Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush unveiled his plan for boosting the American economy yesterday, in a live-streamed interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader:
We have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.
Bush is correct. US workforce participation is now at its lowest level since the late 1970s. (Much—but not all—of that has to do with the graying of the US population due to aging baby boomers.)
But it should be noted that, Americans work quite hard by the standards of other rich, developed economies.
And in recent years, they’ve been working increasingly longer workdays.
Now it’s true that some nations work harder. The people of the Republic of South Korea are notoriously hard workers, for example. South Korean assiduity has been a key component of the country’s economic miracle, which has lifted standards of living from those on par with the poorest nations of sub-saharan Africa in the early 1960s to roughly the level of Southern Europe.
But it should also be noted that there are real costs to welfare from such a hard-working society. South Korea consistently ranks among the lowest developed nations when it comes to health, work-life balance and life satisfaction.
Bush later tried to clarify that he meant people needed the opportunity for more full-time jobs, rather than part-time. But his Republican rivals and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton were quick to jump on his statement.