Sunday, November 26, 2006
The 35 Hour Week
Well, they've finally found it. The policy groups have finally found an idea that would make me vote Labour were it to be adopted by the Conservatives (via ConservativeHome). Even Iain is getting angry. It is utterly illiberal; plenty of people who work far longer than 35 hours aren't exploited at all. It is based on the logic that more work must mean less happiness which is an awful denial of purpose in our lives. Finally, the economic impacts would be utterly horrendous as it makes British workers unable to put in the extra hours needed in certain very valuable careers; do you think the investment bankers work long hours because they're poor and exploited?
Fortunately, I don't think they will wind up adopting this policy as a poll for the Financial Times back in August (the source for the graph on the left) suggested that a majority of Britons do not think the government should limit working hours. Interestingly, this opinion is even stronger in those countries where it has already been introduced like France and Germany; clearly those who have seen working hour limits find them unpleasant.
What worries me is that Gummer considers this an issue he should let the polls take the lead on: "We have got to know what people think about it. It is one of the issues we are trying to tease out." Why on Earth is this an issue that comes down to opinion polls? Can the Conservative Party not decide anything is a bad idea on their own anymore?
Note, in particular that the question he poses is "Would you be in favour of the introduction of a 35-hour working week?" is different to that the FT poses which is "Should the government have the ability to limit the number of hours a worker can work in a week?"
This is important because a common failure of opinion polls is that people do not take account of opportunity costs; they answer as if in the best of all worlds. For example, they will happily answer yes to more spending on every service and lower taxes. Now, in this case they may answer Gummer's question as if it were "Would you like to have more free time?" I'm sure a great many would; however, they might also not like the costs to that free time of losing income and losing job satisfaction. By contrast, the FTs question focusses on the more important issue of whether they feel that their time in work should be limited by government.
This is a sad day for the Conservative Party.