Just Above Sunset Archives
September 7, 2003 Mail "Light"
The mail flies back and forth regarding the success of the American economy ....
As I was putting together the magazine last weekend I came across this. I was reminded of a conversation I had with a conservative friend of mine a few months ago as we finished off, after a fine meal, a second bottle of extraordinary Tuscan red wine, or maybe it was a third bottle, and maybe it was a Bordeaux. Things were a little hazy.
He was arguing, as I remember, something about the superiority of the American economy, and I was countering that not everyone wanted that kind of superiority what with the cut-throat competition and the way no one felt they could ever take vacation, or should, and the usual left-liberal stuff I trot out for such occasions.
He tried to trump what I was saying by telling me to look at American productivity. We were more productive than any other nation had ever been.
I countered with a "So what?" kind of something or other, suggesting not everyone around the world worshipped productivity as we do. Some folks liked a slower pace and liked enjoying life.
The Italians were an example - one might consider the "slow food" movement that started there. The French too with their long lunches, thirty-five hour workweek and long August vacations. Some things are more important than productivity, or career.
I'm not sure we settled anything. But we did finish the wine.
I was reminded of that conversation when I came across the item below. Looking at it one way, France is more productive than we are. What? We do pride ourselves on never taking vacation, or if we do, toting along the laptop and cell phone. My friends do that. They keep working, no matter what.
Here's the item:
When I sent that out to my online discussion group I got this from one friend...
I replied -
And another friend commented:
Okay, so the French take more vacation time than we do, but to make up for it, they also have a higher output of work per hour, meaning they work too hard! Or something.
The second friend then sent this -
And that was some of the economic stuff discussed this week -statistics and theory. And all week long items were being published in the press on the latest statistics. Productivity is way up fewer and fewer folks are producing more and more. Profits are up and labor costs down. But workers still employed are working longer and longer hours and reluctant to take any vacation for fear of losing their jobs should they do so. People who used to work fifty-hour weeks are putting in seventy or eighty. And unemployment remains quite high. Jobs keep disappearing - this week instead of the predicted 12,000 new jobs created, 93,000 were eliminated. Economists are talking about a structural change in the economy, a situation where the more than two and a half million jobs lost in the last two or three years will never return. Productivity is high and more workers just aren't needed, and much work that used to be done here can be done more cheaply, and done well, at a fraction of the cost in India or wherever. Were productivity the sole measure of the health of the economy, things would be fine.
There are other ways to judge success.
We shall see how this all works out.
All I can see is a bundle of economic problems and no good solutions to those problems. We can indeed maximize profitability and hold labor costs down, by running "lean" organizations and outsourcing as much work as possible overseas, where good work just costs less. Productivity will continue to soar. But in doing so we throw a whole lot of folks out of work, and we sort of need those folks to buy the goods we can produce so efficiently. They can't buy much if they don't have jobs. But if you artifically create jobs that really aren't needed, or forbid businesses from seeking the best work at the lowest price, even if it is in India, then you really handcuff businesses. So? I don't see a way to fix this all.