Tuesday, June 10, 2003

This is not artfully written -- Why America Outpaces Europe (Clue: The God Factor) And I am surprised to see NYT even publish something so clearly non-multiculturally sensitive, and in the same issue the bizarro article about a Muslim girl-only prom to boot, but it's a start.
My cirtisisms of the article are straighforward -- there is really no proof of Weber's theory that lies in this article. In any case, he was primarily concerned with overall prosperity, not hours worked per year. European secularization is a difficult topic, and comparing work hours is not really the best way to go about debating its merits, methinks. Absense of any statistics, or at least rebuttals to the mentioned but not quoted opponents of Weber does not help the author's cause either. If I work for 1000 hours a year in a factory and then another 1000 hours at a country cottage raising and selling (a bit) roses, how many hours did i work? What if one spends significant time volunteering somewhere? Obviously the issue is not the number of hours reported by some HR department. Without any kind of proof that none of the hours Western Europeans supposedly save from work do not go into other productive, or at least economy-wise non-zero sum activities, article's conclusions are flimsy. Its internal inconsistencies do not help either -- Czech are not Protestant but Catholic, work more than Americans, and still manage to be mostly agnostic. If there is a proof of "Protestant work ethic" in that sentence I must have missed it.
The only interesting point, IMO, comes from a dissection of EU regulations that would dramatically drop the number of hours worked by newly admitted EU citizens. Even there one could find a critique of the central argument -- perhaps it is not that EU-sniks work less, but there governments have prevented them from easily working more. Through emplyoment laws, union contracts, and high taxes the marginal utility of an extra 20 hours in the office just is not there for many -- religious or not.
Still, I hope that the new NYT editor is going to continue with this kind of not-out-of-the-left-field experiments.

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