Class Structure in American and European Culture

The following paragraphs are quoted from Tony Judt's "Europe vs. America," a review of three books in The New York Review of Books (10 February 2005): 3 [37-41].

        "Americans work much more than Europeans: according to the OECD a typical employed American put in 1,877 hours in 2000, compared to 1,562 for his or her French counterpart.  One American in three works more than fifty hours a week.  Americans take fewer paid holidays than Europeans.  Whereas Swedes get more than thirty paid days off work per year and even the Brits get an average of twenty-three, Americans can hope for something between four and ten, depending on where they live.  Unemployment in the US is lower than in many European countries (though since out-of-work Americans soon lose their rights to unemployment benefits and are taken off the registers, these statistics may be misleading).  America, it seems, is better than Europe at creating jobs.  So more American adults are at work and they work much more than Europeans.  What do they get for their efforts?

        Not much, unless they are well-off.  The US is an excellent place to be rich.  Back in 1980 the average American chief executive earned forty times the average manufacturing employee.  For the top tier of American COs, the ratio is now 475:1 and would be vastly greater if assets, not income, were taken into account.  By way of comparison, the ratio in Britain is 24:1, in France 15:1, in Sweden 13:1.  A privileged minority has access to the best medical treatment in the world.  But 45 million Americans have no health insurance at all (of the world's developed countries only the US and South Africa offer no universal medical coverage).  According to the World Health Organization the United States is number one in health spending per capita--and thirty-seventh in the quality of its service.

        As a consequence, Americans live shorter lives than West Europeans.  Their children are more likely to die in infancy: the US ranks twenty-sixth among industrial nations in infant mortality, with a rate double that of Sweden, higher than Slovenia's, and only just ahead of Lithuania's--and this despite spending 15 percent of US gross domestic product on "health care" (much of it siphoned off in the administrative costs of for-profit private networks).  Sweden, by contrast, devotes just 8 percent of its GDP to health.  The picture in education is very similar.  In the aggregate the United States spends much more on education than the nations of Western Europe; and it has by far the best research universities in the world.  Yet a recent study suggests that for every dollar the US spends on education it gets worse results than any other industrial nation. American children consistently underperform their European peers in both literacy and numeracy."