Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Libertarians' Lost Voice in the Paid Leave Debate

Instead of sweeping new government entitlements, policymakers should instead seek policy reforms that help workers while minimizing economic disruption.

Policy leaders are pressing the government to ensure workers have paid time off. Whether government has any businesses dictating what benefits must be included in the employment packages of Americans is rarely considered. The libertarian perspective is all but entirely absent in the discussion. That needs to change.

Our federal government has limited responsibilities, and micromanaging leave practices isn't one of them. Even the best-intentioned policies have unintended consequences that backfire on those they are supposed to help. We need to call out policymakers who use the excuse of a safety net to justify any new rules and regulations that needlessly restrict options for all Americans.

That's the predictable tactic employed by the Left, which is pushing extensive paid leave programs with increasing success. San Francisco's city council created a city-wide paid leave mandate on top of California's state paid leave program. Washington, DC just created an even more generous program.

Liberal women's groups and progressive activists regularly promote social media memes charging the United States is alone in the world in failing to guarantee paid time off for workers. They imply this deficiency is latent sexism or a lack of compassion for workers, women, and children.

But some on the Right are also embracing this logic. The American Enterprise Institute—considered a free-market organization—just released a joint report with the more liberal Brookings Institution, entitled "Paid Family and Medical Leave: An Issue Whose Time Has Come." The authors noted they'd disagreed about the particulars of the best policy solution, but "unanimously agreed that some form of paid parental leave should be offered to help workers at the time of birth, adoption, or fostering of a child."

They outline a "compromise plan" to provide eligible workers with 70 percent of their wages for eight weeks of gender-neutral paid parental leave. This new federal entitlement program would be funded by a dedicated payroll tax and cuts to other spending.

AEI's report came just after the release of the President's budget outline, which included funding to expand the state-based Unemployment Insurance system with the goal of providing workers with a similar benefit.

There is pushback against sweeping new government entitlements. The Independent Women's Forum (where I work) argues that policymakers should instead seek policy reforms that help workers while minimizing economic disruption. Allowing workers to save tax-free for when they need time off for work is one such idea.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) could also serve as a model to provide a financial boost to lower-income workers who lack paid leave benefits. The IWF argues that any government intervention ought to be need-based, rather than a mandated entitlement program that would effectively do to our compensation system what ObamaCare did to health insurance.

The public likes the idea of government doing something to make sure new parents have a benefit that lets them spend more time at home with their children. But often overlooked is that the money has to come from somewhere. Businesses forced to pay more for benefits have less for increased wages.

Mandates that make employees more expensive offer less incentive for businesses to hire more and more highly skilled employees (that's bad news for lower-wage workers). Employers may avoid hiring those most likely to use benefits, particularly women. A government one-size-fits-all paid leave program would also discourage voluntary alternative work arrangements like job-sharing and telecommuting that benefit employers and employees.

Allowing the government to dictate what must be in our employment contracts is another chip off the block of basic liberty and self-determination. It becomes illegal for an employer to offer a job that doesn't fit the government rule. As an employee, you can't choose to take a greater share of your compensation as take-home pay; you can't decide to save on your own for time away from work in the future; government has decided how this must be handled.

There is also the matter of fairness. A paid leave mandate creates winners and losers. People with families and children will receive the benefits, while those who cannot or choose not to have children will pay for benefits they are far less likely to use.

That doesn't mean that companies shouldn't offer leave benefits. Rather we should allow employers to create a variety of work relationships that appeal to their employees' unique needs. Some workers will gravitate to businesses offering more robust benefits. Others may prefer companies that compensate with higher pay. Enabling people to act on their preferences is what the marketplace is all about.

The United States is a Constitutional Republic with a federal government that is supposed to have limited powers used for very specific purposes. Micromanaging employment contracts or taxing some citizens to give money to others shouldn't be among those powers.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    But often overlooked is that the money has to come from somewhere. Businesses forced to pay more for benefits have less for increased wages.

    There is less money for wages only if assuming that owner's profits remain the same. There should be related additions to every benefit mandate stipulating that the only legal mechanism for paying for these benefits is for owners to reduce their obscene fat-cat profits. It should be illegal for owners to hire fewer people, cut back hours, reduce wages, or pass the cost of a benefit along to workers in any way - then it is no longer a benefit, and is just something else the worker is already paying for.

    It simply isn't fair that some people are born into families with the resources to ensure that they wind up the owners of capital, and every person who owns a business is rich beyond the dreams of avarice and so can afford to take a haircut for their exploited workers.

  • rudehost||

    Poe's law? Has to be. Not even Elizabeth Warren is this stupid.

  • dschwar||

    We need a sarcasm-meter recalibration technician over here.

  • rudehost||

    I thought that was probably the case but it is such a damn perfect impression of a proglodyte it was hard to know. That screed could have been lifted out of the comment section at huffpo or the "readers picks" section of a NY Times article.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Dude, it's Gojira.

  • rudehost||

    I'm not here often enough to identify more than the trolls and super frequent posters.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Libertarians' Lost Voice in the Paid Leave Debate

    Paid leave is an issue best negotiated between employer and employee.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Libertarians' Lost Voice

    Hmmm.. Does one have to have something in order to lose it?

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Like non-crusty couch cushions?

  • Lester224||

    "Rather we should allow employers to create a variety of work relationships that appeal to their employees' unique needs. Some workers will gravitate to businesses offering more robust benefits. Others may prefer companies that compensate with higher pay. Enabling people to act on their preferences is what the marketplace is all about."

    That sounds great. Unfortunately we do not live in a utopia where people have unlimited choice about where they are able to work in order to be able to act on their preferences. If paid leave is not regulated (at some basic level) then the majority of workplaces would not provide any paid leave. The only places paid leave will be available under a perfectly free market will be at workplaces where employers are competing for employees and have to offer attractive benefit packages in order to obtain the employees. Those places are primarily employing college graduates or those with desirable skills. The majority of working-age people, who do not have college degrees, will not have access to such jobs. In addition, people are not perfectly mobile. They have family ties, their spouse has a job, they are taking care of aged parents etc. They cannot always move to another place where a job that offers more robust benefits is available.

    Low-skill workers (we will always have them) who are competing for jobs rather than having jobs compete for them, are shut out of benefits unless some level of benefits is regulated.

  • turco||

    Forcing employers to provide this benefit, even if paid for by the government, will discriminate against young employees. without benefits, an employer knows that their employee on unpaid maternity/paternity leave will return to work as soon as possible because they are not getting paid. With the paid benefit, the employer knows that an employee will take the entire 8 weeks, whether they have help at home or not . ergo, an employer will avoid hiring people who are likely to qualify for this benefit. That would hurt women of childbearing age and their significant others.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    This is the dirty underbelly of all the employer mandates right here. Employers react to these laws and consequently become scared shitless of hiring young women who might get pregnant. That's just one well-documented side effect of all this crap.

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    As Thomas Sowell once said, "There are no solutions, only tradeoffs"

    Is giving women of childbearing age an inherent disadvantage on the job market something that the progressives find acceptable as a tradeoff for this policy? If so I'd prefer they admit it rather than attempt to discredit basic economics

  • Bubba Jones||

    You simply mandate that 1/2 of all hires are female. Duh.

  • Fairbanks||

    Why is it the responsibility of one party to a voluntary deal to provide added value that isn't part of the deal, just because the other party would benefit? If we turned this around and said that if a company starts losing money the employees have to stick around and work at half pay, would that make sense?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    On the one hand Lester224 is correct, and there's a part of me which agrees-- no one wants to see the lowest-skilled, hardest-working employees get jammed even harder. But as Turco replied above, there are second order effects which are often discounted, and sometimes may be worse. But they're sufficiently diffused so we don't care.

    Who cares if general unemployment goes up .7 points after one of these laws is passed? Who cares if someone who is poor has a harder time getting a job, or is unemployed for longer because a regulation makes employers wary or more slow to add workers? These situations are more difficult to quantify and can easily be attributed to other things. But those effects are very real.

  • Fairbanks||

    Why should the (impossible to determine) economic effects even be a consideration? Shouldn't we all be free to contract with others as we see fit?

  • Jerryskids||

    If paid leave is not regulated (at some basic level) then the majority of workplaces would not provide any paid leave.

    I don't see why not - paid leave makes for happier workers and happier workers are more productive workers. Paid leave is good for business, it actually increases profits for employers smart enough to offer it. Since paid leave primarily is attractive to women of child-bearing age this makes it doubly profitable for the smart employers who hire lots of women because you only have to pay them 72 cents on the dollar.

  • EscherEnigma||

    "I don't see why not [...]"
    Only 12% of private sector workers have access to paid maternity leave, so I think there's plenty of folks that could explain it to you.

  • jerbigge||

    Depends upon whether or not there is a shortage of workers or a shortage of jobs.

  • rudehost||

    "Low-skill workers (we will always have them) who are competing for jobs rather than having jobs compete for them, are shut out of benefits unless some level of benefits is regulated."

    Except both Walmart and Mcdonalds offer paid time off as a benefit. So other than being completely wrong you are spot on.

  • PurityDiluting||

    "So other than being completely wrong you are spot on."
    Good one. I'm adding that to my rhetorical bag of tricks.

  • Mark22||

    That sounds great. Unfortunately we do not live in a utopia where people have unlimited choice about where they are able to work in order to be able to act on their preferences.

    So the solution? Let's reduce their choice even further by eliminating a bunch more jobs!

    Low-skill workers (we will always have them) who are competing for jobs rather than having jobs compete for them, are shut out of benefits unless some level of benefits is regulated.

    ... in which case, they are simply shut out of those jobs entirely.

    No employer can afford to pay any worker more than they contribute to the bottom line.

  • JeremyR||

    Why, it's almost as if there were no libertarian politicians in office or something.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    What insanity is this you speak of? Why there are three just in the NH legislature alone.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The libertarian perspective is all but entirely absent in the discussion. That needs to change.

    With all due respect, Carrie, that ain't the only place it's entirely absent.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    That's the predictable tactic employed by the Left, which is pushing extensive paid leave programs with increasing success. San Francisco's city council created a city-wide paid leave mandate on top of California's state paid leave program. Washington, DC just created an even more generous program.

    Seattle just passed (unanimously) a secure scheduling law which actually dictates how you change the hours of your employees. The unintended consequences of course are small employers who have a very limited number of workers who sometimes don't show up. The employer literally has to pay a fine if worker A doesn't show up for work, and he has to call in worker B if it's not Worker B's normal shift.

    The legislation was entirely written by labor unions and handed to the city council in a three ring binder, vote-ready.

    Guess who's exempt from the law?

    The whole thing is so fucking corrupt and enraging that I hate my local leaders with the energy of a thousand supernovas. And there is NO political opposition, either in government or the press. None.

  • PurityDiluting||

    "And there is NO common sense, either in government or the press."
    FTFY

  • Rhywun||

    Small businesses that don't have multiply-redundant employees on the schedule at all times literally don't deserve to exist.

    ...

    I remember working a hotel that had maybe 8 employees - and maybe 4 of them capable of permorming my dutues - and working ten or fifteen days straight now and then because someone got sick or had to leave town or whatnot. That business could not exist with a law like this.

  • swampwiz||

    Well, then maybe this small business doesn't deserve to exist. Large employers have a lot of synergies to make them more efficient.

  • phenryinohio||

    These were totally weird comments for a Libertarian publication. Or did I go to the wrong comments section today.

  • Qsl||

    Libertarians on the whole don't have a coherent theory of employment, vacillating between right-to-work but against piss tests, contracts being sacrosanct but being able to be fired at will, etc.

    I don't think an argument can be made for paid time off as a social good (regardless of how it is implemented) when there is no obligation to honor it (and the regulations regarding become stifling).

    It would be better to argue for general, consistent worker's rights, and let the chips fall where they may regarding paid leave.

  • Overt||

    Libertarians on the whole don't have a coherent theory of employment, vacillating between right-to-work but against piss tests, contracts being sacrosanct but being able to be fired at will, etc.

    Which Libertarians are these? Most libertarians I know have no problem reconciling a world where you can be fired at will, or according to some contractual terms, nor a world where they thing piss tests are stupid and ill minded but they recognize an employer's right to choose who they will employ and under what terms.

  • Rhywun||

    contracts being sacrosanct but being able to be fired at will

    Yeah, if my contract says I can be let go at will, and I agree to it, there's no contradiction at all. Not sure what the OP is talking about.

  • Mark22||

    Libertarians on the whole don't have a coherent theory of employment, vacillating between right-to-work

    Do you even know what "right-to-work" is?

    but against piss tests,

    I can be against something without it being illegal.

    contracts being sacrosanct but being able to be fired at will, etc.

    Those sacrosanct contracts say that you can be fired at will. They also say that you can leave at will.

    It would be better to argue for general, consistent worker's rights, and let the chips fall where they may regarding paid leave.

    The "consistent workers rights" are that your employer can't harm you and needs to fulfill his side of the contract. Isn't that consistent enough for you?

  • Qsl||

    Do you even know what "right-to-work" is?

    Do you know what local negotiation of working conditions is? But hey, it's fine and good to use the billyclub of government to break a negotiated contract. Don't like the union, don't work there. See how that works?

    I can be against something without it being illegal.

    Yeah, like how I can be for legalized pot, but fuck me if I decide to act upon it. But hey, I'm free to move to a place with decriminalized pot, but god damn if I still be denied employment for engaging in a legal act. Some places won't even hire smokers.

    Those sacrosanct contracts say that you can be fired at will. They also say that you can leave at will.

    So an employer should be able to fire you for your political affiliation, membership in an organization not work related, because he didn't take his meds this week, etc. ?

    Does the concept of wrongful termination ring any bells for you? But that's just The Man infringing on two party's right to contract, nevermind unconscionability or due consideration.

    As I said, arguing for general, consistent worker's rights would be a huge step up for most libertarians.

  • Azathoth!!||

    There's no such thing as a 'worker' unless you're an insect.

    Individual rights. That's the libertarian focus.

    When did 'the union' become the de facto owner of my labor, that they can decide who I offer it to and who can accept my offer? Unions are slavers. If unions work for the good of the employees, then the employees will see that and join. Since most unions push for forced enrollment we can see that unions work for unions, skimming off a bit of each workers pay to benefit neither employee or employer.

    At will employment, by employer and employee is the only sound structure. Someone can hire you because they like the color of your hair--and fire you if you change it. It may be a bit crazy as it starts, with people reveling in the freedom to control their own businesses again, but it will soon settle into a new balance.

  • Qsl||

    I applaud your independent wealth and life of leisure. The rest of us schlubs work, and withiin that context require specific protections related to that role, such as having MSDS available that doesn't apply if I'm walking down the street (if you do, here's a hint- oxygen is flammable).

    I would hope you could figure that out on your own. Your platitudes of individual rights means fuckall with working a factory floor.

    Since when should your requirement to labor interfere with a locally negotiated contract with the union and employer? Aren't libertarians all about the sanctity of contracts? So why should an employer break their contract with the union just because of your specious claim?

    And much like the hair-color, if you don't like it, you can work elsewhere. No one is "forcing" to join the union. You are always free to work someplace than a closed shop (or whine at the government... how libertarian of you).

    "At will" employment is variable to context depending on the job (I doubt you'd be crowing about it if an EMT attending to you decided you were too much of an asshole and quit right there). Hence all those little vulgarities of what makes up a legal contract, which ultimately coalesce into worker's rights.

    The work world is a bit more complex than the 1800s, with NDAs, OSHA, non-compete agreements, and it being illegal to strike in some instances.

    I can see the concept of unified worker's rights won't be happening any time soon.

  • DesigNate||

    That's because we aren't a fucking Borg collective. What I think are ok for my terms of employment may not be okay to you. And that's gravy, as long as you stay out of my employment arrangement and I stay out of yours.

  • Jima||

    Technically, oxygen is NOT flammable, it facilitates the combustion of other things. Turn on the oxygen regulator on a cutting torch and try to light the oxygen, it won't happen. Just FYI.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Unions are fine so long as they are voluntary.

    Piss tests are a result of government policies.

  • See.More||

    Some places won't even hire smokers.

    So?

    It is quite simply the free exercise of their Property Rights and Freedom of Association. No one has an inherent Right to Work for Someone Else. Not a damned thing, ideologically, wrong with being denied employment for any stupid reason.

    So an employer should be able to fire you for your political affiliation, membership in an organization not work related, because he didn't take his meds this week, etc. ?

    Yep. See Above.

    Does the concept of wrongful termination ring any bells for you? But that's just The Man infringing on two party's right to contract...

    Congrats! You answered your own question!!

    As I said, arguing for general, consistent worker's rights would be a huge step up for most libertarians.

    Consistent "Workers' Right" (i.e. Individuals Rights to seek/perform work): (a) offer to voluntarily trade labor for compensation; (b) voluntarily negotiate and enter into labor/employment/service contract(s).

    The terms of those contracts (unless you are a party to 'em) are none of your damned business. It doesn't matter how exploitative or unfair you think they are. If two people voluntarily agree and abide by the terms that is their business. Stay the fuck out of it.

  • Qsl||

    Here, let me throw a radical concept at you- any contract of employment should deal exclusively with employment. Now I realize this might be a stretch for you, but as you fail dramatically in your Philosopher King role and haven't raised your army to overthrow the government; the terms of that contract will be adjudicated by the government- they (we?) decide the terms of what is enforceable. That means you can't sell your little sister into slavery even though she said yes- no one will enforce the contract, and you absolutely lack the means to do it yourself (notice how your free exercise of property rights coincides heavily with government dictum. Good boy, I knew you could master the art of sitting down and shutting-up).

    Now over here at the Big People Table, we have certain legal concepts like due consideration, and argue back and forth as to what constitutes as "fair". It seems an employer doesn't have the right to ask for a blood sample, genetic test, favored sexual positions of your spouse, etc. except in how it deals exclusively with your employment. And even then, your compensation should reflect what is being asked of you.

    So we move into the libertarian idea of worker's rights, and how that negotiation should deal exclusively with work. I know it is a radical idea, but maybe after 100 years of hatching that out, you can move to the idea of paid leave.

    But I doubt it.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Not a damned thing, ideologically, wrong with being denied employment for any stupid reason.
    Only if your "ideology" starts and stops at government, and doesn't concern itself with what's actually happening in the real world.

  • email support||

    email Support also providing a wide range of solution to every user. They look into issues and try to resolve your issues as soon as possible.

  • Rhywun||

    those who cannot or choose not to have children will pay for benefits they are far less likely to use

    That ship sailed decades ago.

  • Barry Gold||

    The real problem here is the expansion of the Interestate Commerce clause.Until the 1940s, commerce that took place inside a state was the exclusive province of the state government. Then the Supreme COurt turned around and decided that even intrastate commerce could be regulated by the Federal government because it "affected" interstate commerce. Even things that weren't actually commerce -- like growing corn for your own use -- could be subject to Federal quotas on corn because it "affected" the nationwide market. If you grow your own corn, you'll buy less on the open market.

    If we went back to the idea that Congress can regulate _only_ commerce involving more than one state, we would have more opportunity for states to try their own economic experiments and see which ones worked best. The "laboratory of democracy", to quote Justice Brandeis.

  • MaleMatters||

    Re: "They imply this deficiency is latent sexism or a lack of compassion for workers, women, and children."

    Were men moved to another world?

    "A Comprehensive Look at Gender Equality: Taking On The Institute For Women's Policy Research" www.malemattersusa.wordpress.c.....-research/

  • Jima||

    Many small businesses would cease to operate during a key employee's paid maternity leave. If you have a range of technical skills required to do something, and a limited number of people who have those skills, you can't just dial up a temp agency to get an expert for 8 weeks. A lot of tech shops employ fewer than 10 people, and the loss of one person for two months is a big deal. How is it fair if all the other employees get the axe because little Susie got knocked up and took off for 8 weeks? If little Susie has skills that can't be transferred before her kid's due, you're out of luck. I know my example is extreme, and little Susie might get hit by a bus too, but it's something you have to consider when you implement some rule broadly. Not every company is GM or Amazon with thousands of place fillers.

  • Praveen R.||

    I lean liberal on many issues. But man, I think it is stupid to force employers to provide PAID leave. We are pretty much indirectly encouraging smaller employers to not hire women of child bearing age. To get around gender discrimination lawsuits, they will just hire older women.

    Now, it may be considered prudent that we as a society, may want to fund from a common pool(OK euphemism for big bad government) to encourage productive members of a child bearing age not to delay procreation and not leave the majority of procreation to the unemployed or the families where the salary of one spouse is good enough for both. It is desirable to have kids distributed all across the spectrum. So maybe we can put in a flat child bearing allowance for those who wish to take time off kind of like those short term disability terms.

    What I am not against is more companies making it easier for women with kids to telecommute if they want to shorten that time off period after giving birth. Or if it is conducive to the work environment, even encourage the employee to bring the kid to the office. But that should be on the initiative of the company.

    And on a slight tangent, how stupid was that lawsuit by that actress who suit Melrose Place (or some similar show) because she thought she was fired or didnt get the job because they thought she would lose her looks after getting pregnant. She got hired for her looks in the first place. I cant believe she won that.

  • Ankah||

    "I think it is stupid to force employers to provide PAID leave. We are pretty much indirectly encouraging smaller employers to not hire women of child bearing age. To get around gender discrimination lawsuits, they will just hire older women."

    True. At the same time, I do not think there is a better solution. I do not believe the market place will self correct here. It never did before, and it has not done so elsewhere.

    The theory of free markets just does not work well with gender equality, and supply sides economics is less and less applicable every day.

    I am seeing a lot of "(b) voluntarily negotiate and enter into labor/employment/service contract(s)". If most here can truly negotiate employment contracts on equal footing with their employers because they posses highly sought after skills, kudos to you, honestly. I am positive that most in the USA do not have that luxury.

  • jerbigge||

    We're moving towards the sort of social welfare society that already exists in most of the rest of the developed world. We will also experience the same results that have occurred there. Large businesses can probably shuffle people around to allow for this, but small businesses will find it more difficult. This is a lot like the increase in the minimum wage which results in an increase in unemployment. Many employers will likely try to avoid hiring women whenever they can.

  • wearingit||

    "Our federal government has limited responsibilities, and micromanaging leave practices isn't one of them. Even the best-intentioned policies have unintended consequences that backfire on those they are supposed to help. "

    Our federal government grows or shrinks according to the people it governs. I highly doubt the framers had any concept of Medicare but look at us now (and it's quite popular.) And your second sentence here could be redirected right back at you- best intentioned libertarian policies might be good for profits but worse for workers. I surely hope the irony is not lost.

  • swampwiz||

    I think that if we are going to go this route of socialism, we should do it directly from the government. paid for by general revenue. I think the problem is this complete anti-government meme which makes folks look to the private sector for solutions to everything. "We don't need government health care; go get a private-sector job to get it."

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online