Take No Prisoners

The American Work Ethic: Destroying Families for Decades

I recently had a discussion with a conservative acquaintance of mine about the nature of public assistance programs – him arguing that they are inherently evil, while I, of course, argued that they are absolutely necessary if a nation is to consider itself civilized. And of course, the issue that came up is what is always touted as the greatest trait of the American worker: their work ethic. The conservative response to hard times and low wages is to say a worker should take a second job, or work more hours, or bust ass enough to get a pay raise.

Well, big surprise, conservatives are once again full of shit. The American work ethic is the worst thing to ever happen to the health and wellness of children in our country. This idiotic idea that employers should be able to pay their employees basically whatever they want, and it’s an employee’s responsibility to either work enough hours at that job or take on another source of income just to feed their kids has got to die for us to solve any of the real social issues we face as a nation.

Isn’t it interesting that the Republican party – the same politicians who tout family values – are the same people spouting the notion that people should work harder? And this in the country where we already work more hours a day than the rest of the world! It’s hard to raise your children when you never see them. I am often told that problems with crime, problems in education, and problems with drug abuse all start in the home; maybe parents would have an easier time dealing with these problems their children face if they actually saw them once in a while – and I mean more than the hour of homework they might do with them before the kids have to go to bed.

But equally important is the question why should we work that much? You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who enjoys their job more than I do, but even I am more than ready to go home and see my loved ones when the clock hits 6 o’clock. There is currently 7.6 percent unemployment in our country. Hey, you know how maybe we could give those people jobs so they aren’t just collecting the government checks Republicans despise so much? If the people with jobs weren’t working so goddamn much!

According to a New Yorker study:

Today, Americans work about as many hours each year as they did in 1970, and, instead of thirteen weeks of vacation, the average American now gets four (and that includes holidays). But there is a place that has got considerably closer to the leisure society of the futurists’ dreams—Western Europe. The French work twenty-eight per cent fewer hours per person than Americans, and the Germans put in twenty-five per cent fewer hours. Compared with Europeans, a higher percentage of American adults work, they work more hours per week, and they work more weeks per year.

Alright, but they aren’t as productive as we are, right?

One obvious result of this is that America is richer than Europe.

See? We make more money! But…

In effect, Americans trade their productivity for more money, while Europeans trade it for more leisure. Folk wisdom suggests that the reason for this difference is cultural, which, depending on your perspective, means either that Europeans are ambitionless café-dwellers or that Americans are Puritan grinds with no taste for the finer things in life. But, while culture undoubtedly matters, not that long ago it was the Europeans who worked harder; in 1970, for instance, the French worked ten per cent more hours than Americans.

You want to know what changed? Europeans realized that there is something more important than GDP. There is something more important than having the largest economy in the world, or the most powerful military. Your family and your life. Work should not be your life, and any society that thinks it’s all right for a person to put in 80 hours a week to feed their kids should seriously re-evaluate their priorities. I like my job, but I damn sure enjoy my weekend too. If you don’t, you’re as psychotic as Republicans.

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