Friday, July 29, 2005


Work Less, Live More

French Family Values by Paul Krugman

Wow, this is the first time that I've seen an American write about this issue, something Roser and I have been talking about for a while: Europeans have less money but they choose consume less. I'm sure you've all heard me say: it's hard to find a job here, but when you do you don't need to make as much as you do in the US. Roser was the first one to notice on one of our trips to the US just how many things Americans have to pay out of our own pocket (health care, child care, no public transportation). Add to that the "need" to get a new car every 4 years, the need to get a bigger house because you can, and you see why so much income is necessary. (Interesting related article on consumption: Self-Storage Nation. Reminds me of George Carlin's bit of "stuff".)

I hope Thomas Friedman reads this article. He had the balls to write that "it's better to be in a poor dynamic country than in a rich stagnant one" when comparing Asia to Europe. First of all, he should talk to immigrants and see if they share his opinion. Secondly, he should be careful about throwing around words like stagnant and dynamic. Everything I've read or heard about China's / Tawian's / Asia's growth points to the fact that people are working hard not to pay for the essentials but to buy into the consumption dream wholesale (pardon the bad pun). Two jobs to pay for new cell phones and designer clothes isn't dynamic in my book. And working less hours but spending less isn't stagnant. Both are choices, both have their consequences.

One last thing, and here I'm going to quote Jim Boykin: "countries that really have family values don't need to talk about them all the time". David Cutler once warned me of Spain's "family structure". Though he was exaggerating he was right on one thing: people hang out with their families allot more here. Lunches on Sundays, rejecting jobs that would take them far from the fam etc. Looks like Friedman is saying the same things about France. Again, we talk allot about this kind of stuff, but it all smacks of sentimentalized marketing. Maybe it's the system that forces people to make these sacrifices or maybe this is part of a post-industrial trend towards "friend families" instead of "blood families" (think about the social structures in Friends, Seinfeld, Bridget Jones, Sex and the City, even Million Dollar baby). The point is, a little less conversation a little more action please.

Finally, I just want to link to Rick Santorum's website. ;)

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