Teen Vogue insisted this week that paid time off is a great idea,and one that everyone should really be working for.
Maybe that’s true. But what is absolutely inescapable is that there’s a cost to this, which Teen Vogue doesn’t mention at all. Given that the magazine’s stated goal is “educating the influencers of the future,” this isn’t educating people in the slightest – it’s misinforming them. There’s a cost to everything – as the old phrase goes, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. A great deal of education is in pointing out where the costs are in something seemingly free.
It’s true that Americans get less PTO than Europeans. Europeans also pay higher taxes and get lower per-hour wages. It’s not just that the three are related, it’s that the second pair happen because of the first.
If we think of paid vacation time then that’s the employer that has to pay that, on top of wages. But what interests an employer is not the wages they have to pay but the total cost of getting the job done. So, the employer keeps that sharp eye on wages plus social security taxes plus pension or 401 (k) plus vacation time plus whatever else – in the American system, health care insurance, obviously. How all of that is distributed doesn’t really worry the employer, it’s the total cost of them all. So, if the U.S moved to the European system of 30 days’ paid vacation each year, well, OK. But as in Europe, that increases costs to employers, so they pay a lower wage per hour actually worked. That’s just what happens.
If the conversation is about maternity or sickness or family leave, that’s normally paid from taxes in Europe. This means that everyone else must pay higher taxes to pay for your PTO. And, of course, you have to pay higher taxes as your share of the bill for everyone else’s PTO. Taxes are higher in Europe and this is one reason why.
We’re not arguing that the one system is better, nor the other worse. We simply insist that telling teenage girls – the majority of Teen Vogue’s readership, for fairly obvious reasons – that this trade-off doesn’t exist is wrong, is mis- and dis-information. Everything is always a trade off and it’s only by knowing what that actually is – what do we have to give up in order to gain this other thing? – that we can even begin to make considered decisions.
As it happens, and as nearly no one ever acknowledges, Americans actually have more leisure time than most Europeans. The difference is that work done in the household rather than for The Man in the office. The difference is that Americans eat out more, buy more prepared foods, get more takeout, own more Roombas instead of broomsticks, have newer cars requiring less maintenance, and on and on. It’s another set of trade-offs and is yet another reason why it’s so important to understand that everything is, indeed, a trade-off.
Sure, America could have more paid time off. But there’s a cost to that, nothing, ever, is for free.
Teen Vogue ranks No. 449 in news and media outlets and gains some 5 million visits a month. As we say, above their tagline is “Educating the influencers of tomorrow” Which we take as meaning that they should actually be educating those young people who will be influencing that world of the future.
We’ve really got no problem at all with people presenting their ideas about how to make the world a better place. But we do insist that educating the young includes that thing that all of us older people already know – there’s a cost to everything, as well as possibly a benefit.