Americans Shouldn't Apologize for Working Hard
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Do Americans work too much? Are we a nation of workaholics? Do we sacrifice the good life for the druthers of the office, store, or factory floor? I came across two items recently looking into this. The first part of this post is not-so-serious, while the second part is deadly serious.
First, Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard gets cute and calls for the United States to have a national vacation policy. It seems the U.S. “is the only advanced country with no national policy guaranteeing paid vacation time.”
I like vacations too, but we’re not France or Finland or Norway or Sweden or Portugal or Spain or Italy… You get my drift.
But why stop at a national vacation policy? How about:
- A National Cupcake Policy
It shall be mandated that every employer shall give their employees one cupcake (their choice of flavor) on their half-birthday. [We don’t want to interfere with birthday celebrations.]
- A National Unicorn Policy
It shall be mandated that every employer shall provide their employees with a unicorn with which they can soar over rainbows and frolic in fields of cotton candy and gum drops. [It makes no difference whether unicorns exist or not, that’s the employers’ problem.]
- A National Roller Coaster Policy
It shall be mandated that every employer shall provide each of their employees an all-expense-paid trip to their nearest amusement park to savor the twists, turns, and corkscrews of some of the world’s finest roller coasters. [I would be jealous of anyone living near Cedar Point in Ohio.]
More disturbing than Sheppard's snark is Robert Skidelsky’s claim that Americans should be forced to work less. John Maynard Keynes’ biographer thinks “[g]overnment should gradually reduce the maximum allowable hours of work for most occupations.” If you wanted to work 40 hours a week, you wouldn’t be able to. A shoe repair shop owner whose store is open normal business hours (8am – 7pm, daily) would have to hire a least one employee. Yes, that would create a job or two, but that kind of artificial job-creation isn’t sustainable for every business. That’s not economic growth but redistribution of work hours.
Sheppard’s and Skidelsky’s basic argument is that Americans work too much. They forget that many of us derive self-worth, purpose, and pleasure from our jobs. Working and work is deeply a part of who each of us are as individuals. John Izenbaard of Kalamazoo, MI, has been working at a hardware store for 74 years, but has no intention of retiring [via Jordan Ballor]. He told a reporter, "I look forward each day to coming to work. I really enjoy it.” He goes to work each day with the goal of being a "blessing" to his customers. His job gives him meaning.
Last week, we celebrated July 4th and the Declaration of Independence. That document talks about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Work is one way Americas seek happiness. It’s in our cultural DNA.
American Enterprise Institute president, Arthur Brooks wrote for FreeEnterprise.com [emphasis mine]:
[T]he secret to the pursuit of happiness is earning our own success; creating value with our lives and in the lives of others. This earned success is the fruit of hard work and just rewards in a system built on merit.
No, I don’t think Americans work too hard. We’re different from other countries. There’s no doubt that Americans work hard, but we’re intrinsically active. We want to do things; we want to build things; we want to create; we want to help people; we crave happiness from earned success. It’s patronizing to all those Americans who put in so many hours to build their businesses or earn a promotion or please their customers that they “work too much.”