Ezra Klein makes the case for a regulatory guarantee of more vacation. I agree 100 percent with his analysis of the situation, but I’m not totally sure I agree with the conclusion. One reason is that unlike with a lot of other juicy liberal regulatory schemes, the price to be paid in terms of economic growth is real enough in this case. Less work equals less output in a straightforward way.
There’s also the basic fact that I’d be pretty pissed, personally, if I were made to accept more vacation days in exchange for less pay. It’s clear that the equilibrium that results from the current free market system isn’t to everyone’s liking, but realistically there’s no way you can arrange things to the taste of every citizen of a giant country. What’s more, I’m actually not all that worried by the prospect that associates at large corporate law firms aren’t getting a fair shake from the labor market — they have clear opportunities to change jobs if they don’t like what they’re getting.
Lawyers aside there are, of course, also going to be working class people with fewer economic options who might like more vacation days. They make a better object of sympathy. But at the same time, a working class person forced to go on vacation when he would have rather put in another week on the job to earn the money he needs to complete some home repairs gets more of our sympathy than does the hypothetical professional blogger who wants more salary and less vacation. In a parallel to the climate change case, the crux of the matter is that poor people should have more overall compensation and mandating more vacation time won’t accomplish that — it’ll leave working class people with more time off and less money to use that time off doing fun stuff (I can’t be the only one who’s sometimes been reluctant to vacation not because I couldn’t take the time off but because I couldn’t afford to spend the money).
Last, one should consider retirement as a factor here. If you worked 50 weeks a year for 40 years and then retired, you’d have 2000 weeks worth of earnings to work with in your golden years. If you wanted 2000 weeks worth of savings on the basis of a 46 week year, you’d have to work 3.5 extra years. Under the circumstances, it’s not totally clear to me that additional mandatory vacation necessarily results in more leisure over the course of a lifetime. All-in-all, I’m inclined to say let’s take the higher GDP level and the additional tax revenue that implies, and spend the revenue providing people with more services.
Photo by Flickr user Jon Worth used under a Creative Commons license