« A Bad Joke | Main | MacBook Pro »

July 16, 2007

More on Vacations

Matt's objections to my arguments for forcing employers to offer more paid vacation to workers are fair ones. I can't really know the preferences of people who are not myself, and there are true economic tradeoffs in consciously lowering the amount of time people spend at work. That said, leaving the status quo in place is not striking a blow for individuals to follow their true preferences. Rather, it's allowing the preferences of employers and those who prefer income to leisure to triumph, which I'm also not for.

Luckily, there are alternate ways to test my hypothesis that people actually would appreciate more vacation. A major presidential candidate, possibly a Democratic nominee, could make a proposal for enforce three weeks paid vacation a major issue in the campaign. If this turned out to be popular, well, then we'd know it was popular, and accorded with the nation's preferences.

But as a general point, more educated types actually do tend to get a couple week's vacation and nobody seems to cry any tears over their lost incomes. Granted, folks lower down the income ladder may be harder up for the income, but these are, after all, paid vacations. It seems to me that the more relevant question is whether a law like this would create widespread displacement, as employers hired fewer workers. But since this would have the effect of reducing productivity, albeit only slightly, you could also argue that they'd hire somewhat more workers (though I'm unconvinced in either direction, and would want to see empirical data).

Lastly, we're still left with the collective action problem in which a society that offers little vacation and has no culture wherein folks take significant time off makes it essentially impossible for anyone to do so -- even as many folks need the time. As part of that point, it's worth noting that you need a certain amount of vacation time just to be able to take vacations. Matt lives in DC and can train in to see his family in New York fairly often. That means his vacation days can largely go towards vacation. I live in DC, and have to fly out to see my family in California. If I do so for one workweek in November and one in May, that's 10 of my 12 days. There goes my vacation. And there's much evidence that folks in the working class use vacation days to care for sick children, do home repairs, make appointments, etc. So they get very little actual vacation. It's all well and good to say they want to work and don't want the paid time off, but I want some evidence of that before I buy into the theory.

July 16, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

A major presidential candidate, possibly a Democratic nominee, could make a proposal for enforce three weeks paid vacation a major issue in the campaign.

Polling and a couple studies about what's actually healthier and happier might work better. I think those already exist.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jul 16, 2007 5:08:32 PM

I'm well compensated, I get 3 weeks (15 days) per year, expanding to 4 or 5 if I'm here long enough. However, we do have a policy that seems to be getting more popular and is generally evil- the days are "personal days," meaning vacation or sick or family days are all the same pot. If I get sick for a week (up to some threshold for short term disability,) there goes a week of vacation that year. I've already planned my vacations and other trips (weddings, etc.) for the year, so I basically can't get sick. If I do I go to work anyway, which I'm sure is not good for my employer as I'm infecting others.

Posted by: SP | Jul 16, 2007 5:11:03 PM

Maybe you should just move closer to California.

Campaigning on another PAID week of vacation will mostly likely only prove that people will gladly accept a freebie if given to them.

I'm self-employed and take lots of time off. If you want more time off, change your life. Work part-time. Change to a career where it's easier to take time off. Don't try to have your cake and eat it to. Why is force via government often the default solution to a personal dilemma?

Posted by: Anon | Jul 16, 2007 5:27:09 PM

On the flip side SP, if you get sick for longer than your 'sick' days you have more days to be sick and receive pay.

From the employer's perspective this also cuts down on excessive sick days. As anyone who wasn't born yesterday knows, many people take sick days when they aren't really sick. When those days can also be used for vacation, you tend to be a little more judicious about how you use them.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 16, 2007 5:30:25 PM

Why is force via government often the default solution to a personal dilemma?

Because not everyone is as delightfully perfect as you.

Posted by: Stephen | Jul 16, 2007 5:31:15 PM

Well, I am scared to give too much personal info, but let us just say my pink collar salaried IT partner has 240 hours on the books, is working 60-80 hour+ weeks, and is losing 1/2 day per week. She would love to take the cash, but it is forbitten. The co-workers on her level are at least as bad off, and her managers are actually worse off. People apparently get actual relief when they physically break down. All spend beyond their income, because the thought of visiting their toys is the only way they make it thru the day. Oh, and of course, the terror of getting laid off and the peer pressure and mutual support. This has been the condition for years, and I presume is widespread among industries. The hourlies get their vacations and no overtime.

All projects are designedly understaffed. 21st Century Corporate productivity, may the neo-Keynesians and Neo-Classicists rot in hell.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 16, 2007 6:18:50 PM

Oh, and if my last paragraph doesn't seem to make sense.

When Bernanke says that even tho energy and food etc prices are rising dramatically, core inflation and inflation expectations remain under control, he means that labour is permanently resigned to declining standards of living so profits will remain high, and that the age of slave labor has become institutionalized.

DeLong and Thoma give a big cheer.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 16, 2007 6:28:02 PM

When those days can also be used for vacation, you tend to be a little more judicious about how you use them.

And, conversely, make you more likely to go in when you're sick and either infect the workplace or make yourself worse. It's a corollary to a workplace culture that implicitly values the stoics who never take their vacation time, or those who don't have families, etc.

This has been the condition for years, and I presume is widespread among industries. The hourlies get their vacations and no overtime.

And the freelancers get their vacations and no benefits.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Jul 16, 2007 6:46:07 PM

...more educated types actually do tend to get a couple week's vacation and nobody seems to cry any tears over their lost incomes.

Considering that their vacations are generally paid ones, what lost income? Do you mean lost productivity to the company? Because that's really the issue for white collar professionals, I find; you get a generous salary and vacation package... and little time to actually take vacation.

I don't necessarily like Matt's argument, because I think companies whining about paid vacations being too costly is about the least sympathetic thing I can think of. I think what would likely happen, should a candidate propose what you suggest, is that it would poll very well, but not actually move a lot of votes. In theory, people want more vacation time. In practice, the people with paid time now tend not to use all of it.

I'll say it again: the big problem here is cultural, about how Americans, especially educated, professional Americans, see work, and what they think of leisure. The idea of leisure time, of taking a break, is something we think of as needing to be scheduled, taken furtively, and not generally presented as preferable. To want a lot of time off is to be seen as lazy, wasteful, frivolous (I tend to think of all those photos of celebrities on beach vacations; boy does that look like fun, but also, very very lazy). I'd rather see someone like Oprah come out and advocate openly for people to take time off; for Dr. Phil to do a weeklong series on work related stress and the value of leisure time. The solution here does not start with politics, and might not, done correctly, need a mandate. This isn't something for politicians, until the public can actually say, publicly, that they need a break. And really, we just don't seem to be there.

Posted by: weboy | Jul 16, 2007 6:47:58 PM

"A major presidential candidate, possibly a Democratic nominee, could make a proposal for enforce three weeks paid vacation a major issue in the campaign."

Nope. They can't. They rely on funding from employers. The days of non-business funding for presidential campaigns are over.

Posted by: Bloix | Jul 16, 2007 7:06:20 PM

"And, conversely, make you more likely to go in when you're sick and either infect the workplace or make yourself worse. It's a corollary to a workplace culture that implicitly values the stoics who never take their vacation time, or those who don't have families, etc."

Yes, some do that, true; others don't. When you have a perfect system worked out and everyone behaves exactly as they should, let us know.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 16, 2007 7:28:53 PM

It would be nice to have a two week vacation mandated for everyone. Businesses would complaing but they would be able to adjust. Remember this is a world where coporate chieftains get paid several million dollars a year to essentially fill the top rungs on a hierarchy that probably gets along in spite of those at the top.

Posted by: Eli | Jul 16, 2007 7:59:44 PM

"I'll say it again: the big problem here is cultural, about how Americans, especially educated, professional Americans, see work, and what they think of leisure."

Japanese salarymen. It would be pretty weird and kinda contra Weber, but I suppose it is possible that Japanese and Americans have such a close cultural attitude.

Unless the culture is Capitalism.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 16, 2007 8:15:43 PM

To want a lot of time off is to be seen as lazy, wasteful, frivolous

Well, the presumption is that such things can be supplied vicariously: the Travel Channel in lieu of the chance to travel; the Food Network in lieu of the time to cook.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Jul 16, 2007 8:18:04 PM

“Well, I am scared to give too much personal info, but let us just say my pink collar salaried IT partner has 240 hours on the books, is working 60-80 hour+ weeks, and is losing 1/2 day per week. She would love to take the cash, but it is forbitten. The co-workers on her level are at least as bad off, and her managers are actually worse off. People apparently get actual relief when they physically break down. All spend beyond their income, because the thought of visiting their toys is the only way they make it thru the day. Oh, and of course, the terror of getting laid off and the peer pressure and mutual support. This has been the condition for years, and I presume is widespread among industries. The hourlies get their vacations and no overtime.
All projects are designedly understaffed. 21st Century Corporate productivity, may the neo-Keynesians and Neo-Classicists rot in hell.”

Bob, you paint a horrible picture. I laughed when you mentioned the hard working IT person…. hard work is what they hire consultants for. Oh sure, things get hairy every once in a while at the end of aproject, but a vast majority of an IT person’s life is spent bouncing around from useless meeting to useless meeting; getting in at 9:15 and out at 4:45; and basically bitching that the requirements aren’t clear enough, kicking the document back to the business and having a YM chat with a buddy managing an old AS400 application.

Posted by: DM | Jul 16, 2007 8:26:27 PM

I have to agree with Weboy here. But only to a degree, cultural beliefs are a big factor in this. But that begs the question- is really cultural belief or how we have been conditioned to think? I don't know the answer, and no one can until it's a choice rather than force by corporate power.

Posted by: akaison | Jul 16, 2007 8:35:28 PM

Akaison,

I tend to think it’s cultural and has a lot more to do with the immigrant culture here. Unlike most industrialized nations, we have a large swath of American’s whose parents or grandparent came here for work… and they worked hard when they got here.

I remember a phone conversation I had with my dad when I was a young consultant. I was talking about how I billed 80 hours a week for a few weeks in a row (working weekends so the IT guys didn’t have to) and he was truly impressed.... it was one of those “I’m proud of you boy” moments you never forget as a young adult. My dad was a first generation America whose father busted his chops in the mines of New Mexico and he was instilled with a work ethic I can only hope to equal.

Somehow, I just don’t think Pierre or Dieter have that in him.

Posted by: DM | Jul 16, 2007 8:49:40 PM

The office Bob describes sounds a lot like every one I ever worked in.

Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Jul 16, 2007 9:13:15 PM

DM- the point is you can't know that because of the force being applied by the so called invisible hand. We aren't negotiating in a vacuum for our jobs. We do it based on what everyone else around us- including if there are more workaholics than not- says it is. I live and work in NYC. I see this all the time. Not everyone wants to work long hours. Not everyone needs to. But the market will force it on you anyway just to have a job that pays you descently. And as for your knock on Dieter or whoeveer- it's not like we are more productive than they are. So that doesn't impress me

Posted by: akaison | Jul 16, 2007 9:24:36 PM

A lot of you don't seem to like competition - competition with your fellow workers, competition between businesses. You only see the negatives of this competition, or perhaps you want the benefits of it without any of the costs. There are always trade offs but several of you don't seem to recognize them, or want to make them. So you want the negatives whisked away by force.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 16, 2007 9:38:36 PM

On the contrary, Anon, we tend to be fine with competition as long as it's not actively destructive to the well-being of the system. This is what we have with overwork - it's individually damaging and there's good reason to believe that it actually hurts overall productivity too, that less worked workers would be a more productive workforce. Restraints on work load are no more anti-competition than insisting on proper lubrication is anti-motor.

Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Jul 16, 2007 9:47:41 PM

that last post is horseshit. it assumes as per usual a black/white reality. either one is x or one is y. it's probably the most american of all traits. sadly it's how we, for example, got into a war of convenience.

Posted by: akaison | Jul 16, 2007 9:47:59 PM

for the record, i am cool with competition- so long as its my choice to compete. it shouldn't be either i compete or i am on the street. my problem is - say it with me- anon- choice. I suspect people who talk ad nauseum about things like competition and/or merit have never had to prove or do either.

Posted by: akaison | Jul 16, 2007 9:49:25 PM

Matthew seems to doubt that it is a collective action problem, while you (Ezra) think it is.

But, vacation time does not have to be classed as a collection action problem, politically.

Politically, vacation time can be just one, very concrete example, of a mesoeconomic allocation problem. Lumping vacation together with some of those other issues might address Matthew's concern about the implications for productivity and personal income.

The War in Iraq and the country's dependence on Persian Gulf and the country's dependence on Japanese and Chinese purchases of Treasury securities constitute such a mesoeconomic problem: we borrow billions from China and Japan, to buy oil, from people, who want to destroy us, and then burn that oil, destroying the habitability of the planet.

Vacation time can similarly be cast as a mesoeconomic allocation problem -- not a simple collective allocation problem, but a complex one. Half the population is employed selling and marketing stuff -- advertising is threatening to overwhelm the discourse, covers everything from transit buses to men's room stalls with commercial graffiti -- sports arenas once named as war memorials are now named for commercial products! Because television is free, people watch way too much of it, but because advertisers rather than viewers pay, our politics and our culture are corrupted and degraded, to serve an uncreative, homogenized corporate culture.

We could tax advertising and marketing, which result in a significant dialing back in that business activity, which could translate in everyone taking more vacation time. What we would cut back on, to free time for more vacation, is not the production of goods, which make our lives richer and better, but the production of marketing, advertising and salesmanship, which mostly just annoys everyone, and, which, because of competitive pressures is carried out at a level and intensity, which adds no real value at the margin.

With less advertising, the valuable commercial messages might actually have a better chance of gaining attention. It is quite possible that dialing back on the effort put into marketing, advertising, and salesmanship (and these activities are a significant part of the jobs of nearly half the population -- I am not kidding), would free up another 2 weeks per worker per year for vacation, and, actually enhance the quality of overall output to boot.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Jul 16, 2007 10:37:35 PM

akaison - did you really just criticize my black/white viewpoint and then say "it shouldn't be either i compete or i am on the street?"

"I suspect people who talk ad nauseum about things like competition and/or merit have never had to prove or do either."

My experience with competition cannot be proven to you over the internet, so this is essentially pointless, but I have plenty and must prove myself every day as a self-employed person in order to secure my next project. If I don't produce I won't get another project. It's far less stable than when I was employed, though I prefer it over being employed.

my problem is - say it with me- anon- choice.

What choice do you want exactly?

Posted by: Anon | Jul 16, 2007 10:53:56 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.