I Want Six Weeks Vacation Too

I always enjoy reading Economic Reporting Review, which offers a dozen or so short, mild-mannered, critiques of economic reporting each Monday. Oh, after you’ve read it for a few years, it becomes a little repetitious, and you become a little tired of Dean Baker’s hobby horses, but it’s still well worth reading.

This week’s issue is particularly good, offering, among other things, a debunking of the NY Times’ frequent calls for Europeans to work harder, roll back their welfare state, and generally act more like Americans. I’m not sure if this is a case of the “so-called liberal media” living up to its name, or proof that there’s no one so provincial as a New Yorker.*

Europe Ponders the Meaning of Life

Mark Landler

New York Times, August 15, 2004, Section 4 Page 1

This article reports on the prospects that the European welfare state will be rolled back in the future. It makes numerous assertions about economic necessity that are not supported by any evidence and contradict economic theory. For example, the article assets that the conditions that allowed for Europeans to enjoy long vacations, short workweeks, and a generous welfare state were “an anomaly.” In fact, Europe’s economies all continue to experience productivity growth of between 1 and 2 percent annually. This means that their economies are continuing to grow richer through time, allowing workers to enjoy both higher standards of living and a continued decline in working hours. There are no economic projections whatsoever that productivity will stop growing; therefore it is difficult to understand the basis for the assertion, made repeatedly in this article, that Europeans will have to accept less leisure in the future.

At several points the article attributes the need to work longer hours to globalization. In standard economic theory, trade makes countries richer, not poorer. While globalization may raise issues of distribution, it will not make European countries too poor to maintain their current standards of living.

* Don’t get me wrong: I love New York. I’ve spent a third of my life in NYC. But I wouldn’t deny being pretty provincial.