Labor Day from a Different Perspective

Written by William Pauwels on September 2, 2013

Who says a person should work only 40 hours a week? Where did that absurd idea come from? I’ll tell you where. The notion started during the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s. It became law in the U.S.A. during the FDR administration – during the depression – via the Fair Labor Standards Act(29 U.S. Code Chapter 8) as part of the New Deal. Roosevelt felt he could solve the jobs deficit problem during the Great Depression by shortening the work week. This was, of course, economic nonsense – but the public loved it even when it didn’t produce the promised results.

My father came to this country at the age of 15. He arrived in Jackson Michigan on Friday and went to work the following Monday at his uncle’s factory. He worked 70 to 80 hours a week and turned his paycheck over to his mother in exchange for a five dollar a week allowance. Even after marrying at the age of 21, he continued to work 60 to 70 hours a week. Over the years he participated in the start-up of three manufacturing businesses. I can never remember him working less than 58 hours a week – 10 hours on weekdays and eight hours on Saturday.

As a result of this effort and family work ethic, my parents progressed from impoverished immigrants to upper-middle-class citizens. They paid their own way – my mother for 104 years – and left a little for their five children.

Having grown up in this work-ethic environment, I never worked less than 60 hours a week. More often than not, it was 70 to 80 hours. As a result, I made a superior living – and more importantly, was promoted to higher levels of responsibility and authority.  Even today at 74, I put in 6 to 10 hours a day in my investment practice, reading, writing, etc. – and still pay my own way.  Some people say I’m a workaholic – maybe so.

Do I feel sorry for myself? Of course not! I’m happy to be productive. Life is interesting. Do I miss out on things? I don’t think so. I can afford to do what I want to do.  And, I can’t think of anything I would like to do that I haven’t done.

So back to my original point. What’s so sacred about the 40 hour week – the formula for mediocrity? Was FDR really that brilliant – or just a simple-minded, New Deal Democrat looking for a quick solution to an economic problem that could have been solved via free-market forces – like previous recessions – by getting the government out-of-the-way.

This isn’t to imply that FDR and his administration did not do some good. Certainly Social Security and Unemployment Insurance were constructive additions to the general welfare. On August 14, 1935, President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, which contained provisions for old age insurance, welfare, and unemployment insurance.

However, the Democrat entitlement society envisioned and implemented by Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Johnson, Clinton and Obama have turned the American-Way* – the American Prosperity Machine* – into a welfare society that is destined to decline in the years ahead – as our children work to pay off the irrational spending and debt accumulated by the liberal-leftist, de facto Marxist/socialist, Obama administration that has overtaken our society – our 40 hour-a-week mentality – our growing part time reality!

The prosperity of any nation over time is a function of the collective productivity of its people. Paying people to not work will only produce more non-workers. Paying people to work will produce more workers – more goods and services – more well being for a nation. Unfortunately, most people simply don’t get it. 

The decline of the American work ethic – the 40 hour a week philosophy and its attendant values – are simply the wrong formula for preserving the American-Way* – the American Prosperity Machine*.

Here are the numbers for the 58 hour work week:
o   Hours in a week – 168
o   Sleep, dress, groom, etc. – 63
o   Work and commuting – 60
o   Meals, Family, Honey-do, Recreation, etc. – 45 hours per week – 6.4 average hours per day.  

Image: California shipyard workers leaving the ferry in San Francisco; public domain

Topics: Labor Day, Forty Hour Work Week, FDR, New Deal, Depression, Fair Labor Standards Act

William Pauwels
William A. Pauwels, Sr. was born in Jackson Michigan to a Belgian, immigrant, entrepreneurial family. Bill is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and served in executive and/or leadership positions at Thomson Industries, Inc., Dow Corning, Loctite and Sherwin-Williams. He is currently CIO of Pauwels Private Investment Practice. He's been commenting on matters political/economic/philosophical since 1980.