Bush Veto of Parental Leave Bill

I must register my disagreement with your criticism of President Bush's veto of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("Kind and Gentle, Eh?" editorial, July 27). This legislation, which would allow working parents time off--without pay but without losing a job--does appear at first glance to be quite compassionate. However, your analysis neglects the likely secondary effects, effects which could harm the individuals the bill is trying to help.

The costs of such leaves will vary greatly by industry and firm. In some it would be only a minor disruption, but in others it could be much more expensive. If Bush's position is followed and parental leaves are the subject of negotiations between employees and employers on a voluntary basis, men and women who desire such leaves would be guided by market forces toward those firms and industries where the time off imposes smaller costs on both employees and employers.

But the new legislation, vetoed by Bush, would force all employers to provide leaves and hinder the market's direction of workers toward the firms for which they are best suited. It could even force firms to be less anxious to hire women of childbearing age, or any other workers that could be identified as desiring such legislatively mandated leaves.

Your editorial criticizes the Bush position partly on the grounds that fewer than 20% of the work force belong to a union, and presumably only union workers would be able to negotiate successfully with their employers for such leaves. But this perpetuates the myth that labor unions are the key source of the enormous improvement in the standard of living in the U.S. over the past two centuries, even though only 3% of all workers were members of unions as late as 1900, and only 33% at the peak of union membership in the mid-50s.

Public policy must work to promote rather than hinder the efficient functioning of labor markets. Members of Congress should continue to strive for compassionate policies, but they must also realize that the failure to understand the complete effects of well-meaning legislation can do more harm than good. And more harm to those the legislation was intended to help.


Professor of Economics

Occidental College, Los Angeles

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