On vacation

No, I’m not on vacation now. I’m writing about vacation, as Jane Galt and Kevin Drum have also done recently.

Jane’s point is an interesting one. Sure, Europeans have more vacation than Americans, but only because the government forces them to. Since they make less than Americans, they often don’t really vacation during their vacation, but instead spend time grouting tile, or some such. Rich Americans just pay people to do that stuff for them.

Kevin’s argument is that most Americans, given the choice of making less money and taking more vacation, would do it. And he’s got a point, too. The problem is, as Jane points out, that very little gets done in European offices over the summer, because someone’s always on vacation. If Americans were like that, we’d lose what small precious competitive advantage we have over them, and soon we’d all be speaking Mandarin.

I have taken Kevin’s solution one step further: I’ve taken a near 100-percent pay cut in order to have as much vacation time as I want. My wife’s a professor, so she has the opportunity to take lots of vacation, and we typically do four or five weeks a year. Since Greta runs a lab over the summer, that’s about the most we can muster. I’d be happy taking even more vacation! But most people can’t afford my luxury, and so they work in regular jobs with 2 weeks off a year.

I’d also be happy to take a job that offered my vacation terms — at least 5 weeks off a year, with workdays that corresponded in length to school days during the school year. Unfortunately, the only job like that is school teacher, which I’ve tried and rejected as perhaps the most degrading occupation known to humankind (it’s possible that some people don’t feel degraded doing it, but they’re probably much better teachers than I am).

Putting Kevin’s analysis together with my anecdotal experience of my own working situation, I’d be willing to bet there are a lot of people like me — highly skilled individuals who also value their non-working time, and end up being underutilized from an economic perspective. I think if corporations were willing to be more flexible in their work requirements, they could find a new labor force that was willing to work for considerably less money than the standard 40-plus-hours-a-week, 2-weeks-vacation business schedule.

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