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

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This post was first published 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. Nick

    “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…”

    Fable? See Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, ect….

    To be fair, France is performing decently as of late. Then again, Americans have a special relationship with that country as we all know.

    I was disappointed there’s no mention of the ritualistic BBQ and fireworks displays on this fabled day, as that is a key facet of the social gathering. As a canuck, our patriotic day is limited to picnics and drinking beer. so I’m jealous of the delicious BBQs and colourful firey explosions. Happy Independence Day!

    1. YankeeFrank

      And yet you fail to state the reasons for Europe’s slow collapse: the importation of American neoliberal economics and the creation of an “elite”, unaccountable European government and governing institutions. Not, as many in the middle and right like to claim, because of socialism, but because of its opposite.

      1. digi_owl

        I wonder how much of that has come from economists being educated in USA before going back to their birth nation to assume various leadership positions.

        1. OIFVet

          Some of it. Most of the push comes from local think tanks funded by NGOs and foundations like Soros’ Open Society and various US and Western European government-funded foundations, and then duly published by media funded by these same entities and put into policies by political elites beholden to this system. The question is never whether neoliberal policies should be implemented, but in what doses and how soon. It’s a full spectrum policy and propaganda warfare on the working class and on any government that dares to challenge this orthodoxy.

      2. bob the builder

        What is there to brag about in the usa? No benefits, no vacation, no sick days and poverty wages for 80% of all workers. Welfare and federal assistance to the tune of 22 trillion to prop up capitalism in the usa.

    2. OIFVet

      You are a canuck?! Could have fooled me, you sound more exceptional than the State Department spokespersons. Anyway, what Yankee Frank said. But unlike the populations of the US and Harper’s Canuckistan, the Euros don’t take this economic warfare on their hard won social gains lying down. That’s true even in Merkel’s Germany. Take all the pride you want in being a good wittle servant, but don’t mistake your fear of actually standing up for yourself for a “noble” work ethic.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        I think it’s easier to romanticize outsiders than people one sees everyday. If you only knew about the U.S. from movies and Facebook, you might think Obama was a persecuted saint. Take Billy Clinton, how often does media outside the U.S. point out his tax cuts on the wealthy, deregulation, unfunded devolution, reappointed Greenspan (2X), and so forth? The answer is less than even our crummy media because outside media is largely focused on domestic concerns or circuses. Look at the chest thumping over the “jawbs” reports. Does foreign media report the breakdown of hours, labor force, relevant population stats, or differences between unemployment measures in different countries? It makes perfect sense for Nick to not be an American.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          It’s easier to villainize outsiders too which is folks like Hillary get a pass. Americans don’t want to trash a person they pretend to know.

          Hillary has been an advocate of slaughter in:

          -Iraq for two decades
          -the Balkan
          -her longtime support for hmos,pharma, agriculture, and mass incarceration

          She will probably demand a throne of skulls for the inauguration and her cultists will go, “I bet she watches game of thrones. How neato?!”

            1. NotTimothyGeithner

              I can’t click a link there. The idea of Kos gaining a fraction of a cent is revolting. Obots, Pumas, and RedStaters (is that still around?) are just so vapid and uncreative it’s easy to predict what they will say on mainline issues. On the occasional regional issue, they can be informative, but they don’t repeat anything that didn’t come from the press office.

              Obama’s speech on gas marriage was fairly clever though, and he is the biggest Obot of all. Instead of focusing on the long battle for equality and justice, he described justice as a thunderbolt which is a force from on high (technically the ground) not the result of struggle. Maybe he hired better pr people.

        2. OIFVet

          True enough, but that sense of America as the shining beacon has faded quite a lot even in Eastern Europe. I remember the aftermath of the fall of the Wall, Americans were viewed as God-like and America as the land of prosperity for all. This naivete is long gone, replaced with more cynical takes or indifference. Where the US worship remains is among a few hardy true believers, and scribes and comment section tr0lls financed by NGOs and various American government foundations operating in the colonies. The fact is that much of the media is financed by NGOs and government foundations, but all that does is to provide ever decreasing return on the propaganda investment. Cognitive dissonance and all.

          1. jrs

            Tourist area, heavy tourist traffic from all over the world, there’s a middle class looking (clothes clean, hair neat) WHITE BLONDE (even cute) maybe last 20s, early 30s age woman with her kid in her lap, with a sign that says homeless, and asks for donations. Oh yea those tourists are going to have a really high opinion of the U.S. of A.!!!

            (for me I figure she probably gets enough sympathy donations (it is indeed pity inducing), and that some ragged crazed disheveled looking middle aged single man with a donation cup, probably needs them more).

    1. PhilK

      Thanks for reminding me of one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. I spent a little time at DuckDuckGo trying to find some Walter Karp available online, and came up with these:

      The full text of Why Johnny Can’t Think – The Politics of Bad Schooling, originally published in Harper’s.

      What the public schools practice with remorseless proficiency, however, is the prevention of citizenship and the stifling of self-government. When 58 percent of the thirteen-year-olds tested by the National Assessment for Educational Progress think it is against the law to start a third party in America, we are dealing not with a sad educational failure but with a remarkably subtle success.

      Why Johnny Can’t Think – The Politics of Bad Schooling

      Excerpts from the book Buried Alive – Essays on Our Endangered Republic

      The war party wanted a free people made servile and a free republic made safe for oligarchy and privilege, for the few who ruled and the few who grew rich; in a word, for itself The goals had been announced in peacetime. They were to be achieved under cover of war. While American troops learned to survive in the trenches, Americans at home learned to live with repression and its odious creatures-with the government spy and the government burglar, with the neighborhood stool pigeon and the official vigilante, with the local tyranny of federal prosecutors and the lawlessness of bigoted judge’s, with the midnight police raid and the dragnet arrest.
      . . . .
      Fear and repression worked its way into every nook and cranny of ordinary life. Free speech was at hazard everywhere. Americans were arrested for remarks made at a boarding house table, in a hotel lobby, on a train, in a private club, during private conversations overheard by the government’s spies. Almost every branch of Wilson’s government sprouted its own “intelligence bureau” to snoop and threaten and arrest. By 1920 the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a swaddling fattened on war, had files on two million people and organizations deemed dangerously disloyal. At the Post Office Department, Albert Burleson set up a secret index of “illegal ideas”-such as criticizing Samuel Gompers, the patriotic union leader-and banned from the mails any publication guilty of expressing one. Even if an independent paper avoided an “illegal idea,” it could still be banned from the mails for betraying an “audible undertone of disloyalty,” as one Post Office censor put it, in otherwise non-felonious remarks. Under the tyranny of the Post Office, Socialist papers were suppressed outright and country editors sent to jail. Freedom of the press ceased to exist.

      The America That Was Free And Is Now Dead

  2. Will

    The CIA didn´t exist in 1919 – not until 1946. OSS is considered the precursor to the CIA, but it was formed during WWII itself, so I´m really not sure what ´CIA´ the article is referring to. I love reading this sort of history – this kind of perspective – and I´d love to read Carey´s work if someone can show me that he didn´t make the mistake of believing the CIA existed 30 years before it really did.

    1. Tyler

      The author is referring to the Committee for Citizens in America, not the Central Intelligence Agency.

      1. diptherio

        Yes, it’s not obvious from the article and more than a little confusing. One little fix would make it obvious, and a good proofreader would have caught it and made it; but not every website can afford to hire a proofreader (sadly)…

        1. Jim Young

          A good proof reader is invaluable for finished products, but can artificially constrain the thought processes, if over applied too early in the process. My favorite was a Scottish lady in her 70s, who used non-photo light blue to highlight the minor errors or confusing mixing of different terms for the same items, and a darker blue that would reproduce to flag the items that had to be changed (technical experts used red instead of the blue reserved for the proof reader).

          One of the things I do like about NC, is the more real feeling that the little errors imply, not overly “corrected” by non-subject matter “experts” like the “English majors” did reorganizing and updating FAA regulations, leaving out much previous information, introducing electrical formulas that even retired electrical engineers found impractical, and with about 2,000 errors according to the technical experts in the field.

    2. alex morfesis

      let the merry breezes blow…

      you might want to read again and notice that the article does not talk about the Culinary Institute of America(the only cia founded in 1946), nor the good folks who you are mentioning born from an organization originally designed to privatize military intel in 1947(not 46) because most of the US military had a weee bit of a problem dancing with gehlenite goose steppers they had been trying to kill only three years earlier…

      the cia of 47 had to be created to allow the “new enemy”(who had not yet killed any americans) to be dealt with while holding hands with a very recent enemy (who had killed americans) was paperclipped into our lives, our homes and our precious pursuit of happiness.

      synthetic winds…

      find peace…create peace…allow peace to happen…and live in peace and not trifflings (as franklin suggested – # 2 of 13)

      merry free thinkers day*

      (free thinkers party was the political party of mister megalo oxi…metaxas)

    1. Fair Economist

      I was going to recommend exactly this. It’s a great documentary series on manufacturing consent very much about the themes and points of this post.

  3. Carla

    James Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” is a great book about how history is distorted and mis-taught. Yesterday, in honor of the 4th, FAIR sent out the link to this week’s CounterSpin broadcast featuring Loewen: http://fair.org/home/james-loewen-on-racism-and-us-history/

    Orwell nailed it in 1984, of course:

    “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

  4. Disturbed Voter

    The US had counter-espionage and counter-terrorism units before WW II … a timeline …

    Immigration Act – under President Teddy Roosevelt … 1903 was anti-Anarchist

    Immigration Act – under President Wilson … 1917 was anti-Anarchist

    The Sedition Act – under President Wilson … 1918 was anti-Bolshevist, anti-Anarchist

    Immigration Act – under President Wilson … 1920 was anti-Bolshevist, anti-Anarchist

    Smith Act – under FDR – 1940 was anti-Communist

    The First Red Scare happened in 1919-1920 … further incited anti-Unionist, anti-Black, anti-Socialist trends

    Creation of the Bureau of Investigation (renamed FBI in 1935) – under President Wilson … 1919 was the second Federal police organization.

    Before the creation of the FBI, the Pinkertons (created in 1850) were a privatized police force that protected President Lincoln before the creation of the Secret Service in … and provided services to anti-Unionist business owners until 1921. In the 1890s they were bigger than the US Army. And the US Secret Service provided intel and counter-intel from 1865 until 1919.

    So yes, some form of secret police/spy organization has existed in the US since President elect Lincoln managed to avoid assassination on the way to Washington DC.

  5. HR

    Academics get three months “vacation.” There is no incentive for the academic/intellectual class (not including adjuncts of course) to voice solidarity with American workers on the question of vacation days.

    Intellectuals/academics forget the fact that they are usually only required to work for 9 months of the year when they complains about low salaries. Sure summers are for writing but they are also a vacation.

    1. Sean O

      Only those w tenure. The rest are day laborers no matter the title. Look at the pay n “benefits”.

  6. Norb

    Thanks for this post Yves- For me, this post touches on many aspects I encounter every day. The idea of taking back the cultural commons is an important one.

    In my community, a young man appears to have committed suicide at our annual fourth of July celebration. When looking to local news media for information, It’s appalling to read the coverage. The focus is on how quickly authorities removed the body and the festivities could continue- along with sparing the children the gruesome views of the dead body. I live in an affluent mid western city. While the reason for the suicide is unknown and might never be learned, exploring this act in the context of our current economy and social institutions is next to impossible. Was this an act of desperation to be noticed by the community?

    Another example is attending community functions and being required to sing the national anthem before the flag. Looking around the auditorium or stadium at the enthusiastic faces, I wonder do these people not know our country supports torture. I wonder- do they not care we are killing thousands in foreign countries. Understanding the power of propaganda is fascinating and immense.

    I agree that looking back at history is a good way to reverse this programming. It forces people to show their true intension or to realize they didn’t know in the first place.

    1. Brindle

      In the 80’s me and a few friends would infrequently maybe attend a college basketball game. When the national anthem was played we would stay seated—choosing not tol partake in the voluntary ritual of standing. No big deal then, although we did get few disapproving glances. Now the climate in the U.S. is such that the same choice might get one harassed or “noticed” by authorities.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      How are we compared with other nations?

      Do they sing the national anthem after winning an Olympic medal?

      Do they sing one at the start of a soccer game or a ping pong match?

      What about at the beginning of a movie in a theater?

      Would love to hear from people the world over.

  7. roadrider

    I outgrew the 4th of July many years ago. Today it means to me the start of the Tour de France. The trappings of the flag-waving, jingoistic mythology, fireworks nonsense and unhealthy BBQ food are things I have eschewed for a long time. Like all holidays (which I regard as uniformly silly) the only relevance to me is the time off (at least it used to be when I had a job – out of work for 2 years now). I tend to go about my business or just hibernate until they pass and we get back to normal life.

    The United Mistakes of America was founded my privileged, wealthy white men who wanted to exclude from its benefits any person whether African-American, native American, female, non-Christian, non-property owners or anything else not fitting into their narrow paradigm of the “virtuous”. I’ve been reading quite a bit of the early history of this country and the more I learn the less admirable I find the whole enterprise. The colonists wanted to free themselves of the oppressive British aristocracy and colonial administration but seemed to have little problem with setting up their own version of a privileged class.

    All of the sins of our present day have their roots in the original design. The shit was baked into the DNA of the country from the start. There have been attempts to overcome some of it but they inevitably succumb to the ignorance and arrogance of the population fueled by media propagandists, opportunistic elites adept at exploiting the gullibility of the electorate for their own gain or that of the wealthy, well-connected puppet masters who sponsor them.

    So, Happy Birthday America – and by the way, YOU SUCK!!!

    1. David

      You could just as easily have been talking about LeTour..

      All of the sins of our present day have their roots in the original design. The shit was baked into the DNA of the country sport from the start. There have been attempts to overcome some of it but they inevitably succumb to the ignorance and arrogance of the population fans fueled by media propagandists, opportunistic elites adept at exploiting the gullibility of the electorate sports fan for their own gain or that of the wealthy, well-connected puppet masters who sponsor them.

      1. roadrider

        Well, its hard to defend the record of the Tour with respect to corruption, doping, etc. But its still a lot more fun to watch than the other stuff going on. And for the record, the problems with the Tour (and all other sports to be honest) don’t impact my life the way the corrupt, dysfunctional American system does.

    2. jrs

      I could do without the flag waving, it’s one of those days and there are many, I’d like to wear an anarchist symbol if I had one. But I have no problem with barbeques. I may catch a free concert, which is not billed as patriotic music (but if they slip in too much national anthem or “God bless America” or something I will leave – one can only take so much of that BS, if they try to slip it in).

      Normal life is just 40 hour weeks wage slaving for the man, I have no great hurry to get back to it, anyone who would remove a single paid holiday from the calendar no matter the holiday (even if it’s Columbus day) and not replace with another enforced paid holiday it is not really on the side of anyone who works for a living in my view. I will avoid the patriotism and take my “summer 3 day weekend” thanks. Weather is hot but far from intolerable yet here, it will get insanely intolerably hot in August and September for sure so I’m enjoying this while I can.

      1. roadrider

        If you had actually read what I wrote I did say that the only thing about holidays that was relevant to me was the time off. I said nothing about taking the time off away. I’m just not into these national holidays, all of which I regard as silly and annoying (and yes, that includes Thanksgiving and Christmas – especially those two).

        What would be wrong with just giving us the time to use when we want? I’d rather have the 8-10 holiday days off to take in a block or a couple of smaller blocks or to use to make random 3- or 4-day weekends of my own choosing. That way, people who actually care about those holidays can take their time off then and those of us who don’t can do something different.

      2. OIFVet

        I am with you on the free concerts. The Grant Park Symphony orchestra seems to have decided to pander this year though. I mean, Sousa?! I’m down with Tchaikovsky though,

  8. NotTimothyGeithner

    Let’s see July 4th was a huge event prior to the Civil War, died out, and returned when the Civil War generation was largely dead. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams held on to life to make it to the 4th, so it seems our Founding Fathers were in on the action.

    As for the vacation issue, the U.S. was largely agrarian even 100 years ago. Taking a week off here and there is difficult for farmers because animals don’t take vacation. The chickens still have to be milked and the cows plucked. European towns and cities had been operating for centuries by then. Animal independence was possible in more urban societies. This is why farmers get miffed about people complaining about vacation and days off. Even though farmers have many days of light workloads, they can never leave. My mother’s family came from small farms in Vermont which remained prosperous through the Great Depression. Vacation or the idea of time off was impossible because the farms demanded vigilance even if little labor.

    By and large Americans had higher standards of living through much of the 20th century preventing the demand for collective action for vacations. Amazingly enough, vacations were taken.

    This article is akin to saying the U.S. was founded by Puritans because PILGRIMS. Less than half the Mayflower passengers were Pilgrims.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Yeah, I think about the vacation issue.

      For me, and I don’t advocate that it must the so for others, but for me, I like to be active everyday. I prefer not to sleep less/work too hard for 5 days and catch up later. And it doesn’t have to be job-related activeness on weekends and holidays (nor it has to be that on weekdays – all this relates to non-discrimination, not dividing into this and that, etc).

      “Everyday is a good day.”

      “Every day is a working day and a holiday…a holy day, a sacred day.”

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        I like active vacations, not necessarily outdoorsy, but I would rather tour the Constitution again than relax on a beach.

        Europe has centuries of workers who had the ability and backup to not be at work everyday. All of the early Presidents had active agricultural fields even Adams. A huge portion and even a significant portion today can’t just take a vacation or couldn’t even visualize it. Who can you trust to get the critters in during a pop up storm? Or who knows if the animal is acting weird and can take action? The answer is the core family unit. A sculptor’s unfinished marble blocks don’t eat and can be left, and I think much of our society no longer understands agrarian society’s actual demands and differences. I don’t like to leave in the summer. Who will weed? I think the above article dramatically ignores the state of the U.S. population in favor of our own outlook on modern society.

        My mom grew up on a farm. I actually order maple syrup from the family who bought the farm when my grandfather lost his leg and sold it. He became a cpa.

        1. neo-realist

          On the matter of worker backup—Increasingly, companies are paring down to a bare essential workforce via attrition and layoffs and doling out the work to the leftover staff that are already overburdened. That makes it difficult for some workers to take more time off: The backup person can barely cover your work while you’re gone which causes more work and problems to be sorted out when you return; as a result, some workers take less time off than they’ve got available to cut down on the headaches that await them when they get back to work.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Huh? What kind of rant is this?

      The holiday exists in modern form due to the effort described in the post. The fact that it existed before and died out is irrelevant.

      And BTW:

      1. The first permanent English settlement in America was Jonestown

      2. The Mayflower voyage was chartered by the Pilgrims. The “sinners” on the trip were crew and indentured servants. So it’s accurate to say that settlement was “because Pilgrims” even though I have never said that in any post.

      1. ewmayer

        Ehm, I think you may have intended “Jamestown”, established long before the advent of Kool-Aid. ;)

  9. diptherio

    Yves may not be telling you to skip the fireworks, but I am…at least if you live out West. Let’s be smart for once and make an effort not burn the whole place down…

    Extreme drought + fireworks = :-(

    1. Jim Young

      I’m reminded of the greatest fire damage in the US, before the Great Chicago fire, that occurred celebrating the Fourth of July, 1866 in Portland Maine.

      The fire, blamed on a firecracker thrown into a wood shop lot, cut through half the city, the downtown area and beyond, burning down 1,800 or so structures in a quarter mile wide, mile and a half long path, with 50 or so of the structures blown up in attempts to create fire breaks.

      The 4th of July celebrants managed to do more damage to their city than any enemy had in any military actions (of which there were several).

  10. Eureka Springs

    Can’t help but think Obamney not care further ensconced the systemic denial of vacation/leisure time. Can’t help but remember the “father” of our country died the richest man in America. Can’t help but recollect that the founding fathers and their Constitution which was negotiated in secret and never ratified by the people immediately led to Whiskey and Shays rebellions which the people lost and for now have all but given up on fighting.

    Can’t forget for one single moment the incredible violence and looming threat of even more violence all of this is based upon.

    Lastly I recall a fellow citizen talking about growing up in the 50’s and 60’s who had the classic nuclear family…. wife, husband, two kids, new car in the driveway of a home they owned in a nice neighborhood. They always spent a few weeks each summer vacationing/traveling across the country. All of this on the single salary of the man who worked in the local grocery store (not even management). And how that life would be impossible with two adults working in the same position now.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      -GW was loaded by marriage, so I’m not sure what your point is. He was already a military hero on two continents when he was made the general of the adopted army.
      -constitutional conventions were held and there was public discussion on every matter a out the constitution. The federalist papers were printed everywhere. During the working meetings, they decided to keep discussions secret, but this is not unusual. Half the loud mouths, jeans in the U.S. we’re at Philadelphia in 1787. Then state conventions held separate debates and ratification. After the elected delegates reported back. This secrecy cap sounds like the garbage Confederates claimed to legitimize secession. It pops up in a crummy book every twenty years or so which is always short on primary sources.

      1. Eureka Springs

        Public discussion is not the same as a vote. Also much arm twisting/violence to pass in several state legislatures. It’s my understanding there was little time by design and much hasty pressure to ratify the Constitution (i didn’t mention federalist papers) before much scrutiny/debate was allowed… since that is my experience with nearly everything two hundred years later I am more than willing to believe those “crummy books” have merit. Negotiation in secret is precisely that… ah la FISA to TPP ad infinity.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          All those guys were elected by an electorate of 40% (owning land in the 18th century in the US amounted to not having just gotten off the boat). I hate to break it to you, but those regressive monsters lived a world of unparalleled freedom in that world.

          In an agrarian and spread out society, there isn’t an Internet. They did a remarkable job, and these conventions until every issue had been discussed for several by 1787. It wasn’t a shock to anyone.

  11. meadows

    Well-written and appreciated. Americans’ antipathy toward history is part of our malleable nature. Our fundamentalism also favors the black/white, good/evil sensiblity rather than nuance… which ignores context. Both God and the Devil are in the details.

    Advertisers, consummate propagandists, are thrilled to hear people affirm, “I’m not influenced by advertising, I make my own decisions.”

    Government, which is corporate-controlled, simply adopts successful methods employed by advertisers to sell product. The product Big Gov’t is selling is ignorant compliance to the meme of the moment.

  12. Denis Drew

    Pew reports 55% of Americans under 30 years old approve of labor unions — only 29% disapprove. Even among Republicans under 35, approval edges out disapproval 45% to 44%. The propaganda hasn’t worked of latte – the culture like it is now ours. Surprise!

    Now, all that remains is to add to labor organizing laws those itty-bitty structures they are so obviously missing: adult dentures. Using crushing economic pressure to obstruct employees from exercising a legally spelled out process to organize a collective bargaining unit is just as free market warping as anything the Rockefellers or the Carnegies ever carried off — while atrophying the political sinews of the 99% to boot. Baby teeth won’t do it — right now all that most organizing laws have left are what amount to gums.

    Making union busting a felony at state level (job deprival not core injury — free market deprival is core) opens up the potential for federal RICO prosecution. 33 states have their own RICO laws.

    “But when Pew sliced and diced its responses (which Gallup did not), it found that young Americans were unions’ most fervent supporters. While 46 percent of its respondents in each of its three older age groups (30 to 49, 50 to 64, and 65-plus) viewed unions in a favorable light, fully 55 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 held a favorable view of unions, while just 29 percent held unfavorable ones. Pew even found that a slim plurality of Republicans under 35 thought well of unions: 45 percent held positive views, 44 percent negative. For that matter, 65 percent of Democrats (of all ages) thought favorably of unions, and given the towering share of Democrats (or left-of-Democrats) working in the media, new or old, the Gawker vote should have surprised no one.

  13. flora

    Great post.

    US corps have much to celebrate this 4th. Not only has the Supreme Court recognized them as persons with the right of unlimited “free” speech, but now the Court has recognized the corps have religious rights, too! US corps have much to celebrate this 4th of July. Maybe they’ll have a picnic, with an opening prayer from Hobby Lobby, and patriotic speeches from various corporations extolling this great system that ensures their right to life (QE), liberty (Lanny Breuer), and their pursuit of happiness (looting the US Treasury).

  14. Noni Mausa

    I grew up in the US, moved to Canada 42 years ago, and so have had the opportunity to watch as the two countries diverged, one staying mostly on track, the other moving steadily rightwards.

    Of course, I visit back and forth often, and follow the US news, and so know the struggles of all my US relatives and friends. To me it became clear that “moving rightwards” literally means to be suckered, so much so that the suckers have been manipulated into sometimes violent defence of the mechanisms by which they are parasitized.

    As this process went along, three significant barriers to compliance needed to be dealt with — police being viewed as peace officers rather than military personnel, rationality and reasonableness in the populace, and the belief (true or not) in American generosity and forbearance to other nations, and respect towards fellow citizens within America.

    It has really not taken all that long for these three barriers to be eroded. If Americans respect any foreigners or fellow citizens these days, it’s generally due to some shared concern (religious, sports, hobby, or ethnicity) rather than unmitigated fellow-feeling, and even that fragmented respect can be negated quite easily.

    Reasonableness and rationality are no longer a starting point for discussion, but viewed as a quicksand patch to be avoided lest ones opinions be threatened. Reason itself is disavowed as a way of finding truth and testing social strategies.

    And of course, American police have become so militarized that a citizen can reasonably fear assault or death at their hands for no predictable cause. Oh, maybe it’s only one encounter in 1000 that would lead to such an outcome, but 1:1000 is far better odds than a lottery. How many harmless Americans today hesitate to call the police, for fear that they, their child or some bystander might be throttled or shot, rather than protected?

    For many nations, the US is not just a dysfunctional family next door, shouting and fighting and locking their kids in the basement — it’s an overarching power, imposing their view of economics and politics on the rest of us. Our American-trained Prime Minister has imposed many typically US laws and political strategies on us during his 10 year tenure, to our great detriment. The sooner the US deflates in world influence and settles back to mind their own knitting, the better for the rest of us. However, the timeline for that is still too far in the future, I fear.


  15. Denis Drew

    My one note tune — but: I think a lot of what you complain about is caused by the middle class losing its mojo to de-unionization. We even step on each other now (police). God help (growing ranks of) the poor.

    Odd Bronx example (again, my odd experience): After crime dropped off 75%, Mad Mayor Bloomberg decided to build a $500 million courthouse in the Bronx. We had just opened a new $120 million court in 1977 — to catch the crime wave overflow. The old courthouse was opened in 1939 — a couple of years before my High School a few blocks down the road was opened in 1941 — both in like new, pristine condition. (Did the same in Brooklyn’s downtown for $750 million.)

    My 19 inch, black and white TV, high school educated (hopefully) middle class of the 1960s would have invaded city hall and carried the mayor out of town on a rail if he tried that. That’s because we were all there was then — so we had control. Now we are nothing. To me, de-unionization did it.

  16. Steve H.

    We just got back from our 4th parade, much fun, and what sticks with me is that the float for the God of Pointless Behavior got more applause than any of the three political parties. The anointed next-mayor (widely viewed as using this office as a stepstone towards a dynastic Senate seat) had a deafening silence after his name was called.

  17. digi_owl

    ” 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;”

    Sadly it is something even certain subsets of Europeans strongly hold to.

    My only wonder is how large a percentage of that subset has spent some time in USA, either for work or, more likely, higher education.

  18. Oregoncharles

    ” I have managed to come in on the last act of Gotterdammerung and am still trying to find the libretto, ” –
    Wonderful line. Grim, but an excellent summary,

  19. cripes

    Made the mistake of watching part of the PBS July 4 Capitol extravaganza on teevee tonite. I have avoided these “celebrations” since the 1976 “Tall Ships” in NYC which served mainly a teevee audience and fanatics in the nascent NYPD security state, while alienating locals from attending, even though I then lived one block from Riverside Park.

    But this evening was a weird amalgam of John Philip Sousa, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Alabama, Leni Reifenstahl and Soviet Realism. Exploding rockets! A battery of cannons firing fusillades of shells! Billowing clouds of friendly fire! Countless military bands! More explosions! Shock and Awe!
    Barry Manilow was too painful to watch.

    New York, not to be outdone by little Washington DC had the Singing Sergeants, four columns of synchronized rockets reminiscent of Nuremberg at night, and the enraptured faces of little children plucked from the orderly, well frisked crowds of approved guests.

    But KC and the Sunshine Band, in a tepid medley of classic 70’s dance funk, failed to get the 99% (white) crowd to shake their bootys. He said it best in his “interview” from the Washington Times:

    “I have been able to live the American dream and have it come true. I know that people think it doesn’t exist anymore in this world, but it does. It just takes hard work, sacrifice and determination.”

    Oh yeah.

  20. Jefferson's Guardian

    Independence Day (“the 4th of July”) in the United States is more of a tribute to the Military-Industrial Complex than anything else, and becomes more so with each passing year. The honoring of the armed forces is apparent within each and every venue.

    I resolve to have nothing to do with it.

  21. Rolando

    I must’ve missed something. If the use of “CIA” (e.g., “The CIA thereby launched its campaign for the fourth of July 1915 to be made a national Americanization Day”) refers to the Central Intelligence Agency, the article clearly is in error. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was not formed until after WWII. Perhaps the article intended to refer to the Committee for Citizens in America (CCA).

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      NO, please read the post. It’s the Committee for Citizens in America. In his book, Carey refers to it as the CIA and I suspect that is how it was acronym-ized in its heyday.

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