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Among the Most Overused Phrases
May 28, 2013 Price System

“America is the only country that …”

It’s a not so subtle argument from authority. And no I don’t believe this is a cutesy “did you know” factoid.

Aside from the obvious government navel gazing:

1) it’s highly likely that American mega businesses would support a change along those lines.

2) at many margins such a thing does not matter at all. Wages are higher absent vacation offerings than otherwise. It’s not clear why any particular compensation bundle is “superior” to others. I CAN make an argument for how limiting contract options can be welfare improving but that short post does not attempt it, rather it assumes it.

3) Did you know America is the only country that has so many citizens flying its flag on their homes?

"7" Comments
  1. And to the employer it is arguably another reason to substitute capital for labor if these requirements are likely to change; it adds another element of risk associated with adding labor relative to adding capital.

    Also I wonder how our productivity stacks up relative to these other nations.

  2. Here is a source for GDP per hours worked, looks like we get beat out only by Ireland and Norway among the nations listed in the WAPO article. http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DatasetCode=LEVEL

    But I guess maybe that does not mean much; if a nation mandates a reduction in total hours worked we would expect a reduced GDP, but the denominator (hours worked) would fall too, right? So how else might we measure the trade-off that must be face as a result of mandatory paid vacation?

    • jb, I think GDP per hours worked might give us some rough indication of productivity, and thanks for looking it up, which we lazy b******s only do for money and not just contribute something to WC’s blog for free. My guess is that your time is valuable.

      I would suggest that no one knows what one country’s productivity is. We, the United States and its experts do not know, and we spend billions of dollars to collect data and analyze it, massage, and spin it. Ireland cannot possibly meet our level of sophistication, but they might come up with better statistics than we by surveying pubs and golf courses across the country and combine that with tweed, adjusted for quality, which is unsurpassed. The Norwegians, yes, I trust their numbers because they are hard working honest Lutherans.

      Then there are figures for the USSR, Yeltsin Russia, Putin Russia, China!, North Korea, South Korea, France, Portugal, Italy, the continent of Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, California, Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley, and they are all of less value than what you expressed. I guess I should have included Bolivia and Cuba! to be fair to the BER, which WC reports to us lazy Ba****ds on Mondays.

      My guess is that as far as the government is concerned, the employees of the Department of Defense are more productive than the employees of Health and Human services, and this is based on an a priori argument that you have to show up to work on time, as opposed to not showing up to work at all. OK, you get a subpoena, you have to haul yourself out of bed at 7:30.

      But that is a guess, which needs substantiation, and the Army’s mission is to break things and make messes, in which they may be effective, but not necessarily productive.

    • I would add, not in any way to disagree with jb, is that productivity is the ratio of output over input. Sometimes labor productivity is one problem, but not the biggest problem. If your polymer plant or refinery costs a million dollars every two minutes not producing the desired stuff, then cutting one or two people off the payroll may not be the best idea.

      This I know is micro thinking, and macro is sexier. Stimulating aggregate demand, however, will not help when a worn gasket missed during annual shutdown causes a whole square mile to catch fire and blow up.

      Hence, jb’s observation about capital cost versus labor cost. When we fiddle with labor cost as government ├╝bermensch operating the levers, who takes responsibility for laying off or not hiring that guy in maintenance who may have been needed?

  3. If one chooses a job that pays by the hour, you get paid when you work. That’s a tautology, I think, and maybe an axiom of US labor law.

    If you are paid a salary and do not punch a time clock, you get “paid” for stipulated holidays, weeks of vacation time, and whatever your contract says.

    Your compensation package may include a Cadillac compensation plan, offered to hourly and salaried employees. Check that. Substitute “will likely not” for “may”.

    Also, I question how the writer arrived at zero when some hourly/daily workers (showerly?) like government teachers get paid for accumulated untaken sick time and “personal days” when they retire at 55 to a permanent paid summer vacation.

    They have it almost as good as the French, maybe even better, since the French just get a month off. Oops, I just took a shot at two very cultured groups.

  4. Pingback: Wednesday Links … | The Pretense of Knowledge

  5. I’m interning at the EU Parliament in Brussels at the moment, and I have to say I’m shocked by the number of people who tell me they’re *envious* of exactly what Ezra Klein is complaining about. People I’ve talked to are cognisant of the difference in standard of living between the Continent and the US/UK, and they blame it on labor conditions. It’s nice getting time off, but it’s hard to enjoy when everything is closed anyway.

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