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In Praise Of The 35-Hour Workweek


John Rossant's "Give this policy the guillotine" (European Business, Oct. 27) totally confused two different aspects of France's 35-hour workweek policy. The first is the concept of a shorter working week. Given the level of unemployment in France and the increase in productivity being achieved, it can only be sensible to move toward a shorter working week not only in France but worldwide. If the amount of work were not finite, there would be no unemployment anywhere. Work may not necessarily be the enemy, but there is no real virtue in the American philosophy of longer and longer working hours at shrinking levels of hourly pay in order to enable excessive and unnecessary consumption. In all this the French action can only be right.

The second aspect is implementation. While the rationale for the policy might be sound, a move toward implementation unilaterally, which France undertook, had the effect of increasing the unit labor costs in one country alone and was clearly a mistake. It would have been a mistake even within the single currency area of the European Monetary Union, where individual currencies can no longer adjust to reflect different policies pursued in different countries -- it was doubly so in a globalized economy.

Maurice Elstub

Cannes, France

American corporations embrace globalization for its economics, but continue to refuse to recognize the value of workers' basic needs. The French have it right. We have it wrong. America needs a 35-hour workweek.

Kevin Carey

Arlington, Va. As a retired ARCO employee, I'm delighted that BP PLC is making lots of money through its oil patch power all over the world ("The oil lord," Cover Story, Oct. 27). However, I question the way it treats the employees who have helped the company make history and all that money. Retirees have just been notified that BP has decided to reduce their medical benefits drastically and keep reducing them for the next five years. I guess this only tells me that John Browne really doesn't care about the American employees he has acquired during these past years. We all know that the cost of medical care is going up, but BP is also continuing to pump up reserves, and production is rising more than 10% a year. It's not as if it were losing money. The company just finalized a deal with Russia for $8.1 billion. One might think that BP would act like a sensitive and caring corporate company and treat retirees with respect and dignity.

Virginia Oaxaca

Hermosa Beach, Calif. It is interesting to see the recent upsurge in interest and concern about environmental problems ("Cleaning up," Special Report: Asia's Future, Oct. 27; and "Putting carbon dioxide in its place," The Environment, Oct. 20). Unfortunately, that interest is concentrated in those parts of the world where the problem is, relatively speaking, not as bad or else under control, compared with the situations in countries of Africa. The situation in Asian countries, bad as it has been described, bears no parallel to the devastations and wreckage inflicted on the environment of the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria through years of reckless crude oil drilling. Here, oil companies such as Shell (RD) flare trillions of cubic meters of natural gas into the atmosphere each year. The flaring is a serious hazard. The emission of carbon dioxide from gas flaring in Nigeria releases some 35 millions tons of CO2 a year and approximately 12 million tons of methane, which means that Nigeria's oil fields contribute more to global warming than the rest of the world combined.

Governments in Africa do not care a hoot about any of these problems. Most -- if not all -- of the nations in Africa, including Nigeria, have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol and cannot implement a market-based solution. African countries such as Nigeria and Libya for these reasons should feature in any discussion of world environmental problems. These countries are heavy polluters yet they have no solution in place to deal with the situation -- nor do they even allow local rights groups to voice their dissent. These countries pose a meaningful threat that the environmental community cannot afford to overlook.

Deebii Nwiado

Gentofte, Denmark Like Christophe J. Nijdam in "From France: Proudly an 'Anti-Bush Pro-American"' (Readers Report, Oct. 27), I would like to add another category of people, unfortunately not from France but from a close neighbor, Belgium. The fourth category to which I proudly belong is both "pro-American and pro-Bush Administration." Like Mr. Nijdam, I have been a BusinessWeek subscriber for many years and have studied and worked in the U.S. as well. The U.S. is not only the best democracy in the world but also one of the few countries that strives to maintain this democracy throughout the world, for example, by fighting terrorism wherever it is located. And fortunately for us, the U.S. has taken the lead in this fight.

As for the people who use the term "occupying forces" for the U.S. troops in Iraq, I have one simple question: Were the U.S. troops that came (to save us from Nazism) in Europe during World War II also "occupying forces"?

Marc Schurmans

Brussels Any criticism of President Roh's bold decision voiced by the opposition Grand National Party and the remaining conservative Millennium Democratic Party parliamentarians will prove to be mistaken ("A revolt in Seoul could make or break Roh," International Outlook, Oct. 6). If Roh prevails in the coming referendum, his opponents will have to keep inside during the subsequent Political cleaning up.

While people in Korea can enjoy freedom in the market-based economy, crony capitalism is still alive, impeding Korea's transformation into a market-based society. I do not defend President Roh, but when it comes to the current economic and political situation in South Korea, I think he is on the right track to restructuring Korean politics.

Feng Duheng

Beijing


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