I try not to follow the presidential race too closely, as I consider it the junk food of democracy: addictive, but not very nourishing. I was delighted to see the video of Mitt Romney showing his disdain for the working class get some traction in the mainstream press though.
Some months ago, Switzerland had a popular vote whether to increase the mandatory vacation time large firms offer their employees from 4 to 6 weeks. One would think that such a bill would have been an easy win, but there was a very successful, well funded fear campaign against the initiative, which was based on the threat that longer vacation times would mean Swiss companies would become less competitive, leading to more unemployment.
I was sitting in our employee cafeteria listening to one of my fellow working-class schlubs parrot this particular line of thought. I told him that his analysis was based on poor assumptions. The primary false assumption here is that employees who work less are, by definition, going to be less productive. This is of course a false assumption. Research has shown that stressed, overworked employees make mistakes and are less productive than well rested employees. There are relevant and perhaps important debates which should be had on this subject, such as:
- Do the Swiss labor laws create conditions of maximum productivity for employees (i.e. finding the perfect balance between stress and productivity)?
- Should our legal system strive to create conditions of maximum productivity, or should we be striving for other goals, like work/life balance, or a healthy, happy society which has time to care for its health, children, culture, the elderly, and the environment?
I went on to tell him that the fact that the advertising campaign relies on fear, instead of a rational assessment of causes and effects, is a pretty good sign he should be skeptical. Further, it’s well known that inside Europe, the Swiss relatively poor conditions: longer working weeks and fewer vacations. It’s also a common theme that stress-related illnesses cost the Swiss society and the Swiss economy enormously, and are considered a real problem. Given these facts, there is reasonable evidence to think that a little extra holiday time might actually be good for the Swiss economy.
His response to this was the following question: “If that’s true, why is every other country working to decrease holiday time and increase working hours?”. I told him that that was precisely the question he should be asking. If only the Romney video were available at that point, I could have pointed to it as evidence of the obvious answer: because those countries are being run by wealthy people who feel like they should make a living simply by owning things, and those people have nothing but contempt for working people.