I shouldn’t have read this paper

Dan Hamermesh and Joel Slemrod claim they have a problem in: “The Economics of Workaholism: We Should Not Have Worked on this Paper.”

A large literature examines the addictive properties of such behaviors as smoking, drinking alcohol, gambling and eating. We argue that for some people addictive behavior may apply to a much more central aspect of economic life: working. Although workaholism raises some of the same health-related concerns as other addictions, compared to most of the more familiar addictions it is more likely to be a problem of higher-income individuals and is more likely to generate negative spillovers onto individuals around the workaholic. Using the Retirement History Survey and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we show that high-income, highly educated people exhibit behavior that is consistent with workaholism with regard to retiring–they are more likely to postpone earlier plans for retirement. The theory and evidence suggest that the presence of workaholism calls for a more progressive income tax system than otherwise, although other more targeted policies may be part of optimal policy.

Really, more taxation? Do we really think it is fair that we punish Paris Hilton because some of us are working too hard.

3 thoughts on “I shouldn’t have read this paper”

  1. I also saw and read this paper.

    Kwang Ng at Monash got much the same implication in relation to ‘other regarding’ rat-race behaviour – tax overachievers who force us all to work too hard (so we can ‘keep up with the Jones’) to internalise the extra costs imposed.

    Like you, I am skeptical.


  2. Well, I don’t know, the workaholic behaviour of Hamermesh/Slemrod/other big name economists (I’d whack Heckman in there, eg) actually has substantial positive externalities. Their MP of research time is so incredibly high that I have little problem with the idea that their work should be subsidised, rather than taxed. (One could argue it is already quite heavily subsidised, I imagine.)

    Admittedly, their families may not think so, but surely economic policy shouldn’t be made based on intra-family distribution of income/time/utility?

    (Disclaimer: I have precisely zero knowledge of the time use of the individuals mentioned in this comment, nor of their families’ attitudes to that time use.)


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