Vacation All I Ever Wanted

Hey, America: Take a vacation!

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

These are the dog days of summer, and in this hot, sweltering weather most Americans are busy working. (I know, I know, not you folks in the Hamptons.) Meanwhile, most Europeans are busy vacationing. Thus it has ever been – only it’s getting worse.

Nowadays the average European gets about three times as many days of paid vacation as his counterpart in America. Italy has the most vacation days, with the average worker there getting 42 paid days off, according to the World Tourism Organization.  Next was France with 37 days, Germany with 35, Brazil at 34, the United Kingdom at 28, Canada with 26 and Korea and Japan both with 25. The United States was near the bottom of the list with the average worker getting 13 days off.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

The conventional answer is that this attitude toward work makes the American economy the envy of the world. America has a hectic, turbo-charged system that builds, destroys and rebuilds, all at warp speed. It’s what created the information revolution, Silicon Valley, hedge funds, biotechnology, nanotechnology and so on. And there’s no time in it for lolling on the beach!

In fact, it’s not clear at all that working for a few extra weeks in the summer is what makes a nation’s economy hum. The consulting firm Ipsos gives us numbers on the percentage of paid vacation days that were used up by the end of the year. The French predictably lead the pack, taking 89% of their vacations days. But Germany, which is growing briskly, takes 75%. Indonesia, which has been booming, takes 70%. And the U.S. – just 57% – and it has fewer paid vacation days than almost all major countries. But even with those 13 days off, only 57 percent of Americans take them all. To remind you again, 89% of the French use all of their days off.

If you’re worried that working less will mean America lags behind: Don’t worry. America’s growth historically has been fueled mostly by investment, education, productivity, innovation and immigration. The one thing that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with America’s new growth is a brutal work schedule. After all, we were working hard during the slow years of the 1970s as well.

In fact, some experts believe that working harder might actually depress productivity numbers because the additional hours worked rarely generate strong output. (We’re not as productive at 8 p.m. as at 9 a.m.)

So take a break, go to the beach, read a book, watch TV or surf the web. Wait a minute, you are surfing the web – so well done.

For more of my thoughts throughout the week, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and to visit the Global Public Square every day. Also, for more of my takes, click here.

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