About that “extra leisure” in Europe

On NPR today I heard an editor from The Atlantic named Derek Thompson discussing Jeb Bush’s statement about working more hours.  The discussion turned to Europe, and Thompson pointed out that the Europeans had chosen to take growing productivity in the form of more leisure, not more output and income.  For a moment the devil in me contemplated a post pointing to evidence of this “extra leisure” in Europe:

Spanish unemployment = 23.8%, Greek unemployment = 25.6%, Italian Unemployment = 12.4%, French unemployment = 10.3%, Portuguese unemployment = 13.7%, Finnish unemployment = 11.8%, Irish unemployment = 9.7% etc., etc.

But then I decided not to take the cheap shot, as Thompson was clearly referring to the longer vacations taken by European workers.  “Gotcha” posts reflect poorly on the perpetrator, not the victim.

Similarly, Bush was clearly referring to the big drop in the LFPR in recent years, as well as the big rise in part-timers who want to work full time.  These two factors explain much of the growth slowdown since 2007, and need to be reversed if we are to achieve 4% RGDP growth for a period of years.

Then I decided to check Paul Krugman’s response to Bush, to see whether he took the high road and had a serious discussion of our employment problems, or demagogued the issue.  Here’s what I found:

Maybe we were unfair to Mitt Romney; Jeb “people should work longer hours” Bush is making him look like a model of empathy for the less fortunate. All the obvious points apply: longer hours would mean more GDP (if and when the economy ever gets back to full employment), but not necessarily better lives, especially if the increase in GDP doesn’t trickle down.

But I think it’s also important to understand where this is coming from. Partly it’s Bush trying to defend his foolish 4 percent growth claim; but it’s also, I’m almost certain, coming out of the “nation of takers” dogma that completely dominates America’s right wing.

Hmmm, I don’t think I like that.  So then I thought of retaliating by doing a post entitled, “Krugman suddenly claims that unemployment and underemployment are not a problem in America.  Shows no empathy for the jobless.”  But that would be wrong.  That would be willfully misinterpreting Krugman’s post to score cheap political points.

PS.  I was interviewed on Aljazeera, and it will be broadcast at 11:30pm EDT.  I’m not sure if it’s the American or international version of the station, I heard different things from different people.  Angel Ubide of the Peterson Institute was also interviewed, and he’s actually much more on top of this issue than I am–he did a great job.




43 Responses to “About that “extra leisure” in Europe”

  1. Gravatar of Bonnie Bonnie
    13. July 2015 at 14:00

    Here is the Jeb Bush quote from ABC News which was in the context of the US:

    “My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”

    Interpretation of it as a complete thought really depends on one’s view point. Is he saying LFPR is low because people are just voluntarily sitting around or is it more generalized than that? It’s hard to tell, and that is the “gotcha.” Being the cynic that I am, I am leaning toward the former.

  2. Gravatar of collin collin
    13. July 2015 at 14:05

    My immediate reaction to Bush’s comment was MY GOD he is his father son! That sounded like something his father would say which was essentially correct but out of touch with the average person. (Or better he sounded exactly like an out of touch Undercover Boss CEO learning how hard his $9/hour workers really work.)

    Now I you are a supply sider but I think a lot of the drop in work is service related jobs such as nurses and retail staff. These are jobs that have their employees compete internally for hours with hard work or more importantly flexible schedules. If I had any advise for young workers, it is avoid all family entanglements (don’t get married or eseentially have kids) and focus completely on your career until you are thirty. If you have to work 70 hours to do it then do it.

  3. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    13. July 2015 at 14:20

    Funny. However, something about this post reminds me of Mark Antony’s speech. 🙂

  4. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    13. July 2015 at 14:22

    Krugman is always going for the cheap shot. Always. In terms of politics you always know what he is going to write. He’s so predictable.

    Also: In all these years I’ve been reading him, I never heard him say something nice about a statement by an active GOP politician. He always acts like there’s one reasonable party in America, that got one great idea after another (the Dems). An then there is it’s crazy brother, that should be forced into a mental institution (the GOP).

    Such a divide between two major democratic parties is higly unlikely. In reality both parties have their advantages and disadvantages. Krugman is simply a very partisan hack. A partisan hack with a Nobel prize.

  5. Gravatar of Scott Freelander Scott Freelander
    13. July 2015 at 14:24

    Yes, I noticed Krugman’s article today and wonder whether it’s purposely or accidentally misleading. Even a very brief clip of the Bush statement reveals that he was referring to the chronically under-employed due to the recession. And I can’t stand Jeb Bush, except that his views on immigrants and immigration are very enlightened, for a Republican.

  6. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    13. July 2015 at 14:33

    “Now I you are a supply sider but I think a lot of the drop in work is service related jobs such as nurses and retail staff.”
    -Retail, yes, service, no. But even employment in TTU is above the previous peak:


    Also, this post is so. Meta

  7. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    13. July 2015 at 14:40

    “And I can’t stand Jeb Bush, except that his views on immigrants and immigration are very enlightened, for a Republican.”
    -Just like Scott Sumner has very enlightened views on China (i.e., not thinking of it as a Mexico 2.0, which I find far more plausible than he does, despite my greater sympathy to HBD-type views).

  8. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    13. July 2015 at 14:40

    Couldn’t resist the dig, even if possibly not quite accurate.

  9. Gravatar of Andrew_FL Andrew_FL
    13. July 2015 at 14:47

    Yes, a view so enlightened that has come to contemplate, as Camus instructed us, the one true philosophical problem.

  10. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    13. July 2015 at 15:03

    It’s been almost exactly ten years since Krugman sang the praises of French Family Values;


    ‘…are European economies really doing that badly?

    ‘The answer is no. Americans are doing a lot of strutting these days, but a head-to-head comparison between the economies of the United States and Europe — France, in particular — shows that the big difference is in priorities, not performance. We’re talking about two highly productive societies that have made a different tradeoff between work and family time. And there’s a lot to be said for the French choice.’

    His finish;

    ‘American conservatives despise European welfare states like France. Yet many of them stress the importance of “family values.” And whatever else you may say about French economic policies, they seem extremely supportive of the family as an institution. Senator Rick Santorum, are you reading this?’

  11. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    13. July 2015 at 15:10

    “In light of the dire predictions of population decline, the government might well rethink its discriminatory attitude toward births out of wedlock, which have been a critical factor contributing to the increase in fertility rates in other advanced economies. In France, for instance, out-of-wedlock births rose from about one-tenth of all births to over half in the last three decades.”-The New York Times Editorial Board.

    No, this is not satire. What are you laughing at?

  12. Gravatar of collin collin
    13. July 2015 at 15:17

    I should have said the increase of part time work is the areas of retail and some basic nursing in which employees compete internally for hours.

  13. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    13. July 2015 at 15:30

    The real question: does Jeb Bush think he can get 4% real GDP growth through tight money policies?

  14. Gravatar of cthorm cthorm
    13. July 2015 at 15:34

    Scott –

    Congratulations, you’re ready for your second career as a politico spinster. “I don’t want to accuse my opponent of scoring cheap political points; [thing opponent did] is scoring cheap political points.”

  15. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    13. July 2015 at 15:51


    It’s actually “I don’t want to score cheap political points; [thing opponent did] is scoring cheap political points.”

  16. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    13. July 2015 at 15:51

    @benjamin cole: absolutely! Tight money… along with some much needed structural changes… like legalized child labor and for profit organ harvesting (an exciting new career option for the chronically underemployed… like 7 year olds for example (they have top notch organs: young and fresh!)). 🙂

  17. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    13. July 2015 at 16:00

    Legalized child labor and a 40% cut in years of schooling (Florida ranks among the bottom states in education, but never does too poorly in RGDP per capita) to focus on the basics would be an excellent idea for any country looking to achieve more growth. No one would suffer, except the teacher’s unions. Just imagine: at-home test prep would take over months of mind-numbing class projects, excessive focus on pre-High School science (which no one ever needs or ever needed), and filling out and outlining endless pages of content which does nothing to improve reading comprehension!

    The only bit of content-knowledge that would suffer would be essay-writing and some limited introduction to classic books everyone proceeds to forget by the time summer break is over.

  18. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    13. July 2015 at 17:55

    ” “Gotcha” posts reflect poorly on the perpetrator, not the victim.”

    Especially when the victim receives so many good ones, amiright?

  19. Gravatar of Thomas Thomas
    13. July 2015 at 20:03

    I think Krugman interpreted Jeb as not understanding that getting the short timers into full time jobs and getting the lfpf up will require the Fed to target faster ngdp growth and governments to invest when the npv is positive. I’d really like to see us try for 4% growth. It could help identify the microeconomic constraints.

  20. Gravatar of Riccardo Riccardo
    14. July 2015 at 02:49

    If possible, can you please post a link to the segment you do on al-Jazeera? Thanks 🙂

  21. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. July 2015 at 04:20

    E. Harding. I’t’s hard to imagine two more different countries than China and Mexico. I guarantee that wherever China ends up, it will look NOTHING like Mexico.

    Funny quote about French births. And I thought the US discriminated in favor of out-of-wedlock births—I’d pay much less tax if I were not married.

    Tom, I’m a big fan of child labor–I worked hard as a child. And let’s shorten the school year–I was bored stiff by school, just imagine how non-intellectual boys feel about school.

    I’m also all for legalized for-profit organ harvesting. It would save thousands of lives.

    Riccardo, I will do so.

  22. Gravatar of Njnnja Njnnja
    14. July 2015 at 05:18

    Prof Sumner, if I may respectfully suggest that you are awful at, as the consultants say, “framing.” You are not “a big fan of child labor,” you are “in favor of reducing red tape that prevents teenagers and children of sole proprietors from gaining valuable on-the-job experience.”

    And you are not “all for legalized for-profit organ harvesting.” You “believe in the life-saving efficiency of allowing a price mechanism to work even in markets where that is currently restricted.”

    If you ever get nominated for the Fed, please don’t say that you “will expand the Fed’s balance sheet by whatever it takes to make sure that the Fed increases the price of everything bought and sold in America, each and every year, by 5%, guaranteed!”

  23. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    14. July 2015 at 05:25

    Well, okay, my question seem to prompt replies pertaining to child labor laws or education. I will answer myself: the United States will never get to sustained 4% real GDP growth with tight money policies.

    The US economy did expand by 20% in the four years coming out of the 1975-76 recession. Arthur “Print Money” Burns was Fed Chief.

    But hey, back then we had disco and the Ford Pinto.

  24. Gravatar of DF DF
    14. July 2015 at 06:01


    Why wouldn’t working longer hours exacerbate unemployment in those countries you mentioned? My reasoning is, there is only so much work demanded to be done. Longer hours means a smaller employed workforce.

  25. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    14. July 2015 at 06:16

    Scott, do keep telling us what you would have said if you had been a cheap-shot artist!

  26. Gravatar of Anthony McNease Anthony McNease
    14. July 2015 at 07:02

    When PK talks politics he ceases to be an economist. Entirely. He just becomes a whiter and older version of Charles Blow.

    Jeb’s comment got the Left’s bile up, because everyone knows it to be true. The big increase in the disability rolls recently does not mean we’ve seen a big increase in disabled people. Jeb needs to know that in American politics the one thing that is forbidden is Kinsley gaffe: accidentally stating a truth everyone knows but can’t publicly proclaim.

  27. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    14. July 2015 at 07:10

    Back in the mid 1990s Krugman used to like to sneer at ‘the four percenters’. Right up until 1997.

  28. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    14. July 2015 at 07:10

    Scott, good to know we’re on the same page. There’s a lot of things I would have traded a kidney for when I was 7 (especially if I knew I had a spare).

  29. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    14. July 2015 at 07:15

    ‘…let’s shorten the school year-I was bored stiff by school, just imagine how non-intellectual boys feel about school.’

    Let’s transform ‘the school year’ into a series of educational attainment goals. Kids can progress at their own pace(s). Some will take 5-6 month ‘summer vacations’, others will spend most of the year trying to master arithmetic and sentence diagramming.

    To each according to their ability and their capacity for working at it.

  30. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    14. July 2015 at 07:30

    Lots of spilled pixels and much ado about nothing, but on this issue, it’s: Krugman 1, Sumner 0. Again.

  31. Gravatar of Robert Robert
    14. July 2015 at 07:48

    I’ve always wondered what European productivity numbers would look like at 5% unemployment, assuming the unemployed are their least productive workers.

  32. Gravatar of Jim Glass Jim Glass
    14. July 2015 at 08:23

    Ah, leisure:

    “Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time over Five Decades” — Boston Fed


    FYI all, FWIW

  33. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    14. July 2015 at 09:26

    @Scott: re: legalized organ harvesting: maybe the Greeks *do* have a way to pay off their debts (after all, it’s not like they’re using them for much these days). Maybe they could start a no-questions-asked organ futures market (perhaps sign up their unborn great grand kids). 🙂

  34. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    14. July 2015 at 11:24

    Even more strangely, Krugman argues their lives might not be better with more income. Maybe he thinks they would miss their leisure more than their income — but wait, that’s an evil right wing argument that the poor are lazy takers!

    And while it’s possible the additional production gained from the additional work (less the income paid to the workers) might be captured by the 1% oligarchs (a dogma which one might say completely dominates the left wing) it’s been shown innovators and financiers can only capture a small portion of gains, the vast majority of which flow to consumers.

  35. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    14. July 2015 at 11:33

    Patrick — They tried to solve their birthrate with immigration, and it worked — immigrant women are more babies. But now Jews walking in Paris hear kids say “Mama, what is he doing here? Doesn’t he know he will be killed?” And they wonder why Le Pen is leading the polls.

  36. Gravatar of Blue Eyes Blue Eyes
    14. July 2015 at 13:39

    Robert, good question. Across the water from France we have a booming jobs market and lots of talking heads say we have a productivity crisis. If only the UK could be like France, people (generally on the Left) suggest.

    I often wonder whether France’s supposedly-stellar per-hour figures are linked to the maximum working week rules. I suspect that people in France do similar amounts of work as in the UK, but are more likely to lie on their “time sheet”.

  37. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    14. July 2015 at 14:25

    “I’t’s hard to imagine two more different countries than China and Mexico.”
    -Aw, come on! China and Vanuatu! Mexico and China are both major manufactured goods exporters at middle-income levels that had similar population densities before Columbus, have people with narrow eyes and darker-than-Norwegian skin (at least, in the South, maybe not so much in the North), are quite corrupt, have large state-owned firms, do not have a history of Chechen-level clannishness or a strong nuclear family (rather, both having a history of large extended families), were both secular states with revolutions in the 1910s in which a period of chaos reigned in between one-man authoritarian rule and one-party oligarchy, and whose populations are known for their restaurants in the U.S. Also, China was an oil exporter until the end of the 1980s, just as Mexico will soon cease to be an oil exporter.

    I can think of more similarities, if you want me to.

  38. Gravatar of Patrick Patrick
    15. July 2015 at 05:59

    Blue Eyes, my understanding is that a big chunk of French productivity results from the fact that they basically hire far more middle-aged white males, proportionately, than any other category.

    I.e., exactly as one might expect, unfathomably restrictive labor regulation results in increased discrimination against those most in need of help.

  39. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    15. July 2015 at 07:41

    Njnnja, Don’t worry, I won’t say that, as I favor NGDP targeting, not inflation targeting.

    Ben, That too.

    DF, Google “Lump of labor fallacy.”

    Philo. Thanks.

    Patrick, That sounds good, although parents would probably object—school has become a form of baby-sitting.

    Robert and Blue Eyes, I’ve wondered the same thing.

    E. Harding. You can find 10 similarities between any two countries. But I’m guessing you haven’t spent a lot of time in both China and Mexico–these countries are about as opposite as you can imagine.

    How many children raised in little rural villages in Mexico have recently become billionaires? I’m going to guess zero.

  40. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    15. July 2015 at 09:14

    From the Boston Fed paper Jim Glass provided a link to, in 1965 leisure was more or less equally distributed across all educational levels and working classes. However, by 2003 that was no longer true.

    ‘…the least-educated households experienced the largest gains in leisure, this growing “inequality” in leisure is the mirror image of the well-documented trends in income and expenditure inequality. The fact that the least-educated experience the most leisure posed an empirical puzzle for the standard [economic] model that relies solely on income and substitution effects: The time-series evidence suggests that rising incomes induce greater leisure, , while the recent cross-sections suggest that higher incomes are associated with lower levels of leisure.’

  41. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloom Vivian Darkbloom
    15. July 2015 at 09:26

    “How many children raised in little rural villages in Mexico have recently become billionaires? I’m going to guess zero.”

    Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera (“El Chapo”) would make at least one. Now, don’t go fudging on “recently”.


    My guess is that there are a few others like him.

  42. Gravatar of DF DF
    15. July 2015 at 12:11


    Correct me if I’m wrong, but lump of labor fallacy only applies when gains are reinvested into the domestic economy. Given that the countries you have listed are mostly underperformers, what incentive is there to reinvest into those countries versus rest of EU/world?

  43. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. July 2015 at 08:31

    Patrick, I’ve noticed that too, and it deserves more discussion.

    Vivian, Good point. And I’m guessing that fewer of the Chinese billionaires got that way smuggling drugs.

    DF, The lump of labor fallacy doesn’t make any assumptions about where gains are reinvested.

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