May 15, 2005

CEOs Gone Wild

The NYT began today what will be a three week series investigating the role of class in America. While most of the information contained in this Sunday's beginning piece was introductory fluff, one little nugget buried at the end is worth mentioning. Right before the closing section, the author remarks:

The benefits of the new meritocracy do come at a price. It once seemed that people worked hard and got rich in order to relax, but a new class marker in upper-income families is having at least one parent who works extremely long hours (and often boasts about it). In 1973, one study found, the highest-paid tenth of the country worked fewer hours than the bottom tenth. Today, those at the top work more.

In downtown Manhattan, black cars line up outside Goldman Sachs's headquarters every weeknight around 9. Employees who work that late get a free ride home, and there are plenty of them. Until 1976, a limousine waited at 4:30 p.m. to ferry partners to Grand Central Terminal. But a new management team eliminated the late-afternoon limo to send a message: 4:30 is the middle of the workday, not the end.

As someone who recently worked in a big corporate office, I can testify to how true this is. I was able to look at my supervisor's timesheet once and discovered that not only had he worked 24 hour days, but came in for another 10 hours the next day, and he was a paralegal for god sakes! This overworking in the corporate world has become such an epidemic that there's a movement of sorts started called Take Back Your Time that has made it their mission to bring back a reasonable work week. In fact, when I was home during the winter they ran numerous well-made commercials during prime-time indicating that this might not be some flash in the pan.

I hope that the NYT decides to investigate this issue more thoroughly because I would like to understand why Americans (particularly in the coroporate world) work so much more than other workers in the developed world, particularly the EU. I don't know if I buy most cultural arguments: America was founded on the Protestant Work Ethic (the most wealthy European nations are Protestant ), Europeans are lazy (America was founded by Europeans), it's part of the American Dream (I thought the American Dream achieve success so one could cut back on or eliminate work), it's why we're so successful (European corporate firms have tantamount success with a much shorter work week). Maybe I'm missing something, but cultural theories just seem to be useless oversimplification. Why do we have to hold our noses to the grindstone in the US while Europeans get a 3 hour lunch break and a work week almost half that of the US and still their currency is kicking our ass?


  1. Anonymous4:08 PM

    "Work makes free."

  2. Thanks Anonymous. Or shall I say Anonymous Nazi.

    "Work makes free" = "Arbeit macht frei" = phrase on the gates of Dachau Concentration camp.

    Poor taste.

  3. revenge of Sam Walton for the previous post?

  4. "Work makes free" = "Arbeit macht frei" = phrase on the gates of Dachau Concentration camp.

    This slogan appeared on the gates of many concentration camps. Some photos here.