Europeans are Lazy and American are Entrepreneurs… or not ?

Here is an article that was published in the Dallas Morning News on Sunday. It about knocked me of a my rocker. The title alone – Philosophy of Failure – is very telling. The author (Stefan Theil) claims high school education in economics in France and Germany indoctrinates kids into believing that capitalism is immoral, and that somehow these flawed educational systems are the reason for failure… of what exactly I haven’t been able to figure out. What Mr. Theil finds most regrettable, it seems, or, should I say, alarming is that French and German educational institutions are corrupting future generations and suppressing entrepreneurial spirit.

I will be the first to admit that the United States is home to more entrepreneurial spirit than the rest of the world combined. I might even go farther and claim that the United States is all entrepreneurial spirit, a hefty upstart relying on an endless supply of venture capital from the rest of the world to keep going. This, however, doesn’t mean that every US entrepreneur is the caliber of a Bill Gates. On the contrary, the typical American entrepreneur is John Doe who borrows 5K from Mom and Dad to start a tire shop, runs this shop for 1 year before he is crushed by Discount Tire down the street. He closes shop, finds he is hopelessly in debt, and jumps into the lake with tires around his neck. Somehow he makes it into the statistical tables as another American entrepreneur.

Okay, I don’t want to be cynical. Yes, Americans are great entrepreneurs. They want to run their own business instead of working for the fat man. They dream of being the next Bill Gates, and they will chase this dream in blatant disregard of all reality. If you ask them, they will say that all it takes is trying hard enough. Well, you know better. Merely trying doesn’t make you rich. Even the perfect recipe of smarts, education, resources, and opportunity don’t make everybody rich. That all it takes in the land of oportunity is trying hard is the biggest American myth ever perpetrated. That no part of high school economics teaches you this, is outrageous. How come so many people are so badly in debt or have allowed someone to sell them a mortgage they should have known they couldn’t afford ? What were they taught in Economics ?

Franco-Germanians, on the other hand, are pathologically comfortable, maybe a little disillusioned, call them lazy. Why work yourself to death if you can get by with less and enjoy life a little more along the way. Been there, done that – throughout the 19th century that is. Now, it’s nap time. They’d rather pay an extra dollar in taxes and let the government take care of a few extra things like healthcare, retirement, and college tuition. Life is short, going-to-heaven a fairy tale. So you’d better enjoy the ride, and the less time you waste working, the more is left for fun stuff.

It is very telling that the largest German corporations are mostly century-old behemoths, creations of the industrial revolution, rather than 1990s start-ups, and century old behemoths aren’t always the nimblest when it comes to adapting to the changing tide. That going to work for a company that once hired your great-grandfather doesn’t instill you with a sense of innovation should also be clear. But doing so is not immoral, nor does it threaten the survival of the capitalism in these countries. Where structures are carved in stone, change is slow. But what’s wrong with slow when nobody is in a hurry ? Again, I’m exaggerating.

What it comes down to is not a failure to perform but a fundamental difference in priorities. Hey, those entrepreneurs who couldn’t stand Old Europe, they left and came to America. Americans constantly strive to get ahead. That’s the American mantra – push the frontier as far as it will go and then some more. You might not make it, you might be killed by Indians or starve to death, but at least you died trying. Those who stayed behind in Old Europe continued the genetic line of those scared to make a move, and as it turns out they’re doing just fine.  They know that balance in life is not just about your bank account, and century old experience tells them the system won’t collapse if you take a longer lunch instead of working overtime. Average American incomes (and GDP per capita) are higher in the US. But when adjusted for the size of working population and hours worked, things don’t look so different. In fact, for GDP per hours worked in France is plumb ahead of the US.

So, cut the crap, Mr. Theil. There are plenty of fundamental problems staring the US economy in the face. These kinds of feel-good columns don’t get us anywhere. They are boring.

One Response to “Europeans are Lazy and American are Entrepreneurs… or not ?”

  1. I guess there are pros and cons to each culture. The Europeans are definitely better at enjoying life, but it’s hard for them to compete against work-obsessed Americans.

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