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France's 35-hour work week
June 30, 2001 8:39 AM   Subscribe

France's 35-hour work week has boosted the economy and proved a hit with both employees and their bosses. "If the French experiment works then the UK Government may be forced to look at France rather than the U.S. for new ideas about reforming the jobs market." Thanks to AlterNet for the link.
posted by fleener (50 comments total)

 
I don't see how much of anything about the French economy can be considered a model for anyone else (except perhaps to indicate what not to do). Their unemployment rate has been historically much higher than the other G7 countries and overall productivity is lower. GNP has not been keeping pace, either.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:52 AM on June 30, 2001


I'll just submit this snippet from the article without any comment on my part:

"The government is having difficulty in making its own bill add up... The Jospin government now faces a shortfall of at least £1.5bn a year, which it proposes to take from a large, but possibly temporary, surplus in the social security (health and pensions) budget. In the longer term, employers protest, that means they may be forced to pay for their own subsidies.

In the meantime, the government could be said to be, in effect, "buying" the new jobs. The net cost to the French treasury of subsidising employers shifting to a 35-hour week is estimated in yesterday's report by Le Plan at £4,600 per new job."

posted by gd779 at 8:53 AM on June 30, 2001


I'll do the same:

Two-thirds of people on a shorter week say that it has improved their lives. Working women, especially, say that a four-day week, or shorter working day, has made their lives tolerable for the first time.
posted by holgate at 9:44 AM on June 30, 2001


The place i currently work for in England already has a 35 hour week policy. We still do 40 however, but my payslip says 35. Why? Well, they just don't include any of our compulsory breaks in the top-line tally. We have absolutely no choice but to take them breaks even though i'd much prefer to work through them and perhaps go home an hour earlier (or just get paid for the extra hours work a day). It's no biggy wiggy, and i hardly wanna burden people with such a trivial piece of crap, but it does strike me as being a bit out of order (we're talking about a project run by two ultra-modern global technology companies, not some rip-off acme style dodgy setup). I don't know the situation where you are, but here it's legal and common for compulsory breaks to be unrewarded. Perhaps if the UK government follows suit and offers firms an incentive for 35 hour weeks, like France, a lot more people will find themselves sat around, drinking coffee, in a place they don't particularily wanna be at, for free. Shorter working hours are all fine and dandy - but not if the workforce find themselves having to be in the place for the same amount of time as previously to work them.
posted by Kino at 9:46 AM on June 30, 2001


Two-thirds of people on a shorter week say that it has improved their lives. Working women, especially, say that a four-day week, or shorter working day, has made their lives tolerable for the first time.

Shocking. People like having paid days off?
posted by mw at 10:02 AM on June 30, 2001


Holgate, being English too, i think you probably know how this stuff would pan out if it gets jumped on by the gov.. less money for workers, nice incentives for companies, mass advantage being taken of the proletariat, bla, bla, bla. I know, lets all work three hours a week and feed our kids toast as long as it makes the unemployment pock-marks disappear while the fat cats get more of our money back for doing it [goes out in the street and sets fire to an old Thatcher banner and jumps up and down on it with all the zest and energy of some sorta wild looking Islamic fundamentalist]
posted by Kino at 10:16 AM on June 30, 2001


Shorter work weeks may be positive from a social policy perspective, but to claim they have helped the French economy is crazy. Of course Mr. Jospin's government is going to find that the 35 hour week has improved the economy. In fact, the French economy is doing well because the EU has forced it to reform; information technologies have made it more efficient; and the Euro is piss-weak. Get a grip. And take my 65 hour NYC work week--PLEASE!

P.S.: the two-week American vacation is a myth: how about two weeks plus another five or six holidays?
posted by ParisParamus at 10:16 AM on June 30, 2001


God wants a 60 hour per week work schedule...if it was good enough for America it shopuld be good enough for the rest of the world.
posted by Postroad at 10:23 AM on June 30, 2001


A few notes about this article:

1) Hmmm. France is a country that has high unemployment and a faltering economy, yet is currently running a government tax-surplus.

2) As you mention, holgate, I'm sure that they love it. I would too, in their place. I'm just saying that it can't last forever. The government is essentially "buying" the jobs by robbing the social security fund.

3) To illustrate WHY it can't go on forever, imagine the next couple of logical steps: work-weeks keep getting shorter and shorter, but it's okay because the government keeps paying a larger and larger part of your salary to make up for the time you're not working (and thus not generating economic value). Eventually, nobody works and the government pays all of your salary. But where does the tax money come from?

I've taken this to an absurd conclusion only to illustrate the principle: the government needs to find a way to make this financially feasible in the long term. Based on the article, they haven't done it.

4) And I really hope they don't decide to try and pay for it by raising taxes on the lawyers, doctors, business executives, etc. who are "exempted" from this 35-hour work week.
posted by gd779 at 10:23 AM on June 30, 2001


Funny how the adults in France get to work only 35 hours a week while their children go to school from 7:30 in the morning to 4 or 5 in the afternoon, and have a half day on Saturday. This hardly seems fair.
posted by raintea at 11:01 AM on June 30, 2001


Kino, you're quite right. When call-centres monitor toilet breaks, you know that you're in a workhouse culture. (I already have friends whose chief threat against management is to work the statutory limit.)

The interesting word in that quote I used was "tolerable". It's not some clichéd notion of the French as lazy continentals who like their four-day weekends. Given the choice between money and time, they regard an extra afternoon more precious than a few more francs in the pocket. And in the modern age, it is.

Why should a "pursuit of happiness" that's related to time, and not money or possessions, be so reprehensible? If it isn't sustainable economically, then the workforce will no longer be happy with it, and will vote for something different. (I do agree wholeheartedly with your fourth point: there's no point in gerrymandering the demographics of something like this.)

I certainly don't buy the reductio ad absurdam argument. From personal experience of various office cultures, what happens is that people work more effectively. If you're on a 60-hour week, how much of that time is spent propping open your eyelids or hunting down caffeine? How often do you have to phone in sick because your immune system is run down? How much does family life suffer? It's a treadmill that's hard to get off, because once your workrate does start to falter because of fatigue, you put in even more hours to make up for it. It's no less insane.

how about two weeks plus another five or six holidays?

So, three weeks. Which is still miserly. Especially when it usually means just three public holidays: Christmas, Thanksgiving and July 4th.

raintea: French schoolkids do get a two-hour lunch break (inevitably), Wednesdays off, and les grandes vacances in summer. Which works out at around a 30-hour week during term-time.
posted by holgate at 11:17 AM on June 30, 2001


Anyone who works 60+ hours a week either has *very* questionable values or is just plain dumb. Not to mention, part of the problem.

Life consists of more than work. You're missing your whole life. If that's an intentional, short-term strategy to achieve certain specific goals, fine and good. For many, however, it becomes a trap from which they never escape.

Be a well-rounded human being, not a cog used by others for their enrichment!
posted by rushmc at 11:40 AM on June 30, 2001


Holgate: I think the American norm is a few personal days + Chirstmas + New Year's Day + maybe President's Day + Memorial Day + 4th of July (when not on weekend) + Labor Day + Thanksgiving + possibly, MLK's Birthday (with maybe a choice of either Veteran's Day or a Jewish Holiday). So, that's around ten days, plus two weeks of vacation. So I don't think it's a total Gulag over here.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:47 AM on June 30, 2001


closing your italics for you.
posted by megnut at 11:52 AM on June 30, 2001


That quote you used there ain't mine Holgate, but i agree with what you say. Most people work hard so they and their families can enjoy a better life, if that life suffers because of work the whole thing becomes rather self defeating. It all comes down to striking a balance. Yeah, time is as important as money, especially in the modern age, but i can see how this would be implemented in the UK and it won't necessarily add up to more hours at home for the average worker, just less hours ending up on the employees paysheet and plush payouts from public money to the slavedrivers of an already exploited, disadvantaged workforce. And all in the name of polishing up the governments statistics. On the whole, the same hours will be worked by the same people, they just won't get paid for breaks. New deal new shmeal. I'm off the pub to get ratassed. Oh yeah, i'm glad i don't work in a callcentre, even if they did give me a fancy whip. Wouldn't last five minutes - i'd be making the workers revolt just so i could get an early dart.
posted by Kino at 12:16 PM on June 30, 2001


I personally think it's a nice bait and switch for the working class: every new technologically revolution is supposed to slash the amount of work necessary for the average person to do, and yet we still find ourselves working the same or even longer hours (Americans have among the longest work weeks of developed nations). There's nothing divine or holy about 40 hours a week that makes it unassailable; we used to work longer, in fact, until union agitation made the case that 40 hours was more than sufficient (it's also worth noting that the US economy has been ticking upwards ever since- coincidence? Perhaps... :)) Is there any reason why, decades later, we can't knock that down to 35 hours a week? If we were less productive in 35 as opposed to 40 hours a week, then perhaps more people need to be hired to do the same amount of work- and unemployment is lowered! Yay! :)

Rushmc put it well- if you work more than 40 hours a week- and you aren't self-employed- then you're a fool. I've long since come to the conclusion that working extra hours- even at overtime pay- is nothing more than a subsidy of a business's failure to hire the correct amount of personnel, and as such is violating the basic free market notion that the costs of production should not be externalized.
posted by hincandenza at 12:22 PM on June 30, 2001



About ten years ago, a buddy of mine was temping at EDS.

Anything over 8 hours in a day was time and a half
Anything over 40 hours in a week was time and a half
Anything on a holiday was time and a half
Any weekend day was time and a half

...and each modifier applied on top of the others.

That boy mades so much bank on crunch weekends as proposals came due around year end that it was just sick!
posted by NortonDC at 12:42 PM on June 30, 2001


you have to ask yourself what the purpose of a work policy is: is it to benefit business owners, or is it to reduce unemployment to the smallest degree?

to me, the highest number of people who are fully employed seems like a good thing. but I know that during the recent "unprecedented economic expansion" TM there were cities which were having a terrible time attracting new business, because their unemployment was so low that business was having a hard time filling all the slots - or at least, filling them at low wages.

and you have to ask yourself why is anyone so hot on attracting new business to a place that is nearly fully employed?

but then, I'm a sustainable kind of girl, and I think a good economy may not be growing particularly, but it would house and feed and medicate nearly everyone for the long term.

anyway, I think any discussion of "best practices" in this area has to be preceded by an agreement of goals: to most benefit the workers? to most benefit the business owners? to provide sustainable rewards to the most people? to provide the highest rewards to a few people?

and one wonders how a 35-hour work week woudl affect white collar workers, anyway, many of whom are on salary, explicitly because it is understood that they will frequently (in some cases, always) be working beyond the 40-hour week. - rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 1:25 PM on June 30, 2001


if you work more than 40 hours a week- and you aren't self-employed- then you're a fool

Yeah, makes perfect sense to me. Everyone should be willing to take a significant cut in pay just to avoid being called a fool.

[working overtime] is nothing more than a subsidy of a business's failure to hire the correct amount of personnel, and as such is violating the basic free market notion that the costs of production should not be externalized.

Actually, it's in perfect keeping with market principles -- the prinicple of paying the least you can for a commodity, such as labor. Every employee has a certain overhead, regardless of the number of hours they work, and paying time-and-a-half for an extra 20 hours for two employees might well cost less than just hiring another full-timer, depending on the position and the benefits.

Also, the work may actually be done better since you have fewer people working on it -- the more people you add to a particular project, the more communications issues you have in that group and the more management you need. I know, for example, I'd rather have one network engineer working 60 hours a week than two working 40 hours each. If he's good, the one guy can keep everything important in his head and accomplish in 60 hours work that would require 80 hours if you had two guys working on it, just because they'd have to spend so much time keeping in sync with each other. In fact, if you have two guys doing the job, you might well need a third person just to manage them.

Of course, most of us in the tech business work on salary, not hourly. In that case working overtime can be a serious scam. If you know in advance how many hours you'll be expected to work in a salary position, though, and the compensation is satisfactory to you, I don't see any reason you'd be "a fool" to take it. A statement like "You're missing your whole life" is merely an attempt to impose one's own values on others. In fact, the more I think about this statement, the the angrier it makes me. Who the fuck are you to decide what should make other people happy, and to declare them defective if it doesn't?
posted by kindall at 1:37 PM on June 30, 2001


if you work more than 40 hours a week- and you aren't self-employed- then you're a fool

If you only want to work 40 hours or less a week then get a new job. Life's too short to spend that amount of time (whether it's 40, 35 or 25) doing something you don't enjoy doing. I like my job. I'm not a slave to the man or a cog in some corporate machine. I'm a slave to my passions and I'd do it for free if it weren't for ego and a desire for material luxury.
posted by willnot at 2:15 PM on June 30, 2001


Some people live to work, that's a given. In fact, the tech industry encouraged work-to-live-to-work during the dot-com expansion because of the guarantee of a decent group of people around you, a high-speed net connection, a table football table and an Aeron chair. Which isn't a problem. It's consensual.

But again, I come back to the word "tolerable": is a developed economy in which a large proportion of the workforce regards the demand on their time intolerable (and not just an occasional inconvenience) a healthy one, in both social and economic terms? Isn't it equally short-termist to try to extract as many hours as you can out of your staff: to regard their contribution as a 60-hour week over five years rather than a 40-hour week over ten? (This ties in with some of the age discrimination threads here, in which people with 20 years of experience are being laid off in favour of those who'll stay in the office until late.)

Those kinds of issues, when shared so widely, can't simply be answered with the standard Protestant work ethic response: "if you can't do the hours, don't take the job." It's a serious issue with modern culture: the way in which the all-consuming nature of work erodes local neighbourhoods, civic engagement, family life. It promotes a politics of isolationism and privatisation, in which public investment is seen as an assault on people's "hard-earned tax dollars" rather than the underwriting of communal living standards. It fuels the transformation of consumption into the primary leisure activity.

A little thought experiment: if you were given every Wednesday off, to do something other than paid work, what would you do? What could you do? What would you want to do? Because I think that points to some of the niggling doubts about economic growth in the developed world. If you encourage people to make more money, and keep them in the workplace an extra few hours, it's easier to get away with running down public services. When you run a modern capitalist society, it's relatively easy to keep the populace quiet by giving everyone an extra $500 (q. v. Bush's tax cut); it's when you start to give people more time to look around them that things get a little trickier.
posted by holgate at 2:53 PM on June 30, 2001


Or, to make it more plain: if you had the chance to spend Wednesday afternoons during the summer in your local park, would you think differently about your tax money being spent by your local council's Parks Department?
posted by holgate at 2:58 PM on June 30, 2001


would you think differently about your tax money being spent by your local council's Parks Department?

No, I try not to have opinions based solely on what is in it for me, things are either right or wrong, and my pleasure should not influence my position.
posted by thirteen at 3:30 PM on June 30, 2001


Shorter work weeks may be positive from a social policy perspective, but to claim they have helped the French economy is crazy.

That's exactly right, Paris. Exactly right. The 35-hour work week is the biggest load of crap.

Proponents claim the 35-hour work week creates new jobs. How about just opening the shops on Sunday? There's a couple part-time jobs right there. How about everyone just not closing the store when they leave for the beaches in August? Give somebody a job by putting them in charge for a month. What about just staying open once past 7 p.m at night? There are a couple of more part time jobs.

No, they won't do that because (as is always the case with the French when they are intransigent) they also want supposed social benefits. Free time to spend with the kids, go on vacation, etc. They say they wouldn't want the shops to be open all the time. People need time off.

What they don't explain is why everyone must be off work at the same time. Shifts, people? Âllo?

What they also don't explain is how on Sundays and holidays when most shops and some restaurants are closed, and August, when about half of everything is closed, they don't explain how they let these tourists leave town with their money. These people are pratically begging to empty their wallets. You should see them. They want T-shirts, knick-knacks, French perfume, clothing, everything.

There's your French economy in a nutshell: missed opportunities. If they were serious about reducing chomage, and they're not, they'd toss their societal benefits mumbo-jumbo out the window and start becoming serious merchants, real businesspeople.

The 35-hour work week has been in effect for a little over a year. Any perceived social benefits are intangible. They are unmeasurable by survey. Any perceived financial benefits or employment increases, are, in my opinion, due to the rising dot com economy (which is about 18 months behind the US), an overall rise in economies throughout Europe, and the ever-continuing rise in tourism.

There is a culture of not working in France, a culture of leisure, a culture of government support. The 35-hour work week is the off-spring of that. Merely subsidized unemployment.
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:44 PM on June 30, 2001


Mo: You seem to be making the point that '24 hour society' is a good idea. Shops open all the time, things available any hour of the day. That might improve the unemployment rate, as you say, but you'd also end up with a 24 hour society.. and many people believe that's not a good thing!

On the whole, the only companies that can properly compete in a 24 hour society are the large multinationals. Look at the UK.. what companies have shops open all night? BP and Shell, Tesco, McDonald's..

The French, in general, do not like big brands. There's a preference for smaller local shops, and perhaps they'll all trundle off to Auchan or Carrefour for a treat (I heard that large hypermarkets only make up 25% or so of the French grocery market).

But, you say that there are tourists who want to spend money but can't.. well, in my time in the South of France, I found it extremely common for there to be late-night markets, with people peddling their wares at midnight.

Sure, these aren't big international brands or hypermarkets, but the day France fully submits itself to large chains from overseas is the day France quits being truly French.
posted by wackybrit at 4:23 PM on June 30, 2001


Actually, this story got me thinking a bit more..

In times when our economies are strong, wouldn't a 4-day working week be viable? It would increase the quality of life for many people, and possibly make them happier to return to work after a 3 day break (or perhaps split it up).

If our economy makes us super rich for 5 days of work, would the benefits of a 4-day working week outweigh the small loss to the economy?
posted by wackybrit at 4:35 PM on June 30, 2001


if you had the chance to spend Wednesday afternoons during the summer in your local park, would you think differently about your tax money being spent by your local council's Parks Department?

The first thing I would note is that money for parks -- whether from government (taxes) or directly from individuals -- does not exist independent of the productivity of workers and businesses. Giving people an extra day off will reduce productivity and therefore reduce the amount of money available for such things.

And I agree with kindall: no one has the right to tell anyone how many working hours they should find acceptable. Presuming to do so is rude and arrogant. When done by the government, it's a violation of rights. The length of the work week is something to be worked out between employee and employer.
posted by mw at 4:42 PM on June 30, 2001


Giving people an extra day off will reduce productivity and therefore reduce the amount of money available for such things.

In very crude terms, yes. But productivity is a means, not an end in itself, which is something that many on the right forget. The Parks Department may have more money to hand, but fewer people get the chance to go to the park because they don't have the time. Which makes many people question why their taxes are going to the Parks Department, and so are inclined to agree with politicians who say "why is the Parks Department wasting all your hard-earned tax dollars on something that no-one uses?" Classic vicious circle.

Flexibility is everything, I think. (Good analysis of le loi Aubry's merits and demerits here.)

(And isn't the main reason people want big supermarkets open at 10pm is that they're kept at work until late?)
posted by holgate at 5:02 PM on June 30, 2001


The French, in general, do not like big brands. There's a preference for smaller local shops, and perhaps they'll all trundle off to Auchan or Carrefour for a treat (I heard that large hypermarkets only make up 25% or so of the French grocery market).

Well, maybe. Within five minutes' walk of my apartment in Paris there were no hypermarchés but there were five small Franprix. That's a chain, isn't it? And three small Nicolas wine-sellers.

I'm not necessarily a proponent of the 24-hour society, but I do like it. I am a fan of the seven-day society. I'm not insisting the French have it (although it would be nice to be able to catch a cab in central Paris past 1 a.m. and they'd have the best metro in the world if it stayed open all night, and if it had air conditiong).

What I *am* saying is that there is not a finite amount of work available. It's not as if all the labor needs to be split up into ever-decreasing slices. No, what needs to happen is job creation: expandng the size of labor. Jobs are created through spending by governments, corporations and individuals. Spending is available through opportunity in the market. So the French opportunity in the market is this: Stay open until 9.p.m. Open shops on Sunday. Keep them open during August. Take the tourists' money.

France, go on your long vacations, have your Fridays off, enjoy bridging the weekend and the museums on their free day. I love it. Just stop moaning about unemployment when you're too unwilling to make small, useful changes.
...
(And isn't the main reason people want big supermarkets open at 10pm is that they're kept at work until late?)

In Paris, they might be students getting back late from the library. Also, like most Europeans, they eat late. So it'd be nice if there was at least one decent shop open if the marketing hasn't been done, or an unexpected guest arrives, or the tomatoes are spoiled.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:37 PM on June 30, 2001


Mo: Lots of good points, seem we're on the same lines.. except that I think it's nice the French are lazy, hehe.

And for those of you who don't know what French people are like.. run up The Sims and play it for a few hours. Those people are so French it should be called SimFrance, especially the way they greet each other and talk. One minute they're kissing, the next they're slapping each other.
posted by wackybrit at 6:46 PM on June 30, 2001


Why is it that those who work in offices 9-x spend their money in the service industry and bitch about service and such when they could easily save money and cook at home instead of going to the usual after work drinks/dinner or whatever? Probably because they don't have time to shop and cook if you're getting home at 6,7, or 8pm and want to wind down with some TV and demand that someone who isn't an office worker come deliver a pizza at 12:30am. If no one can its a national economic crisis. Looks like the demands for the 24 hour society are a function of not having time to do things yourself. I'd rather be able to make the decision of where my money is going to go instead of being forced to play the 'serve me' game because work takes all my free time.

What's good for the GNP is spending: eating Mcdonalds instead of packing a lunch is bad for the economy. Crashing your car and paying for repairs is good for the econony etc. There's a bit more to work satisfaction than just the hours and a lot more to national economies than just the GNP. Its called quality of life which can consist of all sorts of things work hours, pollution, mortality rates, etc.
A higher GNP does not equal a higher quality of life as consumerism and a work-society end up delivering a work-spend-sleep mentality more than anything else.
posted by skallas at 7:02 PM on June 30, 2001


Many of the arguments above against the 35-hour work week were made against the 40-hour work week. Santayana, anyone?
posted by dhartung at 7:46 PM on June 30, 2001


Rebecca, you and I against the world! er. No, seriously, it seems we agree on almost everything, and here we agree again (about sustainability, that is).

Maybe someone who knows more that I about economic theories could explain, in simple terms, why the economy must always continue to grow? How could a nation's economy continue to grow exponentially, forever? Except at the cost of resources and people's quality of life, how could corporations continue to make ever-increasing profits, year after year? We have an increasing population, it's true (thus more people to sell to and to consume) but is that what is behind the fundamental concept of an ever-increasing GNP?

I really want to know.
posted by acridrabbit at 8:00 PM on June 30, 2001


the demands for the 24 hour society are a function of not having time to do things yourself

Well, there's some of that, certainly. But really, who wants to cook these days? There are some people who enjoy it, but there are some people who never will really enjoy it, and even more who will never be really good at it.

I mean, is the reason we shouldn't work more than 40 hours a week so we can spend more time in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove? I sure hope not.
posted by kindall at 8:11 PM on June 30, 2001


acridrabbit:

GNP usually increases over time because:

New technology -> More productivity per unit of labor, resource, etc. -> More stuff per person

Think about it: If it takes Guy Q 10 hours to do task A, and a new technology allows him to do it in 5 hours, then there will be 2ce as much product produced by the same labor input.

I think that the work week will continue to decrease, even in the US, without disrupting our economy. A group of researchers (at Georgetown? I'm not sure, but it's the group that has done the surveys on this for a few decades) has shown that most Americans are only working in the low 30's of hours per week right now anyway, when breaks, lunch, etc. are removed.

I see nothing wrong with the govt. of the US making a 35 hour work week the minimum before overtime, etc., take effect. It probably wouldn't affect salaried workers in the short term, but as the "35 hour week" meme takes over, I think you'd see many white-collars demanding shorter work.

An interesting thought, though: I wouldn't be surprised if more Americans than French *don't mind* how much we work. A lot of people I know enjoy their job enough that they would continue doing it even if they had no financial need.
posted by Kevs at 11:13 PM on June 30, 2001


I mean, is the reason we shouldn't work more than 40 hours a week so we can spend more time in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove? I sure hope not.

Is the reason we shouldn't work more than 40 hours a week so we can spend more time in the study staring at a computer monitor? I sure hope not.

To each their own.
posted by Dreama at 11:28 PM on June 30, 2001


I should have noted two things earlier. Also, that the same arguments were made for the 40-hour work week. And instead of Santayana, I should have simply said plus ça change, plus c'est le même chose.

kindall and Dreama together make an interesting point about unintended consequences. John Kenneth Galbraith wrote a great essay about how the postwar boom (and excess industrial capacity) led to cheap appliances which led to suburban homes filled with "convenient" appliances, which in short order converted the housewife from someone who primarily managed the household affairs to someone who actually did everything from cooking to cleaning to laundry, which he clearly felt was a Faustian bargain for middle-class women.
posted by dhartung at 11:53 PM on June 30, 2001


But really, who wants to cook these days?

When we could be eating takeout while watching the Food Channel? Or "Changing Rooms"? Or gardening programmes? Or travel shows? True. We consume mediated experience like experts these days, always reminding us that we're no good at the real thing any more, and to get the chance to cook, or travel, or garden, you have to be a TV presenter who gets paid for it. We're masters of the vicarious.
posted by holgate at 3:45 AM on July 1, 2001


35 hour week? is this more then they are working now?
posted by clavdivs at 8:54 AM on July 1, 2001


dhartung: which in short order converted the housewife from someone who primarily managed the household affairs to someone who actually did everything from cooking to cleaning to laundry, which he clearly felt was a Faustian bargain for middle-class women.

well, someone was doing all that work. perhaps I should say some woman was doing all that work.

there is an argument that the post-war cleaning mania had to do with the spread of the electric light - which suddenly showed everyone how much dirt was actually lying around the home - combined with cleaner heating systems (spring cleaning was, to a large extent, an effort to get all the coal dust out of everything after the long, closed-in winter) and appliances that allowed cleaning to be a less-than-backbreaking effort.

it's easy to look at cleaning as drudgery, and to some extent it still is, but when you compare the amount of hard labor that used to be involved to do the laundry or clean a rug, for example, there really is no comparison.

and with all due respect to mr galbraith, I doubt if he did housework under either regime.

holgate: When we could be eating takeout while watching the Food Channel.... We're masters of the vicarious.

there have always been travelogues and the like. people have always dreamt of travelling the world.

most of the people I know who watch cooking programs enjoy cooking. - rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 12:39 PM on July 1, 2001


Rushmc put it well- if you work more than 40 hours a week- and you aren't self-employed- then you're a fool.

Never mind the fact that $5.15 (minimum wage, in case you forgot) * 40 (hours per week) * 50 (weeks per year, if you actually get a vacation) = $10300. Ten thousand dollars per year. There are people in America supporting families at minimum wage, and they certainly aren't doing it by working 40 hours a week or less.

This nation's "prosperity" will never impress me until the minimum wage becomes a living wage.
posted by Eamon at 2:05 PM on July 1, 2001


What you want, then, is a "living in comfort" wage or a "raising a family" wage, not a mere "living" wage.
posted by kindall at 3:06 PM on July 1, 2001


" no one has the right to tell anyone how many working hours they should find acceptable ... The length of the work week is something to be worked out between employee and employer." - mw

i agree on the first point. different people have different values, priorities, like their jobs to varying degrees, and their jobs place different demands upon them. the problem in an employee and employer negotiating a compromise is that the players do not have equal power. generally the employer has a huge advantage, in that they hold all the cards. this is especially true for entry level jobs, job that require little/no education etc. what high schooler in need of a couple bucks to be able to go to the movies with his friends has the power to say to WalMart "no, you have to give me a break when i work for 6 or more hours. no, i will not work 12 hours at a time"? sure, maybe you are thinking about 'careers' where the employee has some more bargaining power, but still... the rules are made for everyone.

i work in a mall where all the stores are /required/ to open all mall hours (8.5 hrs/day mon,tues,sat/ 12.5 hrs/day wed-fri, 5 hrs sun). that mall being open that much is absolutely ridiculous. we do not get nearly enough traffic to justify it on friday nights or sundays. yet i dare not campaign to change it, because without these extra hours, my friends and would not have jobs, or if we did, we'd only get 3 hours a week, and at minimum wage it would not pay the bills [especially not for those of us - me - that don't live with mommy and daddy. no matter our needs, as fresh out of high school and fulltime students, our options are limited]

"How could a nation's economy continue to grow exponentially, forever?" - acridrabbit

simple answer: it can't. to me, that seems to be the biggest hoel in modern economic theory. the idea of unlimited growth. we live in a finite world. at some point, something has to give. let's say we run a logging company and we are looking to appease the shareholders and have ever explanding profits. so we find ways to cut down more trees, in less time, with less overhead. as we get more eficient, the profit margin goes up and everyone is happy. until we run out of trees. if we get too terribly efficient at cutting down trees, we'll be more efficient than the earth is at growing them. our seemingly unlimited growth is now down to zilch. the idea of unlimited growth is contrary to common sense.
posted by raedyn at 3:16 PM on July 1, 2001


I think what is objectionable about the French approach to the 35-hour week is that, rather than making 35 hours the cut-off for overtime, it is the cut-off for labor, with certain exclusions. There are many, many tasks which simply cannot be done with anything approaching efficiency with a fixed 35-hour cap on work weeks.

I can't imagine any professional whose job is primarily to carry out large projects -- like lawyers, financiers, advertising people, scientific researchers, market planners, product developers -- could ever perform effectively thus limited. Sometimes something big has to be finished, and it is essentially impossible just to transition the knowledge over to a "second shift" -- essentially, you are going to double the time it takes to finish the project, rather than having the ability just to pull a 70-hour week once in a while to get it done on time. Maybe the French are cool with this, but if I were hiring a law firm, it would be a good reason to hire a New York firm and not a French firm.

And arguments that professionals don't get overtime don't cut it -- professionals receive implied overtime based upon expectations of the quanitity of labor they put in.
posted by MattD at 4:24 PM on July 1, 2001


if we assume (incorrectly i think) that unlimited growth is possible, all the economic theories make sense. it all works out. but the idea of unlimited growth potential under pins all the theory. and if we decide (as i personally have) that constant growth / expansion / consumption is either impossible or undesirable (or both) the whole theory falls apart.

"even new technologically revolution [sic] is supposed to slash the amount of work necessary for the average person to do, and yet we still find ourselves working the same or even longer hours" - hincandenza

if growth is the motivator, then you want people to accomplish more in the same amount of time. but you want them to work the same amount of time (and therefore the same cost) and just be able to accomplish more overall.

"social benefits are intangible. They are unmeasurable by survey." - Mo Nickels

you may not be aware, but there are several measures of a nation's well-being which go beyond GDP, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator [GPI], the Index of Social Health, and the Index of Economic Well-Being which has been developed by Lars Osberg and Andrew Sharpe of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, (available from www.csls.ca). These broader measures of well-being include the level of security, access to free time, the level of poverty and inequality in a society, the quality of community life, and the environmental and social legacy which is passed on to future generations.
posted by raedyn at 4:43 PM on July 1, 2001


MattD: the French law averages out the 35-hour week over a year, which leaves wiggle-room for seasonal and project-specific variations. You pull out the stops to get something done, you get it back another time.

And I'd rather have stipulated overtime than the implied stuff. Leaving it to psychology may be good at turning the working day into a "who leaves the office last" contest, but it's hardly healthy.
posted by holgate at 3:27 AM on July 2, 2001


I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are no semiconductor fabs in France. A fab has to run 24/7; it isn't economic to shut it down for nights, weekends, holidays and the month of August.

Where I used to work they ran a 24/7 factory (making cell phones). There were four work crews doing 12 hour days. Each crew alternated 3-day and 4-day weeks, and on the 4-day weeks they were paid overtime for the extra 8 hours.

There was always much demand for these jobs, by the way. It was considered to be among the very best opportunities available for unskilled labor in this city.

I don't understand how anyone could run a 24-hour operation under these French labor laws, and I bet there aren't very many.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:15 AM on July 2, 2001


I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are no semiconductor fabs in France.

Be surprised. After a cursory Google: Motorola in Toulouse; Atmel, in Rousset and Saint-Egrève; SI Automation in Rousset and Montpellier; STM in Rousset, Croles, Tours and Rennes. And there are plenty of pharmaceutical, chemical and engineering plants that run on a 24-hour basis.

(I might as well note in passing that in Germany, where AMD has a fab, people work on average two weeks less per year than the French, and no-one regards them as lazy Mediterranean types.)
posted by holgate at 8:56 AM on July 2, 2001


So they run fabs, but probably not as efficiently -- manpower-wise -- as they might. Is this surprising? We are talking about the French. Efficiency is not the guiding principle of French society -- if it were, this thread would not be possible.
posted by Dreama at 10:29 AM on July 2, 2001


The French, in general, do not like big brands.

What are you talking about? Most of France shops in supermarkets and hypermarkets, which are no less "big brands" than they are here in the US. Come to think of it, they're actually more big brands.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:56 AM on July 2, 2001


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