In “The Global Budget Race” (Autumn ’10), Douglas Besharov and Douglas Call make the case that America’s “accruing national debts are truly staggering,” and that countries that manage to balance revenues and spending “will have a competitive advantage in the global economy.”
Deficit reduction has become the mantra for political parties the world over, but a few exceedingly generous social policies continue to elude the ax. Here’s a look at four of them:
The policy: Baby bonuses.
Lots of countries with dismal demographics offer one-time grants to new mothers to improve birth rates (think France, the Czech Republic, and Singapore), but only in Ukraine will these payments dwarf virtually any other reasonable way of making a living. The unbridled populism of Ukrainian politics has ballooned the size of birth grants. A Ukrainian couple’s first baby one will net them 12,240 hryvnias ($1,540) disbursed over 12 to 36 months; baby number two 25,000 hyrvnias ($3,140); and baby three a whopping 50,000 hyrvnias ($6,300). The outlay on behalf of these little Ihors and Oksanas is even more astounding given that the average Ukrainian only took home the equivalent of $268 a month in 2008, according to the World Bank.
The policy: The state writes you a check for taking care of Grandma.
Germany is a gray swatch on the elephant hide that is European demographics, with about 20 percent of the population over the age of 65. German seniors (and their caretakers) are among Europe’s luckiest, with a high-performing health care system and generous provisions for at-home care. In fact, the system is so generous that it pays relatives for the time they spend taking care of their ill or disabled kin. (Professional caretakers are, of course, also compensated.) If that doesn’t sound nice enough, consider that the caregiver begins to accrue vacation time and retirement benefits when she tends to Oma for more than 14 hours a week.
The policy: Paying workers more to take vacation.
Aussies have few excuses for not exploring their homeland’s 37,000 miles of gorgeous coastline. The government plumps their pockets every time they head to the beach. Thanks to a policy called “holiday leave loading,” permanent workers in the Land Down Under earn an additional 14.5 percent of their salary when they take time off from work. The practice has its origins in the worker-friendly 1960s, when labor unions successfully made the case that the gainfully employed could not pursue overtime while on vacation and should be compensated as if they took on the extra shifts. A government budget introduced last month envisions scrapping the perk, though protests from workers long acclimated to the benefit could keep it on the books.
The policy: Plenty of time at home for new moms and dads.
One hundred sixty-three countries enshrine paid maternity leave policy in national law. American women are not so lucky, with many new mothers making do with minimal leave (often just four to six weeks) and no salary for the time they’re away from work. The leave afforded to Swedes is particularly envy-inducing: New parents are entitled to 16 months of leave between them at 80 percent of their salaries when Junior arrives. Similarly incredible is that at least two of those months must be taken by the secondary caregiver (i.e., Dad). Swedish parents love the policy, but their employers cry a little at the news of a baby shower.