Worked to the Bone II

We left off asking why it is that Americans put in so many hours compared to workers in other rich countries. The short answer is: it aint the American work ethic – it’s backward American labor laws. And ironically, one consequence of forcing workers to work so much – is that fewer working-age Americans actually choose to work, compared to workers in many other rich countries.

Unlike EVERY other rich country in the world – and many poor ones too – the US guarantees to full-time workers ZERO paid vacation days. Sort of astonishing when you take a step back to look at the numbers: legally required vacay in most western European countries is 4-7 weeks. In the US: 0. How about paid holidays? In Europe, typically about 10 paid holidays per year. In the US: 0 again. In many rich countries, workers, by law, get 30-40 paid days off per year. In the US: 0.

Next there’s paid parental leave. The US is one of 4 countries that do not offer it – the other 3 are Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea. The typical benefit in rich countries is 3-4 months of paid leave – often at full pay. In America: 0.

The difference between the US and the rest of the world is legislation – American labor laws have not been updated since the 19th century. Even when Americans are fortunate enough to have paid vacation, they’re often unable to take it, for fear of sending the “wrong signal” to employers – that they’re not workaholicky enough. To cure this problem, many countries not only require paid vacation, but they require that it be taken.

Left to free markets, workers will never get much time off. The average American full time worker only takes 16 paid vacation days – less than the statutory minimum in practically every rich country.

Conservatives tend to be selectively stupid when it comes to free markets – even something so basic as supply and demand. When work becomes more valuable – when it comes with benefits like unemployment insurance, paid vacation time and maternity leave – more people want to work. This goes a long way toward explaining why labor force participation rates (LFPR) – the fraction of working age people actually at work – tend to be higher in northern European countries that have progressive labor laws. Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway are tops in LFPR, with rates of 78-83%. Germany, UK, NZ and Canada – all of whom have paid parental leave and mandatory paid vacation time – are close behind at 77% AND RISING. The US is down at 73%… and dropping. Labor laws in the US suck – Americans have responded by staying out of the work force, compared to people in other countries. Yet another workplace reality that Ayn Rand and her disciples failed to incorporate into their joke of an economic model.

Looking at unemployment rates, the US also compares badly with countries with far more generous unemployment benefits. Unemployment insurance is part of labor compensation – thus more UI means more compensation, which means more people will want to work. Only a conservative can pretend to not to grasp so simple a relationship. According to Forbes, the countries with the cushiest unemployment benefits ALL have less unemployment than the US: Sweden, Finland, Germany, Israel, Norway, Japan.

Conservatives fantasize about a Europe with progressive labor laws and widespread unemployment – people hangin’ out and collectin’ welfare. Reality is the opposite: Europe has proportionately more working-age people at work than the US. The difference between liberal and conservative views on employment law is that liberal views are legitimate theories, grounded in reality. Conservative blather persists in a factual vacuum – they are not theories, but dogmas – accepted on faith without evidence. And as with all matters of faith, they are not amenable to fact or logic. Europe has an exceedingly generous welfare state – and people are therefore MORE likely to go to work.

Being fundamentally without principle, conservatives can take any stand on any issue. A party that pretends on Monday to be pro-family should be expected on Tuesday to push for paid maternity leave. But conservatives instead reserve Tuesdays for yet more vapid sermons on small government and less regulation – which translates into: sorry, mom – get back to work – just like they do in Lesotho and Swaziland. So maybe it’s not a coincidence that an American baby is twice as likely to die in its 1st year compared to babies born in other western countries – but dead babies arent factored into conservative “pro-family” ideology – no more than motherhood.



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