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Labour's 4-day Workweek Not for National Health Service

December 9, 2019

Across the pond, they're soon to hold an election. Polls indicate that the Conservatives, under Boris Johnson, have a lead.

Across the pond, they're soon to hold an election. Polls indicate that the Conservatives, under Boris Johnson, have a lead. But, Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn, was hoping to reverse things in the last debate, which was held last Friday night. Only, it was Johnson who scored in the debate, skewering Corbyn on the application of a promised four-day workweek to the National Health Service (NHS).

Labour's manifesto has all kinds of goodies of which the four-day work week is but one. But, what would a four-day work week do to the NHS, which already suffers from rationing through waiting lines? Corbyn's answer was that the four-day work week wouldn't apply to the NHS.

People forget the flip side of socialism: They like "to each according to his needs," thinking this means more free stuff for them. They don't think about "from each according to his abilities." They don't think about from where comes the free stuff.

The free stuff doesn't fall out of the sky. It comes from people and, as Liam Neeson might put it, from people with a particular set of skills. In the case of the NHS, doctors and nurses of various kinds, a wide variety of technicians, as well as administrative and support personnel.

The fact that health care services must be produced means that increasing the actual delivery of services from the NHS means they need more not fewer hours of work from health care providers. It is not simply a matter of increasing spending on health care.

In the long run, hours can be increased by attracting more people into careers in health care, as well as by giving preferences to would-be migrants based on merit. Conversely, maintaining hours of work from health care specialists means long hours and postponed retirements.

But, how can you attract people into health care when pay is equalized, including so-called pay for those who "can't or won't work," and when health care workers must - by law - work longer hours?

The consequence of equalizing pay and mandating work won't stop with health care. Who will drive intercity trucks, pick up the garbage, or work in hazardous occupations when pay is equalized, and when income after taxes is no more than the  "universal basic grant" to which everybody is entitled, including those who do nothing but play video games in the basement of their parents' home? The answer is: those who are drafted into these occupations.

Because of their greediness for free stuff, Labour was embarrassed in the final debate of this year's election in the UK. As a result, that country's near-term prospect is continued rule by the Conservatives. But, the promise of free stuff and equalization of income will be made in future elections in that and other countries. The question is: will the flip side of who will produce the free stuff be addressed?

Article Tags
Health Care
Author
Clifford F. Thies is the Eldon R. Lindsay Professor of Economics and Finance at Shenandoah University. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Boston College.
cthies@su.edu

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