The European Model in Action

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 \AM\.\Wed\.

As I mentioned, I’m currently reading Thomas Geoghegan’s Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? Geoghegan’s day job is as a labor lawyer, so naturally there’s a good deal of discussion of German employment law practices and how they differ from America’s. At one point, for example, Geoghegan tries to explain the American system of employment at will to a group of German students:

I’d thought that, in the first class, I’d explain how, in the U.S., people could be fired for any reason at any time, or for no reason at all. “Here’s an example. I work for you for twenty-nine years, one year from retiring. One day I wear a yellow tie to work. You say, ‘I don’t like your tie. You’re fired.’ In the U.S., you can do that.”

The students are, understandably, incredulous, to the point that G is forced to backtrack a bit:

“Sure, we fire people for no reason, or for the color of their ties – yes, we do. But we don’t do it every day.”

It’s true that people don’t get fired every day for wearing a yellow tie. In fact, I’ve never heard of someone getting fired for wearing a yellow tie. The closest thing I can think of to the yellow tie story was a story from the 1990s in which a guy at a supermarket was fired for wearing a particular team jersey the day of the Superbowl (the owner was apparently a fan of the other team). That caused a decent sized stink; big enough that if something like the yellow tie incident were to occur, big as this country is, I think I would hear about it. Read the rest of this entry »


Do Americans Work Too Much?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 \AM\.\Tue\.

I’m in the middle of reading Thomas Geoghegan’s Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life. The book is part travelogue, part prosecutors brief against American-style capitalism and in favor of European-style social democracy. It’s a very enjoyable read. Many of Geoghegan’s arguments are backwards or loopy (his claim, for example, that the reason Americans have plastic surgery is to avoid being laid off gets more points for creativity than for persuasiveness). But Geoghegan is a good writer and comes across as a really likable guy, and many of the point he makes warrant at least further reflection.

Geoghegan’s main argument in favor of Europe has to do with work/life balance. Yes, Americans tend to be richer than Europeans. But they also tend to work a lot less.:

# 1 Australia: 1,814 hours
# 2 Japan: 1,801 hours
# 3 United States: 1,792 hours
# 4 Canada: 1,718 hours
# 5 United Kingdom: 1,673 hours
# 6 Italy: 1,591 hours
# 7 Sweden: 1,564 hours
# 8 France: 1,453 hours
# 9 Norway: 1,337 hours

That’s not the whole story, of course.*

Read the rest of this entry »