Tag Archives: Armchair Economist

Do Away With Summer Vacation?

In One World Schoolhouse, which I reviewed in a previous post, Sal Khan proposes an interesting concept: No summer vacation.

Before you boo, let’s give this some serious thought. One of the fantastic points in Khan’s vision is that education should prepare us for real life. Am I suggesting that real life should include some work on weekends, too? Absolutely. Before your boos get louder, allow me to qualify my statement. If you truly do what you love, it will not feel like work. I am a big fan of work becoming play and people following their passion and finding ways to monetize it.

That’s not how the dismal science, economics, models it. As Steven Landsburg claims in The Armchair Economist, we don’t care about labor, only fruits of our labor. Is this true?

When I put my economist hat on, it is hard to disagree with that statement. The theory is pretty simple. Workers choose between work and leisure. Leisure is fun, but it is costly, the cost being the lost wages you earn by working.  Each of us, then, decides how much we should work given the wages.

Even though this is pretty standard theory, I am not at home with this. It makes me uneasy because deep down, I disagree with the notion that we don’t care about labor and only fruits of our labor. I want my hobby to be my work. I simply want to do what I want to do; and if I get paid for doing what I love, even better.

Some people argue that following your passion does not necessarily maximize your income. This is generally true in the short term, because you may have to provide for your family, have other responsibilities, switching costs may be high, you may need to be re-trained etc., but in the long term, you are better off by following your passion, financially and otherwise.  Call me a romantic but I really think your lifetime income is actually maximized by doing what you love. If this is true, it would create somewhat of a paradox – I do what I love to maximize the fruits of my labor, but that means my labor was not that costly in the first place, because it is what I would have done in my free time, anyway.

This study found that almost 80% of the people are not passionate about their job, so maybe the economics modeling is simply a reflection of reality. That, however, doesn’t make it the ideal scenario. Work and play should be one and the same in adult life, and if we agree on that, then Khan has a pretty good case. It goes like this. People should do what they love when they grow up, education is supposed to prepare us for real life, so kids should do what they love without having an artificial divide winters and summers, which really doesn’t exist in real life.