Thursday, February 10, 2005

French scrap 35-hour week

As the living antithesis of the work ethic, I have to say that I'm disappointed by this news. I'd always drawn a certain amount of satisfaction that France - along with Germany and the USA - have consistently been near the top of the OECD's competitiveness index, without sacrificing their long lunches and holidays.

However, it isn't - as I've no doubt free-marketeers will argue - a resounding defeat for the so-called "European model". French workers, when they're not at lunch, are actually more productive on an hourly basis than the Americans or the British. While there are a number of possible reasons for this, I reckon it has a lot to do with what economists refer to as the "law of diminishing returns to the variable factor" and occurs when ever at least one other variable in the productive process is fixed. So, for example, adding ever increasing amounts of fertilizer to a field will eventually produce zero returns because at some point, what you need is more land.

Working hours are surely like this? I don't know if the average French man-hour is more productive because they have better technology than the Americans but surely part of the reason must be because the tenth hour in a working day is less productive than the second? This is certainly true in my case : second period, I'll smile sweetly, greet my class and say, "class - as you know, I see you as my 'internal customers'; what can I do to raise your attainment and socially include you?" - whereas, at the end of the day I'm more likely to say, "begone, disagreeable cretins - you are responsible for the decline of Western civilization".

Bad attitude? To this, I'd cheerfully confess. My defence? Lunchtime's too short, dammit!

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