Viva la Siesta Should Southern Europe Really Be More German?
Part 2: The War on Sleep
In his extensive study "The Slumbering Masses. Sleep, Medicine and Modern American Life," anthropologist Matthew Wolf-Meyer shows that the original puritanical and functional attitudes about sleep, oriented toward usefulness, "continue to shape the understanding of sleep in America today," and that medical sleep research in the United States long aimed to "make sleep American by intensifying interests in its efficiency and management."
Today Americans suffer from a chronic sleep deficit. The National Sleep Foundation has found that many people sleep less during the week and make up for it on weekends. The consequence is a growing abuse of sleeping pills and an increase in admissions to sleep clinics. Sleep, like many of life's other challenges, is now seen as a management problem, one that is fundamentally fixable with rational means, which, in the case of sleep, often means medication.
Everything remains subordinate to efficiency and productivity. Capitalism is systematically turning night into day. Everything has to be available 24/7, without interruption, because there could always be someone with a desire to consume something, a desire that must be satisfied. The unlucky souls who work in Indian call centers are forced to sacrifice their nights to their jobs, which revolve around the timing of life in the West. Global capitalism is colonizing sleep.
In other words, the euro sovereign debt crisis is merely the tip of a cultural struggle, one in which not only the way of life of people in Southern Europe is being challenged, but also that of Indians and Southeast Asians. The EU troika, backed as it is by a real or imaginary German hegemon, claims to be pronouncing indisputable truths. In truth, it is executing a radicalization of the Protestant work ethic.
The Prussian Taskmaster
Realistically speaking, very few euro countries, least of all Italy or Greece, will be able to repay their debts by increasing economic growth. That would require real growth rates above 3 percent for many years to come. The Germans must ask themselves whether it makes sense to further ramp up the speed in the economic hamster wheel, to wield the whip and execute an austerity regime in the euro zone that is doomed to failure -- especially as these reform programs are perceived as dictates in Southern Europe and are plunging the European community of nations toward a crucial test.
Germany should not allow itself to be forced into the role of the Prussian taskmaster, who aims to implement strict discipline on the labor front throughout Europe and is being held responsible for the demise of cultural traditions. The social market economy does not follow the tennets of a radical, market-driven machinery of efficiency, which would of course have only one response to the subject of siestas: Get rid of them.
Agamben's popular call to defend Latin culture has a real background that would be foolish to ignore. Perhaps we should warm to the idea that the Spanish kings, in the days of the Fuggers, chose a solution that wasn't half bad: They did not repay their debts.
Max A. Höfer, 54, is an economist who lives in Berlin . His most recent book, published by Knaus, is called "Vielleicht will der Kapitalismus gar nicht, dass wir glücklich sind?" ("Maybe Capitalism Doesn't Even Want Us to be Happy?").
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Should Southern Europe Really Be More German?
- Part 2: The War on Sleep