Chained to the Desk

A new economics paper by Dan Hamermesh (UT Austin, and the doyen of beauty research) and Joel Slemrod (U Michigan) is entitled The Economics of Workaholism: We Should Not Have Worked on This Paper (PDF).

In case you’re too busy to read it, here’s the abstract:

A large literature examines the addictive properties of such behaviors as smoking, drinking alcohol and eating.  We argue that for some people addictive behavior may apply to a much more central aspect of economic life: working.  Workaholism is subject to the same concerns about the individual as other addictions, is more likely to be a problem of higher-income individuals, and can, under conditions of jointness in the workplace or the household, generate negative spillovers onto individuals around the workaholic. Using the Retirement History Survey and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we find evidence that is consistent with the idea that high-income, highly educated people suffer from workaholism with regard to retiring, in that they are more likely to postpone earlier plans for retirement. The evidence and theory suggest that the negative effects of workaholism can be addressed with a more progressive income tax system than would be appropriate in the absence of this behavior.

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8 Responses to Chained to the Desk

  1. Sinclair Davidson says:

    But see James M Buchanan, 1994, ‘Ethics and economic progress’ Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, esp chapter one entitled, “We should all work harder: The economic value of the work ethic”.

    Whenever I see economists telling people it’s okay to be lazy, I wonder is this the advise they give to their own children? Are these the same people who complain in the staff room about slack students?

  2. Sacha Blumen says:

    I don’t think it’s about economists telling people to be lazy, but rather saying, hey, is it good to be obsessed about work?

  3. Sinclair Davidson says:

    I’ll write out ‘advice, not advise’ ten times.

    It depends on the definition of ‘obsessed about work’. More work is better than less work because it increases the size of the market, leading to greter division of labour. Now if the government is concerned about the future (and ours claims to be) why use progressive income tac to reduce the size of the market?

  4. guambat stew says:

    “Ross Gittins reminds us ‘economic theory says workers should move to where the economic returns — and hence the wages — are highest’. (http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/money-or-a-life-the-choice-was-yours/2005/08/23/1124562859792.html.) Of course, economic theory and our large multinational corporations also say that business should move to where wages are lowest. Is this rational economics?” http://guambatstew.blogspot.com/2005/08/classified-fairfax-for-sale.html

  5. Andrew Leigh says:

    Sinc, they do work it into the optimal tax literature (my guess is that that’s why it’s Hamermesh & Slemrod rather than Hamermesh solo), so they’re taking your productivity factors into account, and weighing them against the negative externality of workaholism on co-workers and family.

  6. Sinclair Davidson says:

    I have been a bit naughty by commenting before I read the paper, but unless Slemrod has done something very different from normal, I suspect I’ll have the same view after I’ve read it.

  7. Sacha Blumen says:

    Sorry, I can’t contribute to an economics discussion about workaholism, but I can contribute in a different way.

    When I was finishing my PhD in the first few months of this year, I was (not unreasonably) obsessed with it – it was constantly on my mind, even during paid full-time work – and other parts of my life, including my relationship, suffered. That’s no surprise, and this story has not doubt been replicated by many PhD students over the years! But the key thing is that my mind was completely obsessed with it – everything was out of balance – and I was, as my partner said many times, a workaholic.

    It’s good to study how workaholicism affects people – whether using economic ideas, or psychological ideas, or other sorts of ideas.

    The key thing should be not to work moreso, but to be happy – too much work is not a good thing, unless it actually does make you really happy and positively contributes to other parts of your life. This is not economics, but some thoughts nonetheless 🙂

  8. Sinclair Davidson says:

    I think all PhD students are like that at the end. I was and I’m sure Andrew was. I’m not sure thats workaholism though. A PhD is a discrete project (well it should be). I would have thought workaholism is constant, non-stop work with no clear, well defined end in sight.

    Mind you I was able to stop smoking cold turkey and I know many people who have stopped working cold turkey too. 🙂

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