A Californian friend commented to me recently that NZ women have a reputation in the US for being ungroomed. She was shocked to learn that most NZ women don’t dye their hair or get weekly manicures and pedicures. More surprising still was seeing women in public without make-up on! It all reminded me of the way I sometimes hear American commentators cite laziness as the reason for French productivity growth being lower than in the US.
Any economist would explain both of these phenomena as resulting from different preferences across leisure and consumption. Weekly pedicures, maniures and hair dying takes up a lot of time that could be spent on other things. Similarly, French workers choose to work far fewer hours that American workers and enjoy more leisure time.
So do Americans simply value leisure time far lower than many other countries? Is consumption so important to them that they have little desire for free time to laze around? And, more troubling, why do some apply pejorative value judgments to those who have different preferences? What persuades people that consuming more to generate bigger GDP summary statistics makes their way of doing things ‘better’ than anyone elses? We need to remember that utility is unobservable and, unless someone wants what you have, their own way of doing things is probably ‘better’ for them.
I guess this is my ‘why can’t we all be more understanding of our differences and just get along’ moment. Group hug!