Tue, Jul 27, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan can learn from Americans' work ethic

By Lu Shih-xiang盧世祥

Which country has the hardest-working citizens?

Earlier this month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released its 2004 Employment Outlook report. We should take note of its findings. It pointed out that the US has become richer over the past 30 years than other developed countries, and that this is because Americans work harder. In a list of 19 developed countries included in the study, the US showed the highest increase in working hours of any country, 20 percent. In countries such as France, Germany and Japan, which have not performed as well economically, the report showed a decline in working hours.

Although US productivity per man-hour increased at a higher rate in the 1990s, the increase in working hours is what boosted income. This was the main reason for the US' stronger economic performance.

The industriousness of Americans is reflected not only in the number of hours they work, but also in the proportion of the working-age population that is employed. The average American work week is 34.5 hours, which is close to Japan's, but is much higher than the 28 hours worked by French and Germans. These figures are based on annual working hours, with annual leave factored in. And the US employs 71 percent of its working-age population, which is higher than the OECD average of 65 percent. So we can say that both individually and as a community, the US is notable for its industriousness. This proves an age-old principle: hard work is the road to prosperity.

Hard work has been praised since ancient times. St. Paul told the Thessalonians "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." Hesiod lauded the hardworking farmer in Works and Days and Virgil did much the same with his Georgics. Such calls to hard work became even more influential during the Industrial Revolution.

Samuel Smiles wrote a best-seller called Self-Help which sold 250,000 copies and even counted Charles Darwin among its readers. It also became a best-seller in Japan and Italy, which were both trying to improve their international standing at that time. Smiles, who died 100 years ago this year, emphasized that a strong work ethic is critical to success for both individuals and communities. Only hardworking citizens will develop good laws and find prosperity. Work is not only necessary, it is the basis of all civilization.

This year's OECD report pinpoints the source of US strength and prosperity: its citizens' hard work. In contrast, working hours in Taiwan have been declining over the last decade. To win support from the working class, politicians have agreed to the reduction of working hours. This situation has had a negative impact on both management and labor, not to mention the whole economic environment. The OECD has indicated that the regulation of working hours should be an important part of reforming the labor market. Taiwan should follow America's example.

Lu Shih-xiang is chief executive officer of the Foundation for the Advancement of Media Excellence and is a member of the Taipei Society.

Translated by Ian Bartholomew

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