|An homage to Obama in a Brussels waffle shop.|
I worked in Brussels, Belgium last week, delivering a class to 30 European co-workers, who traveled from Ireland, Spain, France, Germany, Italy and the UK to improve their financial acumen (translation: learn how to make more money for our company). Lucky for me that our common language is English; I get to travel the world performing this important “work”. (Next stop: Malaysia)
Working in a global company gives you insight into how differently Europeans view work. The saying “Europe closes in August” is mostly true. We see it in our sales figures (customers are gone too). Almost everyone takes a two-week holiday (sometimes longer as many employees have a legally mandated minimum of 25 days off plus bank holidays annually). And they really do take off -- no emails, phone calls, project work.
Having this view, I am amused by the political campaign rhetoric concerning our impending fall into socialism. My European coworkers enjoy access to health care whether or not they have a job. (I know they ration care --but they still have mostly better health outcomes than we do.) Going to a university doesn't require taking a second mortgage. They have pensions, retire sooner than we do and their governments mandate longer separation packages should they lose their jobs to layoffs. It’s far from a perfect system; their economies are failing, and some, like Greece and Italy are nearing catastrophe.
Returning home, I think of Europe's worker protections (and high taxes) as I listen to the presidential campaign candidates present their solutions to creating jobs that will spur the economy. It's all Republican candidates now -- so pro-business and capitalism rules. But the crowds at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations make me wonder if we have a revolution brewing. This time it's the haves against the have nots -- fighting over jobs with living wages, health care, education, equal distribution of wealth (but don't even think about raising taxes).
I want to write a novel someday, and I imagined the makings of a book when the Tea Party started rattling cages and the Arab Spring changed the political scene in the Middle East. It's happening again, and the viral nature of the connected world suggests a chaotic new world order is coming.
Which plot would be a more interesting (and more marketable) read? Redistributing wealth through worker protections (like Europe) or governments yielding even more power to business? Which scenario sounds better for you as a reader? Which sounds better for you as a world citizen?