Wednesday, May 16, 2007

But, it turns out we are happy

... and what's worse for Labour, it's because of our adoption of the dreaded Anglo Saxon model of capitalism.

I've been dealing with a French company at work extensively for the past few months. I have to send replies to emails from them with large cc: lists. The game is to try and see what is the most number of I'm-out-of-the-office autoreplies you can get with one email. Sending on a Monday is obviously good. Just after Christmas is better but anytime when they 'faire le pont' (take a day's holiday between a public holiday and the weekend), you are pretty much guaranteed a 33% rate of 'Je suis en congés jusqu'au ...' responses.

With a minimum 25 days holiday, more public holidays than here and the magic of RTT (réduction du temps de travail) whereby any hours over 35 in a week can be built up and used as extra holidays, it means they can easily have over 45 working days off in a year. I am envious. Everyone in the office is envious. It sounds so civilised, such a great way to live, so happy.

Except French workers are not happy at work. And we are.

What gives?

Some research on happiness in OECD countries by Deutsche Bank helps explain. Looking at the different models of capitalism in each country and comparing it with their level of happiness, the report identifies three broad groups of countries: "happy", "less happy" and "unhappy". The surprising result: the happy group were the Anglo-Saxon model capitalists (including us), the Nordic countries and Spain. The less happy group included France, Germany, Austria and Belgium. The unhappy group were the Southern Europeans (Italy, Greece and Portugal) and Japan and Korea.

Ten indicators were identified as being conducive to happiness: High levels of trust in fellow citizens, low corruption, low unemployment, high levels of education, high income, high employment rate of older people (retire later), small shadow economy, extensive economic freedom, low levels of employment protection and high birth rates.

Comparing Ireland and France on each of the indicators we are broadly similar on levels of corruption, high levels of income, size of shadow economy and birth rates. Where Ireland does better than France is on levels of trust, unemployment, education, employment rate of older people, extensive economic freedom and low levels of employment protection. The level of trust in a society is not really something you can legislate for, it is either there or it is not. Leaving aside education, the remaining cluster of indicators (economic freedom, low levels of employment protection, low unemployment rate and later retirement) are all related. With the exception of education, what appears to make Irish people happier than French people is that we are more economically free - despite our crap number of holidays.

It a case of happiness resulting from being closer to Boston than spending more time in Biarritz.


WorldbyStorm said...

oddly enough I have a post in the works on just this subject. But I have to agree with you... talk of people being unhappy strikes me as hyperbole.

Whether I'd make the connection you do about it due to our economic model, I'm not entirely sure. I'd think it was more due to us blending social democratic safeguards with straight ahead market approaches.

Incidentally, although the Nordics are shifting towards a more market driven model they'd still probably be well to the left of us in terms of their overall societal approach.

How does that fit in?

Pavement Trauma said...

The key difference between the happy/unhappy groups of countries seems to be not the quality of their public services (except for education) but around employment.

The less happy countries all have very strong employment protection and -consequently - higher unemployment profiles. I would suggest that this affects even those who are employed, by limiting their job mobility - keeping them in jobs they are not happy with.

While we are obviously different from the Nordic countries in public service provision, we are roughly similar in employment protection policies.