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Why economists dislike a lump of labor


  • Tom Walker


The lump-of-labor fallacy has been called one of the “best known fallacies in economics.” It is widely cited in disparagement of policies for reducing the standard hours of work, yet the authenticity of the fallacy claim is questionable, and explanations of it are inconsistent and contradictory. This article discusses recent occurrences of the fallacy claim and investigates anomalies in the claim and its history. S.J. Chapman's coherent and formerly highly regarded theory of the hours of labor is reviewed, and it is shown how that theory could lend credence to the job-creating potentiality of shorter working time policies. It concludes that substituting a dubious fallacy claim for an authentic economic theory may have obstructed fruitful dialogue about working time and the appropriate policies for regulating it.

Suggested Citation

  • Tom Walker, 2007. "Why economists dislike a lump of labor," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 65(3), pages 279-291.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:rsocec:v:65:y:2007:i:3:p:279-291
    DOI: 10.1080/00346760701635809

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. de Koning, J. & Layard, R. & Nickell, S. & Westergaard-Nielsen, N., 2004. "Policies for full employment," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 47444, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Fawcett: "The Regulation of the Hours of Labour by the State" (abridged) IV
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2009-09-01 01:07:00
    2. Number One!
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2009-08-02 08:22:00
    3. Only So Much Boilerplate to Go Round
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2009-07-17 07:17:00
    4. Jobless Recovery v. Working Less
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2009-07-10 23:39:00
    5. No Evidence that Business Week Economics Editor Knows What He is Talking About
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2009-07-09 20:56:00
    6. The Danger of Boilerplate
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2009-06-18 23:32:00
    7. Those Wacky Europeans!
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2009-05-08 05:03:00
    8. Bailouts and JAWBS
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2008-11-21 00:18:00
    9. Invitation to Ryan Avent for a Debate
      by Sandwichman in ecological headstand on 2011-08-26 01:21:00
    10. What's Wrong with the Case AGAINST Shorter Work? VI
      by Sandwichman in The Lump of Labor on 2011-12-16 06:50:00
    11. Megan McArdle: As the Lump Crumbles...
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2013-06-19 04:30:00
    12. Labour Markets: "A crazy explanation for what is happening to workers"
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2014-01-23 05:48:00
    13. Basic Econometrics: Robots Demand Shorter Hours!
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2014-01-30 04:52:00
    14. Tim Kane: "Overtime, rooted in the LOL fallacy"
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2014-03-20 10:27:00
    15. Whack-a-Mole Tim and the Fixed Amount of Cheese-Eating Work Fallacio
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2014-05-31 00:05:00
    16. David Cameron leads Britain into the 19th century
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2014-10-15 02:47:00
    17. This Just In!
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2014-12-18 02:11:00
    18. The Luddites Had a Time Machine! (and other claims the truth or falsehood of which is not relevant)
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2015-01-20 11:32:00
    19. Who knew? People oppose austerity -- because the lump of labour fallacy!
      by Sandwichman in EconoSpeak on 2015-02-17 23:00:00


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Peter Frase & Janet Gornick, 2009. "The Time Divide in Cross-National Perspective: The Work Week, Gender and Education in 17 Countries," LIS Working papers 526, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    2. Zhang, Chuanchuan, 2012. "延迟退休年龄会挤出年轻人就业吗?
      [Will Postponing Retirement Crowd out Youth Employment?]
      ," MPRA Paper 49811, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Nov 2012.
    3. James Banks & Richard Blundell & Antoine Bozio & Carl Emmerson, 2010. "Releasing Jobs for the Young? Early Retirement and Youth Unemployment in the United Kingdom," NBER Chapters,in: Social Security Programs and Retirement around the World: The Relationship to Youth Employment, pages 319-344 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Zhang, Chuanchuan, 2012. "The relationship between elderly employment and youth employment: evidence from China," MPRA Paper 37221, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item


    lump-of-labor fallacy; hours of work; full-employment policy;


    This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:
    1. Заблуждение о неизменном объёме работ in Wikipedia Russian ne '')
    2. Lump-of-labour-virhekäsitys in Wikipedia Finnish ne '')
    3. Lump of labour fallacy in Wikipedia English ne '')
    4. Disoccupazione tecnologica in Wikipedia Italian ne '')
    5. Технологическая безработица in Wikipedia Russian ne '')
    6. Technological unemployment in Wikipedia English ne '')


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