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Only So Much Cake To Go Round

by Sandwichman Fri Apr 21st, 2006 at 09:28:09 AM EST

Yesterday, Sandwichman and his entourage delivered a home-baked devil's food cake inscribed "WORK LESS" to the office of the BC Progress Board as a token of gratitude for their tacit endorsement of the Work Less platform. Very tacit. Video will be posted in good time.

The cake motif might bear some explication. In April of last year, BC Business magazine published an article that profiled the Work Less Party platform. Sarah Efron, author of the piece, also interviewed the opposition. Thus appeared a quote from Jock Finlayson, executive vice president of the British Columbia Business Council, "Tom Walker [aka Sandwichman -ed.] is a passionate advocate of the idea that you can have your cake and eat it too." Upon reading the quote, I fervently clutched the magazine to my breast and exclaimed, "I am! I am! I am!"


Jock and I go back a ways. We debated each other on radio and in print. It was from reading Jock's op-ed piece ten years ago that I first learned of the lump-of-labor fallacy claim. That's how we met, actually. I wrote to him to ask him to ask him to explain and to tell him it didn't make any sense. He graciously explained it to me. It still didn't make any sense.

Incidentally, Jock is also a member of the advisory group for the BC Progress Board. The executive director of the Board, Tim McEwan, used to work at the Business Council under Jock. Small world.

So while I was getting ready to head downtown to present the cake, it occurred to me that "you can't have your cake and eat it too" is a zero-sum claim. It assumes that there is a fixed amount of cake. The lump-of-labor fallacy is also about a zero-sum assumption, that there is a fixed amount of work.

To make things abundantly clear, Jock Finlayson says that advocates of shorter work time are wrong because they assume there is only a fixed amount of work but they are also wrong because they don't assume there is a fixed amount of "cake" -- with cake presumably serving as a metaphor for income + leisure.

This brings me back to my argument, that leisure is a factor of production and that it is simply wrong to treat leisure as a "normal good" such that the sum of income and leisure is a constant. In fact, when the current hours of work are "too long" (an empirical matter that can only be determined by experience) increasing the amount of leisure will increase the value of the total. In the extreme case, it could even increase the income too. Or, to put it more simply, you can have your cake and eat it, too. This is not to say you can always have it -- it is still an empirical question whether the given hours of work are "too long" but that at least is the implication of Chapman's theory.


John Maynard Keynes also discussed cake at length in his Economic Consequences of the Peace:

"The immense accumulations of fixed capital which, to the great benefit of mankind, were built up during the half century before the war [World War I], could never have come about in a Society where wealth was divided equitably. The railways of the world, which that age built as a monument to posterity, were, not less than the Pyramids of Egypt, the work of labor which was not free to consume in immediate enjoyment the full equivalent of its efforts.

"Thus this remarkable system depended for its growth on a double bluff or deception. On the one hand the laboring classes accepted from ignorance or powerlessness, or were compelled, persuaded, or cajoled by custom, convention, authority, and the well-established order of Society into accepting, a situation in which they could call their own very little of the cake that they and Nature and the capitalists were co-operating to produce. And on the other hand the capitalist classes were allowed to call the best part of the cake theirs and were theoretically free to consume it, on the tacit underlying condition that they consumed very little of it in practice. The duty of "saving" became nine-tenths of virtue and the growth of the cake the object of true religion. There grew round the non-consumption of the cake all those instincts of puritanism which in other ages has withdrawn itself from the world and has neglected the arts of production as well as those of enjoyment. And so the cake increased; but to what end was not clearly contemplated. Individuals would be exhorted not so much to abstain as to defer, and to cultivate the pleasures of security and anticipation. Saving was for old age or for your children; but this was only in theory,--the virtue of the cake was that it was never to be consumed, neither by you nor by your children after you.

"In writing thus I do not necessarily disparage the practices of that generation. In the unconscious recesses of its being Society knew what it was about. The cake was really very small in proportion to the appetites of consumption, and no one, if it were shared all round, would be much the better off by the cutting of it. Society was working not for the small pleasures of today but for the future security and improvement of the race,--in fact for "progress." If only the cake were not cut but was allowed to grow in the geometrical proportion predicted by Malthus of population, but not less true of compound interest, perhaps a day might come when there would at last be enough to go round, and when posterity could enter into the enjoyment of our labors. In that day overwork, overcrowding, and underfeeding would have come to an end, and men, secure of the comforts and necessities of the body, could proceed to the nobler exercises of their faculties. One geometrical ratio might cancel another, and the nineteenth century was able to forget the fertility of the species in a contemplation of the dizzy virtues of compound interest.

"There were two pitfalls in this prospect: lest, population still outstripping accumulation, our self-denials promote not happiness but numbers; and lest the cake be after all consumed, prematurely, in war, the consumer of all such hopes.

"But these thoughts lead too far from my present purpose. I seek only to point out that the principle of accumulation based on inequality was a vital part of the pre-war order of Society and of progress as we then understood it, and to emphasize that this principle depended on unstable psychological conditions, which it may be impossible to recreate. It was not natural for a population, of whom so few enjoyed the comforts of life, to accumulate so hugely. The war has disclosed the possibility of consumption to all and the vanity of abstinence to many. Thus the bluff is discovered; the laboring classes may be no longer willing to forego so largely, and the capitalist classes, no longer confident of the future, may seek to enjoy more fully their liberties of consumption so long as they last, and thus precipitate the hour of their confiscation."

the problem is the flour...

when all have bread, then cake is good.

can't eat guns.

bread stolen by force doesn't nourish as well as bread you bake yourself.

it's time to hit the streets, people....

watching nepalese command khatmandu, in the face of bullets, is nothing short of inspiring.

likewise the immigrants marching in the usa.

these folks know people power is the answer, together we can take on these bastards.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Apr 21st, 2006 at 10:04:24 AM EST
One of the most annoying practices in Economics is the use of an explanatory analogy 'just for a moment' which then becomes a fixture in the argument, discussion, and the fact it's only an analogy is swept from view.  As daft as it sounds, 'Cake' is not a valid economic, mathematical, rational, scientific, logical - or even useful - analytical construct for serious investigation.  Worse, it impedes serious investigation and discussion as it tends to keep the level of discourse to superficialities.  

"Can't have your cake and eat it too" is not only zero-sum, as Sandwichman has already observed, it's wrong.  You can have your cake and eat it.  All you have to do is bake another cake.  (RocketScientist-R-Me)

So, when someone says, 'Can't have & etc,' what they are really saying is, "I'm so intellectually vacuous I'd rather deploy a tired metaphor than bestir my brain."

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 23rd, 2006 at 02:52:44 PM EST
Snowclone away:
"If cake is the only analogy you have, all problems look like ovens."
by Number 6 on Thu Apr 27th, 2006 at 06:18:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for the reference to "Snowcone."  What a great concept!

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Thu Apr 27th, 2006 at 12:01:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I, for one, welcome our new aforism overlords.
by Number 6 on Fri Apr 28th, 2006 at 04:47:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You can/can't have your cliché and snowclone it too.

by Sandwichman on Tue May 2nd, 2006 at 10:19:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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