The quality of American life, measured in material terms, is among the best in theworld. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality-of-life index for 2005 pegs America asthe 13
best place to live out of 111 countries. It also says that the GDP per person inAmerica is over $41,000, second only to that of Luxembourg. This economic prosperityhas allowed people all over the country to afford and enjoy comfort in an unprecedentedway. Technology has changed the nature of our working lives, lifting from our hands the burdens of menial tasks, slow communication and simple calculations. One might think that these luxuries make the American life rather leisurely. But have these changes beenaccompanied by better attitudes toward work and livelihood? Not quite. Somehow, despite all the conveniences that are afforded Americans, thelives of working professionals are still described by phrases such as “the daily grind” andthe “rat race.” American society still revolves around labor; it still values, above all, thesweat of a day’s hard work. Colonial Americans were the earliest bearers of thisProtestant work ethic. Max Weber crystallized it in his 1905 essay
The Protestant Ethicand the Spirit of Capitalism
. Weber describes the Protestant Ethic as “an obligation[towards work] which the individual is supposed to feel,” a “peculiar idea, so familiar tous today, but in reality so little a matter of course.” He notes that “labour must… be performed as if it were an absolute end in itself,” an idea which persists today in definingwork as a duty and identifying it with rigidity and drudgery. The aversion to work this hascreated in many is evidenced by the very terminology used to refer to the cubicle-boundmisery of the “nine-to-fivers” and other working-class of America, slaves of the wallclock.