The life of leisure

May 18, 2007 at 2:57 pm (Uncategorized)

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.

Advertisements

8 Comments

  1. Nanonymous said,

    Paid vacation is a relatively new concept. My grandfather was a railroad worker, and when they wanted to do something like take a vacation (or go to a funeral, or attend to personal business) they “laid off.” This meant taking yourself off the assignment board voluntarily and receiving no pay until you returned. And that was in an industry that was already a monument to unionization (mid-1930s).

    Those buggers who want to take my salary and Europeanize my habits ought to try doing yardwork in the DC spring with my allergies. At least now I can choose to take unpaid leave.

  2. David Moelling said,

    As an employer of Europeans (in France) I can vouch for the more vacation = lower pay. This unsuprisingly has an impact on their vacation habilts. For all the lofty pronouncements of intellectual or meaninful travels, it is really the cheapest charters or mooching off of friends or aquaintences for lodging, meals etc.

    The biggest impact is on the atomosphere at work. There is less coffee chit chat, less obvious non-work time at work. In theory this is more productive but in reality it makes people dislike their jobs more and focus more on holiday time.

    In the US we work more hours but except for big firm lawyers and investment bankers the hours are better allocated.

  3. Rob Lyman said,

    I get considerable satisfaction out of a job well done, even if I don’t really love painting the house for its own sake. And besides, the quality of contractors’ work can be a real issue, as I have discovered over the past couple of years.

    That said, I don’t see the scandal in no paid vacation. This is a very basic concept: no work, no pay. Cry me a river.

  4. Half Canadian said,

    This is also linked to the notion that we should have 15+ years of retirement that is spent immersed in leisure. As society ages, this notion will be less tenable. And while it will still be attainable for the rich (and what isn’t?), the notion of the middle class being able to retire and enjoy their 10 golden years driving the RV across the purple mountain majesty and fruited plains is going to pass into legend.

    Which means fewer green house gases! Whoot!

  5. Christina said,

    My dad was always a proud do-it-yourselfer, distaining the hiring of prefessionals when he could certainly do it cheaper and better! My dad, clever and industrious that he was, was not a tradesman and didn’t know the correct way of doing things, so he invented his own ways to do things. As a result our house was one of few in the neighborhood that was falling apart almost everywhere you looked, despite his near full-time attention to it.

    When I enrolled in Mason and signed up for Intro to Microeconomics my first semester my dad joined me (as a Senior Citizen he could attend any Virginia state school for free). When the professor taught us about David Ricardo and the concept of Comparative Advantage it was like my dad had been struck by lightning. He realized that if he had spent his long lifetime “doing what he did best and trading for the rest,” then he would have been much more professionally and financially successful, and our house would have been in better shape. He almost completely changed his approach to work around the house, and started hiring people to do things. The only downside was that by the time he did learn and apply comparative advantage to his life he was already 80, so he didn’t have a lot of time to put it to use before he died 6 years later.

    I think by the time the Europeans realize how much time they’ve wasted, it’ll be too late for them as well.

  6. Janus Daniels said,

    Please read what you write?
    “… every low-wage worker enjoying twenty days of paid annual leave does so… in part, by putting other people out of work.”

  7. Slocum said,

    “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.”

    There’s a tax angle, too. Just as it’s much more expensive for European companies to hire workers, it is also more expensive for European individuals to hire workers to do tasks around the house. If you ‘hire yourself’ to paint your house, the government can’t tax the labor, but not so if you hire painters.

    And, in fact, that impacts me in the U.S. as well. Our family income is in the top 5% most years, but even so, my marginal hourly rate after taxes is lower than a plumber’s. Sure, I make more than a plumber does, but my marginal tax rate, when you figure federal and state income taxes, is over 40%. And, of course, much of what the plumbing company bills doesn’t go to the plumber. So I’m a high-income do-it-yourselfer. No, I can’t say I enjoy plumbing, but given the tax system, do-it-yourself plumbing actually pays better than my real job.

  8. eric said,

    I challenge anyone to say that they get joy from regrouting their own bathroom tile.

    OK, I’ll accept that challenge. I get a great deal of joy from regrouting my own bathroom tile. I get similar joy from doing things like changing my own flat tires, repairing my own leaky faucets, mending my own socks, and similar tasks.

    Do I win a prize?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: