Summer Rerun: Why Don’t Americans Take More Vacations? Blame It on Independence Day

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This post first ran on June 27, 2012

An article in the Boston Review by professor of sociology Claude Fischer falls prey to a pattern that is all too common: attributing social/political outcomes to American attitudes without bothering to examine why those attitudes came to be.

Let me give you a bit of useful background before I turn to the Fischer article as an illustration of a lack of curiosity, or worse, among soi disant intellectuals in America, and how it keeps Americans ignorant as to how many of our supposed cultural values have been cultivated to inhibit disruptive thought and action.

Since I have managed to come in on the last act of Gotterdammerung and am still trying to find the libretto, I’ve been in what little spare time I have reading history, particularly on propaganda. One must read book is by Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy. Carey taught psychology in Australia, and he depicts the US as the breeding ground for the modern art of what is sometimes more politely called the engineering of consent. The first large scale campaigns took place before World War I, when the National Association of Manufacturers began its decades-long campaign against organized labor. Carey stresses that propaganda depends on cultivating Manichean perspectives, the sacred versus the Satanic, and identifying the cause to be promoted with symbols that have emotional power. For many people, Americans in particular, patriotism is a rallying point.

Carey demonstrates how, again and again, big business has managed to wrap itself in the flag, and inculcate hostility to unions. One of the early struggles was over immigrants. A wave of migration from 1890 to 1910 left many citizens concerned that they were a threat to the American way of life. Needless to say, corporations were opposed to restrictions on immigration, since these migrants were willing to accept pretty much any work. Thus the initial alignment of interests was that whole swathes of American society were allied with the nascent labor movement in opposing immigration. And this occurred when even conservatives saw concentrated corporate power as a threat to American values (witness the trust busting movement, the success of the Progressives).

Big business split these fair weather friends by promoting an Americanization movement. These foreigners simply needed to be socialized: taught to speak English, inculcated in American values. In addition, the radical Industrial Workers of the World had become a force to be reckoned with, culminating in its success in the Lawrence textile mill strike in 1912. So even though labor unions were particularly hostile to immigrants, the IWW’s leadership role made it possible to cast unions as subversive, a symbol of foreign influence.

The counterweight, the Americanization movement, was born in 1907 with the establishment of the North American Civic League for Immigrants, headed by conservative businessmen. Aligned groups. such as the New England Industrial Committee, were created as NACLI promoted its program.

The success of the Lawrence strike, which garnered national outrage due to police beatings of women who had volunteered to transport and harbor children of strikers, increased the urgency of countering the union threat. The message was that chambers of commerce, as “conservators of the ‘best interests’ of their communities” needed to educate (as in domesticate) adult alien workers. This Americanization movement had business backers in every sizable city with an immigrant population doing outreach to business organizations, church leaders, and other community groups. In 1914, NACLI decided to extend its program nation-wide, and changed its name to the Committee for Citizens in America. The CIA paid and provided staff to the Department of Education [correction: Federal Bureau of Education] to sponsor Americanization programs (private interests’ ability operate directly through the Federal government ended in 1919).

The outbreak of World War I was a Godsend to the Americanization movement. The war stoked nationalist sentiment and with it, suspicion of obvious aliens as at best “un American” and at worst, subversive. President Wilson spoke at a highly staged “patriotic” event for 5000 recently naturalized citizens in spring 1915. This event was so successful that the movement leaders succeeded in forming local Americanization committees all over the US. Quoting Carey:

The CIA also produced a brilliant propaganda strategy to involve every American in an annual ritual of national identification. This ritual would embed the cultural intolerance of the Americanization movement with an identification that was formally and officially sanctified. The CIA thereby launched its campaign for the fourth of July 1915 to be made a national Americanization Day, a day for a ‘great nationalistic expression of unity and faith in America’.

Carey describes and quotes a pamphlet promoting the event written by one of the executive committee members:

….the ultimate success of the policy would depend on how effectively the ‘average American citizen’ could be induced to bring the influence of his conservative views to bear on the immigrant….’such a citizen is the natural foe of the IWW and of the destructive forces that seek to direct unwisely the expressions of the immigrant in his nwe country and upon him rest the hope and defense of the country’s ideals and institutions.’ Here we have a blatant industrial and partisan view fused with an intolerance of the immigrant and values of national security, in a submission that would cement these interests and intolerances within the paraphernalia of the annual ritual of what would become Independence Day.

This hidden history of our national celebration is only a small portion of Carey’s account of the extent and reach of the Americanization campaign. It shows how big business has led a long standing, persistent, and well financed campaign to turn the public against fighting for one’s rights if those rights are workplace rights.

Now let’s look at the Fischer article in light of this. He does, usefully, describe how Americans toil far more than their advanced economy peers:

Americans just don’t vacation like other people do. Western European laws require at least ten and usually more than twenty days. And it’s not just the slacker Mediterranean countries. The nose-to-the-grindstone Germans and Austrians require employers to grant at least twenty paid vacation days a year. In the United States, some of us don’t get any vacation at all. Most American workers do get paid vacations from their bosses, but only twelve days on average, much less than the state-guaranteed European minimum. And even when they get vacation time, Americans often don’t use it.

Perhaps Americans are Protestant-ethic work obsessives; we are likelier than Europeans to say that we want to work more hours than we do. But this leisure gap is a recent development. In the 1960s Americans and Europeans worked about the same number of hours. Leisure time then expanded everywhere—only more slowly and much less in the United States than elsewhere, leaving today’s disparity. Some argue that high taxes in Europe discourage working, but economist Alberto Alesina and his colleagues point to legislation—that is, politics. The right to a long vacation is one of the benefits that unions and the left have in recent decades delivered to Western workers—except American ones.

This sets up the key question:

Just about everywhere in the West except the United States, where there is no mandatory paid time off, workers not only get vacations but also short work weeks, government health care, large pensions, high minimum wages, subsidized childcare, and so forth. Why is the United States the exception?

The answer comes in two general forms: one, Americans do not want such programs and perks because we do not want the kind of government that would legislate them. Two, Americans want them but cannot get them.

Fischer’s teasing out of the first “answer” (he offers only two options and later points out that they are not mutually exclusive) is an embarrassment. He claims Americans have little “class consciousness” and in passing contends well financed propaganda efforts have no effect:

Even though economic inequality is substantially greater in the United States than in Europe, Americans acknowledge less economic inequality in their society than Western Europeans do in theirs, and Americans are more likely to describe such inequality as fair, deserved, and necessary. Americans typically dismiss calls for the government to narrow economic differences or intrude in the market by, say, providing housing. Working-class voters in the United States are less likely than comparable voters elsewhere to vote for the left or even to vote at all.

Anyone who has studied the history of public relations in the US will not only tell you it works, but also will be able to provide numerous examples, starting with the Creel Committee in World War I, which turned a pacifist US into rabid German-haters in a mere 18 months. But Fischer would rather appeal to Americans’ vanity and exceptionalism. Carey, by contrast, documents the intensity of messaging efforts, the channels used, and tracks how polls and headlines changed. And contra Fischer, he finds Americans to be particularly susceptible to propaganda (by contrast, Australians’ native skepticism of authority, keen sense of irony, and strong community orientation gives them a wee bit of resistance, although Carey described how they were being worn down too).

Mark Ames wrote on the same topic in 2006, and his article is more on point:

According to a New York Times article, British workers get more than 50% more paid holiday per year than Americans, while the French and Italians get almost twice what the Americans get. The average American’s response is neither admiration nor envy, but rather a kind of sick pride in their own wretchedness, combined with righteous contempt for their European worker counterparts, whom most Americans see as morally degenerate precisely because they have more leisure time, more job security, health benefits and other advantages.

It’s like a classic case of East Bloc lumpen-spite: middle Americans would rather see the European system collapse than become beneficiaries themselves. If there is one favourite recurring propaganda fable Americans love to read about Europeans, it’s the one about how Europe is decaying and its social system is on the verge of imploding; we Americans pray for that day to come, with even more fervour than we pray for the End of Days, because the very existence of these pampered workers makes us look like the suckers and slaves we really are. This is why you won’t see Bono or Sir Bob Geldof rallying the bleeding-hearts anytime soon on behalf of America’s workers. They’re not in the least bit sympathetic. Better to stick with well-behaved victims like starving Africans.

The cultural propaganda that accompanied the Reagan Revolution has been so hugely successful that America’s workers internalised it too well, like those famously fanatical Soviet workers who literally worked themselves to death in order to help bring true communism that much closer. According to Expedia, American workers save their employees some $21 billion per year by not taking even the meagre vacation time they’re allowed.

Now in fairness to those office slaves, while Americans buy into the “always on duty” attitude (I noticed how little smart phones and IPads were visibly in use, even in the toniest parts of London, compared to New York City), some of it is rational. Even before the bust, it was hard for anyone over 35 who loses a job to land another, much the less at the same level of pay, job tenures are short, and companies keep squeezing workers. Everyone I know who is still on the corporate meal ticket is doing what would have been one and one half or two jobs ten years ago.

So while there is no easy way to turn to regain control of a cultural commons so throughly under the sway of well heeled corporate interests, perhaps we can start to engage in small acts of reprogramming. While I am not telling you to skip Fourth of July fireworks, it might be time to recognize key events that help us look at our history with fresh eyes. Perhaps we should quietly celebrate what we still have of the America our founders envisaged, say on the anniversary of the signing of the articles of Confederation (a protracted affair, with the last signature affixed on March 1, 1781) or their replacement with the Constitution on March 4, 1789. But regardless of how individuals go about it, the more we recognize how cultural memes are created and propagated, the more hope we have of freeing ourselves from them.

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  1. F. Beard

    One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 4:6

    But usury for the debt we are driven into must be paid so:

    Work, slave, work!

    1. PaulArt

      Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:So shall your poverty come like a robber; and your want like an armed man. – Proverbs 24:33

      1. F. Beard

        Whether we need to labor little, much or in-between, should be justly determined and not driven by the need to pay usury to what is essentially a government-backed counterfeiting cartel.

        Abundant food is in the fallow ground of the poor, but it is swept away by injustice. Proverbs 13:23

        The banking cartel is unjust and not even remotely consistent with “free market capitalism.”

        1. F. Beard

          One of my very favorites (!) assuming that wealth is true wealth, not mere money or possessions.

      2. mary

        I have never “butted in” at the top end of comments here before but this time I’ll try. As American living in Continental Europe for some 30 years now I’m profoundly shocked at what has become of USA leisure time and what it has disintegrated to since I left the States. I’m most profoundly shocked with the air of “subterfuge” surrounding one’s right to a “vacation” in the US. A little levity?
        Anyone else remember this Jim Backus 45 rpm: “I Need A Vacation”:

        Jim offered you a quick get-away on the flip side too: in a darkened bar with good company and a bottle of champagne
        (think NYC?) “Delicious”:

        I don’t know about you but I feel better already…until I get hit by that cab on 45th and Madison…


  2. Avedon

    Actually, I’d argue that most Americans do indeed want more time off, health care, and so on. The polls certainly show that they do. A majority of Americans even support unions. We’re told otherwise, but it’s simply not the case.

    The fact is that the oligarchy in America is just more advanced than it is elsewhere and the public discussion of what Americans think is all about what the elites think, not what the rest of us think. And that’s what these authors mean when they talk about what “Americans” say.

    1. washunate

      Great comment. Wholeheartedly agree.

      People confuse elite opinion with public opinion at their own peril/ignorance.

    2. hunkerdown

      Exactly… though the US may be more advanced only because the state religion’s comparative indifference to the common citizen’s quality of life didn’t distract elites from their usuries and depredations.

  3. michael kranish

    All the Anglophone countries had restrictive immigrations laws for much of the 20th Century. Australia didn’t give up its white Australia policy until the 1970s. In the United States the main sponsors of the Immigration Restriction Law of 1924 were conservative Republicans like Sen. Lodge. Some labor leaders went along with the laws because the feared a flood of cheap immigrant labor. But in the 1920s labor was a very weak political force and also many of the labor leaders, like Samuel Gompers, were themselves immigrants.
    Popular support for WWI, was also much less intense than in most of the other Allied countries. America was a combatant for a relatively short period of time.
    The educated Upper-Middle Class, I think, is mostly responsible for the long-hour culture. It’s the dictates of the managerial class that determines people’s vacation schedules.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You are wrong re support for WWI. Google the Creel Committee. An intensive, full bore propaganda campaign, using every means of communication and infiltration available at the time, succeeded in a very short period from turning America from being largely pacifist to rabidly anti-German. Numerous post mortems in the 1920s (when the role of the committee became public) wrestled with how easily American opinion had been shifted (some decried it, others depicted it as necessary, that the “masses” weren’t capable of dealing with complex issues and needed to have information screened and analyzed for them).

      1. Banger

        This is very important–all here should study the Creel Committee and what it accomplished. Goebbles himself was, virtually, the President of the Edward Bernays fan club. It it the U.S.G. that invented modern propaganda.

        The beautiful part of the system is that it works over generations that allows PR people to build on foundations laid down in WWI. Thus Americans are utterly clueless about the important areas of life and stunningly well-informed about the world of entertainment.

        1. Massinissa

          Yeah, when Goebbels office was searched, he literally had all of Bernay’s books. Hilarious, and unsurprising.

  4. Skeptic

    Summer Rerun: Why Don’t Americans Take More Vacations? Blame It on Independence Day

    If one is “…reading history, particularly on propaganda…. “, one might consider I WILL BEAR WITNESS by Professor of Literature, Victor Klemperer, documenting the propaganda of the Nazis as he lived through it day by day. Since his bread and butter were words Klemperer had great insight as to how they can be used. “This diary also insightfully details the Nazis’ perversion of the German language for propaganda purposes, which Klemperer would use as the basis for his later book LTI – Lingua Tertii Imperii.”

    I read this book about fifteen years ago and, even then, it foretold our unhappy destination. Of course, great Progress (now there is a classic Propaganda word!)has been made in the field of Propaganda. For instance, I’ve often wondered what happened to those Disney Imagineers who went to work for Bush II. Appointments were announced and then, fittingly, the appointees disappeared behind the Curtain.

  5. PaulArt

    I doubt if public propaganda can be successful without a little truth. We had close to a perfect free market between 1945-70 where anyone could start a business and become very rich and many did. In a neighborhood if we had 5 people who worked for 5 different small businesses close to the entrepreneurs who started them and observed how they worked day and night and in a span of say 10 years became very very wealthy, do you think they would want to go work for the TSA for more job security? I think we made it easy to become successful in small business once upon a time as opposed to Europe. This had a demostration effect on many millions of people and wove itself indelibly into the minds and culture of the people, especially the GOPer party. I immigrated here with a friend in 1990 as poor students to a Masters Electronics program in a state University in flyover land. In 1993 we both moved to Silicon Valley and in 2001 my friend was given an opportunity by his start-up employers (later swallowed up by bigger companies) to look after cellular infrastructure installations in the Third World. A year later he became a millionaire. Nothing spectacular like designing some great new VLSI circuit or some new algorithm design – just humdrum systems knowledge and thorough testing experience, this was what put that chance in his lap. He worked liks a Dog, day and night and showed how he could take ownership of something and return value for his employers. I on the other hand became a skilled Firmware Engineer in great demand….until they increased the H1-B quota. So while he understands how well employers can reward hard work, I understand how well employers can cast you aside. My example has become more common in the last 20 years than my friend’s but it takes a long time to wash out the memory of individual success from the minds of the populace – maybe an entire generation should know failure and poverty before they throw a shoe at the next GOPer who utters the word ‘job creator’ at a public meeting.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I hate making you an example, but your use of “free market” proves my pet peeve, that it is such a plastic propaganda term that it should be eliminated from usage.

      The right wing would disagree vehemently with you. The date of the Powell memo was August 23, 1971. They thought government interfered way too much with business.

      The period you singled out was when unions were powerful, the FDA was reasonably effective (did you forget the era of adulterated meat and radium tonics?) and the environmental regs were getting stronger (air pollution in LA was a scandal and I can tell you that in the paper industry the pressure to clean up dated from at least the mid 1960s). We’ve had substantial financial and real economy deregulation, and perhaps most important, much less enforcement of antitrust rules. Concentrated market power impedes new entrants, which seems to be your benchmark for a well-functioning commercial sphere.

      And the list of the real mega rich came later….first the people who got rich on the early 1980s PC revolution, then the Internet billionaires, and the PE and hedge fund super wealthy.

  6. ScottW

    I see this 4th as an opportunity for the power elite to garner more nationalistic frenzy against Snowden. Amazing how many people are rooting for his capture, even though he has not killed anyone. We have real criminals sitting under our noses and they are exalted with a trip to Africa (Bush). Freedom means the ability of the government to do whatever it wants with no public oversight. And you thought the Bill of Rights applied to the people. How foolish.

  7. Ed

    The way the labor market is moving, most people will wind up getting their vacation when they get laid off, or when their temporary employment contract ends. Employment is trending increasingly in the direction of short bursts of contract labor surrounded by periods of inactivity. People will work hard when they can work in the hope of saving enough to get them through the inactive period.

    This could even work in the favor of labor -IF they pay for the temporary work was higher, and services such as health care were decoubpled from having a job. Good luck with either of these happening soon.

  8. Sam Kanu

    There are several myths that go together to create this effect.

    One is the myth that work in itself is a virtue. But it isn’t – man works to live, not the other way around. Your work should of course be meaningful and you should strive to master it, to perfect the practice – but It should not be YOUR master. This myth only serves those who exploit labour i.e. the super rich.

    The second myth that interlinks with this is the one perpetrated by the Horatio Alger story: the idea that in America everyone can achieve anything simply by virtue of “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps” ie.. working themselves into the ground. Again a distortion. A work ethic is vital to being a productive human being……but that alone does not produce success. In fact objective studies of social data by the US show that we are a third world nation when it comes to rewarding merit. The US is far worse than every single country in Western/central/northern Europe, plus Japan Chile and several others, when it comes to success being determined by ones own merit and hard work, rather than social status and wealth of parents and grandparents. In fact the best performing countries on that measure – fulfilling the Horatio Alger myth – are the “socialist” scandinavians!

    That’s how bad this is in the US. We peddling myths to control Joe Blow, bury him at his job and stop him from thinking about how a tiny handful of wealthy families are making off with all the spoils, year after year, decade, after decade, generation after generation.

  9. Ed

    The Fourth of July was the calendar date of the surrender of Vicksburg and the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg, so its still the most appropriate date for the national holiday.

  10. ep3

    Great Post Yves.

    I will say one thing. Americans seem to compete with each other like rabid dogs. If I have 20 minutes of vacation, someone else will brag and “rub it in” that they get 21 minutes. Like they work harder than me. Yet that same person will say how they never use their vacation because they are so valuable to their company.

    1. jcusick

      The U.S. Propaganda Culture regarding work is ingrained and tough to fight. I have this posted in my cubicle, something I haven’t vacationed from in over a year:

      “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”
      — Charles De Gaulle

      Fat lot of good it’s done me :)

  11. Tokai Tuna

    With an establishment approved, class A type sociopathy ruling in corporate America, enhanced by psychiatric meds and routine abuse and terminations, it’s amazing a vacation exists. Sure it does, just as long as you carry your digital leash and are available at any time. Incidentally, it’s another great tragedy that Americans depend on google to grab most of their information, as if the CIA isn’t involved in content delivery, and revisions have never occurred.

  12. Yougandhar

    I grew up taking vacation as I wanted. I think America has a formula for every single aspect of life this time its being a vacation. We are human beings controlled by the smallest emotions in and around by our suuroundings. We need time to reminiscent of the past, the good, the bad and spend more time with families. I believe not having more Vacation in turn will hurt the Productivity formula cause it doesn’t take into the effect what happens when a person slaves his life beyond family and kids. Its a negative impact on the society all together. It could make economic sense but in the long run it hurts the nation. America has achieved more than lot of nations put together in 265 years. For countries like India and China its a hole in the great wall. I am not sure if growing faster like america and breaking faster makes sense? I believe all these rules meant for good. I am sceptical anyways about having a formula for everything— There is more coming not to mention every day.

  13. washunate


    Workers in Mexico and China and India and Indonesia are not our enemies.

    The psychopaths and their enablers in DC are the problem.

  14. Paul Tioxon

    The American Cult of Work, aka The Protestant Work Ethic is the result of bowing to no pope, no king but rather the worship of money. Government is despised and the bible translated into the vulgar language of the masses, printed and portable paved the road for printed money, portable sovereignty for one and all. Even American Apartheid Slavery could be redeemed with cash. Slaves could and did buy their freedom and that of their families through… work for pay. The measure of a man was the character to stay sober, stay on the straight and narrow and be a productive wage earning, money saving accumulator of capital. The proof of character the bank account and things it bought. The more property you had, the more god favored you with his blessings. The poor had treasures in heaven, but the elect of the protestants had property and wealth that confirmed their piety. Work and the money it brings is the religion of America. Work is the ritual, money the dogma and Wall St the vatican college of cardinal billionaires.

    Greed is good.

  15. Walter Map

    Up until two or three hundred years ago Work was almost universally recognized as a curse in the West, or at best a necessary evil. That labor primarily and unfairly benefits employers, and not workers, has also long been widely recognized, since classical Greek times at least. Further, the prevalence of the modern “work ethic” is largely the result of a permanent, wide-ranging propaganda campaign originating in fundamentalist christianity:

    Historical Context of the Work Ethic
    Roger B. Hill, Ph.D.

    So far as their masters are concerned, workers are livestock. Most American workers are, of course, suckers and serfs. But not slaves – slaves usually cost too much:

    We disapprove of slavery and the cost of the maintenance and upkeep of slaves. We prefer our English model in which we control the issuance of currency, and control of money, it allows us to control labor without the cost of maintaining it.

    Lord Baron Rothschild (private owner of the Bank of England. Quote 1849)

    I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
    Abraham Lincoln

    The universal method of acquiring wealth is to arrange for others to make money for you: in one way or another, and without exception, all rich persons became rich by capturing the labor of others for themselves. Since labor is the largest cost associated with the rapacious pursuit of profit, capitalists are obsessive about reducing or eliminating the cost of labor – behold the Cheap-Labor Conservative, who profits for workers, and hates them utterly:

    The capitalist drive to reduce labor costs, taken to its logical conclusion, is naturally genocidal. Alfried Krupp, the weapons manufacturer for the Nazis, reduced his labor costs to the expense of shipping live bodies in and dead bodies out, by the trainload, eliminating the expense of paying, housing, or even feeding them. Now that’s profit maximization

    The class war is over. What you’re seeing now is mostly just the mopping-up operations.

  16. Shutter

    Go ahead, ask your boss for more vacation time. Ask for more days off. Ask for health care. Tell him you’re overworked and need to share the burden.

    See what happens.

    Anecdote of Truth: I bugged my boss (small company, extremely profitable, paid us like peons, paid himself and his family ‘board members’ a freaking fortune in the millions) about giving us health insurance. Eight employees, all working for him over seven years or more.

    “Pay for it yourself if you want it.”

    “But I can’t afford it anymore, I’m 45..”

    “Then just go to the E.R. and stiff ’em when the bill comes.”

    Yes, thats a quote. Another ‘responsible’ small businessman leeching off the backs of his employees.

    Don’t blame the workers, they know what they want.. and I never heard anybody bitching about the amount of vacation time Europeans got. Ever. Thats some kind of urban legend.. or propaganda.

    1. Massinissa

      Ahhhh, the profit motive. It can be so ugly.

      I fail to see how Austrians think that, if everyone behaved like that, somehow the world would be a better place…

    2. pboiler94

      Shutter- You work at a company of eight employees, but the evil boss makes millions “freaking fortune” and you’re paid as a peon.

      What’s stopping you from forming your own business to compete with evil boss? You and up to seven other former employees surely know the business well enough to run it without him, correct?

      I don’t disagree with the assessment that owners make money off the sweat of the worker. Many of said owners are also given their lot in life. Go back enough generations and you’ll find the worker who took the risk to start the business that provided for his lineage. You can do the same, or just bitch about how you deserve more, but won’t quit because you can’t get paid more elsewhere. boo-hoo

      1. American Slave

        “Go back enough generations and you’ll find the worker who took the risk to start the business that provided for his lineage. You can do the same, or just bitch about how you deserve more, but won’t quit because you can’t get paid more elsewhere. boo-hoo”

        Really? so how is one to start a business when they don’t have the money or get paid enough.

      2. jrs

        Forming a COMPETING business, not just a business? Um duh dude, non-compete clauses, copyrights and patents owned by the existing business etc..

      3. J Sterling

        “Go back enough generations”? The word for that kind of thinking is “Aristocracy”: the belief that some people are better because of something their ancestors did.

    3. jrs

      Well I have been able to get more time off from bosses sometimes, so there’s not a lot of point in giving up before even trying. However I do know that overall power is not on labor’s side.

    4. jrs

      “and I never heard anybody bitching about the amount of vacation time Europeans got. Ever. Thats some kind of urban legend.. or propaganda”

      Not entirely. A lot of people would like nothing more than more time off, it may well be majority opinion, despite what the pontificators say. HOWEVER, I have heard people after expressing envy of Europeans then adding “AND THAT’S WHY THEIR ECONOMY IS COLLAPSING” (Greece and so on). Um pardon, but no it’s not.

      So I do see a lot of sour grapes (oh well those grapes of paid vacation time are probably rotten anyway …) which is not anything you can build a movement for more vacation time on.

    5. Ed S.

      Two thoughts:

      1) Work stoppage. Again, all of you. Maybe everyone has the flu on the same day. That’s the problem with no health care — these bugs just tend to spread when not treated.

      2) Start a business in direct competition. All of you. Walk out on a Friday and start the new business on Monday. You could even follow the example from Mad Men on starting the business.

      Obviously, with respect to #2, it may be complicated due to fixed assets required, non-compete agreements (if you signed one, have a lawyer look at it), copyright/patents (but I’m guessing that any of these barriers are non-existent).

      Or 1 followed by 2 (assuming 1 doesn’t get you anywhere).

    6. Yves Smith Post author

      Hate to tell you, but you hear bitching about it all the time, from policymakers and economists. Krugman even apologized for French vacations, explaining to Americans that the French chose to consume less housing and more vacation.

      Go look at the demands for greater “labor market flexibility” as demanded by the Troika of all its subject nations, the bailout recipients, as part of “structural reforms”. That means giving businesses power to fire at will. Once they have that, you’ll see the end of European vacations.

  17. Walter Map

    Many workers are motivated to work themselves to death.

    The Japanese have a word for it: Karōshi.


    It’s well worth it to the dedicated capitalist for minions to work themselves to death because the benefit of large quantities of unpaid overtime is vastly larger than the cost of replacing the deceased worker. In the end, the defining characteristic of the truly dedicated capitalist is the willingness and determination to profit maximally from the misery and destruction of others.

    Human life and human suffering are normative valuations, and in a culture of terminal financialization all valuations are exclusively financial, and there is no longer any such thing as a “normative valuation”, unless you’re an artsy type, a bleeding-heart librul, and/or a commie, and/or an economist in need of a few years in a re-education centre. “Priceless” is a null word, because everything has a price, and if a price cannot be assigned it is worthless, or less than worthless.

    Sheeple: “Baa-aa.”

  18. Paul P

    “We had close to a perfect free market between 1945-70 where anybody could start a business and become very rich ….”

    Blanche Wiesen Cooke in her book, The Declassified Eisenhower, describes Ike being coached to use “fee enterprise system” in place of “capitalism” because capitalism had become discredited by the Great Depression.

    There never was a ‘Free Market’ anywhere, ever. The Government is always involved in the market. The Great Depression is thought to have resulted from free market capitalism. But, as Keynes describes in the Economic Consequences of the Peace, the Carthaginian peace exacted by the victors laid the groundwork for the economic disorder that followed that peace.

    After Germany was defeated in World war II, the army began to dismantle German industry. But, it was told to stop soon after it had begun. A different plan was to follow, involving forgiveness of German debt, the Marshall Plan, and other policies that promoted recovery and growth. So, the conditions in which ‘free markets’ operated from 1945-70 were created by government.

    “Government is the problem” our Charlie McCarty president told us. And, ‘free markets’ are the solution. ‘Free Markets’ is snake oil.

    1. F. Beard

      “We had close to a perfect free market between 1945-70 where anybody could start a business and become very rich ….”

      If one had access to credit, I dare say. And in that period, being credit-worthy often required that one be white. Google “redlining.”

  19. darms

    What “CIA” was Carey speaking of? The Central Intelligence Agency wasn’t formed until 1947…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      It was admittedly in the middle of a paragraph, but Carey did define how he was using CIA and I introduced how he used it. I believe that was the acronym used at the time.

      In 1914, NACLI decided to extend its program nation-wide, and changed its name to the Committee for Citizens in America. The CIA paid and provided staff to the Department of Education [correction: Federal Bureau of Education] to sponsor Americanization programs (private interests’ ability operate directly through the Federal government ended in 1919).

      Thus CIA = “Citizens in America”.

  20. diptherio

    I’m surprised no one else has mentioned that the CIA wasn’t formed until after WWII and the OSS (CIA’s immediate predecessor) only came into being during WWII. Am I missing something here? Was the abbrev. CIA used by some other, prior agency? Do you mean the CPI (Committee on Public Information, i.e. The Creel Committee) instead of the CIA? I’m confused.

    Besides that, I’ll just say that the whole “work ethic” thing becomes internalized. Even I feel like a good-for-nothing if I go more than a few days without doing paid labor. I think many of us have internalized not working = being lazy. So much the worse for us…

  21. Brian in Seattle

    After living in Australia and New Zealand for two years and than coming back to the US, the difference in attitudes to vacation time are very striking. There, the vacation times were generous and colleagues and co workers were always excited for their co workers to take vacations etc and management had zero issues with long vacations.

    In talking with US friends, of whom most get more than two weeks of paid time off, about half actually say they feel guilty taking off more than two weeks at a time in any one stretch. Some say they feel like their colleagues would resent them for having to cover their jobs for that amount of time. One person actually told me that if he took either three or four weeks of vacation at a time he felt his job would be in jeopardy.

    I myself take as much as I can get approved and don’t worry about what others think, management or otherwise. If the company’s giving me that much, I’m going to take it. I also feel that if companies in the US weren’t so intent on running super lean operations, there’d be enough workers to actually cover each others jobs when someone did go out on leave without it being an undue burden.

    1. anon y'mouse

      perhaps some of the truth revealed by what your are saying is that the employees worry that if they take so much time off, and the company’s other employes have little trouble assuming the additional duties, the boss might rationalize that they don’t really ‘need’ to pay that extra person anymore.

      just force everyone to do 2-3 jobs.

  22. Pelham

    Americans wouldn’t have been bamboozled into WWI if they hadn’t been forced to pay for it. The Creel Committee was taxpayer funded. What if taxpayers had actually been asked, Do you want to shell out for a bunch of hucksters to drive the country into a hissy fit and war? Of course they would have said no.

    It continues. Today, for instance, we taxpayers pay 10 times as much for the Pentagon’s PR operations as we pay in taxes to support public broadcasting. Why should the Pentagon have ANY propaganda budget?

    We can begin to fix this and every other barrier that bars the American people from a seat at the table of their own governance. Check out the True Republic project on

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