One summer during the early 1970s, I was given a document distributed by a protest group which came from the Students for a Democratic Society or one of its radical affiliates. The item pretended to present a comprehensive platform for reshaping a “just” society.
One of its key economic positions was something which recently, thanks to the passage and clumsy implementation thus far of the statist “train wreck” known as ObamaCare, has become a very hot topic: the idea of a 30-hour work week.
The radicals wanted to make it the law of the land. Since I had recently worked 48-hour weeks at a minimum-wage summer job washing dishes, I found their proposal interesting but completely unappealing. Why, after considering overtime, would I have wanted to take a 42 percent pay cut? Their simplistic answer was to make the minimum wage about twice its then-current level of $1.60 per hour, and to force employers to pay the same amount of money for only 30 hours of work. Even as a teenager, I was smart enough to know that as the person most recently hired, I would have been the first person fired if they had gotten their way.
It turns out that the idea of a 30-hour work week in the U.S. is at least nearly a century old. Its lineage ultimately goes back to Karl Marx’s long-discredited idea of “surplus labor.”