Thursday, December 09, 2004

Eating Bon-Bons Across the Ocean?

by Tom Bozzo

No, not that Ocean.

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution quotes a recent Cato Institute book, Cowboy Capitalism: European Myths, American Reality by Olaf Gersemann, which claims that

On average, a working-age German works about 2 hours and 35 minutes per calendar day.

Wow. A good question is what we are to make of this statistic. Does it suggest that Germans are twiddling their thumbs most of the day while Americans have their noses to the grindstone? This just demands a back-of-the-envelope estimate for the U.S.

How about this, using the BLS's November Employment Situation Summary:

average workweek [private sector, Establishment Survey] x employment-population ratio [Household Survey] / 7


33.7 hours x .625 / 7 days = 3 hours and 32 seconds per calendar day.

The difference of 25 minutes per day — if it were to stand up to a proper apples-to-apples comparison — isn't insubstantial, but what would the impression have been if the U.S. figure were posted without further comment? Working 152 hours a year less on average to achieve the German standard of living might not be all that bad.

The book, which claims to take "common misperceptions of the American economy and demonstrat[e] how misleading they are," would seem to be ripe for a good once-over by a liberal economist with more free time than me.

One seeming example of a bait-and-switch, the Cato article leads off enumerating, among the "misperceptions," that

[w]e hear, too, that average families can maintain their standard of living only because both parents work

And then are given as the first item in a list of "myths vs. the reality":

Myth: Many people in the United States need two or three jobs to make ends meet.
Reality: As of May 2001, only 1.5 percent of all working Americans held multiple jobs to stay afloat. (page 126) [emphasis in original]

Note the shifting of terms, as we're treated to how many individuals work multiple jobs, not how many families are dependent on multiple incomes. In fairness, it's a 260-page book that I haven't read, so just maybe the multiple-earner family issue is addressed somewhere. But other "myth" checking on subjects like income inequality using income tax statistics (see Max Sawicky, e.g. here, for coverage of the relevant issues) suggests that a good bit of the "reality"-checking might be shown to be presented to disingenuous effect.
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?