our version of civilization is the least sustainable of them all.”

Yet, the received political debate is whether poorer Americans should work more to achieve an extra 2 percentage points of GDP growth (and accompanying emissions), not whether growth itself is the right goal.

Facts and prescriptions don’t align

The usefulness of Jeb’s “work more” comment, while idiotic on several levels, is that it exposes a fundamental contradiction that we all perpetrate: Hard facts about the planet and prescriptions about growth simply do not align.

Of course, what to do about that is the question, but at the very least it’s time to blow the idea door wide open. The New Economics Foundation has proposed a 20-hour workweek. That’s an idea. Unless you’re one of the saintly and indispensable among us who work one on one with real human beings every day, we could probably actually use less of what you’re selling. In today’s context, these things are not radical (more likely radically insufficient), Jeb is.

So slow down if you can manage. Do something close to home with the family. And as always, don’t believe the hype.

JT Haines is a film producer and writer who recently moved from the Twin Cities to Duluth, where he works as a union rep. This commentary was originally published at Newspeak Review. Follow him on twitter @JTH2020 and @NewspeakReview.

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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 07/20/2015 - 09:09 am.

    What planet are we on when a person says if you want more money in your pocket work longer hours and folks scream idiot?? If you make 35$ an hour as an electrician and you want a new boat, car or whatever you work more hours. If you get time and 1/2 for anything over 8 hrs, it accumulates quickly, if you run the shop you bid more jobs, pretty simple. If you do not want to work longer hours don’t, but please don’t complain that your fellow worker who puts in more hours gets paid more than you!! 20 hour work week sounds great but if you are a middle class worker you will soon be a lower class worker. Why is hard work now an evil thing? Do you want to pay the plumber for 5 hrs when he was at your house for a 1 1/2, I guarantee the folks writing this nonsense wouldn’t overpay like that but for some crazy reason they expect others to do so…. Insane thinking and logic!

    • Submitted by chuck holtman on 07/20/2015 - 10:50 am.

      Bush was half right (the smaller half)

      Mr Bush said he was referring to the need to get the underemployed back to full-time work. If that is what he meant then that is a reasonable statement. But when he said: “people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families,” he was ignoring the fact that over the past 40 years, only about 10% of increased productivity has gone to wage-earners:

      More working hours for wage-earners puts more money in somebody’s pocket, but not wage-earners.

    • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/20/2015 - 10:54 am.

      At least the strawman construction

      Jeb never said what you’re claiming. He said he could grow the economy at 4% “as far as the eye can see”. He said a key requirement for that is for people to work more hours than they do, in a country that already works more hours per person than nearly every developed country in the world.

      No one made the arguments you’re claiming they made, so the “insane logic and thinking” is a product of your imagination, not reality.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 07/20/2015 - 08:16 pm.

        I was responding to the 1st paragraph of this story.

        • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/21/2015 - 12:22 pm.

          1st paragraph

          What is said in the first paragraph of this piece also does not align with what you represented it as saying. It simply says:

          “Presidential candidate Jeb Bush says we should work more hours. Fortunately, “Jeb!” has been appropriately chastened, with many pointing out (among other things) that Americans already work a ton of hours and productivity gains have gone to the 1 percent.”

          Nowhere does it claim that hourly wage workers don’t make more money by working more hours.


    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 07/20/2015 - 12:18 pm.

      Because you think as an individual only.

      Which is better for society, five electricians looking to make a living for their families. One works 100 hrs and reaps those benefits while the other four earn nothing, or all five work twenty hours and take home something. The problem is that we have a work shortage, not a labor shortage, and barring some major, population decimating, catastrophe we always will. Given technological advances this will only be exacerbated in the future. This being the case we have one of two, well I guess three, choices. 1. Continue as we are, with greater and greater numbers of workers being forced from the labor market and on to an ever expanding societal support system in the form of government aid. 2. Move toward a system where we pay more people to do less work each in order to keep as many as possible as contributing members of the economy. This would require contribution in the form of lesser profits from those reaping the rewards of the labor, the business owner. The third option is of course the Randian dystopia by which we follow the course of option one, while removing any and all societal support for the “losers” in the work contraction and literally let they and their families starve. I know which option I’d choose.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 07/20/2015 - 07:39 pm.

        No, we have a skilled labor shortage, not a labor shortage. Do you own a house and have you tried to get an electrician, plumber or any other specialized job done? They are backed up for weeks ! As to your question who should get the work, the best electrician who works the hardest should…. Simple…. This is not socialism….. Yet…

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 07/21/2015 - 08:41 pm.

      The other side of the coin

      Mr. “I’m already a rich guy” wants you to work more hours:
      1. He/she makes 15% on every hour you work
      2. His/her fixed cost s on an hourly bases go down the more you work.
      3. Its your life that is being sacrificed/wasted for their benefit
      4. Rich guys don’t work, they get other folks to do the labor and reap long term capital gains 15% or less while “The wage earner” pays tax on the way in and the way out on virtually every $ made.
      Why didn’t Bush say us rich guys should pay our fair share on the way in and out?

      15-28% federal (Wage income tax)
      6% Social security
      1.5% medicare
      4% State income
      8% Health
      16% retirement contribution
      Not to mention the near 8% sales tax on the spending side.
      The main message: The middle class is left with the biggest share of the bill and the Bushes of the world are trying to find ways to make the rich pay less and the middle class pay more, and call it growth. Kind of like supply side trickle down economics, actually it did trickle down but it was more like tinkle down.

      • Submitted by Mark Abner on 07/22/2015 - 08:23 am.

        I’m rich, and I’m here to help you.

        Right, it is undeniable that the tax laws are aimed at maximum extraction from real income (wages). That’s fine, except that the wealthy, like the Bushes and their donors, earn most of their income from dividends, interest and capital gains, all of which have far more favorable tax treatment. Republicans cannot win elections unless they sign Grover Norquist’s “No New Taxes” pledge, which is enforced aggressively. This means that Republicans can offer those who want to worker harder nothing in the way of new government supports, such as better schools, repaired bridges and roads, more transportation options, help with childcare, or better healthcare, which are known to be helpful to workers and national growth. Rather, they can only offer hope through the cult of a rising tide lifting all boats through greater and greater personal effort. Bush’s words sound good on the surface but, no matter what he actually believes, “work harder” and “cut taxes/services” is about all he can offer the debate and not get in trouble as a Republican candidate. It’s too bad that one whole party has taken itself out of the game in terms of helping create actual economic solutions for our country.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/20/2015 - 09:16 am.

    Did the dinosaurs really lift their heads to the sky when the meteorite passed overhead?

  3. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 07/20/2015 - 01:48 pm.

    Growth is as growth does and Bush with all the rest should consider annual and life cycles as opposed to the growth of cancers.

    A positive feedback loop is emblematic of our worst economies and self regulation is necessary at all levels of society globally or we will face the out of control cancerous growth that undermines the promise of democracy.

    American exceptionalism is not what today’s Republicans say it is, mostly because their take is a contradiction in terms for at the foundation of our laws is the equality of human beings wherever they are on Earth.

    It is time to consider what part of your party’s platform is carcinogenic, try to eliminate that part and see if folks will buy into your take on the good life in November of 2016: that is American exceptualism. Will we get our better life or die of cancer? Public health studies show this is pretty much determined by income or class without intervention and your choices in 2016 will show both your aspirations for yourself and for others on Earth.

  4. Submitted by chuck holtman on 07/20/2015 - 06:17 pm.

    Thank you, Mr Haines.

    And Mr. Haas also is right on target. With a growth orientation we cannot escape the existential threat of climate change, yet growth as the only prescription for our economy may not be questioned. And it may not be questioned because wealth consolidates itself by taxing economic activity. And consolidated wealth, over time, defines our permitted reality and delivers it to us through the words of our leaders and our media.

    Extrapolating from Mr Haas, a chief reason why we must ever pursue a growth policy is because our economic system has no coherent approach to distributing what our economic activity produces. As 90% of productivity gains flow to the top, the only way for the rest to make do is to look for interstices where a bit of the social wealth may come to them. Thus our preoccupation with “jobs.”

    There’s a need to put a finer point on it, of course. Growth is a virtue when it increases supply to meet basic needs in underdeveloped societies, and when it is innovation that truly improves quality of life in a sustainable manner. But our economic activity mostly is a crude distributive mechanism, the inefficiency of which we no longer can tolerate if we wish a future on earth. Past a certain point, goods do little to increase happiness: a cliche. But at this time of crisis, if we don’t embrace the cliché seriously, then we’re lost.

    I think it is quite true that if we were critically aware enough to want, and to produce, only what really advances quality of life and does so sustainably, if we produced a fraction of what we do, and if we had a means to distribute labor and wealth so that we worked a fraction of the hours we do, not only would we enjoy happier and richer lives overall, we also would not be about to set the world record for fastest extinction of a species.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/21/2015 - 09:56 am.

    Jeb’s just an idiot

    This Bush is not one of the smart ones. Why is it the younger generation Bush’s are so much duller than their parents?

    Anyways, no matter how you slice it Bush’s call for more hours is stupid and ignorant, and tells us that the guy’s never had to actually work for a living.

    1) Working more hours may seem like fine way to bring in some extra cash… unless your already working 60+ hours a week.

    2) I suppose living a life where every waking hour is devoted to making money for investors and executives and a few extra bucks in the bank is the life of “liberty” eh? I mean having no time or energy for your wife/husband or kids is just sooooooo pro-family isn’t it?

    3) Of course we all know that anyone can work as many hours as they want at any job because no employer has any control over how many hours employees work. So let’s just ALL work an extra ten hours a week and reap in the cash eh? I mean it’s not like there’s a national trend towards filling positions with part time hours in order to dodge medical expenses, or other benefits right? So working 50-60 week is clearly an option for EVERYONE.

    4) The job vacancy rate nationwide is still a negative ratio, so even if you’re willing to work two or three jobs the jobs aren’t there.

    5) More hours for stagnant wages may boost the GDP, but that also boosts disparity. Show me a country where workers put in 6 or 7 days a week for stagnant wages and I’ll show you…. Bangladesh.

    The problem with the republican agenda of erasing the 20th century is we’ve already been there, it was called: “Gilded Age” and it was NOT a strong economy. Sure there were wealthy people… during the boom cycles. But we had crippling depressions or “panics” every 8-10 years culminating the Great Depression of the 20s and 30s. It wasn’t until we built an affluent working class with rights for workers and strong wages and benefits that our economy surged into mega-power status. And it’s always funny when guy like Bush tell us to work more hours for our money… does that mean they going to take a cut in pay and stop golfing during work hours? This from a guy who hasn’t EVER had to find a real job in the private sector in his entire life. And he’s saying this while corporate profits are at their highest point in decades.

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