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[P]
To what end?

By Philipp in Op-Ed
Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 08:55:04 PM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)
Politics

We are recently experiencing another wave of technological advancement: Computers automate anything from banking to the delivery of news. The machines we build do the work that has been previously done by man. There is amazing progress happening, the question is, to what end? What use it is to our lives?

This vast reduction of the need for human labor should translate to fewer working hours and more vacation for people. Surprisingly, this is not the case in the US.


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In rich countries, Americans are among the most hardworking: a typical American worker clocked up nearly 2,000 hours in 1997. That is the equivalent of almost two working weeks more than Japanese workers. Almost 80% of male workers and 60% of working women in America work over 40 hours in a typical week. And average hours worked have risen in America over the past two decades; in Europe they have fallen. In western Germany, the typical worker put in only 1,560 hours in 1996, compared with 1,742 hours in 1980.
(Source: Economist)
A big reason is that human labor is simply very cheap in America. The real (inflation adjusted) minimum wage is now lower than it was during the 1960s or 1970s. There are vast armies of security guards, grocery baggers, parking attendants, and manual car wash workers - jobs that do not exist this way in other industrial countries like Germany or Japan. This also creates pressure to keep overall wages low, so only the highest paying employees have seen substantial wage increases.

(Despite the recent extremely low unemployment the household income ratio between the 95% and the 20% percentile is at a record high at 8.26. There are many reasons for the temporary low unemployment. One is that we still live in a technology boom. But one day all companies will have automated web sites and back office applications, so also this boom will end. And life will be back to normal. Even for IT workers.)

I just spent some time back in Europe to visit my friends who now have regular jobs after finishing their university degrees. They all have 6 weeks paid vacation per year and an insane of amount of national holidays. One former Computer Science major only works 3 days per week and still makes more money than he spends. Another de facto works only four days a week for a blue chip company in a regular position.

There is more than anecdotal evidence for this: Workers at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg work only four days a week, a total of 32 hours. France just recently reduced the work week to 35 hours, which is also standard in Germany. Similar things can be observed in Japan.

The answer to technological advancement in Europe seems to be less work, more vacation time. The answer to the higher unemployment is to reduce the work week, so still everybody finds a decent paying job - even janitors in Germany make enough money for a summer vacation in Spain.

The answer in America instead is to keep the minimum wage low and cut social services. So, although there is no real necessary work anymore, people still have to enter employment. They are cheaper than machines and it's just nice service to have them to bag your groceries.

The end effect in the US is that although there are all the technological advancements that make life easier, people still work many hours with measly vacation time. There is no real sense of social progress.

The answer is not just personal, it is political. Other kinds of employment contracts are hardly available ("What? you want vacation? Are you really dedicated?"), and can only be forced by strong unions. The minimum wage is federal law. The pressure to lift the wages of the working poor (which have to take overtime or multiple jobs) has to come through political means. There is a need for political pressure to ensure that the technological progress that we all are experiencing also benefits everybody.

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To what end? | 51 comments (37 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
Economics flaw... (4.07 / 13) (#2)
by Signal 11 on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 05:44:26 PM EST

It's going to seem overly simplistic to say this, but the reason we don't have leisure time is because we don't value it enough. As an individual, you made a rational decision that your time would be better used at work, where you are paid. Nobody is forcing you to work, and in today's economy, there's really no reason why you can't find work. So really, it is a voluntary choice by you and millions of other individuals to work instead of take time off.

If you were making $30k per year, would you be more apt to take vacation? Consider how much additional taxes you would pay at the higher rate - Maybe the first $20k you make is taxed only 20%, but to go from $30k to $50k per year might yield a 50% tax rate. And let's say you would be required to work 60 hours a week instead of 40. There's quite a bit less incentive there to move to 60 hours a week - you're only netting $10k/year extra. So you, like a lot of other people, turn down the offer.

Really, the lack of leisure time means they find more value in using it to work than they do not to. It's called the opportunity cost, and really that's all it boils down to - you're evaluating work versus the next best thing you could be doing.. say, playing video games. Well, is playing video games more valuable to you than a $400 pay check each week? And there you have it, that's why you don't have leisure time - you made a decision not to.




--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

Very academic argument (4.00 / 3) (#4)
by Philipp on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 05:59:01 PM EST

Ok, this quote is just too easy: Nobody is forcing you to work.

Your economic argument is all nice and dandy. Except that is quite distant from actual reality. Low income workers (so-called "working poor") do not have a lot of choice in their decision of trading their leisure time for overtime work. They simply have to take on every extra hour of work to make ends meet. Here in Los Angeles, minum wage earners spend two thirds of their income on rent alone. Combine this with the lack of health insurance and raising a family becomes an amazing challenge. But of course, nobody is forcing you to work.

alias kn 'killall -9 netscape-communicator'
[ Parent ]

and? (2.66 / 3) (#12)
by dice on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 06:32:13 PM EST

Interesting. I don't think I've ever agreed with Signal 11 before.

Anyway.


How is anyone forcing them to work?


Their own survival instincts are what cause them to work. Maybe I'm missing your point?

[ Parent ]
or? (4.66 / 3) (#14)
by 0xdeadbeef on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 06:50:42 PM EST

Survival instincts cause the slave to work as well. Gun to your head, or starvation, it's the same result. What was your point?

[ Parent ]
well... (none / 0) (#42)
by dice on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 11:53:41 AM EST

Here we get to the part of my reasoning that admittedly, I can't often explain very well.

When someone is holding a gun to your head, they're imposing their own will upon your universe and adding additional restrictions above and beyond what is natural.

As opposed to, of course, starvation.

[ Parent ]
Hmmm... (3.50 / 4) (#17)
by Signal 11 on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 06:54:01 PM EST

Here in Los Angeles, minum wage earners spend two thirds of their income on rent alone.

Not to sound too cold, but maybe they should consider moving somewhere else where their labor is more valued (ie, the midwestern states) and the rent is lower (again, the midwest). It's not expensive to buy a ticket for a greyhound bus.. I believe they have an offer right now: "anywhere in the US for $50".


--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
[ Parent ]

Moving to find work (3.66 / 3) (#33)
by thejeff on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 10:13:15 AM EST

Not to sound too cold, but maybe they should consider moving somewhere else where their labor is more valued (ie, the midwestern states) and the rent is lower (again, the midwest). It's not expensive to buy a ticket for a greyhound bus.. I believe they have an offer right now: "anywhere in the US for $50".
Give me a break. Ok I buy my cheap ticket. Now I'm hunting for work in an unfamiliar city, with no place to live no telephone, etc. The only place that can hire me is someplace that'll hire me on the spot and I doubt those are going to be even decent jobs. (Even for unskilled labor.) After you've spent a couple days on the street, you're not a real attractive job candidate.
thejeff

[ Parent ]
Not to mention... (none / 0) (#50)
by Ludwig on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 06:55:17 PM EST

The reason so many people choose to live in major cities is because that's where the work is. There aren't a whole lot of jobs available in Smallville.

Of course, this is a self-propagating cycle; the more people there are in a city, the more demand for services, the more jobs there are, the more people move to the city. The demand for living space pushes up housing costs.

Since housing is a non-commodity necessity, when demand exceeds supply, the price will naturally rise to the highest point the average[1] person in the area can afford. (Sort of like the way the amount of resources required to complete a project expands to whatever amount allotted to it.)

Also, the farther you live from where the work is, the more time and money you have to spend commuting, which offsets some of the savings realized in the choosing the more distant cheaper housing.

[1] "Average" is technically incorrect here; but the point is that a significant percentage will fall below the level at which it is affordable. The farther you live from where the work is, the more time and money you have to spend commuting.

[ Parent ]

Who can make that kind of choice alone? (4.00 / 5) (#6)
by Electric Angst on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 06:04:28 PM EST

[...]but the reason we don't have leisure time is because we don't value it enough[...]

I have to disagree with this. In the United States, most people have to work the traditional forty hours a week for the privilage of staying alive. The idea that it is an individual's rational choice to work the hours that he or she does is preposterous. One need only look at labor history to see that things like weekends off and a (only) forty hour week were not set because of individual's own oppertunity cost assesment, rather because of the rigorous struggle by unions of workers to improve their quality of life.

Without a strong union of laborers in fields such as tech and service, we do not have the ability to make the kinds of descisions you claim we do. One worker has to work the hours that he or she is assigned, or else he or she will lose their job and will be replaced by someone with different ideas about free time, or less will to protest. Divided, the entire idea of worker's rights is an illusion.


--
"Hell, at least [Mailbox Pipebombing suspect Lucas Helder's] argument makes sense, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of people." - trhurler
[ Parent ]
Reality Check. (4.00 / 6) (#16)
by Signal 11 on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 06:52:11 PM EST

I have to disagree with this. In the United States, most people have to work the traditional forty hours a week for the privilage of staying alive.

Prior to the industrial revolution, most people's time was spent in the fields making food. There was no chance at having free time then. Today, we get several hours each day even with the fourty hour work week. Those people didn't have that luxury. In addition, the quality of life in the United States has about tripled since the Great Depression. You are a more efficient worker today, and work in far less hostile environments than your predecessors. Today, a hostile work environment is basically sexual harassment. Back during the fourties, it was the risk of getting your arm bitten off by a piece of machinery. At the end of the day, I'm not covered in coal dust either, or suffer from a plethora of other work-related diseases... I have RSI, but atleast that's treatable.

Now, really, if you put some effort into it, I think you could find some more spare time if you really desired it. If nothing else, you could work for a few more months to get a plane ticket to go to France. It takes about 4-6 weeks to process a passport application (unless you make it priority, in which case it can be done in a couple.. for a fee) and get a work visa. Figure out if you like it there, and then apply for citizenship if you really do. There are alternatives. If you feel that strongly about it, look into them. Besides, european businesses LOVE people from the United States, particularily from the northern states, because they are so much more efficient than their native counter-parts. Getting a work visa would be.. uhh, shall we say.. not a problem.

Without a strong union of laborers in fields such as tech and service, we do not have the ability to make the kinds of descisions you claim we do.

Unions benefit small groups of people at the expense of large groups of people. The economy as a whole would have lower production with the introduction of unions than without them. Would you sacrifice some of your material wealth for job security? Would others? Unions, and the social questions they bring, are tricky. Now, I'm not saying unions are bad.. but if society values material wealth over leisure, then unions will not futher that goal.Yes, these are generalizations which do not always hold true.


--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
[ Parent ]

Re: reality check?! (4.80 / 5) (#26)
by Gernsback on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 10:07:42 PM EST

Prior to the industrial revolution, most people's time was spent in the fields making food. There was no chance at having free time then. Today, we get several hours each day even with the fourty hour work week. Those people didn't have that luxury. In addition, the quality of life in the United States has about tripled since the Great Depression. You are a more efficient worker today, and work in far less hostile environments than your predecessors.
All the original poster was saying is that: given that 100 years ago a less well-off person would have to work 80 hours for a living wage, and 50 years ago, they would need 40 hours for a living wage, why do they still need 40 hours today? Shouldn't we have chopped some of that time off by now. Think of all the things that people no longer have to do...
If nothing else, you could work for a few more months to get a plane ticket to go to France. It takes about 4-6 weeks to process a passport application (unless you make it priority, in which case it can be done in a couple.. for a fee) and get a work visa
Obviously you have never even bothered to try and get a work visa for an EU country. It is the closest thing to impossible. The governments there don't want americans coming in and taking their jobs, even though the companies do. Trust me, I've been trying to get a work visa for Italy for quite some time now.
Matt
[ Parent ]
Capitalism... (none / 0) (#39)
by Signal 11 on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 10:47:59 PM EST

The governments there don't want americans coming in and taking their jobs, even though the companies do.

"Yeah, we'll see how long they last..." ~ Signal "Adam Smith" Eleven


--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
[ Parent ]

Common misconception (4.50 / 2) (#35)
by /dev/niall on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 10:40:28 AM EST

Prior to the industrial revolution, most people's time was spent in the fields making food. There was no chance at having free time then.

This is simply not true. Look to any old agrarian society. There are periods where you work ALL day. Most of the time you don't. Certainly not in winter.

Prior to the industrial revolution, there wasn't any outdoor lighting. ;) There weren't any "giant" farms like we have today, beause there wasn't a need for them. Hell, we have a food surplus NOW.

People look at farming today and wonder "how the hell did they do that 100 years ago?". They didn't have to. ;)
--
"compared to the other apes, my genitals are gigantic" -- TheophileEscargot
[ Parent ]

Where do you work? (3.00 / 2) (#34)
by /dev/niall on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 10:35:58 AM EST

Without a strong union of laborers in fields such as tech and service, we do not have the ability to make the kinds of descisions you claim we do. One worker has to work the hours that he or she is assigned, or else he or she will lose their job and will be replaced by someone with different ideas about free time, or less will to protest. Divided, the entire idea of worker's rights is an illusion.

Where do you work? If my employers started telling me what time to come to work, or that I had to work weekends, I'd drop them like a bad habit and go work for someone else. I know because I've done it before.

Regardless, I disagree (Even if I couldn't go out and get another job easily). Unions (like many things) are great on paper, but in reality do little else except attract corruption. I was a teamster for over 2 years... what did it get me? Nothing. $1000 poorer in dues, missed two weeks of work because they decide to strike. Oh yes, sign me up. Do you know what a teen ager has to play NOW to work at UPS part time? The inititiation fees are almost $1000!!! You're working for $11-12/hr, maybe 20hrs a week, and you have to pay taxes AND your friggen' union dues? So some guy who makes $70k/yr has a better bargining position?


--
"compared to the other apes, my genitals are gigantic" -- TheophileEscargot
[ Parent ]

Re: Economics flaw (4.60 / 5) (#8)
by eLuddite on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 06:08:25 PM EST

It's going to seem overly simplistic to say this, but the reason we don't have leisure time is because we don't value it enough. As an individual, you made a rational decision that your time would be better used at work, where you are paid.

I have to agree that leisure time is not as valuable in N.A. as it is in western Europe. I'm not sure the case exists because of personal decision as much as because of the self-sustaining inertia inherent in the rat race. Then again, how much of that is due to an ethic of over achievement which, in turn, does reduce to personal decision? How much of it is driven by consumerist forces that demand we keep up with the Jones'?

It's not really pleasant. We have more stuff, but less quality of life.

I've lived in Paris (6 months) and in Barcelona (1 yr) and I certainly did not feel as harried there as I do here, in Canada. Barcelona, with it's tradition of siestas, just floored me. The running joke amongst the expatriate crowd was that things are normally done manana (tomorrow - think of Manuel in Faulty Towers and consider that every stereotype has a kernel of truth in it.)

But you know what? Despite manana, things do get done. There may be less spinning of wheels but the distances translate identically.

This isnt a third world city, either. Barcelona was roughly comparable to Montreal in standard of living; people are wealthy, stylish, educated. Some of them are also ETA terrorists :-( (Great party town, btw.)

---
God hates human rights.
[ Parent ]

Manuel (none / 0) (#38)
by kubalaa on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 06:28:21 PM EST

While I agree with your points, I have to nitpick and say that Manuel was a poor choice for illustrating the steroetype. He's an incompentent fool, not a lazy one, and I don't recall a single joke that involved his work habits.

[ Parent ]
You don't want to work in France... (3.33 / 6) (#5)
by jasonab on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 06:00:15 PM EST

France just recently reduced the work week to 35 hours...
Um, I think you're shooting your argument in the foot here. Do you know why France did this? To reduce their chronicly high unemployment! They figure if they make people who have jobs work less, business will have to hire more people to cover the lost time.

Really, I find your entire argument fairly specious. Americans are brought up with a work ethic completely different from Europe. We would feel guilty if we took three weeks of vacation (well, many would). We've had strong unions for years, and that hasn't changed what you percieve to be a problem. Our economy is better than Europe's for a reason.

Now, you can argue that it's a bad tradeoff, certainly. But if more people really wanted more vacation, they would have gotten it in the economy we just had.

--
America is a great country. One of the freest in the world. -- greenrd

Standard of living (4.20 / 5) (#9)
by Philipp on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 06:15:03 PM EST

Our economy is better than Europe's for a reason.

I have lived long times both in Germany as in the USA. The statement you just made is accepted as the truth in the USA, but it is quite debatable. Ultimately the economic wealth in Europe (Germany, France, Northern Italy, etc.) as in the US, that it really comes down to personal taste, what is the better place to live.

alias kn 'killall -9 netscape-communicator'
[ Parent ]

most toys wins (4.60 / 10) (#7)
by radar bunny on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 06:05:38 PM EST

The entire society here in america is different. One reason american's work more is that they want more. Consider for example how unwilling americans are to use mass transit (except in a few places like New York). The end result is every family has two cars which means two car payments and more money each month for auto insurance adn gas and toll booths and maintanence. Also look at how american's tend to want more living space. If you have an apartment you want a house, if you have a house you want a bigger house, and if you have a bigger house then you want a place in the country. The end result is that american's are probably the least content group of people on the planet and instead of taking time off to enjoy what they have, they'd rather keep working harder so that they can have more.

It all really goes back to the "protestant work ethic" which grew from a circular logic of:
  • If im a good christian than god will reward me with a good crop.

  • I want everyone to know what a good christian I am so i willl work hard to make my crop be the best

  • Other neighbors see me working hard on my crop so they work hard on theirs

  • Everyone is so busy trying to create the best crops that no one stops to actually see how good they are -- only how good they could be

    It's the same thing today only instead of crops its what ever business you want to name, but people are still trying to show how good they are by their work ethic --- its the whole "who ever dies with the most toys wins" mentality. It doesn't matter how much playtime you have with the toys, just that you have them

    It's not too unlike those people (we all know one or two) who feel they need the best computer system on themarket so people will know how good they are with computers. It doesnt matter how much use they get form them, just having them is enough. "Look, i just got a 1.5 ghz with 256m ram and a 70 gig hard drive -- now let me go check my mail-- awe crap Outlook just crashed."

    Not so different from the self made millionaire who died at 45 from a heart attack.

  • More Reasons... (4.57 / 7) (#10)
    by Electric Angst on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 06:21:14 PM EST

    Some more reasons that we are less content with what we have and work harder to get more is that we are constantly surrounded by an advertising culture that constantly prompts us every angle to consume more from the moment we're old enough to turn on the television.


    --
    "Hell, at least [Mailbox Pipebombing suspect Lucas Helder's] argument makes sense, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of people." - trhurler
    [ Parent ]
    Exactly why I love the USA.. (2.57 / 7) (#19)
    by BigZaphod on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 07:34:19 PM EST

    I spent 4 months living in London and exploring some of Europe. While I was there one of the key things I noticed (as an American) is how laid back everything seems to be. While I like that attitude in some ways (much less stressful), the end results did not impress me. In my experience Europeans only do "just enough" to get something done and never any more. Sometimes I got the impression that some buildings were still standing only because in the basement someplace someone had pilled up a stack of books just high enough to keep the floor above from falling down. The general feeling seems to be that since the building isn't currently collapsing, it's good enough for now. That's generaly not how Americans like to live and I think that feeling is reflected in our work and our attitudes about life. What is so bad about that?

    And as another note.. Why do we have to get more lazy as technology advances? Why can't we get more productive instead?

    "We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
    I have the opposite impression (4.00 / 4) (#22)
    by Philipp on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 08:15:45 PM EST

    Each time I fly into Los Angeles from Germany, I have the feeling of entering the third world. Maybe I live in a dingy part of the city, but buildings that are in shambles are a common sight. There is a lot of garbage in the streets, on the side walks, etc. So, what you observed in the 51st state, maybe not be totally representative of Europe. Your description of the United States is a bit too postive as well.

    But I don't want to turn this discussion into a Euro-US religious war. You can find crappy buildings everywhere, and the economic wealth in most parts of Europe is comparable to the US.

    alias kn 'killall -9 netscape-communicator'
    [ Parent ]

    Impressions.. (3.50 / 4) (#24)
    by BigZaphod on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 08:29:26 PM EST

    Of course it all depends on where you are from and if you like it or not. I'm from the midwest and haven't really been to any major US cities (other than Chicago). I think big cities are pretty much the same all over the place (dirty and filled with both the best and worst of the culture).

    However, if you are comparing the US with Germany on the basis of looks, I might have to agree with you. When I was in Germany and Austria, I was amazed at how much cleaner things felt. But cleanliness doesn't mean productivity which is the point I was trying to make. My using a broken down building as an example probably wasn't quite right for that point, but I tried. :-)

    One of the main things I had in mind is that Americans build things like skyscrapers and blow up old buildings to make way for new ones. My sense of Europe is that they wait for a war to blow the buildings up before starting fresh. Maybe the euro way is a better use of resources, but I think America likes to experiment more (in general) and so we have to work harder to test the ideas. All I'm really saying is that we're different and I see nothing wrong with that. I just happen to like our methods better (but of course I'm biased). You'll likely find plenty of other Americans that disagree with me (which is really part of what makes us so different in the first place :-).

    "We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
    [ Parent ]
    Life (3.09 / 11) (#23)
    by trhurler on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 08:16:37 PM EST

    My life is easy. You know why? Because I like it that way. I know people who work 90 hours a week. You know why? Because they like it that way. I don't see the big deal. They might not literally like the work, but they like the money, and they see a chance to retire early, or maybe to buy the car they want, or whatever makes it worthwhile to them. I think they're nuts, but why does it matter? I don't have to do that, and I don't do that. The implicit assumption in what you're saying is that people have to work longer hours. I'm sure maybe a few people feel that they do, but I don't know any of them.

    By the way, the French workweek law is the biggest joke ever. Our local French intern here where I work tells me that basically, not only was it done because they have horrid unemployment rates, but the end result is that when you combine the laws regarding mandatory benefits, minimum wages, and so on with this new law, and then add in the ways employees and employers find to cheat the new law using loopholes and so on, the law is actually causing MORE unemployment. French leaders think they can legislate a healthy economy centrally. They're wrong, and the more laws they pass, the worse things get.

    Your average European might have more vacation time, but he also lives the lifestyle of a lower middle class American who just doesn't want to be bothered to put in another 20 hours a week. Guess what? He could do that here, too. In Europe, he probably has one car, maybe two if he has a family, and they're tiny. He lives in a small but adequate apartment. He eats. He saves, but slowly, and occasionally buys something he wants. The whole idea of really being financially independent is laughable - he depends on the government for his retirement. If it doesn't come through for him, he'll live out his last years in crushing poverty. I don't have to worry about this - my retirement savings will easily cover me. I can buy a bigger or more powerful car if I want it. I can buy a nice house. I can save money for any number of things I might want, and when I go on vacation, I can do it in grand style. I drink expensive beer whenever I want, and I leave 100% tips. I wear an amazingly politically incorrect black leather longcoat that I bought because I liked the look of it; it was pricey, but so what? I own more computers than I really need. I've got a nice stereo, surround, 5 disc DVD, overstuffed leather couches, and a sizable CD collection. I'm considering hiring services to do my laundry and clean my place for me, which would rid me of the last of my boring chores outside of the office.

    And I work 40 hours a week. All it takes is competence, even in the US. Well, competence and a desire not to work so damned much. As for unions, if they ever come to the programming world and pressure is put on me to join them, I'll personally ensure they go down in flames at any business I work in. I'd rather work an extra 20 hours a week than give my money to some snivelling union bosses who live the good life on the backs of people too stupid to know they're being conned - but I don't have to work that extra time anyway!

    --
    'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

    your intern is as ignorant as you (4.50 / 6) (#30)
    by streetlawyer on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 05:04:53 AM EST

    Our local French intern here where I work tells me that basically, not only was it done because they have horrid unemployment rates, but the end result is that when you combine the laws regarding mandatory benefits, minimum wages, and so on with this new law, and then add in the ways employees and employers find to cheat the new law using loopholes and so on, the law is actually causing MORE unemployment. French leaders think they can legislate a healthy economy centrally. They're wrong, and the more laws they pass, the worse things get.

    Well, they say that birds of a feather flock together, trhurler, and it appears that you have found the company of your French equivalent; a free-market nut with a profound distaste for a fact where a theory will do. In fact, of course, the 35-hour work week was passed in order to share out the benefits of productivity increases (productivity per hour worked is higher in France than the USA), and unemployment has fallen in every successive quarter since its passage.

    And of course, this picture of Europeans living in miserly rabbit-hutch apartments is silly. The quality-of-life surveys carried out by the UN regularly measure these sorts of indicators; European countries tend to come between Canada (the best country, year after year) and the USA (usually between 3rd and 7th depending on the business cycle).

    And French waiters do not need your 100% tips because they are paid a living wage to start with.

    --
    Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
    [ Parent ]

    Are you sure? (none / 0) (#41)
    by Phil the Canuck on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 11:37:14 AM EST

    The US has to be a better place to live, because Europeans live in mud huts and Canadians live in igloos. ;)

    ------

    I don't think being an idiot comes with a pension plan though. Unless you're management of course. - hulver
    [ Parent ]

    Re: your intern is as ignorant as you (none / 0) (#47)
    by reeses on Thu Feb 15, 2001 at 05:55:51 PM EST

    In fact, of course, the 35-hour work week was passed in order to share out the benefits of productivity increases (productivity per hour worked is higher in France than the USA), and unemployment has fallen in every successive quarter since its passage.

    I would like to see figures on this, if you have them handy.

    [ Parent ]

    French unemployment (none / 0) (#51)
    by Philipp on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 06:19:31 AM EST

    Link is here.

    alias kn 'killall -9 netscape-communicator'
    [ Parent ]
    hah (5.00 / 1) (#48)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 01:40:42 AM EST

    My life is easy. You know why? Because I like it that way. I know people who work 90 hours a week. You know why? Because they like it that way. [...] The implicit assumption in what you're saying is that people have to work longer hours. I'm sure maybe a few people feel that they do, but I don't know any of them.

    "The people I know are either an extremely unrepresentative bunch, or I fail to see them as they truly are. I see no problem in generalizing from this sample."

    I don't have to worry about this - my retirement savings will easily cover me. I can buy a bigger or more powerful car if I want it. I can buy a nice house. I can save money for any number of things I might want, and when I go on vacation, I can do it in grand style. I drink expensive beer whenever I want, and I leave 100% tips. I wear an amazingly politically incorrect black leather longcoat that I bought because I liked the look of it; it was pricey, but so what? I own more computers than I really need. I've got a nice stereo, surround, 5 disc DVD, overstuffed leather couches, and a sizable CD collection.

    Congratulations, you're an arrogant yuppie.

    I'm considering hiring services to do my laundry and clean my place for me, which would rid me of the last of my boring chores outside of the office.

    By all means do-- you might even get somebody who works far more hours than they would like to. I'd recommend an illegal Mexican alien.

    And I work 40 hours a week. All it takes is competence, even in the US. Well, competence and a desire not to work so damned much.

    And of course, if most people make far less than you do working more hours than you do, it must be because they're terribly incompetent, right? Anyway, "competence" is just a synonym for "success in the job market" and/or "ability to make money", right? So by definition, anybody who makes less for an hour than you do is incompetent, right?

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    Hah? (none / 0) (#49)
    by trhurler on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 05:22:13 PM EST

    Congratulations, you're an arrogant yuppie.
    Any yuppie who knew me would be offended to hear you say this:)
    By all means do-- you might even get somebody who works far more hours than they would like to. I'd recommend an illegal Mexican alien.
    As part of my campaign to expose the rampant hypocrisy of wealthy liberals, I'm letting THEM do all the hiring of illegal Mexicans as household servants. You may have noticed the long line of them in recent years who have been forced to give up cushy appointments to government positions on account of this amusing tendency amongst their ilk.
    And of course, if most people make far less than you do working more hours than you do, it must be because they're terribly incompetent, right?
    Not necessarily. They could also be good at something nobody actually wants very much, or at something which exists in too great a supply to draw much money. However, it is doubtful this is the only thing that they're capable of doing. My opinion is, they either need to find something more lucrative or learn to live on less money, because unless they ARE incompetent, money is not truly beyond their reach except to the extent that they believe it to be so. Do understand one thing about me: I may be a cold hearted bastard, but I'm a cold hearted bastard who firmly believes that the market has opportunities for everyone.

    --
    'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

    [ Parent ]
    It's deeper than that (4.66 / 9) (#28)
    by SlydeRule on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 01:59:45 AM EST

    Be careful. You don't want to look under that rock you're tripping over. Uh-oh, it's too late; you catch a glimpse...

    A question: what happens when our ability to produce outstrips our needs and desires to consume?

    First, stores begin to fill with merchandise. Where people once ordered stuff to be delivered sometime in the future, they can walk in and buy it off the shelf. As production increases, the shelves get bigger and the stores get bigger.

    To help move the merchandise, stores start extending credit. Buyers no longer have to wait until they've saved enough money to buy something, they can buy now and pay later. As production continues to increase, credit becomes ubiquitous, to the point that college students who won't have a job for years are getting unsolicited credit cards in the mail.

    As supply races ahead of demand, the suppliers are forced to lower prices to compete. They improve efficiencies, and thereby produce even more than ever before. This only adds fuel to the fire.

    As the suppliers improve efficiencies, they need fewer workers. Start-up companies spring up, using the newly available workforce to produce even more.

    The suppliers find themselves in increasingly tough competition. They begin relying heavily on marketing and advertising. This provides some temporarily relief, as some of the workforce leave their productive jobs and take up non-productive jobs in marketing and advertising. Soon the newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV have all of the advertising they can handle. Advertising begins to spill over onto nearly any publicly visible surface. Another temporary relief appears in the form of the Web.

    Then advertising becomes so ubiquitous that it becomes ineffective. The suppliers decide not to spend so much on it, and they return to lowering costs by improving efficiencies, cutting their workforces. With the drop in advertising spending, many of the workers who made their living (either directly or indirectly) from marketing and advertising find their jobs disappearing.

    What comes next?

    The Western economic systems have been predicated on "he who produces the most should have the most". It's a competitive creed which has served us well for centuries, but it only works when our productivity is less than our consumption.

    Somehow, we need to find a new system which is equitable and which works in such a situation. Anyone know of any?

    Overproduction crisis (4.00 / 5) (#29)
    by Philipp on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 02:07:52 AM EST

    You do a nice job describing a general overproduction crisis combined with a tech boom. So nothing to worry about, we already had this in the 1920s in the USA...

    alias kn 'killall -9 netscape-communicator'
    [ Parent ]
    Anecdotes on social trends (3.66 / 3) (#31)
    by ie on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 08:24:41 AM EST

    This is anecdotal stuff, so it basically means nothing, but......

    Seven to ten years ago, a lot of people we knew (all about our age then, around 25 to 30) were starting families. Almost without exception, the women had decided to be stay-at-home mothers. Family income took a hit, yes, but almost all of them felt it was important to be home with young children. As a result, the fathers seemed to be less likely to take time off - even if they weren't increasing their hours. This was a social change from the 80's, when it seemed everyone our parents knew was a 2 income family.

    Now what my family is seeing anecdotally, and it has been true for the last 2 years or so, is that a lot of the mothers in our age group are returning to work, but part-time. And while the mothers are returning to work, the fathers seem to be taking more time off. There seems to be another change happening socially, to more of a compromise mindset.

    Of course, the anecdotes are little better than worthless (though the saying goes, what do you have if you've got a bunch of anecdotes? Answer: Data.).

    OTOH, I don't know anything about macroeconomics, obviously. All of this could be a function of our social group, the age of the children, the region we live in, etc. But maybe there is something to it. Maybe a lot of families are trying to reach a balance as a result of the productivity increases of the last few years, and will hit a few extremes on the way. That doesn't help the unskilled workers, but there currently is not a lot of technology that will improve their productivity. And if it gets developed, it will get worse (job loss), before it gets better.



    Silly things become expensive (5.00 / 1) (#43)
    by claesh1 on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 01:54:21 PM EST

    One thing I have noticed from over here (Sweden), is that in America really silly things can become extremly expensive. Probably because people with more money than they can use feel must use them for something, when they already have everything. Like this baseball that someone used for a record homerun. (I know nothing about baseball, so excuse me for using the wrong terms) What was the price of this ball after the match? One million or something like that. Obviously, that is not what it is worth. But that is what rich people are willing to pay.

    Other examples include stupid toys with funny faces, and clothes with a certain logo on, for people with not quite as much money.

    Personally, I prefer spending my money on things that make a difference. Like a car compared with no car. Or travelling somewhere compared to staying at home. But a shirt with a logo? Waste of money. Quality is usually the same, and I prefer to be seen un-branded.

    America, capitalism and human greed, oh my! (none / 0) (#44)
    by angharad on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 07:06:10 PM EST

    Well, to Americans, it also seems strange that "basic necessities" don't come as cheap in Europe. (Pay for local telephone calls? More than US$.40 per liter for gasoline/petrol? Ridiculous!)

    However, this brings up another discussion, because if someone is willing to pay a large amount for a given item, that defines its price in a certain sense. It could be argued that that is a flaw in capitalism, or in humans' greedy nature, or in their value systems (that cause them to want really silly things).

    I can't remember how I was going to tie this back into the question of minimum wage and working hours.

    [ Parent ]
    offtopic but interesting (none / 0) (#45)
    by claesh1 on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 07:36:44 PM EST

    My post was not intended as criticism. It was just a pure observation, and I should really have posted it as a reply to the "What comes next"- question in the previous post
    "It's deeper than that". I can see it most clearly in America, but the same things happens here, on a somewhat smaller scale.

    In a market economy, things are worth what people are willing to pay for it. So this baseball gets this value. But ask a poor person in India what he thinks about this. He certainly think its overpriced.

    But the more money people get, the more they can spend for things that are really not that special. Because every other need they already have is satisfied. And new markets emerge, markets for memorabilia, collectibles etc.

    You know the problem - what do you buy as a gift to the person who has everything? This person is perhaps your father. He does not expect much, he is satisfied with what he already has. At least mine does. If I should shell out every saving I had for this ball as a gift to him, it would not make him any happier.And looking at it from a global perspective, the money would be much better spent if I for example donated them for education of children in the third world, against global warming or something like that.



    [ Parent ]
    still offtopic (none / 0) (#46)
    by angharad on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 08:00:51 PM EST

    Well, hmm.
    Assuming we agree that human life is fairly high up the priority list, then I'd have to see that type of comment as a negative criticism, at least of certain folks. Personally, I usually generalise this in casual conversation as being just Americans who are narrowminded, consumer arseholes, but it ties to larger issues.
    These are important questions: How do we define quality of life? "Should" we accept a slight decrease in order to help fellow humans we've never met? and so on.

    [ Parent ]
    To what end? | 51 comments (37 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
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