Broken Heart, New Alfa Romeo, Funded by Belgian Taxpayers

Today's Wall Street Journal looks at the epidemic of healthy sick people in Belgium (i.e. people with hangovers bilking the government and their employers by taking advantage of the country's overly generous sick leave policies). In a Hit & Run post last year, I mentioned that, according to OECD figures, Sweden is one of the healthiest countries in Europe, yet its citizens topped the tables in accrued sick days. Odd, that.

Back in June, I offered the following anecdote from Sweden: "An acquaintance of mine in Stockholm was on sick leave for six months, collecting three-quarters of his salary after his girlfriend left him, rendering him "burned out"—utmattningssyndrom—and incapable of work." Well, according to the Journal, brokenhearted Belgians are also forcing the government to underwrite bad relationship decisions.

Mr. Lombard's method found a recent subject in Fabrice Vandervelpen, a 36-year-old manager at a frozen-vegetable packing plant in southern Belgium. In September, he called in sick. His girlfriend of six months had just left him, he says. A psychiatrist diagnosed him with depression and certified him for medical leave.

[...]

Mr. Vandervelpen says he spent his first two weeks off writing poetry at his parents' home, where he lives. His mother, Marie-Jane, often took him shopping for new clothes, she says. He played soccer again with his local club, FC Burdinne, and volunteered as club treasurer. He visited a Catholic shrine in Banneux, Belgium, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in 1933.

In November, Mr. Vandervelpen bought a bright red Alfa Romeo MiTo for $30,000. Zipping through the hills and sugar-beet fields in his new car made him feel better, he says. He visited his ex-girlfriend and went to parties...

If the law didn't mandate paid sick leave, he would have gone back to work sooner, says Mr. Vandervelpen. Hesbaye Frost paid his full salary for the first month he was off. After that, a government-backed insurance company picked up 80% of his salary, which the law guarantees indefinitely. "The government keeps €1,000 [about $1,357] a month in taxes off me, so why shouldn't I get help when I don't feel well?" he asks. He makes €2,500 before taxes.

According to the Journal, a number of Belgian government agencies "were averaging 35 days of paid sick leave per employee each year, more than twice the national rate and seven times the U.S. average," before authorities cracked down on the cheats. And remember, Belgian workers are already the beneficiaries of four weeks of statutory vacation. With a less generous welfare state, perhaps the great Plastic Bertrand would find it necessary to start recording again. In the meantime, we can only rewatch YouTube videos of the greatest song to ever come out of Brussels, "Ça plane pour moi." 

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  • Hugh Akston||

    Shocking! Just shocking that he has to make due with only 80% of his income. Suppose she had broken off an engagement and he had to spend several days returning wedding gifts? Would 80% be enough to mend his broken heart and pay for gas? What a cruel and heartless place is Belgium.

  • Jonas||

    This is totally unrelated, but SOMEONE working for Reason really needs to post the new Dear Leader Obama song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA_gtxcwRss

  • </||

  • Guy Montag||

    As I was reading this that stupid "On and On" song was playing in the bar. UGH!

    Should I make another Obama prediction? Yes. Thank you.

    If you think the Belgians are bad now just you wait until the next Congress takes over with an entitlements mad Executive to 'contend' with. We (well, some of we) will be saying 'Look how sensible those Belgians arel, remember when our government was as conservative as theirs?'

    No, making sick leave pay tax free does not make it any better. Well, a little better but not eenough to make it okay.

  • </||

  • ||

    TAO, you should get chummy with your congressperson, make some campaign donations and then ask for him/her to introduce legislation mandating that TARP set aside some dough for folks like you who have had to suffer blogging abuse from trolls like your pal LurkerBold, Lefiti and nobody u know.

    Listen, if some sweedish schmuck gets 80% of his salary while on medical leave for six months all because his former girlfriend decided she wanted to be a boy, why shouldn't you should get some bailout benjamins? After all, the sweedish guy's girlfriend did him a favor, whereas it is infinitely more depressing for a gifted intellectual to have to put up with the adolescent antics of those inferior irrritants.

  • ||

    Guy-

    You dissin' my boy, Stephen Bishop?

  • DannyK||

    Belgium needs nicer girlfriends, it's messing up the economy. Maybe the govt. could do something about that?

  • ||

    Has anybody ever considered that the Swedes are the healthiest people in Europe BECAUSE they call in sick more often than any other group?

    By god I think I've got a solution to the health care crisis.

  • Bingo||

    Damn that catchy faux-punk fucker.

  • ||

    Just shocking that he has to make due with only 80% of his income.

    Sorry to be pedantic, but it's "make do." For some reason this is one of those errors that gets me all torqued up.

    /pedant

  • The Angry Optimist||

    it is infinitely more depressing for a gifted intellectual to have to put up with the adolescent antics of those inferior irrritants.

    Hrrphm. Indubitably, Jeeves. Now fetch my smoking jacket and the bottle of port.

  • Shannon Love||

    "The government keeps €1,000 [about $1,357] a month in taxes off me, so why shouldn't I get help when I don't feel well?"

    Not that this guy falls into the group, but I've see that attitude in otherwise independently minded people. It seems that people who pay but don't take eventually feel taken advantage of and start to play the system. An expansive government becomes self-reinforcing as more and more people feel justified in gaming the system due to their high contributions to it.

  • </||

    Damn that catchy faux-punk fucker.

    Bingo,

    click on my link.He plays the drums on the real punk rock version.

  • There goes an angy man||

    Damn it! Is that why he was on sick leave? Motherfucker!! I'm fucking liquidating, man, packing my shit, and getting the fuck out of this cold ass dumpy nation. Damn, nobody pays me fucking 80 percent of my fucking salary because my girlfriend left me. Boo Hoo, cry baby fucker. Hey, do you think he ever came by to thank me for that? Hell, no! He'll pat the back of some jackoff politician who pushes a button for a legislation his fucking loser staff comprised of snotnosed upper class brats put together during an 'alnighter' like it was a fucking college exam or something, but not me. Noooo! I'm just the greedy capitalist pig too cold hearted to care for his little bitty feelings. Fuck it, I'm out of here.

    Vandervelpen's boss

  • ||

    TAO-

    Funny. A kernal of truth?

  • Bingo||

    #:

    I submit that this is the much superior version, complete with berating a live audience and a homophobic description.

  • Mr. Black||

    Hrrphm. Indubitably, Jeeves. Now fetch my smoking jacket and the bottle of port.

    Gentlemen, to evil!

  • nobody u no and a big fan of j||

    bside you make an awsome point man.

    did you know that if the belgies were more into the herb they would be even more healthy? organic herb is where it is at man.

  • dave||

    "The government keeps €1,000 [about $1,357] a month in taxes off me, so why shouldn't I get help when I don't feel well?" he asks. He makes €2,500 before taxes.

    I have to admit, if I were being screwed to the tune of 40% of my income, I'd probably feel the same way.

    Come to think of it, between the Feds, State, FICA, sales tax, property tax . . . .

  • Guy Montag||

    You dissin' my boy, Stephen Bishop?

    Is that who sings it? He should be used for interrogations or something.

  • Guy Montag||

    Who is filling for Dave Weigel while he is at The Economist? No Saturday post! I miss the Saturday/weekend posts.

  • ||

    Regarding the prospects for mandatory sick leave (paid for by the private sector, of course) in our corner of the world, Ohio dodged a bullet when backers of such a bill withdrew it (after the guv'nah came out against it,) but apparently there's the threat of a federal law looming in the wings with the Coming of The Chosen One. However, there's them as what thinks the tanking economy will thwart any such threat:

    http://www.news-press.com/article/20081223/HEALTH/81222022/1013/LIFESTYLES

    Predictions? Wagers? What say you, gentlemen?

    My own employer has always had an extremely generous paid-time-off policy - for sick leave, we only just dropped from 4 to 3 hours per biweekly pay for F/T emps. (A few years ago, it was 10 hrs./mo.) And here I sit maxed out at 720 hours of sick time, accrued and unused. I must be the biggest chump that ever lived. (*Crosses arms and glowers.*)

  • Lamont Cranston||

    Apart from offending your libertarian sensibilities, what's the big deal? Belgium's a democracy, right?

    Face it - libertarianism is a fringe ideology, and the reality is that most people would rather pay higher taxes in exchange for things like health care, sick leave, and unemployment benefits. I have to imagine that a poll of first world nations would show a preference for the Belgian work leave rules over ours. For that matter, I imagine a poll of Americans would, too.

  • ||

    Ummm...does THIS tag work? (Duh?)
    "Meltdown Slows Bid for Paid Sick Leave"

  • ||

    Just more evidence that Europeans are a bunch of whiny pussies. I went to work the day day after my sister died. When my mother passed away, I took a week of accrued vacation.

  • Sal Paradise||

    "Apart from offending your libertarian sensibilities, what's the big deal? Belgium's a democracy, right? "

    DRINK!

  • Twba||

    In November, Mr. Vandervelpen bought a bright red Alfa Romeo MiTo for $30,000.

    Thirty G for that little car must include about ten G in hidden taxes.

  • ||

    as a professional blog comment poster, it's good to know that when my finger joints get sore, i can take a few days off at 80% of my income.

  • ||

    as a professional blog comment poster, it's good to know that when my finger joints get sore, i can take a few days off at 80% of my income.

    Alas, 80% of $0.00 is $0.00.

  • Rocky Mountain Libertarian||

    "Face it - libertarianism is a fringe ideology, and the reality is that most people would rather pay higher taxes in exchange for things like health care, sick leave, and unemployment benefits."

    aka, I don't want to be productive so I'll use bureaucrat to leach off the success of others.

  • Rocky Mountain Libertarian||

    "For that matter, I imagine a poll of Americans would, too."

    A society shouldn't be based on polls. Ever hear of tyranny of the majority? Either way theirs a reason why the United States has been able to produce groundbreaking technology and new innovations in all industry in the past half century and Europe hasn't.

  • ||

    Mr. Vandervelpen says he spent his first two weeks off writing poetry at his parents' home, where he lives. His mother, Marie-Jane, often took him shopping for new clothes, she says.



    Wow, what a momma's boy. I'm amazed he managed to attract a girlfriend while living with his mum. Belgian chicks must have very low standards.

  • ||

    At least the swedish taxpayers are not being asked to pay for this.

    Stimulus Money for a Mob Museum. Got a Problem?

    The planned Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, a k a "the Mob Museum" on its own Web site, is to include interactive exhibits where visitors can snap their mug shots, stand in police lineups and wiretap one another. Such a center, Mayor Oscar B. Goodman said in an interview Thursday, is "absolutely falling within the four corners of what President-elect Obama is trying to achieve."

    "This is a project where all the plans are in place and we can start it within 30 days," said Mr. Goodman, a former criminal defense lawyer who represented several Mafia figures in the 1970s and 1980s.



    I don't quite know what to say.

    I posted this on the stimulus boondoggle thread but it's probably dead by now. I politely request that the powers to be at Reason.com bring back the weekend political thread so crap comments like this have a home.

  • corrected||

    SlurrrpppApart from offending ssssssssyour libertarian sensibilities,sluksluksluk what's the big deal? Belgium's a democracythhhhphhht, rightssssss?

    Faceschhhuchuchcu it - sslllepppplibertarianism is a fringesupsupsuspsup ideology, and the realitychukphachukpa is that most people would rather pay higher taxes in exchange ssllssllssllsll for things like health care, sick leave, shhligggand unemployment benthupefits. I have to imagine that a poll of first world nations would THUPTHUPTHUPshow a preference for the Belgian work leave rules over oursssslllurrrlll. For that matter, I imagine a poll of Americans would, phhhrrrrtoo.


    Corrected for the sounds that a leach would make for the sake of accuracy.

    No, most Americans would not agree with your subhuman analysis Cranston, most Americans would see the utter ridiculous and destructive nature this sort of thinking and policy is for
    the society that embraces it. So slither on, leach.

  • hotsauce||

    I'd take it too.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Hmmmmmmmm . . . with a little bit of luck Obama will have similiar legislation passed here in the good ol' US of A. Then you suckers can help pay for my new Challenger.

  • alan||

    Leeches leach but leaches don't leech,

    but, yeah, if you are not aware that the first lesson in life when you are extracted from the womb is no one owes you a goddamn thing, than you are just taking up space.

  • ||

    Hmmmmmmmm . . . with a little bit of luck Obama will have similiar legislation passed here in the good ol' US of A. Then you suckers can help pay for my new Challenger.

    In a truly just world, Chrysler would be filing for bankruptcy right now and the abomination known as the Challenger would cease to exist.

  • Naga Sadow||

    J sub D,

    Damn your "comfortable and retired" ass! Let the youngsters have a taste of the good life! I want a Challenger damn it all!

  • ||

    Get a one of these instead. Write-up here.It kicks any Mopar shit's ass. For an added benefit, the company that makes it will still exist two years down the line and hasn't gotten any bailout cash. Yet.

    When the government is handing out the goodies, why not get in line?

  • mk||

    Sure, there're the anecdotal stories in the piece. But the main statistic in the article is that European workers take around 2x the amount of sick leave that Americans take (still less than two weeks total) and that this _at most_ incurs a cost of 1.3% of the GDP. Now, obviously, no specific statistics are given for Belgium, and maybe the problem is worse there -- though if it was I would imagine the Journal would have cited the statistics.

    So what's the big deal? The cost of erring on the side of believing that people are telling the truth about illness -- always a risky strategy -- ends up costing at most a percent of GDP? That doesn't sound bad at all. Particularly since I agree with Dave (way above):

    I have to admit, if I were being screwed to the tune of 40% of my income, I'd probably feel the same way.

    Also, I call foul on the part about the firing. Maybe it is true that the union wins 70% of its cases, but I wouldn't take the union lawyer's word for it. Moreover, there's no way to know whether this egregious sleeping on the job case will fall into the 70% or the 30% portion.

    I admit, I don't like European approach. But from a cost-benefit perspective I'm not sure I can argue against it from the single statistic given.

    mk

  • nobody u no and a big fan of j||

    man, he should have got a smart car. they are the most awsome green cars ever.

    or convert a gt500 into an electric.

  • Mad Max||

    'Stimulus Money for a Mob Museum. Got a Problem?'

    Las Vegas made Obama an offer that . . . oh, never mind.

  • TallDave||

    In a Hit & Run post last year, I mentioned that, according to OECD figures, Sweden is one of the healthiest countries in Europe, yet its citizens topped the tables in accrued sick days

    Heh. So much for the theory socialist medicine improves outcomes.

  • TallDave||

    European workers take around 2x the amount of sick leave that Americans take (still less than two weeks total) and that this _at most_ incurs a cost of 1.3% of the GDP.

    In the U.S., this would mean losing around $150B a year... every year. In other words, trillions of dollars. That's a big deal.

    The cost of erring on the side of believing that people are telling the truth about illness -- always a risky strategy -- ends up costing at most a percent of GDP?

    What are arguing is the supposed benefit of not going when to work when you are healthy enough to?

    You may be under the illusion this means Euros are getting more diagnostic care, but in fact they aren't. We spend far more on health care because we get non-rationed premium care here; you are far more likely to get MRIs or other expensive tests in situations where socialized countries forbid them as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

  • economist||

    "Belgian chicks must have very low standards."

    *economist has left his job to move to Belgium with fake citizenship so he can collect welfare and get some.*

  • A song||

  • mk||

    This is all probably moot, but:

    TallDave,

    Yes, of course, people taking more sick days -- EVEN GENUINE SICK DAYS -- would cost the U.S. more money if all you consider is strict productivity. But there is no proof whatsoever that the U.S. number of sick days taken is in any way closer to the true number. (See, for example, some companies exploring policies that encourage sick workers to stay home, lest they infect co-workers (Link).) Under that strict logic no worker should be allowed to take any sick days, as that would increase profits by around $150bn. That's just a facetious argument.

    The other part of your comment is just irrelevant. I'm not saying a thing about the quality of European health care. I'm just pointing out that giving European workers the benefit of the doubt -- a policy which still yields less than 12 sick days per worker -- apparently costs less than 2% of the GDP in lost productivity. My response is: That's it?

    Now you may argue there are other measures to be used. I'd agree. But the WSJ only gave one, and it undermines the rest of the article dramatically as far as I'm concerned. Maybe there are other statistics that make the case better, and maybe Moynihan will offer them. (One possibility, sure to be popular around these parts, is that the European economy is so messed up that the full effect of this terrible inefficiency isn't felt. But I'd like to see the numbers to back it up.)

    mk

  • Travis||

    When I was in Sweden my tour guide told me that there was no rich & poor in Sweden. The people who worked lived mainly a middle class lifestyle & the people who collected welfare lived a lower middle class lifestyle. In such a system only a complete sucker would work for a living. It has always been my dream to emigrate to Sweden & get on the dole.

  • ||

    Face it - libertarianism is a fringe ideology, and the reality is that most people would rather have someone else pay higher taxes in exchange for things like health care, sick leave, and unemployment benefits.

    FTFY

  • ||

    You mention Plastic Bertrand, but you forgot about Front 242.
    For shame, sir, for shame.

  • Fluffy||

    I'm a little late to the discussion here, but mk is being a bit cavalier about 2% of GDP.

    If two countries have identical GDP this year spend the next century with country A having GDP growth of 2% a year and country B having GDP growth of 4% a year, after that century country B's per capital GDP will be about 7 times that of country A.

    That's about the difference between per capita GDP in the UK and in Tonga.

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