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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Hard work

As an academic, I frequently find myself in conversations with friends, relatives and students trying to explain exactly what I do in the summer when I'm not teaching...and what I do during the workweek when I'm not in the classroom. For years, I've typically spent only about 6 hours per week behind the lectern, so how can I be busy?

Regular Americans like to brag about how hard they work. I have friends in law and business who not only make a point of reminding me of the long hours they log, but also add that they typically do not even take the full vacation time offered by their firms. Nobody gets ahead, makes partner, or concludes sales by taking time off from work.

Why am I mentioning this?

Well, for one thing, I'm about to take a sabbatical from teaching. Yep, those 6 hours per week were just too overwhelming.

Also, my project will investigate the apparent fissures in the so-called "western security community." Of course, I'll be looking at foreign policy interests and behavior to try to figure out if the US is at risk of losing major allies in Western Europe. However, I've already been thinking a great deal about a variety of social and political differences between the US and Europe, between Americans and "Europeans."

Thanks to the Bush administration, the US is about to engage in a major national debate about the future of Social Security. Very many European countries have far more advanced social welfare programs of all sorts: health care, day care, retirement, family leave, etc. Yet, rather than moving towards their example, the US is apparently going to consider policies that might rollback the signature achievement of FDR's "New Deal."

Back to, back to the question of vacation.

Should Americans envy Germans?
The average German worked 1,444 hours in 2002, compared to 1,815 hours for the average U.S. worker and 1,707 for the average Briton. Among industrialized nations, only workers in Norway and the Netherlands worked fewer hours.

With 30 days of vacation and 12 public holidays, German workers enjoy nearly twice as many free days as their counterparts in the United States, who on average have just 23 days off each year. And even those figures don't include another 12 days taken off by German employees each year due to sickness, training and other leave entitlements.
So Americans work 371 more hours per year than do Germans. That amounts to 7 hours more per week. Nearly a full work day! Or, more than a full work day to the average German.

Thanks to a highly developed work ethic...or perhaps a corporate-dominated economy...Americans do not often seriously consider the alternative possibilities.

Nope, Americans like to embrace hard work.

You probably remember President Bush, in the first debate with Senator Kerry, saying the following:
In Iraq, no doubt about it, it's tough. It's hard work. It's incredibly hard...

Of course, we're doing everything we can to protect America. I wake up every day thinking about how best to protect America. That's my job. I work with Director Mueller of the FBI. He comes into my office when I'm in Washington every morning talking about how to protect us. There's a lot of really good people working hard to do so. It's hard work.
Maybe I'll spend some time in the next few months thinking about ways to frame this question in such a way that we can all take more days off without regret or guilt.

Rest assured, I'll be working hard on this during my sabbatical.

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