If You Think the New Overtime Rule Is “Entirely Trivial,” You Really Should Get Out More

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Our old “friendTim Worstall is back at it on his occasionally almost nearly coherent Forbes blog. This time, he’s talking about the increased overtime threshold. As you may have expected, he thinks paying more overtime is a bad idea. Here Tim is being, if nothing else, consistent; he thinks a minimum wage is a bad idea, after all, so why wouldn’t he be against a policy like overtime that benefits workers?

But the truth about overtime is that Tim just doesn’t care all that much. No, really. He calls the new threshold “entirely trivial.” That’s a direct quote. In fact, he uses the word “trivial” twice to describe the effects of overtime and then he says he’s not even sure the White House estimates of what the overtime raise will pay out—”$1.2 billion a year over the next decade”—are worthy of the word “trivial,” they’re so insignificant. He concludes:

Probably the correct way to think of this is as a nice piece of politics that everyone can have a good shout about rather than a piece of useful economics. Everyone gets to show where they stand with a lot of heat and not much light. Or, of course, that very small tempest in a not very large teapot.

Wow. Tim, here, is a classic example of what happens when someone argues politics on the internet for too long. Everything becomes academic. When you call a policy that will directly improve the lives of 12 and a half million Americans “a nice piece of politics,” you’ve passed a very significant point. When you have your head in the conservative economics bubble for years at a time, apparently, you forget that you’re arguing about real human beings with real lives and you start to think of it as points on a scorecard.

Sure, maybe to our buddy Tim 1.2 billion dollars a year is nothing. But to a retail manager who’s trying to raise two kids on her $470-a-week salary, this threshold means a hell of a lot. It stands for security. With the new overtime rules, our manager will enjoy one of three outcomes: either her boss will keep asking her to work overtime at time-and-a-half so she’ll make more money per paycheck; or her boss will ask her to work only 40 hours per week, giving her the time to look for a second job, start her own business, or spend more time with her children; or her boss will give her a raise above the $47,476 annual threshold and ask her to keep working the same long hours at a much higher rate of pay. Any one of those possibilities results in a better outcome for our retail manager. Now multiply her experience by 12.5 million and spread those people around the country and you start to get a sense of how huge the idea of restoring the overtime threshold really will be for Americans.

How is this not “useful economics,” Tim? My God, what else is economics for, if not broadly improving the lives of more people? Maybe a blogger for Forbes might think of economics as something you blab about on the sidelines while things happen in the real world, but most of us out here understand that economics is about making a difference for everyone. That’s why we’re winning across the country on the $15 minimum wage and overtime while you keep pontificating about how many digits a number can have before it becomes worthy of your attention.

But you know what? Enjoy your dumb little bubble, Tim. You can keep talking on your blog about how 1.2 billion dollars is basically nothing, and how a real economist wouldn’t even bother with that kind of pocket change. In the meantime, real Americans will be earning more money, getting more of their own time back, and enjoying some of the security that Americans used to enjoy. To me, that sounds like the exact opposite of “trivial,” but I guess we can’t all have the high-minded  macro-vision of a Forbes blogger, now can we? And if you keep ceding topics like overtime as unworthy of your haughty attentions, that means progressives can keep winning the battles that matter to real human beings out here in the real world. So by all means, keep wallowing in your ignorance, Tim. It makes things easier for us.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.