The familist redistribution of time

Australia’s leading left-familist academics are at it again today, with a 39 point list of more taxes and regulations, which they call ‘Benchmarks: Work and Family Poilcies in Election 2007’, to enforce their view on family life on the rest of us.

I have criticised much of the underlying analysis in previous posts (eg here, here, and here).

While I have objected to the way familists want to redistribute money to people with children (or to people with children on behalf of children, as backroom girl would insist), I have not emphasised they way they propose to redistribute time.

Given that most taxpayers earn their income via personal labour, some redistribution of time is implicit in the tax system. To get a given amount of after-tax income, the higher the taxes levied to support families the more pre-tax income a worker has to earn, and that means longer hours. Most men prefer to work full-time anyway, so while familist policies appropriate the results of their labour, they probably don’t actually significantly increase male hours. Women, however, are often more sensistive to the financial rewards from working (hence the complaints in ‘Benchmarks’ about high EMTRs) and their part-time work is used to bring household income up to a desired level.

But also important is the redistribution of hours within the workplace. Giving rights to some workers, those with families, denied to others means that those without families suffer the consequences – the total amount of work to be done is unlikely to go down because someone wants to work less or at a different time or to vanish for days or weeks on leave not available to others.

Employers will to some extent be able to manage these problems with casual labour (about which the same group of academics will then inconsistently complain, demanding ‘quality’ jobs) or short-term contracts. But in practice only unskilled jobs are usually easily filled this way, either because the position requires too much employer-specific knowledge or because there are too few workers in the short-term labour market. In other cases the work has to be done by requiring more hours from on-going staff.

This problem affects several ‘Benchmarks’ proposals. For example, it favours denying employers the right to refuse, without first ‘reasonably considering’ them, requests for changes to working hours including quantum of hours worked, scheduling of hours, and location of work (this is phrased as a right to request such changes, but of course employees have always held such a right – the only difference is that some external body will be second-guessing what is ‘reasonable’).

It suggests protecting employees from ‘family unfriendly’ unilateral or arbitrary changes to working hours – but if such changes need to be made, why should only those without families have to work?

Over time the ‘Benchmarks’ academics want ‘an increase in total paid leave available to working parents until households share 52 weeks of paid parental leave, including maternity/paternity and parenting leave’. A year of taxpayer expense and inconvenience to fellow workers for every kid born!

As I have said before about the left-familist workplace agenda:

What’s missing in this … is the sense that an employment arrangement is one of mutual advantage between employer and employee to provide goods and services from which other people benefit – rather than just something to benefit the employee, regardless of its effects on others.

The Australian workplace should continue to be based on arrangements of mutual advantage, rather than the arrangement being dominated by the non-work lives of some employees. It’s possible that those without families will be happy to work extra hours. It’s possible that employers will be able to accommodate requests for different hours by employing new staff. But this should be a matter of consent, not decree.

Much of ‘Benchmarks’ is just a rewrite of the old industrial relations order, not only in its attempts to micromanage every aspect of working life, but in its assumption that non-work life is relevant to the IR rules. In the old days women were paid less because it was assumed they would not be the main breadwinner and had to leave some jobs when they got married. The ‘Benchmarks’ package is little different in making assumed family circumstances and political conceptions of family life important to employment law. Yet again, we have prominent leftists wanting to take us back to the 1950s.

114 thoughts on “The familist redistribution of time

  1. “Which of course would add to the annoyance it causes philosophical liberals.”

    Indeed, that was one of my criticisms of Howard-Costello in my original big government conservatism piece. They are entrenching big government and making people fully capable of self-reliance welfare dependent.


  2. I’m with Leopold – I don’t think I will ever be capable of completely understanding where Tom and Rajat are coming from. I also don’t understand how you can paint this as a black and white issue from either side of the argument.
    In the end, I don’t believe that there is any such thing as a perfect policy, just some that are better than others.

    And whether you like it or not, the views of ordinary people are always likely to shape the policies that we get – that is the nature of politics after all. By all means make use of the instinct of most parents to “do whatever they can to provide for their children” and, if necessary, place conditions on whatever income support you provide to try to ensure that happens. But I totally reject a model of society that says children have no rights to support other than what their parents can provide.

    It seems to me that in the end people who oppose all forms of income redistribution aimed at improving the life outcomes of children are fundamentally opposed to the welfare state per se. I really am a bit bemused as to why they don’t exercise a lifestyle choice and go and live in some other better society altogether 🙂 . I for one am staying here.



    In post 100, Russell said:

    just an obervation about analysing things: it must annoy most of you that my comments are so subjective, just as it strikes me that most of your comments are so inhuman. Disposition, family background etc count towards this but also perhaps education – in the arts and humanities we are always exposing ourselves to and reflecting on subjective experiences, in economics you are looking at statistical data.

    Your approach to debating can certainly be frustrating, Russell, but I think you misdiagnose the problem. People who study the arts or humanities have no monopoly on human insight, compassion or understanding – and economists certainly do not restrict themselves to statistical data. I would be happy to have my “soft heart” credentials compared with anyone elses.

    Where I think we differ is in what we then do intellectually with those insights, values and fellow-feelings, and in particular whether we apply hard-headed or soft-headed thinking to the question of what they imply for government policy. Obviously I think that you and others in this debate have often adopt the soft-headed approach – relying on fluffy motherhood statements and ‘justifications’ for your positions that simply do not bear rigorous scrutiny.

    Having a soft heart is not enough; one also needs a hard head.


  4. Tom, I expected Andrew to come back with statistics that show 50% of scientists vote Labor and 50% of musicians vote Liberal, but I was suggesting that the stereotypes of the ‘luvvies’ and liberal arts majors as left-wing communitarians might be true, and it that it might be due to reflecting, as an occupation, on human experience.

    What you call fluffy motherhood statements could I suppose be called value statements. Values are formed from one’s lived experience – using heart and head, and if my experience has led me to believe that we are indeed, to some extent, our brother’s keeper, there’s not much your rigorous scrutiny can do to prove that that is invalid.


  5. The great value of the social sciences, in which I include economics, as opposed to the humanities, is their ability to test whether the inferences drawn from personal experience are in fact correct – whether the causality is as thought, whether the experience is representative or not. Often the answer is ‘no’. I started out in the humanities – I even spent years in a political theory PhD – before realising that without hard-headed social science these fields of study cannot deliver worthwhile insights or policy proposals.


  6. Andrew,

    So how did all those successful leaders in history manage without a hard-headed social science background?


  7. Russell – They relied on trial and error in a fairly narrow range of fields. Many of the state functions you probably think indispensable did not exist until the second half of the 20th century; it is no coincidence that social science and social policy rose together, our ability to analyse problems prompting calls for policies, and policies prompting the need to analyse whether they worked or not (though there is still far too little of the latter).


  8. Only half convinced – administrators, whether Chinese mandarins in the Tang Dynasty or British colonial governors like Arthur Phillip, have always had to analyse and solve problems and done so brilliantly without a social sciences education.


  9. Should have said … am half convinced that the social science tools have grown up to meet the needs of complex societies. Just not convinced that they help so much with purposes, goals, direction.


  10. I think your response in post 104 misses the point, Russell. We all have basic values, and they can be as soft-hearted or as fluffy as you like and, while I might have different ones, there is no basis in logic on which I can challenge your basic values. The question, however, is what do those values imply for policy.
    Unless your basic values are formed at the level of policy – and your “we’re our brother’s keeper” statement does not do that* – there is a process that one needs to go through to ascertain the implications of one’s values for policies. It is in that process that hard-headed logic is required, and that fluffly statements and non sequiturs are fair game.
    As far as I can tell, in this debate I have not criticised your or other’s basic values – which although it may surprise you I suspect I broadly share. Rather, in effect my arguments have been about why the rigorous application of the broadly held basic values of our society undermines the case for parental subsidies, rather than supports them.

    * I also strongly doubt that your “borther’s keeper” point is in fact a basic value of yours, in the sense that I expect that you have more fundamental values that underpin or justify your opinion about people being their brother’s keepers. However, that is a trip into Philosophy for which at present I do not have the time.


  11. # 107 On the topic of whether social policies work, in the mid 1970s there was an Association for Evaluation of Social Policies (or words to that effect) with a newsletter and membership in places like the Division of Planning and Reasearch (NSW Health) where i worked at the time. It had a short life and someone said this was because the main outcome of evaluation studies was negative.

    Check out the results of the New Deal! Not to mention the Great Society programs of the 1970s.


  12. Tom: “there is a process that one needs to go through to ascertain the implications of one’s values for policies. It is in that process that hard-headed logic is required” – well, your hard-headed logic hasn’t convinced me that paying family benefits doesn’t match my values. Can you do that?
    And I still think that people may legitimately choose to make decisions that prioritise sentiment rather than logic.


    I have time and again argued why parental subsidies are not justified, and have responded using logic and rigour to various counter-points and challenges to those arguments that have been brought forward.
    Likewise I have several times pointed out why statements that you and others have made in an attempt to justify parental subsidies – such as your view that having children is a human right – do not in fact justify parental subsidies.
    Of course, it is no more possible for me to “convince” somone of something through the use of logic if that person does not understand or abide by the rules of logic, than it was for the White Knight to convince the Black Knight that he had lost the battle by pointing to the fact that the latter had had all his limbs lopped off. That, however, is not something for which I feel a need to apologise.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s