Sunday, January 03, 2010

Economist debate: European Holidays

Motion: "This house believes that Europeans would be better off with fewer holidays and higher incomes"
Do Europeans take too many holidays?

Dear Reader,
We have a winner in our debate on vacation time. The team arguing against the motion has won the debate convincingly, with 79% against 21% of the votes. This house does not believe that "Europeans take too much holiday."

The voting record shows the weight of opinion has been consistently 4:1 against the motion from the outset, though the pro team's Robert J Gordon did shift his share of the vote by a few percentage points in the course of the debate. The final vote (and the many laments from the floor by overworked Americans) shows that most readers believe lost income is a price worth paying for extra holidays.

For his part, John de Graaf, arguing against the motion, eloquently made the case that there is more to life than work and money. His argument that Europe has established a better balance between work and leisure was bolstered by the contributions from guest commentators.

John O'Sullivan
Debate Moderator
Economics Correspondent
The Economist


Anonymous said...

You can be sure that John O'Sullivan is not a TowKay.

Tan Kin Lian said...

If matters are left to the free market, competition will force businesses to push their workers to work longer hours and at lower pay.

In many countries, legislation is required to protect the rights of workers by imposing minimum wage and maximum hours of work.

They have strong trade unions to protect the rights of workers. The workers have the right to strike to press for better working conditions.

Strikes can be damaging to the economy and to business, but an alternative way must be found to give better terms for workers.

Robert Tan said...

There is a big range of "workers", from entry level all the way to CEO.

Not easy to draw the line. (Sometimes, not just "workers" that need protection but shareholders and creditors as well from CEOs etc.

Not everybody have the same priorities. For some, money or stature or career progress(which some interpret as more money and stature/power) is of utmost importance and the strive and work very long hours to achieve their ambitions. And for some of them, the pay is not that low in the first place, they just want to get ahead. Some of these jobs can be very stressful, require long hours because of tight deadlines and/or of higher risks but they pay very well....

Different people have different priorities and it may not be easy to have blanket rules for everyone and if there are too many different rules for different people, things can get complicated and expensive.

Tan Kin Lian said...

This is not just the view of the moderator (O'Sullivan). It is the view of the people who voted.

The Economists did not disclose how many people voted, but I suspect that it must be more than 1,000 votes, as there were already over 300 comments posted in this debate.

The clear message is that people are saying, "give us more time, more holidays". Do not expect us to work long hours and neglect other important aspects of our lives.

Robert Tan said...

Except for perhaps the lowest 10-20% of the work force, the rest have a choice of taking on a less stressful job with shorter working hours and have more holiday/leave. They are probably the ones who may need more protection from unfair practices.

Many are not completely willing to change their careers or take a break from the "rat race" because they have higher material aspirations. If only we can be more contented with what we already have and are less ambitious i.e, stay in smaller flats, take public transport have fewer and/or cheaper holidays etc.

Some things are beyond one's control but if one is willing to admit it, quite a lot of things can also be within one's control. Except for an unfortunate few, for the rest of us, we have a choice.

Very often, one has to make some sacrifice (eg, work less or change job if necessary, take a paycut and spend more time with the family, do some good to your fellow man etc).

The difficulty arises when we want the "best of both worlds".

There is an interesting documentary "Ice Road Truckers" produced by History Channel. I think it may be showing on Starhub. The job portrayed in this documentary pays very well but the stress is high, the risk is high, the hours are very long and there is a very tight deadline to meet. The "truckers" don't have to choose this job but many do so for the rewards, money and prestige. Apparently, there were many more job applicants for this job than there were vacancies....

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