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Work at a Better Explanation

Historian Niall Ferguson has an interesting op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times. In it, we learn just how much less time Europeans spend working compared to Americans. Along the way as he relates these data, Ferguson offers some reasons to explain the fact – a fact that has become much more pronounced over the past 25 years. Differences in marginal tax rates is one that Ferguson mentions, along with government-enforced restrictions on the maximum number of hours anyone can work per week. Also mentioned is the fact that American employers can – compared to their European counterparts – much more easily fire lazy employees.

These reasons strike me as pretty sound explanations for why the average German worker works 22% fewer hours per year than does the average American worker, and the average French worker toils 32% fewer hours.

But Ferguson ends his op-ed curiously: despite these strong explanations mentioned earlier in his op-ed, he concludes that the likely explanation for this difference in work patterns is the fact that more Americans than Europeans attend church. Apart from an allusion to Max Weber’s protestant-ethic thesis, Ferguson offers no further justification for identifying Americans’ greater church attendance as a reason why Americans work more than Europeans.