09 May 2007

Sarkozy and the work ethic

The election of Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France will no doubt be welcomed by capitalists and their supporters everywhere. Certainly his decision to spend the first few days after his victory on a luxury yacht belonging to one of the richest men in France does not suggest otherwise.

The French are constantly criticized for a relaxed attitude toward work, epitomized by their introduction of the 35-hour week. Editorials in the corporate press -- The Globe and Mail serves as a good example -- are amusing in their frustration with the French. They find French workers' approach to life and work incomprehensible. Why, they seem to plaintively cry, would people want more time with their families, more time to engage in politics and community life, more time to simply enjoy themselves, when they could be producing and consuming ever more stuff? Isn't producing and consuming stuff the purpose of life? These French, the editorial writers conclude, must be mad.

But what, a person less sympathetic to corporate obsession and more sympathetic with the French view might ask, is the point of decades of extraordinary technological advance and globalization, if it only means we must work harder, we must submit to the soul destroying mantra "we must compete in the global marketplace," we must serve the economy rather than have it serve us, if the only measure of progress is rising GDP?

After all, the corporate sector and its political puppets promised us globalization would improve the lives of all of us. Working harder than ever in some kind of mindless competition would hardly seem much of an improvement. But then to the corporate mind, progress is more production, more consumption, more growth, more profit, more market share, more GDP. And GDP doesn't measure happiness, pleasure, healthy family life, responsible citizenship or respect for the environment that sustains us.

Sarkozy sides with the corporate crowd. He will serve them well. For those of us who believe modern technology should be freeing us to make more choices about how we live our lives rather than submitting us even more to economic servitude, his election is bad news indeed.

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