Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy Independence Day

To celebrate, Kevin Drum has sparked a very interesting debate over quality of life issues in the U.S. vs. Europe, where less time and energy are spent on work and more is spent on leisure time. The debate is over whether or not emphasizing work leads to a better society- the contribution that entrepreneurs and innovators make is often accompanied by absolutely insane working hours (to the rest of us), yet overworking people doesn't seem to be the most efficient way of handling work, as the lower per-hour productivity figures of Americans vs. the Scandinavians (and others) implies.

Thing is, I don't think this is really an exclusive debate. Entrepreneurship and innovasion are often the product of free time- assuming that you aren't spending all your time doing nothing productive at all, there's a pretty intuitive connection between hobbies and innovation that should be obvious to anybody who knows someone who has turned a hobby into a profession. Heck, anybody who uses Mozilla or Linux and the like benefits enormously- the whole Open Source scheme is pretty much built around people using their free time.

(Or, well, blogging.)

In economic terms, there are often significant (and unpredictable) positive externalities to leisure time, and the opportunity cost of giving it up can be much higher than it seems at first. Squeezing that last ounce of energy out of employees may be good for Wal-Mart, but it isn't necessarily good for the economy as a whole, and certainly not for society.

So, enjoy your day off, those Americans who can; remember that you are greater than your job description. (And happy belated Canada Day to Canadians, and congratulations on a sane SSM policy.)

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