How Much More Do American Workers Need to Work?

Jonathan Chait comments on the division between conservatives and liberals over how to define and address worker productivity.

“Conservatives like to contrast American-style capitalism with Western European sloth. But the difference does not lie in how many Americans work. As Paul Krugman has pointed out, among people ages 25 to 54, a higher percentage of French than Americans work full-time:”

“Output per working hour is also similar. The main difference is that Americans work many more hours than French workers, or workers anywhere in the advanced world except South Korea and Japan.”

“Conservatives embrace that distinction, and seek to extend it further still. A major economic rationale for tax cuts, aside from the underlying moral desire to allow the winners of the market economy to keep their money, is to coax more labor out of the workforce. When faced with the choice of working more hours or enjoying more leisure time, a higher tax rate tends to encourage more leisure. (If you get to keep three quarters of the extra dollar you earn, you might work that extra shift. If you only keep half, you might not.) Liberals have less interest in coaxing those additional hours out of the labor force.”

“Much of the dispute centers not on incentives but on whether workers should have the freedom to choose more leisure time.”

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