On a recent trip to France, I witnessed both the promise and peril of enjoying one's life excessively.
How beneficial is all that GDP to the average American, though? What's the inequity in the US versus France?
A few weeks ago on the Wild podcast with Sarah Wilson (she has a Substack, too) there was an amazing quote that got me thinking. It was something like, "the elite want us to believe the only way to raise the poor out of poverty is through productivity and higher GDP because it's the only way that won't cost the rich any money."
We need to stop measuring "success" in GDP.
"The next day, I capitulated and found a Starbucks. Problem solved—but it took an American corporation to solve it."
Perhaps because it took American mentality to create it in the first place. It's not a problem for sane folks wanting not to work but to just enjoy their coffee on a ...coffee place.
"On a recent trip to France, I witnessed both the promise and peril of enjoying one's life excessively."
There's always the US if you prefer suffering, 10x more shootings, 10x more craziness, and the nice chance that a medical emergency will make you pensionless or even homeless!
Oh, and to get again the nice experience of not being able to have many outside cafes in major cities centers to avoid the homeless and mentally ill passing around...
"Yes, it was a better way to live, but I also knew that it came at a cost. If a greater number of otherwise upwardly mobile Americans sat around for hours on end enjoying life it would probably constrain economic growth, at least as measured in overall GDP. "
Don't worry, most of it is busywork. The reason for the greater GDP is because the world uses dollars as a major trade currency and cheap resources like oil and raw materials, both favoring the US economy and both predicated on the US army and diplomatic pressure making sure both are so.
And of course the huge headstart and vacuum created when European powers collapsed because of the WWII toll.
I enjoyed reading the piece. It is written so well, I thought Shadi has a high potential to be a successful fiction writer. That is in addition to, not in stead of, being a thinker/philosopher/analyst.
Paris in summer is filled with tourists (including me from August 1-7), so any serious attempt to link crowds at cafes to productivity/GDP would require knowing the percentage of locals vs tourists. That is only if you accept, I don’t, that there is necessity a link between time spent at cafes by locals and GDP.
Looking at filled cafés doesn’t take into account the turnover rate. How much time individuals spent sitting at cafes needs to be determined. Nature of their work needs to be known. Maybe they work at different times. Maybe it was their “Staycation “.
Productivity is not limited to the work done in daylight. I bet as a writer you burn plenty of the midnight oil. And many a times your brain keeps working when you are asleep. So you wake up and jot down or tell Siri to take note of your thoughts.
I better conclude this comment before it begins to impinge on my productivity or your productivity if you take time to read it.
This is a strange over generalization. How did we get so lightning-fast from not finding a café to sit and work in to GDP comparison and "European leisure"? Paris is hardly representative of the entire continent. Better come to Spain to see "European leisure". 😄
But in all seriousness, it's just a forced parallel without much foundation, sorry to say.
Fascinating musings. I appreciate that you come to Europe and are open-minded about the different ways of living on both sides of the Atlantic and what they mean.
Just one factual point: You refer to the WSJ article that claimed that “the economy of the 20-nation Eurozone has grown about 6 percent in the last 15 years, compared to America’s growth rate of 82 percent.”
That claim is just completely misleading, as it uses current exchange rates of the dollar/euro *and* the gross size of the economy. By the same token, between 2000 and 2008, the US economy has “grown” by +44% and the EU economy by +123% - and of course that's nonsense (non inflation-adjusted, not per capita, fluctuating with exchange rates etc.).
What makes much more sense to look at is real GDP per capita adjusted for purchasing power (PPP). So how did that change in the last 15 years?
In the US, it rose by +56% and in the EU by 74%. In the eurozone, it increased by +64%.
Another way to look at it is productivity per hour worked. There, the picture is very similar. Eurozone productivity rose pretty much in line with the US.
Now what *did* not happen is that the EZ caught up significantly more - and there is still quite a gap (Europeans work fewer hours, so the gap per hour worked is much smaller, but still). Also, the US has way more big tech companies with high market cap, it has got tech leadership in a number of fields (not all, but many) and there's no doubt at all about its military pre-eminence and all that.
But yeah, the growth divergence and income divergence isn't really a thing per capita on average. What is of course a thing is that the population of the US has been growing somewhat faster and with it, the overall economy - and that Americans keep working much longer hours. Also, there's quite a divergence in which European countries kept pace (north & partly west), which fell behind (south) and which caught up (central & east).
This is all a mix of complex societal and political choices as well as geography and history. But in any case, there isn't or wasn't this big growth gap in the last 10 or 20 years on both sides of the Atlantic.
As to the actual differences, I'd love to discuss them further, be it in a café in Vienna or in a Starbucks in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere - all great places to live in.
I don’t think calling this an anthropological account is merited. If the French themselves consider their leisure to be excessive, that’s one thing. However, it seems the writer fails to set aside his own position. An anthropological account should put more rigor in accounting for the “insider” perspective if their own culture. How might the native talk about their cafes, the role of the cafe in the native’s life, the role of the various people who make the cafe possible for a tourist to experience. I have further criticism which Kirsten touches on above but I wanted to add my views on the thinness of the account of the role cafes play on French experiences.
Outside of metropolises is like London, the average Eurozone European lives like an Alabaman. Europeans are the high elves of Middle Earth. The sunset of their life is up on them. America is the present, Africa and Asia are the future. Europe is dying.
This is interesting Shadi. I think I'm similar tbf on 'switching off' and the envy I can feel towards others who find switching off so easy, although I have made strides since meeting my partner. France is a little renowned for having a cafe culture and for having a more reflective attitude towards work and leisure than the anglosphere usually do. The UK may not be quite like the US in the work regard but neither are we a million miles away. However, work is not resulting in improved living standards creating a culture of 'quiet quitting'.
Do I hear echoes of Chantal Mouffe's "anti-productivism" here?
But I think that except in the always-busy, high-turnover cafes on, say, the Blvd. St. Germain or the Trocadero, it's quite normal to bring work or, even, pull some tables together and hold a meeting. If Sartre and de Beauvoir could do it, so can Shadi Hamid!