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Workaholism in America Is Hurting the Economy (newrepublic.com)
235 points by stevekinney on June 24, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 263 comments



That Cadillac ad is awesome. I'd never seen it before.

It watches like a parody, but at the end you're hit by the reality that yes, this guy is being completely serious. The message really is "sure, I traded away my quality of life, but look at all this stuff!"

That's actually the notion that Cadillac is trying to sell. Amazing that they're doing such a good job of it.

Fortunately, there's no real trick to getting back that quality of life. You just need to take more vacation time. You can negotiate this in to your package, but if you're in as hot a talent market as we are today, you might find more success with simply taking it. "Hey, as a heads up, I'll be taking 3 weeks off at the beginning of June" followed a few months later by "Hey, I'm off to Kalymnos for a couple weeks in October", followed by "I'll probably be out of contact between Xmas and New Years."

Note the lack of "asking" above. The correct attitude to take is that it's them who are acting irrationally by suggesting that you shouldn't take a healthy amount of time off to live your life.


That guy is the poster child for the Materialistic Self Entitled Baby Boomer Me Generation.

Materialism and greed are literally everything that is wrong with the world.

Spoilied Douchebags like he and his generation are a legacy hangover from post-WW2 America, a time of middle class economic excess greater than any the HUMAN RACE has ever seen.

Americans aren't exceptional in any way.

We just got lucky by being the only 1st world country not in the middle of World War 2 so we reaped ton's of resources and opportunities from that and we have been coasting on it ever since and attributing it to our 'exceptionalism'. Americans love to believe that the individual is greater than his situation. Such bullshit.

You want hard workers look at China. I can't wait until Communist ass China is the next world power and assholes like the guy in the commercial don't understand why 'Mericans aren't exceptional any more.

I'm so grateful that the new American generation's self awareness, global consciousness, hacker ethic, lack of racism, community values, and so many more positive qualities are replacing douchebags like this.


I like how you edited "Self Entitled" into the generational title, just to really drive home the disgust. ;)

I partially disagree, though. I do think Americans are exceptional, even if I haven't settled on exactly how, and I definitely don't think of it as a wholly positive trait. But this juxtaposition from your post is interesting:

Americans aren't exceptional in any way.

Americans love to believe that the individual is greater than his situation.


I think Americans are exceptional, which doesn't need to mean "the best at everything."

1) Americans are, historically, exceptionally willing to let immigrants integrate. My family is from Bangladesh, my wife's from Oregon, both going back many generations. She could never integrate into Bengali society the way I have been allowed to integrate into American society. She could live there her whole life, and she'd always be "bideshi" (foreigner).

2) Americans are exceptionally optimistic. At its best, Silicon Valley is uniquely American: too naive to know that you can't do that. This is a double-edged sword, of course. Most of the time, "you can't/shouldn't do that" is true.

3) Americans have an exceptional commitment to the rule of law. We're not at a high point in our history in this regard, but we're still a society where the great struggles of our day play out in front of courts, not in riots and mobs.

Now, we're not as exceptional as we used to be. But in large part because Europe spent the last couple of decades becoming more like us. They instituted market reforms, opened up to immigration, rooted out corruption. It's easy to say that America isn't exceptional if you pretend European history didn't happen prior to 1995.


You're right. It's really easy to focus on the negative aspects of America. There's a lot good here.

I just hate the worship of the vague abstract ideals that make us feel good over the complexity and hard truths of reality.


> Now, we're not as exceptional as we used to be. But in large part because Europe spent the last couple of decades becoming more like us.

Or perhaps things were set up really good for the US after WWII? Then eventually a lot of Europe started to catch up to that initial advantage.

In the case of the old Soviet Block, given their past, basically anything that they could have done w.r.t. their markets and governments would have made them more like the US, if they aspired to some kind of democracy and some kind of free market. So I'm not so sure if 'More like the US' is very descriptive.


Honestly, you can look at a poor kid born to a poor family who works his ass off every day.

Then look at a wealthy kid born to a wealty family who works his ass off every day.

Even if they make the same on all of their standardized tests, make the same grades, and go to the same college, and get the same degree.....

Who's going to be more successful with the same amount of hard work?

And sure there's outliers but it's hard to argue that one's situation matters much more than the individual and this bizarre American sense of individual exceptional-ism is really naive.

I think stems from early Puritanical settlers who believed in pre-determinism and God rewarding people Materialistically the better person you are.

I'm pretty successful but I credit my family, being born in a 1st world country. My hard work was the tiniest of all parts of it. Had I been born in Romania or Zimbabwe I would not be where I am no matter how hard I worked. Conversely, I probably could have been way more successful if I had been born in a truly wealthy family.


..this bizarre American sense of individual exceptional-ism is really naive.

That's what I'm getting at, maybe it's exactly that belief that sets us apart, and positing a distinctly American root seems to support the exceptionalist case.

It's like you're almost saying it's naive for the poor kid to believe he can be successful. If that belief is distinctly an American thing then I'm all in on exceptionalism.


Hope springs eternal and there's always the gamble that one will be one of the minority outliers but statistically peoples paths in life are pretty predictable based on their background, family, and birth region.


>Even if they make the same on all of their standardized tests, make the same grades, and go to the same college, and get the same degree.....

>Who's going to be more successful with the same amount of hard work?

Success is tied more to education than anything. Good education just also happens to be tied to wealth as well. So by framing it with them getting the same education, you have actually eliminated most of the advantage the wealthy kid had. Unless you are just defining success as 'being rich', in which case the wealthy kid doesn't even have to be educated.


You're underestimating the power of connections. I would never say that hard work won't make you successful in the US, but coming from a wealthy family creates a lot of opportunities earlier on in life that poor kids will have to work hard to see. Coming from a wealthy, or even upper middle class, family means maybe your summer senior year of high school is spent interning with your uncle's firm instead of working for extra spending money. It means you can ask your parents for career advice (poor parents don't have career advice because they don't have careers). It means you have an idea, from growing up with it, what success in a career path in a developed country looks like. All of these things are tremendously valuable.


YES! Exactly this.

Passing down of beliefs and behaviors is almost more valuable than passing down money.

You're embedding positive or negative behaviors into someone's personality.

1>Passing down the belief that education is valuable

2>Passing down the belief that investing in the future is more valuable than short term spending.

etc.

Also having resources in general is a massive benefit. 1>having security allows wealthy kids to take more risks/reap more rewards.

2>More free time to learn and advance themselves

3>ability to take low paying jobs purely to make connections/build job skills

4>Status is a language that every one understands at a primitive level and so just getting more respect in general which means better promotions, better mates, etc.


In the United States, success is much more tied to how successful your parents are than anything else. "Social mobility is dying" isn't just said for one's health.


I don't believe in American exceptionalism. I do however, believe in exceptional Americans.


You can find hard workers everywhere including but not exclusively in America. I suggest you should want to wait before a Communist country becomes the next world power unless you would prefer to be told what to do. Clearly you are angry, maybe for a good reason, but I think your anger is misdirected at Americans.


The ad also inspired several parodies, including this one from Ford. The Cadillac ad is clearly trying to sell to an affluent, white, conservative audience which still believes their hard work and no vacation pays off. In the ad, they show their success with the car they drive. It's a study in market segmentation.

Ford's parody spins it around by focusing on social consciousness, eco-friendliness, and diversity, a better message for their electric vehicle audience. You could look at the ad subject's "dirt from food" startup as a literal circle of life, an homage to organic farming and green living.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAN61QK0aUI


Exactly. It's not so depressing when you realize that Cadillac is selling to generally older people who have already made these decisions. It's a 60 y.o. thinking "I did work hard, and I deserve a Cadillac", not a 25 y.o. thinking "I'm going to bust ass working for the Man so I can drive a Cadillac".

Interestingly, the car is a hybrid, which is barely mentioned in the ad.


> Interestingly, the car is a hybrid, which is barely mentioned in the ad.

Technically speaking, both the Ford C-Max Energi and the Cadillac ELR in these ads are extended range electrics. They have smaller batteries than battery electric vehicles, but the gas engine exists only as a generator of electricity.

As I've always said, humans care about narratives. Most people and market segments value the story a car says about its owner over the details of the technology. That's why they don't mention it explicitly.


Right, it's just that the technology is forward-looking while the sales pitch is so regressive. I suspect the target market would actually like it less if they knew more about the technology.


> Interestingly, the car is a hybrid, which is barely mentioned in the ad.

Its on the Volt platform. Not quite sure why GM is pushing it to that market segment if they're not touting any of the serial hybrid features.


ELR: Electric Luxury Ride


"... audience which still believes their hard work and no vacation pays off."

People for whom that premise is untrue will still have reason to believe that it is true. Because the alternative--that they spent a bunch of their lives doing things that weren't really that rewarding--would result in too much cognitive dissonance.


Yes, that is a serious barrier to fixing the problem, though it does seem to affect younger US professionals as well.

From the outside, looking at the US labor market and the way those young professionals often describe their situation in on-line forums, it feels like everyone has Stockholm syndrome. They actually believe that the US is successful because of the appalling working conditions and not in spite of them, and even then they frequently overestimate how successful US business actually is by objective measures.

But no-one wants to speak up from the rank and file, because the cannon fodder who lead the charge rarely survive to enjoy the rewards for their bravery. And given the transparent corruption that seems pervasive in high level politics in the US today, it doesn't seem like the federal government will be doing much to help any time soon. Again, looking from the outside, it seems that a lot of the most promising developments in US politics begin as state-level movements, so perhaps we'll see some leadership from the more progressive states driving incremental improvements for employee conditions over time.


"no vacation"

In the Cadillac ad, the heavily painted individual said two weeks instead of the whole month. Just pointing that out.


> The Cadillac ad is clearly trying to sell to an affluent, white, conservative audience which still believes their hard work and no vacation pays off.

For that segment of the population, it's true. Educated, rich, old men work more hours than everyone else: http://www.nber.org/digest/jul06/w11895.html


> "'cause we're the only ones going back up there [the moon]"

If only that were true. In many ways, we're further away from being able to reach the moon (or deeper parts of space) than we were 20-30 years ago[0]

[0]http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/10/why-not-space/


As a European (NL, you know, the country with 5 weeks vacation and a functioning healthcare system) I find the Cadillac ad hilarious. Sure, dude, you go work your butt off and take a loan on your future health. You'll have to deal with all kinds of stress/burnout related health conditions, but at least you got that Cadillac and an underwater home as an inheritance for your kids...

I love the US, and I've met a lot of crazy, driven, motivated and genuinly pleasant Americans. But work/life balance-wise, you're so far behind...


I thought that ad was more "look at me, I'm a crazy hard working American AND I drive electric. They're not mutually exclusive!"


So I just watched it.

> Work hard all your life and when you're cynical, white-haired, old, fat and balding, you'll have a gaudy apartment and the ponciest car to ever ponce out of the poncing factory. And a barf-grey suit, a colour I didn't know existed until now.

Also, you guys would totally be going to the moon every weekend if any of all those money you're making year-round went to NASA and education.


As soon as I read the title of this article I immediately thought of the Cadillac ad.

For some reason, when it was airing, it resonated with me. Perhaps, I'm over worked and realize that these material things aren't really as important as one's health. Then again, I love owning a car and a home.

Its such a conflicting thought.


> That Cadillac ad is awesome. I'd never seen it before.

Watching that commercial filled me with rage and made me want to punch that rich asshole in the face.


Even worse is the new trend in technology companies to eliminate "Set Vacation". It used to be the case that you felt "obliged" somehow to take your 10 days of vacation a year, because you saw it piling up. Even better, if you were laid off, you could get the vacation in cash, and that helped when you were cut off without a job.

But now, a lot of technology companies are saying, "No Set Vacation - you need to negotiate with your manager if you want some" - which, in my experience, has resulted in a lot of people over the last two years taking zero vacation. It's not good for them. It's not good for the company. About the only people who are happy about this are Finance who no longer have to carry that liability on their books.


This is sometimes called -- in one of the most Orwellian coinages in the industry -- "unlimited vacation days."


I've just accepted a position at a YC startup with "unlimited vacation days". The founders seemed genuine when they said that as long as your work is getting done, it wasn't a problem.

I still agree that it causes ambiguity about how much time off is "too much".


Same here. I wish they would give a target number of days to shoot for. I've even asked and I always get wishy-washy answers.


My guess is that its to preserve cash. My current employer gave me 5 weeks/year, little of which I've used, and they're going to have to pay out almost 8 weeks of vacation on my last day next week. At my current rate, its a significant amount of cash.

If you're a startup, that can be painful to cough up.


This is why employers should force their employees to take those holidays.


I was very wary of the "unlimited vacation policy" at my new company and asked about it during interviews. Most interviewers agreed that it could cause people to not feel free to take vacation, but that the company really meant it and there wouldn't be negative consequences if you took vacation.

Fast forward to 6 months into the job and I've taken days off for long wedding weekends and have some more extended travel planned in the future.

I agree that "unlimited vacation days" can be a red flag, but it really just means to be more curious and thoughtful about the culture during the interview process and find out what it really means.


I recently joined a NYC company with "unlimited vacation days", and they do actually mean it. I mentioned this very trend when I was interviewing. They responded by saying they expect me to take AT LEAST three weeks of vacation a year.

Now, some of my coworkers are workaholics and won't take that much. But I have had success in just saying "I want to take these weeks off."


Apologies for the side-track, but I once had a boss offer to give me "unlimited vacation days" as a colloquialism for firing me after complaining when he took away some vacation days company-wide. Good to see the phrase has evolved.


I dislike seeing this sentiment all over HN just because it isn't as absolutely true as everyone wants to believe.

I work for a company with unlimited vacation, and in my first 10 months working there will have taken ~3-3.5 weeks of vacation days cumulatively that I probably wouldn't have if I had to conserve a limited set of days. Nobody has given me crap over it, nor have I felt pressured to not take those days. It's just a matter of having a company that actually wants reasonable work-life balance for their employees.


I agree, I was super skeptical when I started with my current employer due to this policy. I cynically assumed it was intended to somehow deter me from taking any vacation. Then I took quite a bit of vacation and got absolutely no pushback.

I think that our relationship with vacation has to change to one where we consider it a vital part of being a professional. When that attitude shifted for me, I became a pretty big fan of the unlimited vacation policy.

I figure that the worst case scenario, I'll get denied the vacation and I can choose if I want to move on or stay..no harm done.


I agree, in a similar situation. However I think it takes someone who is confident enough to take those days off. I'm sure there are people in both of our organizations who would take more if someone told them they have X numbers of days to take before they lose them.


I'm talking about the average/majority case. I also have a colleague who managed to talk his way (after completing a major re-architecture of our product) into a 3 month paid vacation. He gave his notice 2 weeks after coming back from that.

So - if you are a high performing individual, you can make it work for you, but for a lot of people, unlimited days morphs into no days.

But - I think your kicker really captures the impact of this policy "t's just a matter of having a company that actually wants reasonable work-life balance for their employees."


15 days vacation isn't unheard of in the tech world.


Sure. My point is, I would have saved much more days because "what if I wanted to take a week in August before my days roll over?" Maybe that's just my personality type.


After my employer was acquired we adopted the new owners' "unlimited" vacation policy. I have heard from a manager in another part of the business that her staff now take less holiday, but for my team I'm making it clear that I wish them to take at least 20 days off per year. That's 5 days more than we were officially allowed previously. I figure that if they go around claiming vacation is unlimited they don't have much choice if someone holds them to it (and 20 days really isn't that much).


The ironic part about this is that companies think this is a benefit to the employee, when in reality this seems to be a classic example of the psychological anchoring bias that influences people to take LESS vacation. For those who aren't familiar, this is a well established psychological heuristic that says our decisions are heavily influenced by some 'anchoring' information, in this case, the number of vacation days allowed.

I'm heavily paraphrasing Kahneman here, but numerous experiments have shown this effect in a variety of ways. Perhaps most counterintuitively, in an experiment where an arbitrary limit was set on the purchase of soup on sale, the amount of soup people bought was twice what was bought when no arbitrary limit was set. I'm not aware of any empirical studies examining this with vacation days, but anecdotal evidence like this seems to support the influence of this effect. I'd be extremely interested to see the data on the number of vacation days taken by employees at the no set vacation companies vs. others.


Right, so this policy should come with a minimum number of days per year, instead of a maximum. Maybe some days roll over a year, but not too long.


My experience with "Unlimited Vacation" was bad. I took maybe 3 weeks off over 1.75 years and always felt bad about it because there were others who never took days, though some later burned out. I get the idea, it's actually a nice idea, but you must have a culture around it that supports the idea or it won't work.


On the flip side of that coin, I've watched people take 1-2 months of vacation within their unlimited vacation policy.

It really depends on who you're working for.


Yep. I didn't take 1-2 months last year, but took over the standard 15 days most people get. This year will be the same.


>>Even better, if you were laid off, you could get the vacation in cash

Even better, in a few places you don't have to be let go encash leaves.

My last company had a leave encashment policy. I remember, I hadn't taken a single leave in 5 years. I knew many of my senior colleagues hadn't taken one in 7+ years. When the mandatory leave encashment period arrived, we ended up with a quite a good chunk of cash.

After that the leave encashment policy was amended by the then CFO, realizing what had just happened. The new policy was designed to have a concept of 'leave expiry'(If you don't rest, may be you don't deserve rest in the future).

I guess the new CFO's now realize, 'leave expiry' policies force the other kind of culture- where every one wants to take leaves which now forces the people who other wise don't take leave to take it, because no one wants to 'waste' leaves.

So the most obvious solution is to put in a 'unlimited vacation'. So that the onus of leave is on you and your manager, if you there is ever a free time in your project you can have that vacation(Which will never come to pass anyway). This way you neither have to pay leave encashment nor have employees who enjoy full benefit of leaves. Instead the company as a whole now has lesser employees taking fewer leaves.


And here is one the major reasons (besides visas, health care etc.) why I would never and for (almost) no amount of money work in the USA.

I'm certain the productivity and quality of live of many if not most people will decline over time without sufficient time to relax and focus on non work related things. Especially in high-tech/creative/innovative field I never understood how this is not understood by some people /companies.


I suppose this depends on the company. My firm recently enacted this policy, and it's worked out great. Everyone is taking a lot more vacation, not less. People don't come into the office when they're sick any more. When the company trusts its employees and wants them to have a good quality of life (because this makes for happy, productive workers), this policy works.


> "No Set Vacation - you need to negotiate with your manager if you want some"

No set vacation means no vacation quite often. Institutional ideology works on unwritten rules. So officially yeah leave any time that's cool, un-officially if you leave and Joe Smith here is working nights then well guess who'll get a talking to be about lack of motivation and performance.

I think the best policy is generous vacation time (4-5 weeks) and being forced to take it. The whole saving for a mini-retirement is problematic. Also I have noticed most people don't recognize burnout. So that forced time to rest and do something else is more beneficial than it appears on the surface.

EDIT: To add. I am becoming more convinced that vacation policy is one of the best proxies that show how much companies care about their employees' well being and happiness. Now, don't get me wrong, I am not saying companies should do that. It is up to them. They all will say the do though, but that is one metric that shows if they really do or not.


Is there no legal requirement for minimum number of days off?


Is there no legal requirement for minimum number of days off?

It depends on the nature of the employment. A few occupations (notably in banking) have MANDATORY days off. (Forcing bankers in certain categories of jobs to take vacations is a good way to detect long-term embezzlement schemes.) But there are definitely programming jobs in the United States in which the company says, "You can take time off whenever you like," which in practice means "You can take time off whenever the company isn't in crunch time," which ends up meaning never. Freedom of contract and flexibility in working arrangements is the hallmark of the United States economy and indeed is one of the reasons that the United States is as wealthy as it is--people choose the trade-offs they like among many possibilities.


The banking example you cite are voluntary industry practices or self-regulation, not legally enforced.


Nope, no minimum vacation time.

Also, to save you a few years of surprises, here are some other factoids:

there's minimal healthcare, likely to be canceled by the next president

minimum wage is the equivalent of 5.33 euros and for waiters its only 1.57euros

Payday is not mid month but well after you do the work.

You can be fired at anytime without any waring for any reason from most jobs. Frequently a security guard will escort you out of the building.

But on the upside:

There's a death penalty in 3/5 of the country

The notion that the world is 6000 years old is sometimes taught in school.

You can buy a gun instantly in most states.

We have a per capita GDP almost as high as a northern European country.

We may not be socialist. Well, ok, some people say we are so never mind.


The US is one of (or the only?) industrialized nations to have no legally mandated amount of paid time off: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacation_time#Statutory_Vacatio...


No, there is not.


Unions get a bad rap, often well deserved, but they were created to solve this problem, among others.


Welcome to America! Land of the Free!


Where I work is transitioning to this style. It's not affected me, yet, but for the employees who have been moved over to the program thus far I've gotten mixed reviews. One told me they were able to get the time off, but were told to make sure to maintain access via email.

That's not vacation in my book. When I leave for vacation I don't touch anything related to work. With vacation time, I just request it and as long as there are no conflicts the time is mine to use. I have no responsibility other than not being at work. I worry I'll lose that disconnect with 'unlimited vacation.'


I'm starting to believe this complaint just stems from people that don't actually want to take vacation and are just upset because they don't get an extra fistful of cash.

I work for a startup with unlimited vacation and know several others that do as well. Anyone who wants to take a vacation can take it at almost any time and for weeks at a time - no questions asked. The only time I've ever seen any conflict is when there was a major release planned at the same time as the beginning of one vacation, in which case the employee just pushed it back a few days.


I've made an interesting observation in my team when I worked at companies with "no set vacation" policy: I've always had some people who never took vacation and I've also had other people who wanted more vacation time than one would expect. There was no middle ground.


You know, for all these horrible employers, who is it that is loaning them money to start these businesses? How are they able to persuade others to loan them money to start this madness?


It's frowned upon to take any time off in the US. I've seen it viewed as a sign of a lack of commitment or even laziness. Consequently, we take less time off because we're scared we're going to lose our jobs.

No one is congratulated for taking time off in the middle of a project for your 'sanity' or 'to re-charge'.

Everyone is scared. There is no safety net. It's no way to live, but it's our reality.


> There is no safety net.

That's a wonderfully succinct way of describing the US. It seems like in a lot of EU countries if you fail there is something to catch you (higher, longer, easier to get unemployment pay for one example), whereas there really is no lower limit on how low the US will let you fall (e.g. healthcare is a privilege not a right in the US).

They do say that the US has some of the highest anti-depressant medication usage in the whole world (or was it more than the rest of the world combined? I can never remember). That isn't a surprise when literally your health, shelter, food, etc is all riding on keeping a job.

Thank god for Obama care and the new ban on pre-existing condition limits (i.e. that you could not get insurance if you were sick before). It kept people enslaved into a single job if they ever got sick since they could never afford to lose that health insurance or they'd die.


>It seems like in a lot of EU countries if you fail there is something to catch you

While shrinking a bit, comparatively this very, very true.

On the other hand, there could never be a city in post Dickensian Europe where immensely well paid beautiful people laughingly step their way daily through homeless people on their way to a nightly evening of cigars and whiskey while discussing how aggregating the aggregators is going to change the world.

So there's that.


>It seems like in a lot of EU countries if you fail there is something to catch you (higher, longer, easier to get unemployment pay for one example)

For the avoidance of doubt, that does not include England (these days). People with cancer in the final stages are declared fit to work


Can you show me a link for that? I'd be interested in reading about it.

What I've read is that a lot of people on disability benefits (higher than jobseekers allowance) were in fact just fine and when properly re-examined magically stopped being disabled.

However, that assumes the review assessment was more reliable than the old one. I'd be interested in data showing whether it is or isn't.


Well this goes back decades when in order to massage the unemployment figures GP's (family doctors) where encouraged to mark people as disabled to get the figures down.

now the government has outsourced the test to a third party who get paid on the "savings" the produce so you get things like terminally ill people so yes the tests are now being fiddled


Seems this story is relevant:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/atos-quietly-d...

The part about Atos wanting to pull out because of death threats against its staff is particularly nasty.


I know right, perfect for uncontrolled cancer drug studies.


"Thank god for Obama care and the new ban on pre-existing condition limits (i.e. that you could not get insurance if you were sick before). It kept people enslaved into a single job if they ever got sick since they could never afford to lose that health insurance or they'd die."

That is not true. Those protections were provided in 1996 by HIPAA Title 1 [1]. If you had been covered for 18 months, you were no longer subject to pre-existing condition limits.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_Insurance_Portability_an...


I believe you are incorrect. The law is targeting mostly people in group health plans. Think employer provided plans. So if a person loses their job and then gets a job without a group plan they may be out of luck. It also requires people in individual plans to not be dropped for health related reasons provided they maintain their coverage. Rates can be increased.


this is also why the USA is a lot more religious than other developed countries


What? Because they don't have insurance?


don't down vote comments like this because you disagree with obamacare


This is not true. I can prove that just by saying that myself, my co-workers, and my family (all Americans) are perfectly fine with taking time-off and we're not scared of losing our jobs. My manager encourages his team to take time-off.

There is a safety net, it's just not as protective as European welfare.

There are jobs that like salt mines, filled with workaholics and sadistic bosses, or so I'm given to understand, but I've never been in one. The worst company I've worked for that had very little regard for their employees gave good vacation time.

I think a mistake we make when thinking about American policy is thinking there's an American policy. Each state has their own laws and every company is allowed to be different. This has its good parts and its bad parts. Startups seem to thrive in America but I've heard other people complain about the restrictive laws in their countries that make startups harder. Likewise, the American worker seems to work harder and longer than their developed peers.


Yep. It's dystopian. Our society is exploitative, and the people have been trained to see the exploitation as just.

The bugger is that people are too terrified of losing their jobs (read: lives) to demand change.


All depends where you work and the culture there. Might be frowned upon in some places but where I work everyone is more than happy to see people take time off.


Agreed, not all environment are so negative. But even if attitude is positive, average vacation time in US is still way less than in Europe.


This.

It is very difficult to take time off at my job. We have one set of "PTO" days that include vacation and sick days (as an employee of 2 years I get 15 days per year). Most people do not take long blocks of time off, usually it's a day off here and there, maybe two.

We also have a no work from home policy. I am a web developer. Literally, my entire job can be done from a couch, and it is even frowned upon to stay at home to work when I'm sick. We are allowed to do so, of course, but upper management treats you like Judas for the day.


it is even frowned upon to stay at home to work when I'm sick.

That's just stupid and lazy management. If people do not work when they are working at home then get rid of them. Period. For all the talk of people getting fired in the US, it seems to happen so rarely.

As for coming in sick that is horrible. Both my current and last job wanted sick people to stay home so as to not get the rest of the office sick.


I wonder how many people in the US don't take their vacation days because they've read things like this and not because of their own experience.

If you're afraid of taking vacation only because of what you've heard from the media, I suggest you try taking your vacation and see what happens. In all likelihood it will be a career non-event.


"I wonder how many people in the US don't take their vacation days because they've read things like this and not because of their own experience."

It's been my experience that one's freedom to take vacation -- not just technical freedom, but emotional freedom -- really depends on the company's culture in general, and on one's boss in specific. Sure, a lot of it is psychological. But if you've never worked for a boss or company who explicitly discourage vacation, legitimate sick days, etc., then at least know that those people and those companies exist. I can't tell you if they're the exception or if they're the rule. I sincerely hope it's the former. But I do know that they're out there, in great number. For every few employees who've been media-conditioned to fear vacation, there's a manager who's been media-conditioned to disrespect vacation.


I've talked to some other professionals about this, and for many of them, they readily admit that they feel like they need to be at work for their employer to function properly. They also admit this is their own impression, not something their boss has given them ("if you take that vacation, I don't know what we'll do without you").

I suggest you try taking your vacation and see what happens. In all likelihood it will be a career non-event

I think this will probably be the case. I know it is for me (I take every last hour of PTO I am given every year, and have been known to request time off without pay, too), but I suspect there are some employers that truly do what they can to discourage holidays (constant arbitrary deadlines, for example).


> I've talked to some other professionals about this, and for many of them, they readily admit that they feel like they need to be at work for their employer to function properly. They also admit this is their own impression, not something their boss has given them ("if you take that vacation, I don't know what we'll do without you").

I believe there is an ego component to this. Not only does it "look good" to upper management, it makes the individual feel like they are indispensable to the company. Only the unimportant people can afford to take vacations.


Yeah, agreed. And my friends who admit to thinking this way, also admit to the ego component (and that it is, perhaps, a problem).


You actually think people decide whether to take a vacation or not because of what they read in the media and NOT based on the culture of the company they work at?


Notice what I said here: "If you're afraid of taking vacation only because of what you've heard from the media"

If you're afraid of taking vacation because of first hand knowledge about the culture of your company wrt vacations, by all means, be afraid of taking time off.


My point is people are not taking their vacation because of something they read in the media so I think your question and concern were unnecessary.


Oh, okay. Sorry for posting then.


>It's frowned upon to take any time off in the US. I've seen it viewed as a sign of a lack of commitment or even laziness.

Bullshit. I'm tired of seeing this same thing echoed. I think half of the reason this is even said is that someone reads this sentiment on something like HN and then becomes self-conscious about the vacations they are taking and starts to spout the same garbage.

Everyone I know working in the tech sector takes at least one multi-week vacation every year and doesn't think twice about it. Perhaps Silicon Valley is not part of the US anymore?


And yet compared to those European countries, the US experiences significantly higher GDP per capita. Doing work and getting paid for it hardly seems like it's hurting the economy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP...

As to the studies cited in the article I would point to the OECD labor productivity statistics which, in the aggregate, seem to disagree. http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DatasetCode=LEVEL

The fact that Americans seem to only be able to find identity and meaning in their work, so much so as that it causes a psychic crisis to leave even temporarily, is the real problem, if it need be called such, rather than some imagined hurt to the economy. But that problem is so ingrained in our culture it is never going away.


Re: your second point, there actually does seem to be a pretty negative correlation between working hours and GDP in the OECD statistics you link. Just sort on the average-hours-worked column and look at who's at the top and bottom: with a few outliers, the rich countries are all on the low end, and the poor countries are on the high end. The shortest hours are in the Netherlands, Germany, and Norway; while the longest are in Mexico, Korea, and Greece.

This doesn't establish that longer hours lower GDP, of course. If I had to guess on a causal direction, it'd be some mixture of [more GDP] -> [shorter hours], as well as a good helping of [better-run country] -> both shorter hours and more GDP.


But that problem is so ingrained in our culture it is never going away.

To your point, you may find this study interesting, entitled "Europeans Work To Live and Americans Live To Work (Who is Happy to Work More: Americans or Europeans?)" [1].

Here is another interesting piece on the topic, entitled "Reluctant Vacationers: Why Americans Work More, Relax Less, Than Europeans" [2].

As with anything, take these in stride; I offer them as additional data points. However, they do explore an interesting perspective, as both pieces attempt to investigate some of the cultural and historical differences between Americans and Europeans with regard to views toward cultural identity, taxes, unions, work, etc.

[1] http://people.hmdc.harvard.edu/~akozaryn/myweb/docs/final_wo...

[2] https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/reluctant-vacati...


Those articles sound really familiar and I'm pretty sure at least one of them has spawned a pretty sizable HN thread. Might be worth searching for if someone wants to dig.


I agree with your first paragraph, but GDP is the measurement of one thing, and one thing only: products and services produced.

Should we compare the 'economic output' with other (in my opinion) equally important indices, like life expectancy, cost and access to healthcare, access to 'free' and universal primary/secondary/university education, income inequality, safety, etc, the concept of (social) productivity will definitely shift to other countries.

Don't get me wrong, I value GDP as much as almost any economist and finance minister, but all these other 'soft' factors are, to me, equally important.


>the US experiences significantly higher GDP per capita

This is to be expected, if Americans are working longer hours than their European counterparts.

If you do a little back-of-the-envelope normalization (GDP/capita/average hours worked), the results are much closer. Norway, of course, absolutely dominates by this metric.

  US: 28.9
  France: 24.3
  Germany: 26.4
  Sweden: 25.4
  Norway: 38.0


> Norway, of course, absolutely dominates by this metric.

This is North Sea oil, right? Hard to generalize from.


>This is North Sea oil, right? Hard to generalize from.

Wasn't really generalizing, just stating fact.

Norway has far fewer proven oil reserves than Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Algeria, Ecuador, Nigeria and on and on...

Oil is not a panacea. The combination of a progressive culture and resource endowment tends to win. But don't assume that the latter is most important.


> The combination of a progressive culture and resource endowment

Don't forget having a relatively culturally and ethnically homogenous population (when compared to countries like the US), something that is often forgotten when holding up Scandinavian countries (esp. Norway) as a model.


And the fact that there are fewer people in Norway than there are in New York City.


I think that's kind of why 'per capita' is used.


USA is the country with a domestic market of 300+ million people, largely English-speaking, and has not seen a war on its soil in modern times, right? Hard to compare to anything else, then.

It's funny how people immediately just say because oil whenever it is brought up, and think that it magically explains everything. Yes, a ridiculous proportion of export is from that industry. But it's not like finding oil immediately makes people prosperous - you have to manage it. Do you want long-term prosperity? Or do you want boom towns with high local inflation, high crime etc.?

Going into how the Norwegian petroleum industry works would reveal a strategy that is very different from how countries like the US (or Canada in the prairie provinces) would have handled the same discovery. And it works.


Finding oil did make Norway prosperous. Have you ever looked at their economic condition prior to 1980?


Yes, it did. And how it is and has been managed is a large part of well it has worked for the country, which is a lot more involved and interesting than "Oil was found in the North Sea in the late 60's and everyone lived happily ever after, the end".

But since you seem to be an expert, how about you enlighten me on this subject.


I am in fact an expert. I have a background in finance and economics and could speak for hours on this subject.

You seem to want to pick a fight, based on something I didn't even actually say or imply (which you carried over from another comment). That doesn't seem like very friendly behavior for HN. I never said a single thing implying Norway's financial well being was guaranteed or automatic or required no effort.

I said Norway is prosperous due to oil. That is true, and their prosperity began with the oil boom, and that is not a coincidence.

A five second comparison between how Venezuela has managed their resources and how Norway has, would tell you everything you need to know about the care Norway has taken to manage their good fortune, but that doesn't change in any way the fact that their good fortune is derived from the oil boom that saw their output peak at a massive 3.4 million bpd (particularly massive compared to their tiny population).


> You seem to want to pick a fight, based on something I didn't even actually say or imply (which you carried over from another comment).

Pick a fight? You're refering to that whole 'care to enlighten me'? Would you have preferred a bit less sarcasm to go with that question? It seems to me that the aggression started with you, implying that I didn't understand the importance of the petroleum industry. Even though it was the only thing I was discussing in that post that you replied to.

All I said was that the combination of petroleum and the management of it has been important. Clearly, if you take petroleum out of the equation, management doesn't really help much, now does it? So I took it for granted that readers could see that petroleum was a crucial part of the equation.

You might appreciate that, after explaining how management of natural resources like this plays a significant part in how well it works to a nation's advantage, someone comes in and reduces it back to "oil, that's it", I might get a bit irritated? And if the point was not to reduce it to that, why would one even reply with a one-liner like that, as it doesn't really say anything novel on the topic?


Norway has always been a bit of an outlier. It is what you get when you combine Middle Eastern oil resources with a Western European rule of law.


Don't forget the self-control necessary to avoid the Dutch disease. [1]

1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_disease


GDP per capita is a terrible measure here. There are countries that work significantly less than us and still have similar or higher productivity levels (some countries like Switzerland even have higher GDP per capita though that's still irrelevant). Not to mention a much higher quality of life. (http://www.salon.com/2010/08/25/german_usa_working_life_ext2...)

This isn't surprising considering the water cooler based work culture in the US. This benefits no one, but since there are almost no laws protecting workers, most workers have no choice but to comply or be fired. Then, of course, you have the people that do it intentionally, especially in the software industry, as a badge of honor or because delusional thinking makes them seem productive when they're actually less productive. The ones who can take vacation and won't. Mixing the desperate former and insane latter is exactly what most US companies strive for as their ideal work culture.

What the article overlooks is the unemployment caused by overtime. Two people working at 60 hours are roughly equivalent to one 40 hour a week job taken out of the economy--though obviously, the quality is much less than having a dedicated third person working. This isn't true for all jobs, just most.


The US has a lower population density than those European countries, more natural resource is divided between fewer people. That is the primary reason for the higher GDP per capita.


The facts don't bear out what you're saying.

The US is the world's second or first largest manufacturing nation (it's a close race with China currently, but they likely pulled ahead this year).

The US has the world's largest IT industry.

The US has the world's largest software industry.

The US has the world's largest internet / cloud industry.

The US has the world's largest telecom industry.

The US has the world's largest airlines, and railroads.

The US has the world's largest auto industry.

The US has the world's largest defense industry.

The US has the world's largest agriculture industry.

The US has the world's largest space industry.

The US has the world's largest retail industry.

The US has the world's largest capital markets.

The US has the world's largest real estate market, both commercial and residential.

The US has the world's largest advertising, marketing and design industries.

All of these things are not true simply because the US has natural resources. If it were simply a matter of resources per person, Norway would be the world's largest automaker or similar.


It seems unlikely, given that mining & agriculture (industries affected by availability of natural resources) comprise only 3% of the US economy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_United_States


Er, what about oil? I'd have thought the oil industry on its own was more than 3%, and industries affected by gasoline costs are a huge sector.


1. Oil production goes under mining. 2. Oil is a globally traded commodity, the fact that some of it is produced in the US doesn't affect the local (=in the US) price.


You seem to imply that higher GDP of a country is relevant for quality of life of its citizen. Knowing the US and Europe, I was also wondering what this high GDP is about, because it surely does not translate to material wealth.

Googling reveals: GDP includes military expenses, bloated health care expenses, bloated education costs, ... I guess that explains the relation.


GDP per capita doesn't say anything about the wealth of the median person, either. Maybe in this case, GDP per capita should be coupled with the gini coefficient, which in the US' case is high (less equality) for a first world country.


Why is equality more important than, say, how poor your average citizens are?

Most of Europe is exceptionally poor by American standards.

I would rather the average person earn $45,000 per year, with wide inequality due to a lot of rich people, than have the average person earn $8,000 or $14,000 per year like a dozen poor European countries that may have a better gini number.


I was comparing the US to first world countries, not Europe as a whole. And no first world country is exceptionally poor compared to the US.

Yes, the point in this case is actually to have fewer poor people - specifically a strong middle class. As supposed to, say, a vast percentage of poor workers and an exceptionally rich upper class.

You'll have to be more specific, or else your post looks like a derailment from what was under discussion, namely US GDP per capita compared to other first world countries.


Which European countries do you consider first world?


Western and Northern Europe, more or less, would be my guess. I'm not so sure about the Baltic states.


>than some imagined hurt to the economy

Whose economy?

I don't see how people who are working >80 hours a week are living in the same economy as the 'investors' they work for.

Real spending power for most people has crashed since 2008; tech is a rare exception.

How can that happen if these people are valued, equal participants in the national economy?


Feels more like journalists are just using any correlations to explain recession.


Can you explain what you mean by your last paragraph? The inability to find meaning and indentity in ones work causes people a psychic crisis to leave their jobs even temporarily? That problem is an imagined hurt to the economy?


What I mean to say is that Amercians are overworked because they like to be overworked.

Typically an American's sole sense of identity comes from his or her job, and while we give lip service to 'happiness' as our life's goal unless happiness means ambition and success in one's work, you are an oddball.

The problem isn't that Americans are hurting the economy with over work; the problem, if you want to call it one, is that because we have nothing else in our lives, we don't mind that we're overworked.


I don't get how you come to the conclusion that no one minds it. I am very lucky and have built a business where I have lots of free time, and I have yet to find a person who says I am wasting my life by spending my free time learning new languages, teaching myself new things, backpacking the world, and developing new hobbies.

People say they like their work and they "live" for their work because it's all they have, yet they aren't happy with it. If they were, they wouldn't be so compelled to go out and drink weekends away.

Americans have no choice but to be overworked. I look at professional jobs where I could use my computer science degree, and I have no choice. I basically have to choose a job where I work more than 40 hours a week. And in the US, a lot of employers only pay you for when you work. So that hour lunch break doesn't count toward the time you're working. Neither does your commute.

So there's a large swath of people in the US who work 10 hours a day, have an hour of two of commute each way, and an hour of idle time at work. meaning worst case scenarios, you're looking at 13+ hours a day spent at doing work related things.

Something that people have to do that consumes their life will be perceived as something that that person likes, kind of like how Stockholm Syndrome works.

No one ever speaks of how these long hours affect Americans to the point where they don't have time for constructive hobbies, time to learn about the world, etc, and that is going to hurt Americans far more than anything else.

I realize that their is more distance for Americans to see the world than Europeans or Asians, however, you would think that if seeing the world was considered important, that Americans would have more time off and more paid vacation to make up for the fact that you need to travel so far to experience vastly different cultures.

You've got to think about the fact that we have a generation of people raising children who only know how to work while the rest of the developed world is taking long vacations and living in the assumption that a worker should have access to health care, education, etc.

I am terrified of how the next generation of Americans will turn out. They're going to grow up seeing both their parents work 50 hour work weeks, have no hobbies, never travel to anything inspiring and only travelling for escapism, and thinking that they have it better in the USA than anywhere else.

I don't plan on having children in the USA. I don't think I could morally raise a child and fill their heads with delusions of grandeur and getting rich quick by working 65 hours a week, only to see them swallowed by student loans and debt, never escaping that mortgage until they die, while I look them in the eye and tell them the people in France work half as much yet make more money.

Please, look at these numbers: http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DatasetCode=LEVEL#

I realize they are a bit dated (the new dataset doesn't include the metric I want to look at), but USA already works harder than the Japanese. USA works almost 30% more hours than Netherlands. That's massive. To put that into perspective, that means an 8 hour workday in the USA translates into a 5.6 hour work day in the Netherlands.


Perhaps I'm overstated my case. It would be more correct to say Americans are overworked because they chose to be overworked. It may not seem like a choice to some, especially in the professional class, because they have a preconceived notion of a lifestyle and 'acceptable' careers based on where they see themselves in life.


What kind of business do you have?


>'But that problem is so ingrained in our culture it is never going away.'

I don't know about that.

Anecdotally, I've experienced this culture enforced by older (>50) people and don't see much of it at all with younger people (<30). Surely there are exceptions - startup culture seems more prone to it - but that's to be expected.

I expect the culture is simply going to die off not long after the baby boomers.


The article focuses on professionals, but I don't know if that's the angle I'm concerned about. American professionals work more, but they are also paid more. They also have much better vacation and leave policies. More concerning is the plight of median workers, who aren't making a lot more these days than their European counterparts, but have much worse vacation policies to deal with.


Vacation policies are the least of it. How about the lack of a safety net? Take health care. Civilized people should agree that medical care in a rich country should be available to everyone. The thought of people dying in the streets from preventable disease and injury sounds pretty horrendous.

But for the past 20 years we've been fed the same fabricated FUD about socialized medicine that has no basis in reality. People still genuinely believe that America has the best healthcare, which is arguably true for the 1%, but not for the average person. We have major structural problems the media completely ignores.

Just one personal example, last December I needed to buy a 6-pill dose of medication while visiting family for the holidays in the US (I currently live in the UK). This cost me $600, $100 per pill. And it turns out that this medication is not as effective as the generic that would cost $2 per pill. But because there is no profitability this medication is not currently manufactured in the US. Had I been in the UK I could have walked into a pharmacy and bought this medication for £10.

Incidentally, while I was in line, the woman in front of me was purchasing a perscription of antibiotics, which cost $200, but she only had $100, so they only sold her half the dosage! I was shocked a trained pharmacist would be allowed to do this considering the perils of antibiotic resistance, but it's also pretty inhumane to withhold medication.

Frankly, the patriotic bullshit that Fox News and CNN feeds the populace about how much better we have it than Canada or the UK needs to stop. America needs to pull its head out of its ass and realize we are little better than a third-world country for anyone below median income who doesn't have a good group health insurance policy.


Your example of the cost of medication is an odd one. Most (all?) states in the US have mandatory generic substitution. That means the pharmacy must fill your Rx with the generic unless the doctor wrote "Dispense as Written" on the Rx.

Now, if the generic was not available in the US that is a different story. Patents don't all end at the same time, so the drug may already be off patent in the UK, but not in the US.

Finally, to say "there is no profitability" in generics is laughable. The US has lower generic prices that most of the EU due to fierce competition for the US market.

And finally, although the US may not have a single payer system, we do have public health for the old (Medicare) and the poor (Medicaid). In addition, if you are sick and you go to a hospital, you must be treated regardless of your ability to pay.


Hospitals are not required to treat people regardless of ability to pay. Hospitals are merely required to stabilize a patient before dumping them.

The U.S. spends around 16% GDP on healthcare. This is by far the most of any industrialized nations. Americans have among the worst health care outcomes of the industrialized nations. Americans spend far more for procedures than citizens of other countries. Medicaid only kicks in for the extremely poor. Medicare kicks in for the old because it is unprofitable for insurance companies to insure elderly. Medicare is a subsidy for the health insurance industry. It allows that industry to dump unprofitable people and socialize their care.

That a person in the U.S. can go bankrupt and lose their home due to medical bills is obscene. The U.S. has an uncivilized health care system.


You've made several erroneous claims, so I'll comment on a few of them:

Hospitals are not required to treat, but most do. It is general knowledge in the industry that if you can't afford treatment for your cancer you go to a local hospital where you will be treated regardless of ability to pay.

Yes the US spends more than any other industrialized nation, but no, health outcomes are not the worst. If you use blunt tools like life expectancy to measure outcomes, the US ranks far behind, but that is only because of other extraneous factors that have nothing to do with quality of care. Check out cancer patient outcomes for colorectal cancer sometime, the US outcomes easily outstrip those of other countries.

Medicaid is not only for the extremely poor. The ACA just bumped up Medicaid income eligibility to 133% of poverty level. That's over $30K for a family, so I wouldn't say that's "extremely poor".

I have no idea where the "Medicare kicks in for the old because it is unprofitable" comes from. It was a social benefit put into place in the 1950's. The insurance industry has nothing to do with it.

No you can't lose your home over medical bills. Your primary residence is protected when you go bankrupt. Also, even in nations with single payer systems patients end up financial difficulties when sick because they can't work.

I suggest you do some more research and educate yourself on these issues rather than repeating what others tell you.


>Hospitals are not required to treat, but most do. It is general knowledge in the industry that if you can't afford treatment for your cancer you go to a local hospital where you will be treated regardless of ability to pay.

Do you have a source for this? I can only speak from personal experience, but when I was sick and didn't have insurance I had to come up with a pretty significant upfront payment to see a specialist.

You may get to see a doctor, but try seeing a true specialist with insurance. So yeah, I agree with yequalsx, you will be stabilized, and that's pretty much it.


Your last sentence is not warranted and has no place on this site. The Medicaid bump only applies to states that enacted it. It is also a recent thing.

People without healthcare insurance often find out they have cancer far too late. While they may find treatment for free often times it is too late. If the free healthcare that hospitals provide was anywhere near adequate then people with insurance would dump it and save money. The fact that people with health insurance aren't dumping it in droves proves that care without it is inadequate.

Old people are costly to care for. They are unprofitable from the insurance industry perspective. Medicare was enacted because the country at the time was civilized enough to not want millions of elderly to do without health insurance. It is not disputable that this benefits the insurance industry.

You can't directly lose your home due to medical bills. You can lose for not being able to afford payments because medical bills for needed healthcare cost too much. There are lots of examples of this. Medical bills are the number one reason for bankruptcy in the u.s.

It is not known why the U.S. has lower life expectancy but the lower rate is correlated to income and education. I did not say our health outcomes are the worst. I said they are among the worst. In terms of happiness, overall health, life expectancy, etc. we do badly. There are areas where we do well.


Sorry for the last comment, but you're repeating several claims that are untrue and have no basis in fact.

Another example: "Medical bills are the number one reason for bankruptcy in the u.s.", again, not true. The correct statistic is "Unpaid medical bills are the most common debt owed during bankruptcy filings", someone could have a medical debt of $10 and that doesn't mean it caused their bankruptcy.

"Interestingly, it turns out that research commissioned by the Canadian government shows that 15% of people over the age of 55 who declare bankruptcy cite a medical problem as the primary reason. Medical bankruptcies can, as I've been saying for a while, be driven by something other than the lack of free government provided medical care."[1]

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2009/09/bankrupt...


Instead of reading Megan read the report she cites. The Canada number is self reported by those surveyed and it isn't known if this is from the bills themselves or from loss of income due to illness or a combination of both. If it is from medical bills this would be for care above and beyond what the Medicare system provides. I don't know exactly what Medicare refers to when talking about Canada. I'm quoting the paper that Megan cited. interestingly the paper cites work by Warren and Megan is quite critical of her work in the article you linked too. I've found Megan to be unreliable when interpreting studies.

The fact remains that people in the US do go bankrupt as a result of medical bills. People in Germany, France, etc. don't. As a general matter of affairs. We spend far more per capita than anyone else on care. We don't live longer, aren't more happy, or in better health than people in other countries. Our health outcomes are worse than many industrialized nations. The free care that hospitals provide is not adequate care evidenced by the market.


I certainly won't argue with you about the impact of direct medical costs on Americans. My comment is that statistics are often misleading and you can't draw broad conclusions from a single number.


>The US has lower generic prices that most of the EU due to fierce competition for the US market

This is not the case.

From direct person experience I can attest that:

Betaserc is 1/25 the price in Spain as the generic in the US

Nebivolol is 1/10

Lovastatin is 1/5

Enalapril is 1/2


I quote the parent poster: "The US has lower generic prices that most of the EU"

Emphasis mine. Perhaps, if they were consistently "cheaper" than the US, fine. But your singular example doesn't quite contradict the person you're responding to. So it actually is the case, unless you prove your findings for other EU countries.

I have no idea if that's the case, just pointing out the obvious flaw in your logic. Perhaps a little too-quick to look for contradictions if you disagree with the general point?


Quite correct: I have no idea what the price is in Lichtenstein. Nor have I compared the price of every drug manufactured. Nor even a majority of those thousands.

I have, however bought a dozen or so different drugs and have done so in France, Italy, Croatia, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. All of which were tiny fraction of the price in the US.

So given two hypothesis: the US is cheaper vs the EU is cheaper, and a bunch of data points all pointing that same way, a little bit of Bayesian statistics shows us which hypothesis is over overwhelmingly more likely doesn't it? We can agree to use Bayesian statistics even though there's no entry in the conservapedia can't we?

Contrast, for example, with the parent poster's hypothesis which comes form no more data than a.m. radio infotainment, I think there's only one rational tentative conclusion don't you?


I'd take a Commonwealth Fund analysis over your "Bayesian statistical analysis".

http://managinghealthcarecosts.blogspot.com/2012/03/united-s...


Ah yes that is obviously much better than extrapolating from anecdotes.

But of the few European countries compared, at least two have deregulated pricing for generics which is exactly the point we're talking about isn't it? The others may or may not (I don't know). But why were Norway, Sweden and Denmark omitted from that comparison when they are in every other comparison on the original page? It's a strange omission because generics in Scandinavia are lower than western Europe. Inside of Europe, countries that have deregulated their generics simply have higher prices.


I have no doubt there are examples of cheaper generics in the EU than US, but overall, US generics are cheaper.[1]

[1]http://www.gabionline.net/Reports/Are-generic-medicines-too-...


Where in the article are the US prices compared to EU prices? It seems that it compares EU prices to production prices (in India and China). It also states:

"We also see that in countries that have free market pricing of medicines (where companies can decide for themselves the price of a new medicine), such as Germany, the price of generic medicines tend to be higher than in countries which regulate medicine prices."

This seems to contradict the claim as well.


Here is the article I was thinking of....

http://managinghealthcarecosts.blogspot.com/2012/03/united-s...

The US payers more for brand name drugs, but less than nearly every other OECD country (with the exception of NZ).


> In addition, if you are sick and you go to a hospital, you must be treated regardless of your ability to pay.

If you'll pardon a second response, I must point out this is only true of emergencies like car accidents and the ever abundance of shootings.

In most states, if you get cancer without insurance you just die. Period. And not by euthanasia, by the way, because apparently that is mortal sin / slippery-slope to mass murder.


"In most states, if you get cancer without insurance you just die. Period. And not by euthanasia, by the way, because apparently that is mortal sin / slippery-slope to mass murder."

This is patently untrue. Do a google search for "disproportionate share hospitals" and "charity care". In my line of work I've spoken with numerous oncologists and I've asked them "what do you do if your patient can't afford cancer treatment?" and the answer was always "I send them to the local hospital that treats them regardless of ability to pay."


If you have a fashionable cancer then yes there are special programs.

If you do not have the right kind of cancer then there are not.

Which is pretty strange in and of itself.

And if you are utterly indigent then yes there programs in many counties. County or city run hospitals which is of course the exact definition of socialist which I understand is completely objectionable on principle and so something to be zealously eradicated.

But if you are one of the working poor the options evaporate. Especially if you are in the wrong county/state.

If you glance through this pdf

http://action.acscan.org/site/DocServer/cancer-disparities-c...

I think you'll find there is an enormous difference in the fatality rate for uninsured vs insured patients exactly because of the lack of treatment.

But perhaps I'm wrong: what is the name of this hospital run entirely by donation that takes every cancer patient that shows up free of charge?


This "you get care if you have a fashionable cancer" bit does not ring true at all. The source you cited doesn't seem to back it up. Can you cite evidence that indigent care for cancer varies based on the "fashionability" of the specific kind of cancer?


The link above does not speak about different cancer funds. It simply shows that cancer patients without insurance just die.

That is obviously how it works without universal medical care; sick people don't just magically get better with magic money like a sitcom. They die.

But there are large funds for breast and cervical cancer and that is obviously very good. Unfortunately there are not for rectal or colon cancer. Maybe because no one is going to run 10k for rectal cancer, maybe because it's too dirty a word to say on tv.

Either way, if you're poor, be sure to get the right cancer.

Or just fix your medical system.

Now if you'll pardon me I must take a break and let the dittoheads and digg-patriots catch up with downvoting all my posts.


This reply is sophomoric. Its thesis is "sick people don't just magically get better with magic money like a sitcom. They die." But that's self-evidently not true; when an indigent patient has a heart attack and arrives in the emergency room, they are treated. It's not "magic money" that saves them; there is an actual pool of resources that they draw from.


> lack of a safety net?

That's one argument. Here's another:

Cost:

http://healthcarereform.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourc...

http://healthcarereform.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourc...

vs Quality:

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/press-releases/...

http://www.businessinsider.com/best-healthcare-systems-in-th...

EDIT: not sure if downvotes are because people think I'm saying that cost is less important than the lack of a safety net or because people are butthurt over figures demonstrating that universal health care is also cheaper. Please clarify.


It might help (I didn't downvote, just suggesting) to put an intro to these arguments in the post, instead of just links.


Lack of safety net is why I don't feel comfortable continuing a life of entrepreneurship in the US while I'm building a family; I'll be leaving. I bootstrap and am not going to be getting millions in investment to pay myself ... if there are some lean years, at least I'll have assistance for my children and healthcare! I'm self-employed now, but if I didn't have employer-sponsored healthcare through my spouse, we'd be paying $1,000 per MONTH for a bottom-tier health plan with a $10,000 deductible. My wife staying employed after childbirth isn't an option because her employer expects her back to work after three weeks (yes her coworkers do this). What kind of nonsense life would that be?


Would you mind naming the generic drug? It seems like this is a powerful argument against having (only) for-profit healthcare. I'd like to be able to point to a specific case of what you're describing.


A data point from the USA: I take a very low dose of lamotrigene extended-release (mild epilepsy). The brand-name cost of this was $1200-$1400 per month. The recently available generic version of this costs nearly $400/mo. And this is, again, for a very low dose. For someone with a moderate or severe seizure (or bipolor - it's used for that too) disorder, the cost might be 4-5x this.

While one might argue that the name-brand version costs so much because of high R&D costs (dubious in my opinion), it's difficult to make that argument for the generic. It's expensive because the manufacturer can get away with it -- it's very much needed by the patients but the market is sufficiently limited in size that few potential competitors choose to target it.

Generics can be inexpensive if the drug in question has a very large market - statins for example. But if not, and you don't work for a company that provides health insurance with prescription drug coverage, a drug you need may well be a drug that you cannot get because of its cost.


That's insane. I take the generic lamotrigine, but even at a high dose it's something like $36/month here in Canada. I have a half-decent private insurance policy, but at US prices I'd burn through my yearly prescription rebate limit in a month.


While your point is also good, I really wanted to know the case where the a generic equivalent isn't even available (despite being more effective).

The OP's anecdote seems to imply that there are situations where only inferior proprietary drugs are available. Which, in my opinion, would be impossible to defend, no matter how much of a fan of the free market one might be.


You mean, this "lamotrigene":

http://www2.costco.com/Pharmacy/DrugInfo.aspx?p=1&SearchTerm...

The one that costs $17.22 for 50 100mg tablets? Sounds like you might be getting ripped off wherever you bought your medicine.


You're looking at the non-extended-release tablets, which are reasonably cheap these days.

I just called Costco for you, and the price of 30 generic 200mg extended-release tablets is $397 for members and $408 for non-members.

Edit: spelling


> The thought of people dying in the streets from preventable disease and injury sounds pretty horrendous.

Funny that you raise FUD in your very next sentence, because that is itself FUD. Since the 1980s hospitals have been obliged to treat anyone who shows up.

> And it turns out that this medication is not as effective as the generic that would cost $2 per pill. But because there is no profitability this medication is not currently manufactured in the US.

That doesn't make sense. A generic is the same as the name-brand. You mean a different drug for the same disease, I presume.

And it doesn't make sense that there would be no profitability; by your numbers, a generic drug manufacturer could produce the $2 pill which works better than the $100 pill and sell it for $50, or $25, or whatever it wanted.

> America needs to pull its head out of its ass and realize we are little better than a third-world country for anyone below median income who doesn't have a good group health insurance policy.

Actually, one of the nice things about real third-world countries is that one can just go to the pharmacist and buy pills, instead of having to go through a professional gatekeepers' union (the AMA) to do so.


In theory.

In practice, the active ingredient(s) are required to be the same, but there can be some variation in e.g. binders that can make differences. The characteristics of the generic (bioavailbility, onset time, etc) are only required to be within a certain range compared to the original, not be identical.

See this, for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generic_drug#Efficacy


>> And it turns out that this medication is not as effective as the generic that would cost $2 per pill.

What medication was it, if you don't mind me asking? And why didn't you just ask for the generic?

Many pharmacy chains in the USA offer a large list of generics for the low costs like $10/90 day supply


Therein lies the problem with the US and the mentality of the citizens. Since the proletariat are "temporarily embarrassed millionaires", the safety net is never there. To even take advantage of it is shameful. Perhaps unrelated, but the status of your achievements is reflected by how much you need to pay or put into it such as your job and even that 5-star hotel where you need to pay for breakfast and Wi-Fi.


> The thought of people dying in the streets from preventable disease and injury sounds pretty horrendous.

Doesn't happen in the US unless the person intends to do so. But that's pretty good fear mongering on your behalf.


So you're saying there has always been universal healthcare in the US even before Obama was elected? That everyone has always gotten all the medical care they need?

Or are you saying uninsured people don't get sick?

In fact roughly 45,000 die a year due to lack of medical care.[1]

Why not embrace the society you're creating? Because I'm sure Miss Rand would not be happy with that level of self delusion.

[1] http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2009/09/new-study-find...


Wow, a Rand reference. You must be of such superior intellect that thinking of an original argument is beneath you.

Reread my message. A person will not be kicked out of the hospital to die on the street. Preventative Healthcare is a problem, but immediate is not.


No, not the street: you will be kicked out of the hospital to die at home.

But true, if you're shot in the street, an emergency room will accept you.

But no, there's no chemotherapy in the emergency room.

> You must be of such superior intellect that thinking of an original argument is beneath you.

Wow, an ad hominem attack, what a surprise.


Keep shifting those goalposts. It's interesting that you would point out an ad hominem after you felt it was perfectly acceptable to make an idiot reference to Rand with no connection.


Obamacare argument was inevitable, wasn't it.


Often, when articles highlight bad laws or customs, economical arguments are brought up.

Workaholism -> backfires and is bad for the economy

and in recent threads here on HN:

Workplace surveillance -> backfires, people feel controlled and performance suffers

Government espionage in USA -> backfires, people lose trust in US businesses

I don't feel that this is the strongest argument. "Please treat us better, it is in your own interest!"?

Germany's vacation was achieved through politics (labor laws) and unions (labor contracts).

The economic argument probably won't work, since economic considerations (real or imagined/short-term/local maximum...) have led to the current situation in the first place.


It's the only argument here in the USA.

It sucks that things are this way, but the only way to justify anything or argue for anything is an appeal to higher profits.

Money is this country's highest value, and all other values such as decency or shared prosperity have been thrown into the garbage and decried as socialism or wishful thinking.


And that is (in my opinion) the biggest problem of all. Focusing on profit margins alone (without any respect to the people), leads to burn-out, social discrepancies to the extreme (go to South Africa/Kapstadt, if you want to see, where it will end) and at last will dehumanize the human race. I write that, because I see in my country, where it goes and we long where an isle inside the ocean of capitalism. Now, capitalism has conquered humanity and capitalism will kill humanity finally, it seems.

Our capitalism of today exploits all the resources of this planet (oil, water, air, environment, humans, ...) in an increasing fashion and because this planet has only limited resources, soon all will break down. The question only is, what entity will break down first: capitalism, this planet, the human race.

What use will you make of your five smartphones, three tablets and seven cars, when your children will have no future?


Great point. One way to argue for more vacation time is that it's economically a better idea- but you're setting yourself up for a tough argument.

Instead, it might be easier to argue it socially or through a simple declaration like, "this is what we want".


You're right, we should fix the vacation policy for humanitarian reasons, not economic ones.

However, having a solid economic rationale is a great counter-argument.


Even as a trained neuroscientist, I was amazed to learn that even mild stress impairs brain functions involved in memory formation and retrieval, attention, and decision making.

If you are working long hours, you aren't really working. On less sleep, your brain has to work harder. With chronic stress, you start to impair your core competencies. Sleep is the body's way of mitigating the effects of daily stress.


While the lack of safety net and fear of being fired are all valid reasons for Americans not taking vacation, what about another reason- they don't know how to vacation.

From personal experience, I get twitchy just from being sick/away from work for more than a day. I only take one day at a time of vacation (usually on Friday's to stretch out the weekend, and usually to get extra studying done or run some errands) only to feel like I wasted a day. It could be cultural, my family never took many family vacations (maybe 1 or 2). I'm lucky that my work encourages taking vacations, but the idea of doing so seems so weird for me.


I know what you mean! In my old office people would bank hours and rather get paid out then take their full vacation. Most of my friends in Europe tell me how their managers practically force them to take time off! (especially in the summer).

It seems like it has become so ingrained in the culture that not taking vacation, working long hours and being "busy" has become a badge of honor. But with more and more articles like these I see a shift coming as the new generation seeks more balance and lifestyle.


I'm 50/50 on the 'badge of honor'. For some it's true. For me, I don't know what to do on vacation. People get bored/anxious when they have nothing to do. Even going on a trip can be hard (planning, financing, dealing with changes, having to rest after the trip).


>The United States is the only advanced country that doesn't guarantee that its citizens will get paid vacation time and holidays

I find the reasoning consistently maddening. What they should be saying is that there is no federal mandate for private employers to pay workers during vacation/convalescence/maternity leave.

In point of fact, for government workers there is paid annual/maternity/paternity leave which ends up being "use or lose" and in effect becomes a mandatory leave - something universally omitted in these articles.

I think this just comes back to the classic debate about how the American economy is organized. Our constitution and US Code is not organized such that the government can easily dictate laws to private employers, that is by design.


> and in effect becomes a mandatory leave

this is a good thing, as the rest of the evidence presented in the OP suggests. People should take all the leave they are entitled to.


I've pointed this out in other threads about this subject, but there are actually employers who pay out a bonus to employees who use 100% of the PTO in a given year.


Absolutely, because it is the only way the US government can actually by law give American workers mandatory time off.


Which, of course, makes it great for the private employers (the 1%), but not so great for the private employees (the 99% that was mentioned in the article)


over half of the 6mil firms in the US with payrolls in this country have between 1 and 9 employees. ('08 numbers[0]).

"employer" != 1%

"policies good for employers" != "policies only good for 1%"

[0]-https://www.census.gov/econ/smallbus.html


A lot of them are "employee in name only" contractors. Doesn't mean much. I've done it myself. There are tax implications when you get 1099'd, as long as you go in eyes open it'll be OK. Don't forget to file your quarterly estimated payments, the IRS isn't amused if you skip one.

There's a lot of talk on HN about the natural evolved tribal size of human orgs being only XYZ people so when we inevitably have a larger than XYZ group its epic fail. Well... it goes the other way too, and its quite possible that natural evolved civilization etc requires more than 2 guys on a "tribe" long term. It doesn't have to be the end of the world or apocalyptic, merely suggesting encouraging microfirms might not be a wise policy decision.


I have operated on 1099 as well; this will definitely cause some skewed numbers on 'employers'.

I believe my point stands, though. Being an employer does not implicitly mean you are part of the 1%; supporting policies that are pro-employer does not implicitly mean you are a neo-capitalist, anti-socialist 1%er.

Having been in a number of 'microfirms' myself, I intuitively think supporting them is wise policy (as a rule of thumb; as with most things, it's wise until it isn't). I may be biased, but I have seen many firms in the US that start this way and grow; low barriers for starting a business is one of the US's greatest assets, from my perspective. It is a foundation for social mobility, stands in contrast to much of the developed world, and is one of the primary motivators for people to chose the US when they 'vote with their feet'.


If you're in tech, the way to do avoid this is:

- Develop mission critical systems.

- Make sure no one else understands them.

- When you're gone, break them so your employer suffers and realizes they can't be without you.

- Act like you don't care and want your time off.

Works for raises,too.

Of course, if you have a good employer, none of that is necessary.


"keep the nose to the grindstone"

LOL there's a classism component that a guy spending 60 hours in the office, 30 of them on facebook, twitter, amazon, or HN, is an office overtime hero, but a guy using a shovel 39 hours a week while being paid for 40 is a lazy slacker who should be fired.

Aside from the class problem, another big problem is in a euro country with low income inequality, it means something to divide the total pie by the number of roughly equal people eating it. But if you have a pie where almost all the pie will be going to a couple fat guys and half the "eaters" are going to starve then dividing the pie by the number of "eaters" is utterly meaningless, or at least it is not comparable to the more equal country. It is a meaningless math problem.

If I bring a pack of oreos to work and serve them at a meeting as a snack/bribe, then dividing the pack by the number of people means something. If I bring in a bag lunch and eat every single oreo by myself other than maybe giving one to my college buddy while everyone else in the dept looks on jealously, then the division result is meaningless, or at least not worth comparing.

In a "let them eat cake" scenario if 12 people eat 12 equal-ish sized slices, the average slice size means something. In winner takes all USA, one fat dude eats the whole cake and 11 get nothin and the numerical average means nothing, nothing at all.


Related: "Bring back the 40-hour work week" http://www.salon.com/2012/03/14/bring_back_the_40_hour_work_...


Fuck that. Computers, robots and the rest of automation / efficiency gains should (have been, and) be translated into 10-20 hour work week instead of increased consumption and consumerism.


It seems like study after study shows that longer working hours don't result in long term productivity increases, but managers aren't listening. Is this an example of market failure or is there more going on?


My guess is it is people trusting their 'gut' over a study. Working long hours looks impressive. If you stay late or come in early you look like a team player who is willing to put in the extra effort. Whether or not that effort is actually valuable is immaterial, the appearance is what matters.

Call me cynical but I'd imagine that drives a lot of these overworked schedules.


My family had a manufacturing business employing ~100 people.

When orders spiked, we found the performance gain from working overtime was consistently short term. Much beyond 3-4 weeks wasn't worth the effort and expense, and a decision to add additional people or extend delivery dates had to be made.

That's not to say we couldn't get additional production out, it just did horrible things to the our cost structure.

I think what you're getting at is the belief that working longer is equal to harder.


You know it is very easy to be generous with another person's money. Yet mandating yourself rights to their money will likely lead to less jobs as many can be off shored. I know, what about those service jobs; automation.

Guild tripping works to a point. However this is a two way street. Many companies voluntarily offer paid maternity leave, some offer time off and paid time off. Yet who is there to hold the workers accountable? Just the cost of doing business? We all know people at work or have know that so abuse the system it makes your head spin.

In professional fields we have a choice who we work for, we can choose the good companies and if they continue to do well that will encourage their competitors to step up their game. However we should never assume we deserve something just because someone else has it or we convince ourselves its a good idea.


One of the things the move towards a socialized healthcare system will do for this country is focus a debate on how to increase overall well-being within the country, and how to balance that with economic output. Something I think this article misses is the effect our work habits have on our health as a country. Studies have repeatedly shown that those last several hours per week are only marginally productive, but how detrimental might they be? I would imagine the health effects (stress, blood pressure, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, etc.) become amplified in those very hours in which productivity becomes nearly worthless.

It's hard to quantify any of this, however, so it might be completely glossed over in the article on purpose. I'm sure that thinking like this will become more prevalent...


> Professionals, managers, and executives with a smartphone spend 72 hours a week (including the weekend) checking work e-mail.

No, they spend 72 hours a week "interacting with work" in any way. Though the thought of an executive sitting and refreshing an inbox for 10+ hours a day is quite amusing.


Since such trends are definitely harmful, at what point does it become a human rights issue? If so, the UN or some other organization should put their foot down and set some guidelines for which a country's citizens can sustainably achieve value to their employers and the economy.


Overall Americans are not suffering from workaholism.

Americans are working less hours than they ever have as a whole.

The BLS reports the average is down to 34.5 hours per week:

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t18.htm

The hours per year are comparable to Japan, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, and only 1.4% greater than the OECD average:

http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=ANHRS

Meanwhile, a smaller percentage of Americans are working than at any other time than in the past 35 years:

http://i.imgur.com/c5iStWB.jpg


People in tech industry (all I know) tend to call in sick to "recharge" or get things done (that are causing them stress) rather than take vacation. The interesting thing is that this tacitly known to not really be sick and accepted both by peers and management. Vacation == lazy. Sick days == we all pretend we work 60hr weeks non-stop.

Cultural anecdote example from http://maebert.github.io/jrnl/installation.html#quickstart

  2012-03-29 09:00 Called in sick.
  Used the time to clean the house and spent 4h on writing my book.


Ah gross misconduct as the lawyers and HR tend to call it :-)


Uh. Hope my boss doesn't read this. ;-)


What I find interesting about mentioning the Cadillac ad and workaholism, is how Ford actually found workaholism decreased the efficiency of his workers:

> On January 5, 1914, the Ford Motor Company took the radical step of doubling pay to $5 a day and cut shifts from nine hours to eight, moves that were not popular with rival companies, although seeing the increase in Ford's productivity, and a significant increase in profit margin (from $30 million to $60 million in two years), most soon followed suit.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight-hour_day


According to the BLS only 146M people are working in US - 46% of total population or 59% of working-age adults. And 26M of these are parttime. Goes to show you working hours are not evenly distributed among people.


I feel this article is a little weak in one major sense: comparing the US to European countries based on non-working time is okay, but you also need to compare a metric like GDP. Using this, the US is #6 world-wide only behind two European countries. So yes, Euros may get more time off, but the US is a way more economically powerful and productive country economically.

Hurting the economy, sure people get burned out, but it is hard to come to that conclusion based on the data given and the authors points.


The US has had a GDP advantage since the second world war. But since then much of the EU has rolled out socialised medicine and more workers rights (maternity leave, mandatory vacation, even a higher minimum wage) and they haven't slipped down the rankings as a result.

Understanding why the US's GDP is as positive as it is is a much bigger topic that takes us into areas like natural resources (e.g. oil, metals, etc) but also history (e.g. World War 1, world War 2, even the cold war).

It is a pretty weak argument to dismiss all of the article's points just by repeating "but GDP!!!" over and over which is more or less what your post is.


To quote Bobbi Flekman, "Money talks. Bullshit walks."


The problem with GDP per capita comparisons is that GDP is a bit of a weak measure of economic performance. It is a measure of raw, unadjusted economic throughput (cash flow, essentially), not necessarily a measure of economic performance. It is increased by an inefficient healthcare system (healthcare spending makes up 17.7% of the US GDP all on its own, while most of the affluent European countries are in the 9%-11% range), by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by the United States' comparatively high energy usage per capita. See also RFK's famous quote one the GNP [1].

The reason why GDP is still used prominently as an economic indicator, while economists have been looking for better metrics, all those other metrics involve a fair amount of subjectivity. And GDP is still a pretty decent predictor of economic performance, despite its known weaknesses.

But in the end, higher GDP does not necessarily translate into higher quality of life (of course, once the gap is large enough, it almost certainly does, at least for the average person, but we aren't talking orders of magnitude here). I don't think you'll see overall higher QoL in the US compared to Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, or France (the four OECD countries with the fewest hours worked per capita), regardless of where the GDP per capita is.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77IdKFqXbUY


In the past two years, I've spent six months living in Germany. The quality-of-life difference between that country and the US is striking.

In Germany, it appeared that ordinary people could both afford to, and were inclined to, partake often in small pleasures such as having a Bier and a bite at outdoor cafes in the summer. The streets were lined with these cafes and restaurants, most doing a brisk business. I never saw so many cut-flower shops in my life. The small pleasure of flowers was both affordable AND something that was on the minds of ordinary people, something that one would never encounter in the US.

Here, such things are looked upon as frivolous luxuries, and financially they are that for the 99%. If you can afford such things as cut flowers, then, we're told by our betters, you can also work for less money or work more for what you're earning currently. Why do you deserve luxuries, peon?

Despite what the pro-workaholic, GDP-flaunting people in the US would say, Germans on the whole seem to be quite materially prosperous. But with that, they are culturally prosperous in a quality-of-life sense too. They seem to expect it, whereas in the US a high QoL is reserved for the wealthy.

Obviously I'm not saying that every German lives this way, necessarily. But I think that this cultural observation is accurate. I think if average people in the US would be brought to understand that they too could have a modest life containing a big helping of everyday pleasures and without life-sucking, excessive work expectations, there'd be a revolution.


What part of the US are you comparing to?

We must be living in very different countries, because the things you describe, I know very few people who can't afford simple things like cut flowers whenever they want them, or to go eat out at a cafe.

Average / middle class people I knew while living in LA did these things constantly.


Maybe you do live in a different country. In my decades-long residence in Washington State, my upbringing in Vermont, my considerable time in Sacramento, my years in Eastern Mass, and my trips around the US and Canada, I've never been somewhere where people "did these things constantly". If they did, every block would have a cut flower shop. These are a relative rarity, you'd usually have to look them up if you wanted one.

Average people I've known in the places I've lived most definitely did not frequent flower shops or cafes. And by "average", I include Target employees and Walmart employees and the clerical employees of most companies large and small. That is to say, most people in the US.

Apart from the financial issue, my point was that there's a cultural phenomenon going on. In Germany my feeling was that the residents had a joie de vivre that is largely missing in the US, something which is probably both a cause and effect of the cult of overwork.


it also tries to state that working hard leads to less productivity, when US productivity eclipses most european countries.

i had a consultant complain that they hate working with europeans. the people always go on vacation and projects get held up, and they come back and have to get oriented with everything again. by the time they catch up they are on vacation again


That's the funniest excuse I've ever heard for Americans not having holiday leave.


How big a sample size of Europeans does your consultant have? Your claim that "Europeans go on vacation and projects get held up and they can never catch up again" is... dubious at best.


Yes I know a CTO who worked in the valley (I think he reported to Vint at one point) and the UK.

He commented that the USA workers didn't produce more even though they only had 2 weeks vs the 5+ the civil service T&C derived uk workers did.

spent far more time goofing off and gossiping and taking sneaky long weekends to go skiing was his comment.


Danes who work in the U.S. are often very surprised by the lack of organization in American workplaces. People work long hours but they seem somewhat haphazard hours, at least from a foreign perspective. Meetings are a particularly big cultural friction point: Danes expect a meeting to start exactly at a specific time, have an agenda distributed at least a day ahead of time, stick to the agenda, and end at exactly the agreed ending time. So you have a 10-11am meeting, you get going on the main topics of discussion at 10:00 (not 10:15 after 15 mins of small-talk and waiting for stragglers to come in), people have come prepared with what they're discussing, and it's guaranteed to be done by 11:00.


i made a statement, backed it up by mentioning productivity, and then made a reference to a real world example that I have observed, unlike the article that just mostly made platitudes.

if you'd like further evidence, the EU area has an unemployment rate close to 12%. companies are not anxious to hire europeans for one reason or another.


Almost all the EU unemployment is in the countries with long working hours and shorter vacations, oddly enough. Scandinavia, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands don't have high unemployment. People work reasonably short hours, take long vacations, and the many consulting companies here have no problem getting contracts, both within Europe and worldwide.

The European countries with major economic problems are in the south and east, where they tend not to have as generous vacation and hour policies in the first place. If you work with a Greek or Spanish consulting company, they will be there any time you want, bringing everyone into the office at 3am on a Saturday their time, if you ask for it. Good luck getting a Danish company to do that! Yet the Danish companies are not having trouble getting work.


Platitudes? On the contrary, the article made a lot of claims to back up the central point, and backed almost every one of them with research papers.

The countries with a high unemployment rate are also poorer and lack other benefits, most notably the mentioned vacations. We're talking about developed EU countries, and that's what we're comparing against the US.


France, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain are developed nations, they just don't suit your argument. They all have or did have very long vacation days per year.

And you cant just cherry pick a few european countries and compare against the whole of the US. If we are going to play that game, why not pit them against silicon valley, manhatan, etc.


Greece and Portugal barely qualify for being developed. Greece in particular is basically a third world country that sits on Europe's doorstep. They got into the eurozone through gross fraud and manipulation of their own economic statistics, then borrowed money at German rates for years to enjoy a first-world standard of living. But the fundamentals in Greece were not first world at all. One memorable quote I saw in an article about this was, "We imported flat screen TV's and exported tomatoes".

What's happening in Greece is basically the huge pain of reality reasserting itself. Greece is more like a poor Asian or African country; enormous corruption, largely unskilled workforce, rampant tax evasion, no real industries to speak of outside shipping, huge imbalance of payments and so on.

Portugal is in much the same boat. It's "developed" in a sense, but like Greece up until very recently was actually a military dictatorship of the like you'd expect to see in the developing world. It's not developed in the same way Germany is.

With respect to the others, Ireland and Spain are indeed first world nations, suffering very badly thanks to the financial crisis. Ireland took on its banks debts and became poor in the process. Spain had a huge construction bubble.

France, well, OK .... ;)


Most EU unemployment is in the countries comprehensively raped by the IMF/EU Central Bank/European Commission cabal, who swooped in after 2008 demanding huge cuts in social spending so that the bond investors who were partly responsible for the crisis would be inconvenienced as little as possible.

Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Cyprus have seen huge leaps in unemployment, underage prostitution, suicide, child and adult mortality, and drug use as a result.

They used to be solid economies, with EU-wide unemployment running at around 7%. Now they're hollowed out shells.

'Employers' have nothing to do with this. It was purely a political decision, based on bad economic science (at best) and north-south racism at worst.


And the forcing of disparate country economic systems into line with the single euro based German one which meant they had no way out.

As the economics editor of the Guardian said of the Euro is a bad idea who's time has come.

The PIGS politicians also fiddled the figures to there own ends which lead to a property boom and crash in their country's - so those country are not totally innocent.


>> the people always go on vacation and projects get held up, and they come back and have to get oriented with everything again. by the time they catch up they are on vacation again

It's almost as if work is something they do to support a life outside the office.

Outrageous.


  > it also tries to state that working hard leads to less productivity
No, it says that working longer leads to less productivity.


All of the measurements are based on the workforce, which is a term of art that means something. When you get more efficient, lay off people and have everyone else do 1.5-3x more work, you get efficient.

The problem is, many of the discarded people are ending up on disability, and are thus out of the workforce. I'd like to compare the productivity of various societies based on population.


i clearly set something off. I didnt mean to disrespect EU workers, but it does seem like their vacation time is on the extreme side where as our seemingly lack there of is weighted towards the over working side but not by a huge deal. IMO


Quick note: according to Wikipedia (citing IMF, World Bank, etc) the US is #1 in GDP at ~$16 trillion, almost double China in the number two spot. We are number 6 in PPP, but if we're talking economic output I would argue the former is more relevant.


I think an even better statistic would be the following (GPD per hours worked): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_... The differences are remarkable. However the comparison is not entirely fair with countries like Norway resting at the top. Norway derives a large part of its GDP from industries which are not very labor heavy but contribute heavily to GDP (Norway's economy is >50% based on petrochemicals).


Well, normalized to working population, yes?


If you compare countries, a more productive economy is a good measure. If you compare people and lives, not so much.


But how much of that GDP is going to the workers who're putting in the long hours?

Great time to be an employer in the US.


Yeah, all these Europe's way are better articles and books fall a little flat considering how terrible their economies are nowadays. It sounds like they are saying, "come be like us! Our nations can't even make their debt payments!"


If you want to compare individual EU countries with something, compare them against individual US states, which also vary widely in terms of how well they do economically.


as if the US didn't go through a debt-ceiling crisis every other year.


Which is a completely manufactured "problem" whereby the completely real problem the EU nations in question had was that the money simply wasn't there.


When you look for jobs find companies that will let you have adequate vacation time and actually make you take it. The older you get you'll start valuing your and your family's time more and more. Making loads of money and then waiting for that 1 week vacation to blow it off, or wait until you are old to travel is not optimal the way I see it. By that time you'll have so many ailments travel won't be an option for long.


There is surely some freedom in being able to set whatever policies you like at your company without having a federal entity stipulate you give each employee X days of paid vacation.

If you want to heavily incentivize a cultural shift towards more vacation time for US employees, I don't think a federal mandate is as attractive as just an economic incentive. (Tax break to companies where X% of employees take more than Y days per year etc)


It's actually really hard to find a job that pays a decent wage and gives a good amount of time off. The kind of job where you can 'work to live'.

Our mentality of "Americans love to work hard" is misleading. I'd say Americans are just optimistic. We are sort of 'forced' to work hard so we're optimistic and try to make the best of it.


How does this stuff get so popular on YC?

Is there a founder anywhere that didn't put in months of 100+ hour weeks? Or, to clarify, a successful founder?


Thats kind of the point, there's an idealized platonic form of a startup with 100 hour workweeks and open plan offices and pooled time off and no vacations ever.

Everything mentioned above has been researched and proven to be a dismal failure at actual financial productivity.

Therefore in a disruptive startup-py manner there are, on average, enormous fat stacks of cash to be earned by going against the idealized platonic form.

WRT successful, I think it unlikely there are many holders of BS degrees who didn't experimentally binge drink in college. I certainly did, till I outgrew that phase. That correlation does not imply successful earning of a degree, in fact the cause/effect relationship probably implies getting alcohol poisoning is anti-productive at the goal of successfully obtaining a credential.

So the battle is between the cargo cult crew, who think success is the result of better following the platonic form of the ideal startup even if its a dumb idea, vs the rebels who know based on research they'll on average make more money if they disruptively toss the idealized platonic form.


This seems too simplistic. The article focuses on one of the inputs to a nation's economic system -- labor and the price of that labor (wages). It seems to truly answer the question "What is it all for?" in an article whose title refers to "hurting the economy" it would make sense to at least discuss the output of that same system by citing GDP or some similar metric.


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