The American dream is described as lifting yourself from a place of poverty in society to a place of class and distinction through hard work and dedication. This idea has stemmed from the equality of opportunity given to all making America a very competitive society to survive and maintain position causing everyone to work hard in order to get somewhere. Does working longer hours translate into success? Success can be interpreted as income level, standard of living, happiness, or a combination of all of these. Working hours can even play a major role in health as demonstrated in a recent Canadian study where higher working hours led to a “rapid and substantial increase of diabetes prevalence” (Franki). Questioning the idea of the true merit of working more hours equaling better results has been a topic for decades as economies develop and advance around the world. Systems such as the developed European model which stresses heavily workers’ rights and generally lower working hours while the starkly different Japanese model stresses one of the strongest work ethics in the world.
Thesis: While leisure time is important for health, the benefits of longer working hours translate into a higher standard of living for the average citizen and eventual happiness.
Japanese Work Ethic
Japanese culture stressing long work hours and intense work ethic has resulted in a longer life expectancy and greater standard of living. One end of the spectrum is the a very extreme work ethic characterized by consistent 50+ hour weeks with few vacations a year ranking 20th in terms of average hours worked per year in the world (OECD Data). The island nation is extremely competitive stemming from a high population density and a culture filled with loyalty. This is to encourage hard work which is translated to benefitting yourself if you are in it for the long term. Japan reaped the benefits in terms of standard of living being the 2nd most developed country according to the Human Development Index adjusted for inequality(“Human Development Reports.”). Japan’s value of hard work is so strong that it increases its rank when adjusting for inequality making Japan among the most equal. Along with standard of living benefits it means the government may have more to spend per citizen giving Japan the second longest life expectancy in the world (“Life Expectancy by Country 2017.”). With an aging populace that is expected to live the longest, there is clearly a strong supportive infrastructure that promotes life and health to coincide with its working culture.
Counterclaim #1: Economic Progress and Has Not Translated Into Happiness:
Such record standard of living comes at a cost. Work culture this intense is dangerous and people have died from it such as in 2002 when literally worked himself to death when he worked “more than 80 hours of overtime every month for the previous six months” (Harden). A high suicide rate and litteral working to death continues to become a product of their culture and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Ironically, even with some of the longest voluntary working hours of any developing nation, of Japanese themselves, only 40% actual have faith that their hard work would translate into success (‘Chapter 4. The Casualties: Faith in Hard Work and Capitalism.’). This is coupled with the overall measure of happiness in japan ranking 54th in the world placing it in the lowest of the three countries by far(World Happiness Report).
French Work Ethic
Frances’s focus on the individual worker and lower working hours in exchange for efficiency has cost them a strong economic position and lower overall standard of living.
Of the nations discussed, France embodies the collectivist economies that emerged in Europe with much state intervention in areas such as welfare and universal health care. They work quite comfortably ranking 32nd in terms of average yearly working hours being the lowest amongst the nations discussed (OECD Data). As according, they work lower hours across the board with the assumption that the work being done and in order to have a happier population in general. The lower working hours in exchange for higher efficiency has not paid off as Gross Domestic Product per person ranks 41st in the world and is amongst the lowest of developed economies (COUNTRY COMPARISON :: GDP – PER CAPITA (PPP).). Every worker in France takes home, on average, less than the next 40 countries making cost of living increase as more goods are imported from other countries abroad. This gives citizens less spending power to purchase goods and services they enjoy and less for the government invest in the country itself. This can be evident when looking at France’s rank as 24th for overall standard of living (Human Development Reports.). Clearly, economic benefits have not been seen by French citizens who do not see as much as a return on their work in terms of their everyday living. A work culture of lower hours has not paid off for France and they have instead exchanged a lower workload with a lower standard of living for the short-term happiness of the workers..
Counterclaim #2: The European Focus on Health and Lower Working Hours has led to a Happier Populace.
The lower working hours in combination with an interventionist state has seen the increase in the general health of the populace. In the world, French people rank 23rd in happiness (World Happiness Report.). Compared to their economic standing, they are very ahead in happiness which proves its government is very competent to meet its citizens needs. Happiness can be a healthy sign of contentedness of the people with the ruling government. Along the same lines, France’s universal healthcare is not plagued as it is in some other countries and has brought the country to tenth in life expectancy(“Life Expectancy by Country 2017.”). These two prongs clearly develop the idea that the French people enjoy and respect their culture to provide for them.
American Work Ethic
American work culture can be characterized by long hours and hard work to get to the top which has provided the country with comfortable living and a booming economy. On average, Americans work 1,780 hours a year ranking them 13th in the world for most hours worked (OECD Data). The long hours per year represents the largest fraction of free time of the three countries spent on work. In addition to this, it is not just more work, but also more efficient as the United States ranks 19th in terms of GDP per person, the highest amongst the three countries analyzed here (“COUNTRY COMPARISON :: GDP – PER CAPITA (PPP).”). Among the top 20 countries, the United States also the only country over 10 million exemplifying its efficiency at such a large scale with a population of 320 million. In addition, it is also one of the few who is not completely funded off a single natural resource such as oil like many countries are. The economic benefits are also put back into the system very efficiently as the U.S. one of the highest standards of living at 13th on the the Human Development Index (“Human Development Reports.”). Even with such a competitive work environment, Americans can proudly see themselves as the 18th happiest country on Earth, ahead of their Japanese and French counterparts (“World Happiness Report.”). This can be summed up into an efficient government that can promote both hard work and strain whilst also providing for its citizens efficiently and effectively.
Counterclaim #3: Competitiveness has Made Many Forget About Health and Ethics.
Even with all its success as a world power and leader, America still struggles to deal with problems that many other developed countries have already dealt with. Many countries across Europe and other developed countries have dealt with health issues effectively providing for its citizens with a high life expectancy. Yet, the United States lags behind, ranked 45th in the world for life expectancy (“Life Expectancy by Country 2017.”). This debate has raged on and the extent to which the government should be intervening in health care continues, a problem that has been more or less decided in many other countries. In addition, the United States, while only containing about 4% of the population, “accounts for 22 percent of the world’s prison population” (Lopez). Even authoritarian nations such as China and Russia lag behind the United States in prison count. The competition has become so fierce in the United States that it is so willing to pass on judgement to others without the thought of rehabilitation and caring for its fellow citizens.