Since the start of the recession, the number of unemployed in the U.S. has doubled. Those who are fortunate enough to still have jobs are often working longer hours for less pay, with the ever-present threat of losing being laid off. But even before the recession, American workers were already clocking in the most hours in the West. Compared to our German cousins across the pond, we work 1,804 hours versus their 1,436 hours – the equivalent of nine extra 40-hour workweeks per year. The Protestant work ethic may have begun in Germany, but it has since evolved to become the American way of life.
According to Thomas Geoghegan, a labor lawyer in Chicago and author of “Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life,” European social democracy – particularly Germany’s – offers some tantalizing solutions to our overworked age. In comparison to the U.S., the Germans live in a socialist idyll. They have six weeks of federally mandated vacation, free university tuition, nursing care, and childcare. In an attempt to make Germany more like the U.S., Angela Merkel has proposed deregulation and tax cuts only to be met with fury on the left. Over multiple trips spanning a decade, Geoghegan decided to investigate how the Germans were living so well, and by extension, what we might be able to learn from them.