Why do we work so hard? For this? For stuff? Other countries, they work, they stroll home, they stop by the cafe, they take August off. Off. Why aren’t you like that? Why aren’t we like that? Because we’re crazy, driven, hard workin’ believers, that’s why. Those others countries think we’re nuts. Whatever. Were the Wright Brothers insane? Bill Gates? Les Paul? Ali? Were we nuts when we pointed to the moon? That’s right. We went up there. And you know what we got? Bored. So we left. Got a car up there and left the keys in it. Do you know why? Because we’re the only ones going back up there, that’s why. But I digress. It’s pretty simple: you work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible. As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of only taking two weeks off in August…n’est-ce pas?
US car manufacturer Cadillac would like everyone to know that Americans are special. To all of the other lazy workers of other nations (especially you, France), you should know that we think we’re better than you. To Americans, you are better than everyone else. Don’t pay attention when you hear that the US is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t require employers to provide any paid holidays or vacation time. Don’t listen when you hear that the average US employee works 20% more hours per worker than those in Germany or France. Go ahead and ignore that the US is the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee workers any paid sick days, and that current US law doesn’t even protect all workers from being fired if they have to miss work due to illness.
Working European Union citizens are legally guaranteed a minimum of 20 paid vacation days per year. Without standardised paid leave, not only do many Americans not receive any paid leave, but among those who do, the disparity in time between low and high wage workers is great. Low wage workers who are granted paid leave receive an average of four days paid leave per year, compared to the 14 days paid leave per year given to high wage workers. In contrast, Australian law mandates that workers receive four weeks of annual leave, five for shift workers. While workers in the US often forgo their paid leave, even if entitled to it, for fear of job security, many other nations’ employers legally must allow employees to take up to two weeks of their leave consecutively per year.
The US is also one of only two developed countries not to mandate any paid parental leave. US employers are required, however, to hold parents’ jobs for 24 weeks (or six months) of combined protected job leave for a two-parent family. But the law’s exclusion of small businesses and short-tenure workers renders 40% of US workers ineligible for the any job-protected leave, paid or not. Again, without a legal mandate, only about one-fourth of US employers offer paid ‘maternity-related leave’ of any length.
Meanwhile, France, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Norway, and Austria guarantee parents a minimum of two years protected leave. The UK, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Japan, and New Zealand all guarantee between one and two years of protected leave, and Australia, Canada, and Denmark all guarantee one full year. Most other countries also provide between three months and one year of paid parental leave.
But none of that matters. Because you’re happier, and you’re the best.
But what about when The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international economic organisation of 36 countries founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade, asked the citizens of its member nations to rate their general satisfaction with life and Americans’ ratings placed the US 14 of 36.
Well that’s okay, because the US ranked 1 of 36 in household net adjusted disposable income. Americans may be overworked and unhappy, but we can buy a lot of stuff. And that makes us feel happy in that moment, and maybe even for a little while after. Never mind that it’s not the kind of deep, long term happiness found from spending time with family and friends, being in nature, or enjoying good health.
Are Americans really happy, or do we just have the trappings of happiness without a sense of the true possibilities? Have we fooled ourselves into thinking we’re winning? We are eating our cake, but do we even take the time to really taste it? We will have the most material possession and the most money, but how many parents were there for their babies’ milestones? How many people lost their job because they were sick? How many of the two-thirds of Americans without passports will ever be able to take enough consecutive time off work to make a trip abroad worthwhile?
Statistics like the number of Americans without passports in conjunction with messages to the greater world from companies like Cadillac only exacerbate the US’s reputation as insular, xenophobic, and backwards. The ‘us versus them’ tone of Cadillac’s advertisement is offensive and unproductive. Only an American advert could try to slant getting bored of being in space as a positive attribute. It’s exactly that stop and smell the roses/appreciate your spoils/have and eat your cake mentality that the US is missing. We have lost the ability to appreciate the simple things. Or even, apparently, the big things. Like being on the moon.
The real kicker of this advert is that it’s for the brands new plug-in hybrid electric car. But obviously no one would want buy an electric car because it’s good for the environment. You’d want to buy it because it’s exceptional, just like you. And besides, you need something to do with all the money you made not being with your family or seeing the world.
Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
-Senator Robert F. Kennedy, 18 March 1968, University of Kansas