It’s true that Germans and Greeks work very different amounts, but not in the way you expect. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average German worker put in 1,429 hours on the job in 2008. The average Greek worker put in 2,120 hours. In Spain, the average worker puts in 1,647 hours. In Italy, 1,802. The Dutch, by contrast, outdo even their Teutonic brethren in laziness, working a staggeringly low 1,389 hours per year.
If you recheck your anecdata after looking up the numbers, you’ll recall that on that last trip to Florence or Barcelona you were struck by the huge number of German (or maybe they were Dutch or Danish) tourists around everywhere.
The truth is that countries aren’t rich because their people work hard. When people are poor, that’s when they work hard. Platitudes aside, it takes considerably more “effort” to be a rice farmer or to move sofas for a living than to be a New York Times columnist. It’s true that all else being equal a person can often raise his income by raising his work rate, but it’s completely backward to suggest that extraordinary feats of effort are the way individuals or countries get to the top of the ladder. On the national level the reverse happens—the richer Germans get, the less they work.
Technological history is a unique point of view that always caught my eye. David Deming of the American Thinker gives us a brief synopsis of his latest contribution in this genre. Keep in mind how integral Christianity was to the recovery of Europe after the barbarian invasions and the safekeeping of knowledge by the monastic system that allowed Europe to recover and blossom into what we now call Western Civilization:
Both Greece and Rome made significant contributions to Western Civilization. Greek knowledge was ascendant in philosophy, physics, chemistry, medicine, and mathematics for nearly two thousand years. The Romans did not have the Greek temperament for philosophy and science, but they had a genius for law and civil administration. The Romans were also great engineers and builders. They invented concrete, perfected the arch, and constructed roads and bridges that remain in use today. But neither the Greeks nor the Romans had much appreciation for technology. As documented in my book, Science and Technology in World History, Vol. 2, the technological society that transformed the world was conceived by Europeans during the Middle Ages.
Greeks and Romans were notorious in their disdain for technology. Aristotle noted that to be engaged in the mechanical arts was “illiberal and irksome.” Seneca infamously characterized invention as something fit only for “the meanest slaves.” The Roman Emperor Vespasian rejected technological innovation for fear it would lead to unemployment.
Greek and Roman economies were built on slavery. Strabo described the slave market at Delos as capable of handling the sale of 10,000 slaves a day. With an abundant supply of manual labor, the Romans had little incentive to develop artificial or mechanical power sources. Technical occupations such as blacksmithing came to be associated with the lower classes.