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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Krugman points out the American trade-off

The typical American argues that it's better to have to work more than to have more vacation. The typical American doesn't even use all the vacation to which he is entitled, preferring to cash out those vacation days at the end of his tenure with the company. To what extent is this productive behavior, and to what extent is this leading the "life of quiet desperation" that Thoreau alludes to? Do Americans really value their families so much less that they would rather be in the office than spend time with their family?

After my recent trip in Europe, I had a few Google employees say to me that they wish they could have done something similar. To which, I said, "Why don't you?" The answer was invariably that they didn't have enough vacation. One of these employees was fully vested, so he was a multi-millionaire and could take unpaid leave if he wanted to. Others had other commitments with friends that meant that they would only spend a week or so in Europe, which I've explained is a very bad idea.

Google is one of the more generous employers when it comes to vacation time, but if even Google employees feel this way about vacations, what does that say about how less fortunate employees feel?

...according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, productivity in France - G.D.P. per hour worked - is actually a bit higher than in the United States.

It's true that France's G.D.P. per person is well below that of the United States. But that's because French workers spend more time with their families.

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. Fully employed French workers average about seven weeks of paid vacation a year. In America, that figure is less than four.

So which society has made the better choice?

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