Thursday, August 20, 2009

Benelux: Less Work, More Productive

BusinessWeek has an interesting article comparing productivity per hours worked between the United States and Europe.

Europeans on average pocket almost 10 more vacation days than their U.S. counterparts. That's the findings from research by consultants at Mercer, which analyzed the minimum number of vacation days that companies across Europe must provide to staff with 10 years' service, as well as the number of national holidays in each country.

The study reveals the average time off in European Union countries is now 34.4 days, compared with just 25 in the U.S. Overall, employees in Lithuania are entitled to the greatest amount of paid leave, with 41 holidays per year. France and Finland come a close second, with 40.

The article assures us that, overall, the U.S. is still the "most competitive country" in the world. Competitiveness seems like a completely different economic measurement seperate from productivity to me, but I suppose that's beside the point for this article. Europe does give the U.S. a "run for its money," as the article puts it, although BusinessWeek pegs some areas (Eastern Europe) as being less productive per time worked than others.

The clear winners are the Benelux countries though:

Europe's top performers include some of the region's smaller nations. Leading the way are the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), which outperform the U.S. based on gross domestic product per hours worked each year. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development, Belgium and the Netherlands, which mandate 30 and 28 annual vacation days, respectively, are almost 2% more productive than the U.S. And Luxembourg, with its highly competitive financial services industry and 32-day yearly vacation allowance, is a staggering 27% more efficient.
Interesting stuff. I wonder why the economic media hasn't explored the Benelux economies more? After all, we hear about Scandinavia and its social democracy all the time. I suppose whether or not these countries are actually as efficient as this article makes it out to seem is debatable and whether or not the U.S. can emulate them in any way is another question altogether. I can't really give my own opinion or take on it without looking at them with more depth, which I might do someday, but for now I leave it at that. On a political note, I wonder why American liberal politicians focus so much on Scandinavia and Britain as models to emulate, especially the recent comparisons between the British National Health Service and the Democrats' proposed health care reforms? There are other countries in Europe (like the Benelux trio) that beat us in terms of economic efficiency while being more social democratic. Maybe liberals should take a harder look at the rest of Europe. What is your take on it (especially my European readers)?

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