Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Why sneer at the French?

You ask me, they've got the right idea about many things. "While German, Italian and French workers enjoy, on average, more than 40 days of vacation a year, the average American has to make do with just two weeks." Niall Ferguson, a professor of history at Harvard University, wonders why.

Interesting reading:

Twenty-five years ago, this gap between U.S. and European working hours didn't exist. Between 1979 and 1999, the average American working year lengthened by 50 hours, or nearly 4%. But the average German working year shrank 12%. The same was true elsewhere in Europe.


But I see another possible explanation — one that owes a debt to the German sociologist Max Weber's famous essay on "The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," written a century ago.

Weber believed he had identified a link between the rise of Protestantism (and especially Calvinism) and the development of "the spirit of capitalism." I would like to propose a modern version of Weber's theory, namely "The Atheist Sloth Ethic and the Spirit of Collectivism."

You see, the most remarkable thing about the transatlantic divergence in working patterns is that it has coincided almost exactly with a comparable divergence in religiosity, both in terms of observance and belief.

So who would you rather emulate? The nose-to-grindstone (when it's not in other people's business) ethic of John Calvin? Or the angst-filled lethargy of Sartre? Hard call? Mais non!


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