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No Country for Some Men


Some global economies cut more slack than others.

Not all countries are created equal. The same could be said for work ethics. Herewith, three unique nations with even more unique concepts of labor. One's bound to suit your career trajectory.

South Korea: Nice Work If You Can Get Out Of It

Too much free time on your hands? Head to South Korea. The tiny country boasts the world's tenth largest economy, and is by far the hardest-working nation on the planet. Just 40 years ago, South Korea was as destitute as developing African and Asian nations, but as a result of careful government intervention, the cultivation of high-tech and industrial sectors and, yes, a relentless labor force, the country is now a trillion-dollar powerhouse.

All that economic success, however, comes at a hefty price. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, South Koreans worked an average of 195 hours per month in 2006, compared with 144 hours for Americans. To put that in perspective, South Koreans fit in more than an extra week of work per month, or slightly less than four extra months per year. Just when you thought you successfully navigated September, you have to do it all over again.

South Korea is one of only two nations (the other is Japan) to recognize death from overwork as an epidemic, known locally as gwarosa. Experts point to heart attack and stroke as the leading killers in these cases, but the common thread is years of grueling hours without relent or vacation. In Japan, the number of documented cases soared from 4% in 1998 to 40% in 2005.

So where can you go if you lack the Seoul for it?

French Renaissance

France has a complicated relationship with work. No other country wrestles so publicly with its competing desires to slack off and step up. In 1996, France began moving toward a 35-hour work week to combat a 12% unemployment rate. With fewer hours demanded of workers, companies would have to hire more people. Sounds logical. By 2000, the 35-hour week was officially adopted, along with vacation time spanning four to eight weeks.

To many, the new law seemed like the perfect compromise of economic stimulus and accommodation of the famous French penchant for espresso-sipping.

After eight years, however, the tides are changing. While left-wingers and socialists continue to support the measure, newly minted President Nicholas Sarkozy, of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement party, claims that it seriously undermines France's economic viability. Sarkozy has called the 35-hour work week France's "number one problem," yet its broad public support has made it difficult to rescind outright. Instead, Sarkozy supports numerous tax incentives for companies who opt out of institutionalized sloth. Earlier this month, Sarkozy expressed his hope that 2008 would finally see an end to the practice.

What's the truth about the 35-hour work week's effectiveness? Consider this:

From 2003 to 2007, France's GDP grew $737 billion or an average of 1.82% annually. Compare that with South Korea. From 2002 to 2006, its comparatively smaller economy posted GDP gains of $342 billion or an average of 4.8% annually. Who thought Kia's could move that fast? Labor isn't the only factor, but it's clear that a laissez-faire attitude toward work adds up.

Please Sir, I Want Samoa

If 35 hours is still too much, consider a move to the tiny island nation of Samoa. A study published by the Oxford University Press claims that Samoan villagers work an average of 30 hours per week, or about 125 hours per month, making it one of the world's most leisurely economies. With a GDP of $1.2 billion, Samoa may not be the best place to accrue wealth, but here are four reasons to consider relocation:

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Yes, you can still check email there.
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