July 19, 2004


Continent guards its right to leisure (Katrin Bennhold, July 19, 2004, International Herald Tribune)

This image of a casual West European work ethic tends to be viewed with something just short of scorn among the world's other wealthy economies.

As Europeans like the Ditlevs happily continue to trade in income for a slice of leisure time that would be unthinkable in the United States or Asia, the gloomy headlines about the Continent's economic future have multiplied.

Europe, the standard criticism goes, has failed to match America's economic expansion for the best part of the past decade and has even begun trailing Japan in recent quarters. Its citizens are on average almost 30 percent poorer than their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic, according to income-per-capita data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Potential growth in the next decade risks being stuck at about 2 percent - one percentage point below that projected for the United States.

Is Europe, which has about the shortest workweeks and longest vacations in the world, doomed to lag behind, a victim of its penchant for ever more leisure and an overly generous welfare state?

One response: If the answer is yes, then so what? [...]

As Joaquín Almunia, a European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, put it: For Europeans, economic growth is a tool, not an end in itself.

"We are not in a race with the U.S.," he said. "Our goal is not to grow as fast as the U.S. or anybody else but to do what we need to protect our economic and social model."

Yes, the race is with oblivion, which is winning rather easily.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 19, 2004 8:22 AM

Mr. Judd;

It would be OK if Europe accepted all of the consequences of leisure over advancement. It's the path the Amish have chosen and no one gets upset with them.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 19, 2004 9:40 AM

"We are not in a race with the U.S.," he said. "Our goal is not to grow as fast as the U.S. or anybody else but to do what we need to protect our economic and social model."

Quite progressive; Or true conservative reactionaries?

Posted by: genecis at July 19, 2004 9:41 AM

Europeans made the same choices at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Workers recruited from agricultural backrounds didn't much like working in factories, and didn't have a concept of ever-improving lifestyles through accumulated savings.
So, any time they got paid more than they needed to survive, they'd just take time off and get drunk.

This image of a casual West European work ethic tends to be viewed with something just short of scorn among the world's other wealthy economies.

No, it's not SHORT of scorn...

Over the past half-century, West Europeans have gradually opted to work less and take longer vacations.

Well, why not ? Life is short, no ? Pour qu'aurions-nous besoin de plus d'argent ?

They have put in place varying national versions of public universal health care, education and retirement benefits. They have set up a complex web of minimum income legislation, ranging from unemployment subsidies to disability benefits and basic social welfare...

Mainly because the above has to be paid for.
In fact, so much of the above has been promised that the EU would have to, in effect, win the Lotto to pay for it all.
(In this case, the Lotto would be the development of advanced robots which could double or triple productivity. That such will be built is not in doubt - That they can be invented in time to help out Europe, is).

If a person wants to work part-time their entire life, good on 'em.
However, to expect that top-notch health care and a thirty year retirement goes along with such a choice is ludicrous.
Don't Europeans have an image of themselves as sophisticated commanders of irony, les élite cosmopolites quand en comparaison d'en comparaison des Américains bruts et rustres ?

So why don't they "get" it ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 19, 2004 10:02 AM


I'd say it's stability, rather than leisure, the Amish have gotten in exchange for advancement. But you have a good point in that I've never heard a bad word about them...

Posted by: mike earl at July 19, 2004 10:18 AM

the Amish are happy and have kids

Posted by: oj at July 19, 2004 10:32 AM

A few comments:

1) Mr. Almunia is obviously blowing smoke about the EU's intention to compete with the US since it is a stated goal for Europe to match the US in several economic areas by 2010. There are any number of articles in Europe at any given time about what it's going to take to compete the US etc. etc.. They just haven't figured out how to do it and maintain their socialist structures.

2) Out here in Amish country (Northeastern Indiana) it's clear that Mike Earl is right, the Amish for sure aren't looking for leisure. Industry is a part of their creed and they scorn leisure for its own sake. They also have made some unusual accomodations with modern life (cell phones for example) but still try to maintain the simplicity and security of their lives. And yes OJ, they do have kids.

Posted by: Jeff at July 19, 2004 10:49 AM

Category by 2050 America Europe
Population 550 million 350 million
Median Age 36.2 years 52.7
Percentage of
workers over 65 40% 60%
Percentage under 15 23% 12%

According to 'The Economist'

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 19, 2004 11:19 AM


I'll agree with Mr. Earl on the Amish. I was trying for a larger point, that the Amish weighed modern technological civilization vs. other desirables (many spiritual) and chose the latter. However, in strong contrast to the Europeans, the Amish accept the physical downsides of their choice. I think this is a big factor in the Amish being happy with kids and the Europeans not.

I'm sorry to blather, but I'm having a hard time putting it in to words. I guess the best way is that the Amish have willing paid a price for their lifestyle while the Europeans refuse to believe that there is a price. That's why I respect the Amish.

I suppose the closest anti-analogy to the Amish are the limousine liberals who bloviate about "the environment" while driving Hummers and jetting about. A clean environment is good as long as someone else pays for it. The Amish, in contrast, pay their own way.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 19, 2004 11:37 AM

I have to concur with the "stability, not leisure" assessment -- unless one defines "leisure" as getting up before daybreak and working a farm all day without benefit of gasoline engines. Then again, they don't have to worry about rush-hour traffic.

Posted by: Guy T. at July 19, 2004 12:21 PM

I'll put in a bad word for the Amish: shunning.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 19, 2004 2:42 PM

Geez, you think it's bad when we kill people for non-conformity and when we don't? Yet you want to kill Muslims...

Posted by: oj at July 19, 2004 2:44 PM

AOG: I think you've got it with respect to the Amish--and why they are worthy of respect, and the LimoLibs aren't.

Ever notice that the people who argue against our "lavish" and "unsustainable" lifestyle always assume that it'll be someone else (other than them) who'll have to take the cut?

Posted by: Mike Morley at July 19, 2004 3:03 PM

The European version of leisure apparently includes the avoidance of reproduction as well. Maybe sex, but please no children.
That's another important reason for stagnation.

Posted by: Steve at July 19, 2004 3:12 PM


No sex either. You can't be as self-absorbed as they and have time for partners.

Posted by: oj at July 19, 2004 3:16 PM

So, what? Cultures make choices and live (or not) with the consequences. Americans work harder than the Europeans and buy lots of neat toys like Carrier Battle Groups and Amphibious Task Forces. Hard work, family values, God, guns and guts--that's us.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 19, 2004 4:30 PM


"God, guns and guts"

And Gots. Lots of Gots.

Posted by: Peter B at July 19, 2004 7:28 PM
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