Lochner V. New York as Economic Theory
99 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2001
Date Written: September 2001
This paper looks at Lochner v. New York and the question of maximum hours laws as a policy rather than a constitutional issue. It argues that the laws were detrimental to the interests of workers. Jobs entailing long hours of work provided a necessary foothold for ethnic immigrants. Jobs with shorter hours but lower pay would have entailed significant risks for the health, and indirectly for the productivity, of these immigrants. In particular, the proposition that tuberculosis risk for bakers would have been reduced by compensation packages calling for shorter hours but lower pay is challenged. The paper analyzes the question of why hours of work fell significantly throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and argues that market forces were more instrumental in this fall than either legislation or labor unions. It then looks at the effects of post-Lochner legislation on hours of work, and argues that that legislation produced many undesirable effects - lower base wages, more night shift work, increased work on inferior moonlighting jobs, reduced flexibility of worktime, increased work in the home, increased speed of production lines, unemployment and poverty for women and children, and compensation systems distorted toward in-kind rather than cash payments.
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