Lump of labor theory of wages

In the short term, the demand for labor is fixed and employment can be created only by job-sharing and reducing existing working hours of workers.

Lump of labor theory of wages ignores the role of macroeconomic policy in stimulating the economy.

M Allais and O Hagen, eds, Expected Utility Hypotheses and the Allais Paradox (Dordrecht, 1974)


The lump of labour fallacy has been applied to concerns around immigration and labour. Given a fixed availability of employment, the lump of labour position argues that allowing immigration of working-age people reduces the availability of work for native-born workers (“they are taking our jobs”).[5]

However, skilled immigrating workers can bring capabilities that are not available in the native workforce, for example in academic research or information technology. Additionally, immigrating workforces also create new jobs by expanding demand, thus creating more jobs, either directly by setting up businesses (therefore requiring local services or workers), or indirectly by raising consumption. As an example, a greater population that eats more groceries will increase demand from shops, which will therefore require additional shop staff.[6]

Employment regulations

Advocates of restricting working hours regulation may assume that there is a fixed amount of work to be done within the economy. By reducing the amount that those who are already employed are allowed to work, the remaining amount will then accrue to the unemployed. This policy was adopted by the governments of Herbert Hoover in the United States and Lionel Jospin in France, in the 35-hour working week (though in France various exemptions to the law were granted by later centre-right governments).[7]

Many economists agree that such proposals are likely to be ineffective, because there are usually substantial administrative costs associated with employing more workers. These can include additional costs in recruitment, training, and management that would increase average cost per unit of output. This overall would lead to a reduced production per worker, and may even result in higher unemployment.[8]

Early retirement

Early retirement has been used to induce workers to accept termination of employment before retirement age following the employer’s diminished labour needs. Government support for the practice has come from the belief that this should lead to a reduction in unemployment.[citation needed] The unsustainability of this practice has now been recognised, and the trend in Europe is now towards postponement of the retirement age.[citation needed]

In an editorial in The Economist a thought experiment is proposed in which old people leave the workforce in favour of young people, on whom they become dependent for their living through state benefits. It is then argued that since growth depends on having either more workers or greater productivity, the society cannot really become more prosperous by paying an increasing number of its citizens unproductively. The article also points out that even early retirees with private pension funds become a burden on society as they also depend on equity and bond income generated by workers

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