Friday, July 29, 2005

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!


Another way to look at my Year Off is as self-financed compensation for living in the United States of America, land of the (non-mandatory) two-week vacation.

From 1991 to 1995 I got two weeks of vacation per year -- that makes ten weeks total for those five years. From 1996 to 2004 I got an average of 3 weeks vacation a year: 27 weeks total for those nine years. So, during my first 14 years of full-time employment, I've received 37 weeks of paid vacation. My employers were not required by any law to give me this vacation time.

Europeans get six or seven weeks off a year, normally mandated by the government. Had I lived in Europe since 1991, I would have received 84 weeks of paid vacation -- 47 more weeks than I got in America. That's almost a year of lost vacation time.

Paul Krugman has a great column in the New York Times today comparing the French and American economies. The French produce less per person in total, which means their incomes are lower, but their productivity at work is a bit higher. Could the more generous vacations in Europe be the reason?

Instead of more annual income, the French choose more leisure time, more time with their families. One could make the conjecture that more time off actually results in more output per hour while on the job. The correlation holds in France, anyway.

The French, like most other Europeans, have decided on a different set of priorities for their economy. Krugman again:
To the extent that the French have less income than we do, it's mainly a matter of choice. And to see the consequences of that choice, let's ask how the situation of a typical middle-class family in France compares with that of its American counterpart.
The French family, without question, has lower disposable income. This translates into lower personal consumption: a smaller car, a smaller house, less eating out.
But there are compensations for this lower level of consumption. Because French schools are good across the country, the French family doesn't have to worry as much about getting its children into a good school district. Nor does the French family, with guaranteed access to excellent health care, have to worry about losing health insurance or being driven into bankruptcy by medical bills.
Perhaps even more important, however, the members of that French family are compensated for their lower income with much more time together.

Krugman also makes the great point that the never-at-rest American economy is not particularly "family friendly," which is ironic since it is the France-hating conservatives here in America who are always jabbering on about family values:
American conservatives despise European welfare states like France. Yet many of them stress the importance of "family values." And whatever else you may say about French economic policies, they seem extremely supportive of the family as an institution. Senator Rick Santorum, are you reading this?

2 comments:

KGo said...

There is this myth amongst Americans (and even some of my French relatives) that "nothing gets done" in France because people just don't work as hard as they should and they take too much time off. The data doesn't seem to support those allegations, and I personally never believed them. All in all, I think there is a very cogent argument that can be made that the general quality of life for a typical French family is noticibly higher than that of an American family, discounting the possible utility one gets from buying stuff.

Chris Hartman said...

Watch it, kgo. You're treading on some pretty thin ice there, wondering if the American Way isn't automatically the Best Way or the Only Way.

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