Thursday, August 16, 2007

Five weeks off

US blogger Ezra Klein writes about vacation time, and says he'd love to be able to take more time off. Here's a fairly typical response from an irate reader:
So here's my problem with Ezra's post:

...I'm not willing to give up a lot for five weeks of vacation a year, right now. I like the Bay Area, and the cost of living is high, here. I'd like to get a house. I'd like to be able to live here AND still have enough money to go on vacation to Japan this year or next. And some of that's going to have to go by the wayside if I lose 8% of my paycheck.
Now, maybe in a few years, that personal equation will change for me, and I'll start thinking of ways that I could shift my work-life balance more towards "life." But I like to think that, if those few years later Ezra's got a kid and a mortgage and needs to hold onto every penny that's coming his way...“

Does anyone spot the flaw in this argument? The problem is a classic Prisoner's Dilemma: if the respondent alone works less, he's in trouble, because houses will still cost the same, but he alone will have less money. If, on the other hand, everyone works a bit less, house prices will have to fall, and so long as his rank position in the earnings table remains unchanged, he's going to be able to buy the same house as before, except that now he'll also have been able to spend three weeks on a canoeing trip. Thus, with respect to "competitive" goods like housing, it is possible to enjoy more leisure without any real sacrifice: but only if it's a collective decision. On the other hand, a Japan vacation or flat-screen TV will not get much cheaper even if everyone in the Bay Area does work less, so those kinds of things are examples of genuine leisure-consumption trade-offs.

So, yes, working less mean earning less, but the substantive effect of the reduction is not as bad as it sounds, so long as everyone else is working less too.

1 comment:

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