Ezra is worried that American workers don’t get any paid vacation. Julian points out that most of us do, in fact, get paid vacation. Which is basically what I was thinking when I read that post: the government doesn’t mandate that we get free milk or cushy blankets, and yet most of us manage to secure some anyway. To which Ezra rejoinders that some, mostly low paid workers, still don’t and isn’t that a scandal?
This seems to be to be based on several unwarranted assumptions. The first is that paid vacation is a free good to employees: that employers can just be forced to offer people ten or thirty days off a year, and they’ll take the money out of profits (or from some other bad people we don’t like), rather than, say, paying the workers less per hour to compensate. Of course, we could have a higher minimum wage law. But a really stiff minimum wage, combined with lavish perks like generous vacation time, actually do have noticeable disemployment effects, which is one of the reasons that European unemployment, and particularly European youth unemployment, is so much higher than ours. So every low-wage worker enjoying twenty days of paid annual leave does so in part, by foregoing higher wages, and in part, by putting other people out of work. It is possible that he also does so in part, by taking money from the owners; but not in all cases, and the first two effects probably dwarf the third, labour markets being what they are.
If paid vacation days are not a free good to employees, then of course, this represents not a government goody, but the rough hand of the state forcing you to take vacation when you’d rather have cash . . . or letting your neighbour take vacation, when you’d rather have a job.
The second assumption is that Europeans use their vacation to, well, vacate. And of course, sometimes they do. But there is also evidence that Americans substitute money for leisure in performing chores. Europeans have more time off; but they spend a lot of that time painting their houses, cleaning out the gutters, taking care of the lawn, drying clothes by hand, and so forth. Much of this is work that even poorer Americans outsource.
I went to see Benjamin Barber talk yesterday, he of the “We consume too much! We need a more authentic, non-consumer lifestyle!” books. No doubt he would argue that this is a feature, not a bug . . . Europeans are caring for their bodies and homes in an authentic, natural way. To which I say, feh! I like many domestic tasks, like cooking, but that’s in part because I don’t have to do them; they’re a labour of love. And I challenge anyone to say that they get joy from regrouting their own bathroom tile.