Government and Economies in the Postwar World: Economic Policies and Comparative Performance, 1945-85

By Andrew Graham; Anthony Seldon | Go to book overview

Chapter sixteen

The meaning of hard work

Michael Rose

How far does willingness to work account for patterns of national economic performance? How does economic development affect this propensity?

Work commitment is regarded as one of the most important aspects of culture-shared social values, standards ('norms') of behaviour, and world views. But it is hard to define and measure and reliable comparative data about economic culture have been available only in the last decade or so. Japanese success above all is often attributed to cultural factors-not least by the Japanese themselves, and the chapter on Japan could be usefully read alongside Morishima's (1982) study of the Japanese difference. Britain has become a laboratory for cultural policy, as a 'culture of dependency' (on state welfare or guaranteed employment) is attacked and replaced-perhaps-by more businesslike values.

International studies of work commitment still show work taking a more important place in the lives of Americans or Japanese than of British employees. But commitment varies too between occupations, regardless of country; surveys of multinational companies (for example, the 120,000 employees of International Business Machines in over 100 countries) suggest that those economic values that matter most are trans-cultural (Hofstede 1984). But country comparisons still provide the interesting surprises: in the International Meaning of Work inquiry, Yugoslavs and Israelis appear no less work-centred than Americans, while the 'hard-working' Germans and 'serious' Dutch score fewer points than might be expected (MOW 1987: chapter 5).

But maybe work values-at least, amongst employees-in all industrially advanced countries sooner or later follow one common trend. Such an analysis of economic attitudes differs from the 'backwardness hypothesis' cogently stated in Charles Feinstein's commentary (p. 284), where national awareness of 'league position' in development becomes a powerful motivating factor in its own right. This approach, however, applies best to the mentality of policy elites, and the broader politics of production. What might be called 'promotion fever' or 'relegation panic' may affect work

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