Death by HR: Progressive Dirigisme Takes Over the US

Unhappy college grad working at Starbucks

Unhappy college grad working at Starbucks

Labor lawyers and labor economists have historically been supported by labor unions and their cooperating Democratic legislators, who fund labor-leaning academic institutions. As a result, HR degree programs and faculty begin with a bias toward the labor laws and union-style thinking of academics in the field.

Social scientists generally lean left. Industrial Relations (IR), the field of labor-management studies, also leans sharply left.[1] Social science professors are overwhelmingly Democrats.[2] And the faculty in most HR degree programs are similarly biased, which means the typical new graduate from these programs has been indoctrinated to accept the necessity and essential fairness of the labor laws and regulations they will be expected to help enforce in their postings in private industry or government agencies. While we have seen that these new graduates tend to be tempered by exposure to real workplace life and management influence, they retain their political affiliations and continue to lean toward progressive causes and regulations.

Verdant Labs’ survey of political affiliation by occupation based on FEC campaign contribution reports doesn’t separate out HR staffers, but does cover HR execs and similar functions:

HR Executives 66% D, 34% R
Compliance Officers 72% D, 28% R
Administrative Manager 70% D, 30% R[3]

It’s easy to see why people whose careers involve administering government rules would tend to support the party that maintains that even more regulations are useful and necessary, because no one would want to work at something useless or even counterproductive. People who want to work long hours and enjoy the freedom to run risky but successful enterprises aren’t likely to be found in HR degree programs. This political tendency is valuable in cooperating with government overseers, but can cause HR staff to overlook the need for the organization they work for to improve productivity and compete with overseas firms not so hampered.

What is the leftist tendency? It is the view that people’s economic decisions are to be supervised and regulated by the state for the common good. Communists and Socialists took the simplistic extreme form, taking direct ownership of the means of production—factories, farms, and businesses — to be managed by the workers collectively or the larger state. Every country that tried this failed eventually because it turns out self-interested management by owners is vastly more productive, and no collective can decide as well as an owner with direct access to local and market information.

The leftist fallback position — after millions of deaths and multiple failures of true Communist and Socialist states — has been to leave property and the means of production in private hands, but thoroughly regulate and control what the owners may do with it. This leaves at least some incentive for owners to produce and invest in production facilities, but puts many important investment and employment decisions in the hands of a political body — a legislature, or agencies given power to oversee employers. And while some socially-harmful decisions (like pollution of the common air and water, discrimination against black people in employment and accommodation, and tolerance of dangerous working conditions in mines and factories) are thereby prevented, many other decisions are made poorly by collective bodies with little or no knowledge of local conditions. The freedom of both worker and employer to balance their interests and negotiate the most favorable contract is often limited by rigid labor regulations, as when workers who would like to work more hours to make extra money are not allowed to do so.

Union labor views were an offshoot of the socialist ideal, where the management of a business — the employer — is viewed as the enemy of the workers, constantly trying to cheat and enslave them. Enlightened managers, of course, have a much broader interest in the health and welfare of employees, and know that respect for their needs and independence makes for a happier, more productive, and loyal workforce ideal for long-term competitive advantage. But the cartoonish 1930s views of oppressive, wealthy capitalists still live on in many minds.

The labor laws dating from the progressive New Deal era embody the dirigisme (French for top-down direction of the economy) of that era, and are still with us, though many reforms have taken place. The US is now a patchwork of different labor regimes in different industries, as some unionized manufacturing has become less so, while public employee unions have grown in strength and power. Meanwhile, “right to work” laws in some states limited private sector union power and encouraged more foreign investment like the auto plants now dotting the South.

To see the negative results of heavy regulation of labor, one only has to look at parts of Europe that went all-out to protect and micromanage employment by heavily regulating hiring and firing. As an example, look at France — a highly-developed mature economy with heavy regulation of labor and so much legal job protection that employers are reluctant to hire any long-term employees for fear they can never be let go. Youth unemployment hovers around 25%, and the economy has been stagnant for decades. The BBC reports:

France has a lot going for it. It has “an enviable standard of living”, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “Inequality is not excessive and the country has come through the [financial] crisis without suffering too heavily,” it says….

But all is not well. Unemployment is high and the government’s finances are weak. “France’s fundamental economic problem,” the OECD says, “is a lack of growth.” The latest figures for economic activity (gross domestic product or GDP) for the first quarter of the year show growth of 0.5%. That’s better than was expected though it’s probably best described as reasonable rather than strong. The longer term picture is more downbeat.

So what is the French economic problem? The most obvious social and economic evidence that something is amiss is unemployment. About three million people are unemployed—10.2% of the workforce. That compares with a figure of 4.3% across the border in Germany. The rate in France is almost the same as the average for the eurozone. That really is nothing to be proud of when you consider that the average reflects some jobless nightmare stories such as Spain and Greece. The French figure is also the second highest among the G7 leading developed economies. Youth unemployment is a particular problem, as it is in a number of other European countries. Almost one in four of those under 25 who want a job don’t have one.

The government’s finances are also in indifferent shape. France is also in the throes of an EU procedure that tries to impose discipline on governments’ finances. The annual budget deficit and the accumulated government debt are both higher than they are supposed to be under the rules…. Behind the problems lies persistently weak economic growth. Gross domestic product per person—a rough and ready indicator of average living standards—grew more slowly between 1995 and 2007 than in any other OECD country (mainly the rich nations) except Italy [which also overregulates labor.]

By the end of last year, economic activity was only 2.8% up from its peak level at the onset of the financial crisis. Why then is France struggling? Many younger people get work on a short-term basis only…. The view of many, including the OECD and the European Commission, is that the labour market is at the heart of the problem, though it’s not the only factor. That reflects a persistent complaint from business: that it’s too expensive to hire workers and to fire them or lay them off if they need to. France is a prime example of what is known as a “dual labour market”: insiders have higher pay, job security and often promotion prospects, [while] others, especially younger people, get only short-term work or none.

The OECD says in its assessment of the French economy: “To reduce the duality of the labour market, the procedures for laying off employees, particularly those on permanent contracts, need to be simplified and shortened…. France ranks among the countries with the strictest legislation of dismissal for open-ended and temporary contracts.” The cost of labour to employers in France also includes social security contributions that are higher than in most other countries. There is a catalogue of other issues, including welfare, that is alleged to discourage people taking low-paid work, and extensive regulation of business. The result, it is argued, is a persistent unemployment problem….

President Hollande has accepted the case for labour reform, and his Labour Minister, Myriam El Khomri, has introduced legislation intended to address some of the things that business voices say make it too expensive to take on new workers. The reforms would: lower existing high barriers to laying off staff; allow some employees to work more—far more—than the current working week, which is capped at 35 hours; give firms greater powers to cut working hours and reduce pay. That has met protest and the provisions have been amended in response. One supporter of reform said it was turning into a “veritable catastrophe”.[4]

Compared to France, the US has a free and dynamic labor economy,[5] but the signs of the Eurodisease are starting to show — an inflexible labor market with few professional openings for young people. The common joke about children returning to live in their parent’s basements is becoming a way of life for many. Increasingly, new college graduates are forced to take low-paying, unskilled jobs in service industries when they find work at all:

Recent college graduates are ending up in more low-wage and part-time positions as it’s become harder to find education-level appropriate jobs, according to a January study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Jeanina Jenkins, a 20-year-old high-school graduate from St. Louis, is stuck in a $7.82-an-hour part-time job at McDonald’s Corp. that she calls a “last resort” because nobody would offer her anything better.

Stephen O’Malley, 26, a West Virginia University graduate, wants to put his history degree to use teaching high school. What he’s found instead is a bartender’s job in his home town of Manasquan, New Jersey.

Jenkins and O’Malley are at opposite ends of a dynamic that is pushing those with college degrees down into competition with high-school graduates for low-wage jobs that don’t require college. As this competition has intensified during and after the recession, it’s meant relatively higher unemployment, declining labor market participation and lower wages for those with less education….

“The underemployment of college graduates affects lesser educated parts of the labor force,” said economist Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a not-for-profit research organization in Washington.“Those with high-school diplomas that normally would have no problem getting jobs as bartenders or taxi drivers are sometimes kept from getting the jobs by people with college diplomas,” said Vedder…

The share of Americans ages 22 to 27 with at least a bachelor’s degree in jobs that don’t require that level of education was 44 percent in 2012, up from 34 percent in 2001, the study found. The recent rise in underemployment for college graduates represents a return to the levels of the early 1990s, according to the New York Fed study. The rate rose to 46 percent during the 1990-1991 recession, then declined during the economic expansion that followed as employers hired new graduates to keep pace with technological advances….

“College graduates might not be in a job that requires a college degree, but they’re more likely to have a job,” she said. Less-educated young adults are then more likely to drop out of the labor market. The labor participation rate for those ages 25 to 34 with just a high-school diploma fell four percentage points to 77.7 percent in 2013 from 2007. For those with a college degree and above, the rate dropped less than 1 percentage point, to 87.7 percent.

“At the complete bottom, we see people picking up the worst types of jobs or completely dropping out,” Beaudry said. The share of young adults 20 to 24 years old neither in school nor working climbed to 19.4 percent in 2010 from 17.2 percent in 2006. For those ages 25 to 29, it rose to 21.3 percent from 20 percent in that period, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston report in December.

Those with the least education have trouble securing even the lowest-paid jobs. Isabelle Samain looked for work in Washington from April until September of last year. As prospective employers continually passed over her applications, the 40-year-old mother of two from Cameroon realized she was missing out because she lacked a U.S. high-school diploma. “I don’t even remember how many places I applied,” Samain said of the “frustrating and discouraging” search. Samain passed the General Educational Development test in December and recently started working at Au Bon Pain in Washington for $8.50 an hour for 36 hours a week.

A year-long survey ending in July 2012 of 500,000 Americans ages 19 to 29 showed that 63 percent of those fully employed had a bachelor’s degree, and their most common jobs were merchandise displayers, clothing-store and cellular phone sales representatives, according to Seattle-based PayScale Inc., which provides compensation information….

The share of recent college graduates in “good non-college jobs,” those with higher wage-growth potential, such as dental hygienists, has declined since 2000, according to the New York Fed study. Meanwhile, the portion has grown for those in low-wage jobs paying an average wage of below $25,000, including food servers and bartenders.[6]

The Party of Government perpetually campaigns on “doing something” about the problems of the little people. Meanwhile, the agencies of the administrative state, like all bureaucracies, keep busy and justify their growth by proposing additional and extended regulations. When regulations address a real problem—some externality requiring private parties to be restrained from damaging a common good or harming each other through force or fraud—there is an optimal point where the additional costs of more regulation are greater than the likely benefit. In labor regulation, the pols and regulators rarely consider the collateral damage they are doing by narrowing the freedom of contract—labor laws are always behind the curve of technology and custom, impeding creative solutions that both employer and employee would benefit from.

This “it’s always good to do more” mindset results in laws that are simply propaganda exercises, like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which extended the statute of limitations for equal pay suits to make it a bit easier to file suit against ongoing patterns of pay discrimination against women.[7] Unequal pay for women was actually outlawed in 1963 by the Equal Pay Act, but Democratic politicians in pursuit of women’s votes continue to promote the “pay gap” myth and then offer to “do something” about this imaginary unfairness. Each time they pass a new law or regulation, one might expect improvement in the unfair situation they claim to be addressing, yet the problem remains for the next election, when they will promise to fix it again.

The latest example of harming many by ratcheting up the regulations is the Obama administration’s enlargement of the number of employees covered by the Dept. of Labor’s overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), increasing the salary limit for exemption from $23,660 to $47,476 per year, which vastly increases the number of workers covered. At first glance, this sounds good for those employees — time-and-a-half for overtime, baby! But that ignores the likely response of managements to the new rules:

If an employer could pay Jim, a frontline manager at a retail store, for a 50-hour workweek—40 hours at his regular hourly rate and 10 hours at time-and-a-half—or, instead, pay Jim and Jane 25 hours each at straight rates, what would the employer do?

Unless the business is a philanthropy, or unless Jim exhibits pure brilliance in directing rank-and-file employees to stock shelves, the employer is going to choose lower labor costs over higher ones.

This is precisely the question raised by, and the likely effect caused by, new overtime rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Given the basic economics of the workplace, the new rule—which raises the salary threshold under which an employee is entitled to overtime—is just as likely to create less work for individual employees as it is to increase the amount of overtime American employees collectively earn.[8]

The required estimate of costs of the new regulation was lowballed, pulled out of thin air by the DoL under orders from the union-friendly administration to further cripple nonunion businesses by increasing their costs. Independent calculations of the cost were more realistic:

How reliable are projections from the Department of Labor about the cost of the President’s ambitious new extension of overtime entitlements to salaried workers ….? The “administration refuses to allow others to check its math. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the state agency that I lead, in August requested the specific data and methodology the Labor Department used to calculate its estimates. Our request was denied.” So the department went ahead with its own analysis. “The rule will supposedly cost $2 billion the first year. Our math shows $1.7 billion for Florida alone.”[9]

Even House Democrats found the new rules damaging:

It’s not clear whether the Obama administration’s forthcoming edict on overtime will apply to legislative staffers, but House Democratic leadership decided it would be prudent for their members to at least gesture toward the spirit of the controversial rule by preparing for compliance. Now “the rule is creating administrative headaches” and more:

“We don’t have a set-hour kind of situation here; some kids work 12, 14, 16 hours a day, weekends, and I feel terrible that I cannot afford to give raises to the staff,” Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 11.

With $320,000 slashed from members’ representational allowances (MRAs) over the past four years, “I don’t see how we could pay overtime” for the “17 or 18 people that each of us is allowed to have—that’s problematic for me,” added Hastings, a senior member of the House Rules Committee.

Some members fear that an overtime mandate will result in having to send staffers home at 5 p.m., leaving phones unanswered and impairing constituent service. “Most members are of the sentiment that it’s impractical to be paying overtime,” said former Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, now a lobbyist, who suggests that members choose to close one of their district offices or reduce constituent correspondence to adjust to a smaller staff number.

If only there were some way for the U.S. Congress to influence federal labor law![10]

[1] “The data suggests that the ratio of Democratic-to-Republican voter registration among participants in IR is roughly 10 to one. I find a similar ratio when looking at those who have made contributions to Democratic and Republican candidates for office. I also show that Democratic lopsidedness at the three mainstream IR journals becomes more extreme at the higher stations (officers and editors, as opposed to ordinary members and authors). Also, I analyze the content of the 539 articles for union support and regulation support; the mainstream IR journals are overwhelmingly pro-union and pro-regulation.” From article “The Left Orientation of Industrial Relations,” by Mitchell Langbert, Econ Journal Watch, Vol 13, No. 1, Jan. 2016.
[2] “Daniel Klein, one of the authors [of the study] and a professor of economics at George Mason University, said that it demonstrated ‘solidly’ that most social science professors are ‘leftist and statist, and that they have a narrow tent.’” From “Social Scientists Lean to the Left, Study Says,” by Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, Dec. 21, 2005. Also see: “Economists’ policy views and voting,” Daniel B. Klein and Charlotta Stern, Public Choice 126:331-342, 6 Dec 2004.
[3] “Democratic vs. Republican occupations,” Verdant Labs chart, 2016. Data source: FEC campaign contribution data.
[4] “What is the French economic problem?” by Andrew Walker, BBC World Service, 29 April 2016.
[5] French leftists sniff at the US and its Anglospheric cousins because the US economic model (the “Anglo-Saxon model”) is more liberal—less protectionist and dirigiste. The cultural backdrop is the French intellectual distaste for crude money-making and égoïste neglect of collective opinion. See
[6] “Low-Wage Jobs Displace Less Educated,” by Katherine Peralta, Bloomberg, March 12, 2014.
[8] “Deep Impact: New Overtime Rules Will Change Work, Not Overtime Pay,” by Mark A. Konkel and Barbara Hoey, Inside Counsel, August 31, 2016.
[9] “Lowballing the cost of junior-manager overtime,” by Walter Olson, Overlawyered, November 19, 2015.
[10] “Overtime Brings House Democrats Woe,” by Walter Olson, Cato at Liberty, April 13, 2016.

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. 

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


More reading on other topics:

Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

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