On two related topics, it's not just the stressful life that can sap future productivity. Apparently the same is true of an insufficiently stressful life. James at Outside the Beltway has discovered the downside of those short European work weeks. His conclusion:
From a social idealist standpoint, the old European paradigm is clearly preferable to the American model. Shorter workweeks and longer vacations should lead to healthier lives and, to a point, happier, more productive workers. Reality and theory don’t match up very well in this case, however.
To a point. That's true of just about any argument in economics, you have to be aware of the point up to which it holds. Not only that, as the New York Times discovers, it's a limitation on individual freedom that free individuals can circumvent.
Flagging tax receipts and large budget deficits are the main cause of the state's newfound push for hours. In France, however, the government is making a broader case that the 35-hour week, which applies to public- and private-sector jobs, is throttling the country's growth.
"I've never been convinced of the positive effect of a 35-hour week," President Jacques Chirac declared recently. "I feel it's been a brake on economic development and therefore a brake on overall employment."
Mr. Chirac is feeling pressure from his fiery finance minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has called for French employees to have the right to work more than 35 hours, if it fattens their paychecks.
There's another dimension to this problem. A shorter work week does not mean higher rates of employment, if the jobs employers are seeking to fill have insufficient job seekers. (Consider in particular the difficulty employers continuously report in finding skilled workers -- a VOLUNTARY offer of shorter working conditions might be just the ticket for them. But that will not help the seekers who lack those skills, who might be proliferating.)
The second related point comes from some magazine reading. A letter to the editor of Trains made the observation that his objective, while in the employ of an eastern railroad, was to keep the younger workers from being fired AND from being promoted -- as into management. Are those higher management salaries a compensating differential for being brainwashed into accepting foolish fads?