“My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours.”
This is an occasion when it is instructive to read past the superficial narrative. True, this is another occasion on which Mr. Bush required a do-overα, and the line really didn’t sound all that good. Still, though, the rebound was good enough to get Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)―the ostenisble House GOP budget wonk and former vice-presidential nominee―onboard. And even Democratic-sympathizing pundits and politicians alike can find a reason to go with the later iteration; to wit, Steve Benen:
For what it’s worth, the Florida Republican, not long after his interview, clarified that his comments were about part-time vs. full-time employment. The Washington Post reported Bush saying, “You can take it out of context all you want, but high-sustained growth means that people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours and that by our success, they have money, disposable income for their families to decide how they want to spend it rather than getting in line and being dependent on government.”
As a matter of Economics 101, Bush’s broader points have at least some technical merit. When an economy has more full-time workers, it means more economic activity. When employees work more hours, it means more output and greater growth. None of this is controversial.
The problem with Bush’s rhetoric, however, is the real-world implications, and the degree to which he fails to understand the issue.
For example, the Republican candidate, who made $5.8 million in “consulting and speaking” income in 2013, makes it sound as if sluggish economic growth is your fault – you’re just not working enough hours. In reality, however, full-time employment is soaring when compared to part-time employment, and Americans are already working, on average, 47-hour weeks.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (S-VT), running for the Democratic nomination, is also willing to follow that course.
Bernie Sanders on Friday defended Jeb Bush’s remarks that Americans need to work longer hours, acknowledging that Bush was “absolutely correct” if he was referring to the need for more full-time jobs than part-time jobs.
“Well, of course we need full-time jobs rather than part-time jobs, but to suggest that people have got to work harder — Chris, here’s the fact: People in the United States of America today are working the longest hours of a people of any major industrialized countries,” Sanders said in an interview on CNN’s “New Day” with Chris Cuomo.
Bush came under fire from his presidential race rivals, including Hillary Clinton and Sanders, for his comments late Wednesday, which reminded some of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” moment.
But Bush quickly clarified that he was referring the millions of people who want full-time employment and can’t find it, and has found some success in defusing the situation.
Part of the former Florida governor’s success at defusing the gaffe seems to be that this is a discussion people want to have.
And there is, certainly, reason. Jeb touted his four percent ideaβ, and if we pause to recall the question of “how radically Mr. Bush plans to restructure the economy”, we might wonder what that looks like, and also note the unfortunate timing of his would-be gaffe.
Because there is always Wisconsin. Or, as Steve Benen noted earlier this week:
In the pilot episode of “Downton Abbey,” a character made a passing reference to the free time he’ll have away from the office on weekends. Maggie Smith’s character, apparently confused, asked, “What is a weekend?”
The episode took place in 1912. The labor movement had not yet secured many victories and the idea of employees having time off at the end of a work week was still, for some, bizarre.
Over a century later, some Wisconsin Republicans are willing to turn back the clock. The Capital Times in Madison reported today on the spirited debate over a controversial provision in the GOP budget.
Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, introduced an amendment to delete a budget provision that would allow factory and mercantile workers to voluntarily work seven days in a row with no 24-hour rest period. The provision is modeled after legislation proposed by Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, in March.
“Really, you’re going to go after the weekend? Really? You’re going to side with Lumbergh?” Larson asked, referencing the boss from “Office Space” who repeatedly asked his employees to work on weekends.
Sens. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, voiced concerns that employers would pressure their employees to “volunteer” for weekend shifts under the new provision.
A few months ago, The Nation ran a report on Wisconsin Republicans targeting weekends, and at the time, I more or less assumed the idea was too ridiculous to advance.
But it’s apparently still under serious consideration.
And if we allow ourselves to wonder onward, yes, that impulse to furrow a brow and try to figure out if we are, in fact, being warnedγ.
When it comes to labor hours and productivity, pretty much everyone has an interest in the discussion. There is, for instance, an eternal question of what kind of job creation one fosters. Low-paying, disruptive, part-time retail and foodservice jobs are among the driving issues of the minimum wage argument. Additionally, we might recall talk of a jobless recovery, when the tendency was to take profit instead of reseed growth. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is the need for stronger employment; the devils emerge in the details of what that actually means.
The Republican case has been pretty clear for a while. This is the warning. It’s not like we can’t see what’s coming. They’re pretty much telling us, straight up.
β Which is, in itself, somewhat absurd for any number of reasons, ranging from defying history, being a “random” selection, and having “zero” analytical support. “We were having a quarterly meeting, and Jeb just piped up, ‘Four percent growth'”, explained former George W. Bush institute executive director James Glassman. “And I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea’.” No, really, that’s it. That’s the basis of Jeb’s four percent pitch.
γ Just as Republicans are telegraphing a truculent foreign policy; with the #GOP47 aiming to submarine the P5+1 negotiations, Congressional Republicans rejecting a requested Authorization for Use of Military Force against Daa’ish because it wasn’t a big enough war, presidential candidates are starting to get in on the act, as well. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) promises “A New American Century” while warmongering and quoting Liam Neeson; Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) wants a war with China―yes, really―and Sen. Lindsey Graham, in being so kind as to offer some specific ideas, would like twenty thousand troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria to answer Daa’ish. We should hold ourselves appropriately warned; wars and rumors of wars are on the Republican agenda.
Image note: Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waits in a hallway after a campaign event Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Henderson, Nev. (Photo by John Locher/AP)
Benen, Steve. “For some workers, even weekends are in jeopardy”. msnbc. 8 July 2015.
—————. “Jeb Bush’s plan: Americans ‘should work longer hours'”. msnbc. 9 July 2015.
Colvin, Jill. “Chris Christie sounds like he’s running for president in New Hampshire”. U.S. News & World Report. 8 June 2015.
Gass, Nick. “Bernie defends Jeb’s ‘longer hours’ comment”. Politico. 10 July 2015.
Glueck, Katie. “Lindsey Graham gives detailed blueprint for ground troops in the Middle East”. Politico. 8 July 2015.
Trudo, Hanna. “Jeb Bush: ‘People need to work longer hours'”. Politico. 8 July 2015.
Wilson, Kirby. “Jeb Bush calls Charleston shooter ‘racist'”. Tampa Bay Times. 19 June 2015.
Wong, Scott. “Paul Ryan defends Bush’s Americans ‘need to work longer hours’ comments”. The Hill. 10 July 2015.