So, it is almost 10 years following this article and less for many of the comments. Well, sorry to day we have not moved on this issues. In fact, we seem to have slipped farther down this road. Working longer hours for less compensation for the people that really do the work. Employers are now doing more with less, this includes employees. This includes time to conduct each task. Employees choose to work more hours to get the overtime, but at what cost, their health, safety, and less productivity. Any time employees work long hours there is a proven reduction in the quality and quantity of work. Working 6 hours with no breaks is better than working a 8 or 10 hour day. The average working working 12 hours, produces about 7.5 hours of work. Managers and leaders in the company look at production as number of hours times the normal productivity equals higher out put at the end of the day. This would be a false assumption. Between fatigue and incidents, production is lost and sometimes completely stopped for extended periods. Employers must look at the employee's ability to conduct their task and weight the value of the time spent working. We need to plan our work based on a schedule that accounts for quality and safety vs just production. Production will follow when we have a well planned schedule. Four 6 hour shifts over a twenty-four hour day, will be more productive and cost less. It does require more employees, but with the 30 hour work week there are other benefits that reduce cost. Back to what a few of you had discussed, of course companies must pay employees for their time as legally required. This shorter schedule helps to avoid these issues. Employees are less likely to take time off, other than scheduled vacations, moral will be elevated, production will increase, and cost will be reduced. This is a win for everyone. Consider a change in the mindset that we need to make people work more to get more done.

Expand full comment

private companies always push everything to the very limit they can regardless of workers. The laws are the little and only protection left.

Expand full comment

don't any of you people realize that exploitation is real and harmful ???To give a recent example, Wal Mart, apparently, had a rule that after you punched out (timeclock) if a customer stopped you before you got to the front door, you had to help the customer untill s/he was satisfiedhere is boston, we have a yuppie pizzeria (upper crust) where mangement illegaly withheld OT pay (they had to settle ,and write a big check)

Expand full comment


You're very stupid.

Expand full comment

"The standard economic explanation for these limits is to prevent inefficient signaling."

I believe it would be harder to find a better example of the disconnect between economic theory and reality.

Economic models aside, the reason these laws exist is to help protect workers from the substantial power advantage employers have over the. One can debate whether this works efficiently in the aggregate, but it's pretty clearly why people vote in favor of these laws.

Transaction costs, like friction, may be very inconvenient, but they are very real. Many people who live paycheck to paycheck are not in a position to decline additional required work - if the boss says you need to work over the weekend, and it is extremely costly for you to find a new job, you have little choice but to agree. The employer need merely pay the cost of replacing an unskilled worker, which is low. These laws can therefore be said to attempt to approximate arms-length negotiations between parties of relatively greater power. While it is an empirical question as to whether they make such workers better off in the aggregate (as they may reduce employment, or prevent people from working hours at their normal wage when it exceeds their reservation price), the purpose of these laws is to protect individuals with very limited bargaining power. There is also a plausible argument that such laws are so impractically difficult to enforce as not be worthwhile.

Higher salaried employees, by contrast, have significantly more bargaining power. Skilled workers are more costly to replace, expect to be working extensive hours, and are likely to be wealthier and more capable of credibly threatening to quit.

This status explanation is rather clearly wrong if you look at the jobs where hours are limited. These tend to be manual labor or customer service sector jobs - where hours worked is likely to be identical to productivity. If you spend 50% more time working the register, you produce, basically, 50% more cashiering. If you spend 50% more time writing legal briefs or doing a financial analysis, you may well add significantly less than 50% worth of value. Yet it is the former jobs that are strictly regulated; the latter tend to be done by salaried employees who do not get overtime pay or experience other such restrictions.

Expand full comment

It really is amazing how long it took for someone to point out just how deeply this guy's head is lodged in his ass. How ignorant of basic history and, Christ, the freaking outside world do you have to be to even ask this question?

Expand full comment

ha -- thanks for proving my point re: obtuse. "if only we removed protections on low-income workers, suddenly they'd all become software engineers!"

that makes perfect sense except that it's malarkey:

1. my brother-in-law grew up in a third world country. he never had the option to train to be a software engineer. he can't go to school now because he has a family. this is not at all a unique story among the kind of people who make their livings in those low-status jobs.

2. current incentives are plenty good enough to induce lots and lots of people to learn software engineering. those open positions at my company? we receive tens of applications per day from people who have had sufficient schooling to do the job -- i.e. were properly incentivized. the problem is that 99% of them just don't happen to have the unusual aptitudes required, because they are rare traits that 99.99% of the population lacks.

there is no set of incentives in the universe that can make people biologically more suited to a particular line of work, sorry.

Expand full comment

Quoted from elsewhere: "We limit these hours because, historically, owners or bosses would compel workers to do physically demanding and dangerous jobs beyond the point of sanity, where exhaustion and fatigue would endanger workers’ health and lives. Their compulsion was based on the fact that there was a line of guys outside that factory door looking for work, and if you weren’t willing to put in 12 hours a day, the next guy might.

We also limited hours to spread jobs around during the Depression. Overtime pay was designed to get owners to hire more workers instead of just over-working the ones they had, to spread the work (and hence, the wealth) more widely. But many workers took to overtime as a form of de-facto pay raise.

Finally, some of the workers who we don’t limit, we probably should. Doctors especially should have work limits, given the fact that study after study shows that fatigue leads to bad decision-making which leads to bad outcomes (ie, death) for patients. But doctors who are in a position to change things came into that position of power under the current regime of crazy training hours, and so see no need to change it. People working for themselves - the financiers and artists and academics - fine, work yourself to death, 16 hour days, 7 days a week, whatever. But people working for other people need some protection, and people who work ON other people should also be limited even if they are not."

Expand full comment

You forget that becoming a software engineer (or a doctor) is not something anyone can choose to do. Do you think the woman who cuts your hair could do it if she just worked hard enough?

Maybe she could, but most companies would fire her when they realized she doesn't have the instincts that good software engineers have. And you know what makes a good software engineer? Someone who loves software, who didn't just learn it in order to get a good job.

Despite people moaning about how bad our schools are, we have more high school and college graduate than at any time in our history. Would going back to, say, the pre-Roosevelt era when graduation rates were much lower be a net positive or negative?

Expand full comment

Wow, what a great big can of "I don't know sh*^t!" Where to start?

A.) Educate yourself about labor history. You'll soon learn why the 40 hour work week is considered a massive step forward in human rights. And BTW, the 40 hour work limit is ROUTINELY overstepped in many/most fields. At which point "overtime" should kick in -- another great advancement.

B.) Are you imagining that lower-wage workers just go home and sit around after their cushy work week is over? Yeahhhh...nope. Most go off to other jobs or to night-school or to child-rearing. Thankfully, the 40 hour work week allows them to DO these other types of work.

C.) "Doctors, lawyers, managers, financiers, artists, writers, athletes, academics, and software engineers often work crazy hours." Yeah, and most of them earn comfortable 6 or 7 figure incomes. (Artists and writers don't of course, but their labor is presumably for love and they can quit when they choose to.) If you're making big bucks, you have no need of night-school, or a second job and you can pay for a nanny -- see above.

C.) Republicans never cease to amaze me. Telling us that child labor laws hurt children and that setting limits on how much an employer can demand of his workers is "anti-work" or "stickin' it to the Man." Next you'll be explaining how the Civil Rights movement made things worse for blacks. Can't wait for that one!

Expand full comment

The question isn't how many hours you work, but how intensely and productively you work the hours you do. Working 60-hour weeks doesn't necessarily correlate to working hard.

Expand full comment

We who do the nation's required physical work are hour-constrained by our bodies, not by any desire for leisure.

Expand full comment

@KPres - Exactly, thank you!

When I was a software developer for a poorly-managed company, there was no incentive to work long hours because performance wasn't rewarded. Today I work for a terrific company that rewards performance with financial and status incentives (i.e. money and promotions). Those who put in more hours do better than those who don't.

Many people choose not to put in the extra hours, which means they have extra leisure time and I have extra money. They have hit the level that suits their desire for responsibility. One day I'll hit that level too and stop being promoted. But I'll still make a fine salary and be happy with the place I have chosen.

While I appreciate the attention paid by academics to the overall productivity of the workforce, imposing restrictions would be a soul-crushing blow to those of us who strive to stretch and grow and be rewarded for the outcomes.

Expand full comment

The reason there aren’t enough highly-specialized workers available is because menial jobs (like your brother-in-laws) are given so much protection and preferential treatment by the state that there’s little incentive to engage in the training required by these specialized positions like yours.

Another explanation would be that some people who are perfectly capable of plowing 13 hours a day, are not intellectually capable of successfully learning the skills required of a software engineer, no matter how much effort he puts towards educating himself.

Just about 50% of the population has an IQ below 100.

Expand full comment

Any idea how many hours or dollars I put in as an elementary grade school teacher? None I'm sure. From Sixth to Kindergarten, It's not something the public understands. Either I do it right - or I don't do it. I do it right. Priceless: Kids who think I am the best since sliced bread. Nevermind: After 30 years every hour is a joy, even in what passes for the ghetto in Sacramento. A message from the real world for ecomony peeps. Plunk.

Expand full comment

Because deep down we know the low status workers will never have the opportunity to be rich if they work long hours all their lives. Because high status workers have more mobility and can quit and go somewhere else. Because most of the managers of low status workers would treat them as such. Because without these laws and returning to Dickensian work standards, I doubt whatever Robin Hansen does would be called a high status job.

Expand full comment