Economists understand that the government creates both positive and negative incentives. Tax credits may encourage people to have more children, but higher tax rates discourage people from working more.
It’s a bit puzzling that a magazine called The Economist would encourage a government to enact a policy that encourages people to work less.
In a recent editorial, the magazine stumped for paid paternity leave, arguing it would help boost the economy. However, you cannot grow an economy by paying people not to work.
Even the writer of the editorial seems to understand that.
“Overly generous provision sometimes harms women, rather than helping them,” the magazine writes. “Those who take long spells off work see their skills grow rusty and fail to gain experience and promotions.”
Its “solution” to those problems is to take more people out of the workforce for longer periods by giving fathers, as well as mothers, paid time off.
“If both sexes are likely to take time off for child care, there is less temptation for employers to discriminate against women,” the magazine writes. Well, that’s true as far as it goes. But it just means exposing everyone to the potential loss of skills that can come with long periods away from work.
Further, the editorial asserts, “Time-use studies show that even when both parents work the same amount, the mother usually does more child care and housework. More hands-on fathering should cut down on this ‘second shift,’ which is a big reason why many mothers work part-time or in jobs for which they are overqualified.”
Indeed, perhaps simply being in the home more will encourage men to do more housework. Or maybe it won’t. A Pew study last year found that in households where both parents work, fathers still do about half as much housework as mothers.
Still, this simply isn’t a topic the government should take an interest in to begin with. Policymakers should leave the debate over homemaking chores to Ann Landers or Dear Abby; it’s not a congressional concern.
The editorial concludes by asking policymakers to walk a fine line: “Parental leave that is generous, but not too generous, is essential if mothers are not to be forced out of work by lack of support, or eased out by a surfeit of it. And ensuring that fathers take a share of it minimizes the risks and amplifies the gains,” the magazine asserts.
Well, exactly. But that’s the real problem: Where to draw the line? One week? One month? One year?
It would be better to simply allow the parents, and their employers, to make such decisions. If they want time off, it’s a possibility. If they want to continue working, it’s also a possibility. And if they want to divide up responsibilities, that’s between them and their marriage counselor.
Enforced paid leave, mandated by government edict, is poor economics. A magazine calling itself The Economist surely knows better.