Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Why 'most liberal' Hillary is most wrong on paid leave

Within this piece arguing that Hillary Clinton would be the most liberal Democratic nominee since perhaps Michael Dukakis -- more liberal than Barack Obama, John Kerry, Al Gore or Bill Clinton, a degree of liberalness that might please Elizabeth Warren's supporters but which will surely be a turnoff to a great many Americans -- Michael Tomasky quotes Hillary's recent remarks in Iowa on paid family and medical leave:

"(L)ook, we are the last developed country in the world that has no national paid leave for parenting, for illness. And what we know from the few states that have done it -- California being most notable here -- is it builds loyalty. If you really analyzed turnover in a lot of businesses where you have to retrain somebody -- well, first you have to find them and then you have to retrain them -- making your employees feel that you care about these milestones in their lives and you give them the chance to have a child, adopt a child, recover from a serious illness, take care of a really sick parent and get a period of time that's paid just cements that relationship."

This is a decent argument for private companies to voluntarily offer paid leave. While somewhat obvious, it might be the kind of advice companies pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense in speeches. (It couldn't possibly be their attempt to get cozy with a potential president. No way.)

But it is rather ... odd as an argument for some sort of nationally mandated and/or subsidized family and medical leave. (It's not clear to me if Clinton advocates a mandate or a subsidy; I'm going to write as if it's a mandate, but what follows would hold more or less true either way.)

The "builds loyalty" argument makes sense as a way for companies to try to distinguish themselves from their competitors in the race for talent. Not so much if everyone has to offer it. In fact, you could argue the opposite is true: If every company has to offer paid leave as a benefit, that's one less reason for an employee to be loyal to his employer. After all, he can move on to another job and receive the same benefit. The cost of training a replacement is the company's problem, not his.

Along with raising the minimum wage, this is an example of the left's belief that we can legislate our way to Lake Woebegone. In reality, there are jobs that simply can't -- and, importantly, won't -- exist if the price of filling those jobs is too high. Europe's rigid labor laws (which cover much more than paid leave) are one reason why its employees are less mobile, and its economics less dynamic, than ours. Employees may be more likely to stay in their jobs, but it's not out of loyalty. Rather, it's because they know they would have a hard time finding new work. If you already have a job, that's good. If not -- and this group includes a lot of younger Europeans seeking work -- it isn't so good.

In the aggregate, that means many companies and workers alike are failing to reach their full potential, and over time that leads to less prosperity. All of this is a big reason why countries like Germany have experienced faster growth after loosening their labor laws (at least, relative to other European nations).

If Hillary Clinton wants to take us to something approximating the French or Italian labor markets, that would indeed make her the most left-wing nominee the Democrats have had in decades. But that's nothing to celebrate.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.