The World is losing faith in hard work
July 26th, 2012
09:59 AM ET

The World is losing faith in hard work

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.

Add faith in the work ethic and in capitalism to the lengthening list of casualties from the Great Recession. Four years after the Lehman Brothers’ fiasco and the ensuing global economic downturn, the idea that effort in a competitive economy can lead to success is seriously questioned in a number of major economies, including Japan, Russia and Greece, especially among those who have suffered the most.

In eight of 21 countries recently surveyed by the Pew Research Center, fewer than half believe hard work is a guarantee of success for most people. And in 11 of the 16 nations for which there is trend data since 2007, before the financial crisis began, support for capitalism is down. A notable exception is the United States, where 77 percent of the public still thinks that effort leads to accomplishment and 67 percent have confidence in free markets.

With worries mounting about a double dip global recession, attention has rightly focused on the potential human cost of such a renewed slump. But the low levels of belief that work leads to economic success, especially in a competitive economy, could imperil the rebound from any economic slowdown.

Faith in work is particularly weak in Lebanon, where only 32 percent of the public anticipates rewards from hard work, and in Russia (35 percent), Japan (40 percent), Italy (43 percent), and Greece (43 percent), all countries that have suffered greatly in recent years.

Victims of recent hard times in Europe and Japan are especially skeptical of the work ethic. Half or more of those who say their personal economic situation isn’t good also think hard work is no guarantee of economic achievement in Japan, France, Germany, Britain, Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic.

However, such pessimism may be a first world disease. In Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, India, Pakistan, Brazil and Mexico, half or more of those who say their personal finances aren’t faring well still believe that hard work can bring economic rewards. Moreover, the work ethic is no longer, if it ever was, a uniquely Western value. It’s a widely held tenet in the Middle East, on the Indian subcontinent and in Latin America.

The global economic crisis has eroded support for capitalism. Such disenchantment is particularly acute in Italy (where support for a free market economy is down 23 percentage points since 2007), Spain (down 20 points) and Poland (down 15 points). Similarly, such belief is down 10 points in China and Mexico since 2010 and down nine points in the United States since 2009. The biggest skeptics of the free market can be found in Mexico, where only 34 percent believe in capitalism, and in Japan, just 38 percent.  Support for free markets is greatest in Brazil (75 percent), China (74 percent) and Germany (69 percent) (although East Germans are less supportive than West Germans).

In most countries, people’s personal economic experience shapes their view of a competitive economy. Those who are suffering are far less likely to think people are better off under capitalism than are those who are well off. This is particularly the case in Russia, Poland, China and Japan.

The link between the work ethic and support for capitalism, first discussed by German sociologist Max Weber, is borne out by the survey. In 14 of 21 countries, those who have faith that hard work leads to economic success are also more likely to think people are better off in a market economy even though some are rich and some are poor. This linkage is most clear in China, Russia, the U.S. and Britain.

Skepticism about the benefits of hard work and the backlash against capitalism might be subject to quick reversal once economic fortunes turn around. But there’s no evidence that the world economy will be picking up any time soon, according to the International Monetary Fund. In fact, the clear downside risk in the months ahead is that global economic conditions will worsen before they get better, possibly further undermining many peoples’ commitment to hard work and support for capitalism, making recovery all the more difficult.

The full Pew Research Center report, Pervasive Gloom About the World Economy, is available here.

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Topics: Economy • Italy • Japan • Russia • United States

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soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. JAL

    Be inspired...

    July 26, 2012 at 10:19 am | Reply
    • Jacob Beanstein

      Of course working hard is no longer enough. It's hard to compete with a currency manipulator. A currency manipulator who has 1.5 billion people and makes it so it always costs 6 times less to make things there. Have you guessed who I'm referring to?

      Imagine if you had the power of a government, the power to control your currency and say "I say it's worth 6 times cheaper than the dollar." Well you'd have a lot of factories ready to take on your workers. How do you compete with a 6 times advantage that is completely artificial in nature and has nothing to do with work ethic?

      When will China, with its massive population, feel secure enough in its own people to compete on a level playing field? Instead of needing the field at a 45 degree angle to compete? China has become a black hole for jobs all over the world. They'll happily take all of our wealth, created over 100s of years and pretend we never existed. Even though the entire world they live in was created by outsiders. China must be stopped.

      July 27, 2012 at 1:07 am | Reply
  2. Joseph McCarthy

    Can you really blame the people for feeling as discouraged as they do today from a system that failed them so miserably? I, for one, cannot! It appears that the world is getting ready for the return of Communism as the Communists themselves have learned from their mistakes.

    July 26, 2012 at 10:19 am | Reply
    • nina

      Suicide
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      suicide, suicide can't feel no pain
      suicide, suicide close my eyes tight
      suicide, suicide tell them goodnight
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      Gerdy Whirlwindsoldier
      So Marine5484, if you are so down and out, just read and reread the poem.
      If you try really hard, you can do it.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Reply
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Sorry nina that we can't all be as politically correct as you are. I guess that we think too much for that. Besides nina, are you a Tea Partier yourself? Judging by your posts lately, you sound like one!

        July 27, 2012 at 8:05 am |
      • nina

        Well now, insulting me by calling me a "tea partier" is way beyond acceptable. That is throw the gauntlet down time. ahahahahahahahahahahaha...

        July 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  3. Lost Faith Already

    I've lost faith already because the "hard workers" keep getting more work to do (with less pay/benefits) while the overpaid, useless, executives keep getting HUGE raises and HUGE bonuses for doing practically NOTHING!!!

    July 26, 2012 at 10:37 am | Reply
    • Gary Dee, Portland, Oregon

      Faith, you have probably mentioned the key driver behind these poll results ... inequality. A feudal society where gains are limited (and hoarded) by a few is as suffocating as a socialistic society that champions mediocrity.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:22 am | Reply
  4. Billy Madison principle

    "What you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul. "

    Communism breeds laziness. When you restrict the free market system as much as it currently is, mediocrity is a foregone conclusion. Inequality will exist. It isn't because the system 'fails' anyone in particular. It is simply the cold hard truth that not everyone will succeed.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
    • PEASEHEAD

      True believers are alway willfully oblivious to the short comings of their system. Please explain how capitalist practices in places such as the United States, and elsewhere, such as slavery, colonialism, apartheid, share cropping, peonage labor, etc. have encouraged people to work hard? Please explain how rigging a system such that it impoverishes many people in order to enrich a few is better than other forms of exploitation? In your world, is endless, mindless hard work in the service of one's betters really considered to be the highest form of human endeavor?

      July 26, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Reply
  5. James Davidson

    Capitalism is survival of the fittest so those less privileged and less educated will work for as little as employers can pay them to maximise their profits. I live in Colombia, now a fairly rich country. I have a friend who works cooking in a hot kitchen 16 hours a day for $10. Bear in mind that prices here are almost equal to the U.S. She supports herself and her daughter. There is no move to change the situation for the rich run the country and they have always been used to this situation. The extended family is still fairly strong here and that helps but the situation is pitiful. The trickle down of money from the rich dries up where half the population are either unemployed or earn insufficient on which to live.Hard work in this situation is close to slavery
    We need a new system, neither communism nor capitalism, although elements of each might be valid. We need to ask, "What should the world look like?" The vast majority of us would agree that all people should have basic housing, food, education and health care. So how can we get there? We need to dismantle systems that make people super rich, not because they work hard or are all that smart. Technology allows a football player to gain an income in one week that millions around the world will not make in a lifetime. It might be legal but it is obscene. It is our system. We are disgusting to either support it or not to fight it.We live with situations that are legal but immoral..
    Even our good friend, Fareed, doesnt tackle the fundamental problems and the experts he has for "the great show for us today" are clueless. What to do? Have a positive vision, make our voice to be heard and CRY BLOODY MURDER

    July 26, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply
    • Realist

      Does no one realize that these basic benefits people require has to be paid for by someone... and the only way to pay for these things are hard work. If we all were to share everything, there is absolutely no reason to work hard. Someone else will do it. That's the issue I have with people devaluing hard work. The old saying, "It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it" fits perfectly. If you don't believe in hard work, where is the doctor going to come from that your 'free health care' will pay for? Who is going to build that house you think you deserve? Where is the teacher going to learn enough to educate you? No one became super rich for no reason. They were at least smart enough to play the game. Sure, athletes for instance are absurdly paid. However, the reason they're paid what they are is because others are willing to foot the bill. If these people who are 'close to slavery' don't like their situation, go find a new one. It's simple.

      July 26, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Reply
      • People aren't people anymore

        ' If we all were to share everything, there is absolutely no reason to work hard."

        You seem to think that the organization of society now is as its always been. We humans have group living hardwired into our DNA. We evolved as such, as exists as such for eons longer than our current state. Try arguing hunter gatherers weren't working hard to ensure the survival of the group, while at the same time equally distributing resources across all members.

        You say those who don't like their situation are free to change it. I've never heard such an ignorant statement. My favorite saying is "born on third base, thinks he hit a home run." Think about that, your statements, and perhaps your views are illegal immigration, and then spend as long as you'd like untangling the web of hypocrisy you've spun.

        July 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
      • seppe

        You are rude to everyone out there,the example that you are giving are as good as an ashtray in a motorcycle,before the scavengers were legalized in america, it was fair game to every body,now that the 525 member of the hi level of government are for hire to the well off to connive the general population,how else you explain the mess that we have today?

        July 26, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  6. herbertpeters

    Faith in "effort leads to accomplishment". This has nothing to do in countries like India. For instance in Kerala in India, if you dont have a government job, then you have to rely on various religions as employers and if you are obedient to their priests and follow their faith, then they will give charity as pay.
    MNCs in India are much better examples where perhaps we can put effort and expect reward.

    July 26, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  7. seppe

    Every one in the pass as done there part,how else you explain that this country get to be so powerful,well for one was some ethics,respect,the craftsman were free of cost to the system that they serve,the rest of the world was recovering from all kind of disaster with the craftmans serving somewhere else,and we the american suck dry the economy of whatever was left by the sale of good to cover their need,wile the few got very rich wile the many were distracted pursuing the dream that very few were luck to achieve...

    July 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  8. Sarabjeet

    I feel this sentiment here in India also and surprisingly its the India middle classes who are feeling crushed under this....Plight of poor is beyond imagination but as always like any other time OUR Govt is living in DENIAL.....

    July 27, 2012 at 3:32 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Let's just hope that the Maoist Movement in India is still alive and well as they seem to be the only hope for India's poor as well as it's middle class, Sarabjeet!

      July 27, 2012 at 8:08 am | Reply
    • nina

      I hope the Govt of Pakistan listens to your plea!

      July 27, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  9. Greg

    Considering how the kleptocrats have risen the top ranks of the western world – in America, especially – faith that hard work= financial reward is more religious than based on demonstrable evidence now.

    Capitalism IS the solution– but it has to be capitalism, NOT socialism for the rich where we bail out thieves like Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, etc. and enable them to use us as their collateral in the event their bets go sour. Right now, they win if they win, and we lose if they lose. Either way, they get a cut.

    Overthrow these thieves and their enablers in government or there will end up being a resurgence of communism.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Reply
  10. Eli

    More and more, the Great Recession is showing that Marx was right about capitalism. But we don't need to go through state-socialism. We can have a market economy with a guaranteed minimum income and go straight to upper communism: from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!

    Arise ye workers from your slumber. Arise ye prisoners of want!

    July 27, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Reply
  11. Fellow Traveler

    People don't have faith in modern "capitalism" because that implies a pseudo-socialist-fascist system where people do not have fair representation in government, where corporations and unions are overly empowered by government force, where 50%+ of our incomes are coerced from us by that system and redistributed to welfare and warfare schemes, and where the free market is no longer allowed to operate. The entire economy is "all sewn up vertically," as Assange pointed out.

    Capitalism sucks - let's try LIBERTY.

    July 28, 2012 at 2:08 am | Reply
    • nina

      What do you mean by "LIBERTY"?

      July 28, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  12. Another Thinker

    Since when has good work ethic been synonymous with capitalism? Since when has every government system that isn't capitalism been only a communist one? Why do we have to be so narrow minded in all of our decisions? Why do we have to follow what either one person or another says is right? Don't we have more to say? Can't we come up with something new? Something that works maybe? Where has our courage gone?

    July 28, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Reply
  13. Horatio Alger Smells Funny

    I don't think the work ethic is dead. Merely the myths that support an entrenched hierarchy/plutocracy. People the world over are beginning to understand that the "game" is rigged. Without fairness and egalitarianism democracy becomes a catch phrase and "free market" a catchall. Most people want to work and will work hard if there is fair play and fair pay.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  14. Latin American

    In your article youwrite, about work ethics that "Moreover, the work ethic is no longer, if it ever was, a uniquely Western value. It’s a widely held tenet in the Middle East, on the Indian subcontinent and in Latin America.". So I assume you don´t consider Latin America as being part of the Western world... Amazing...I´ve never realized that our LATIN American Culture had more in common with India and the Middle East than with the West! I suggest you to do some more reading in History and Culture of LATIN america

    August 7, 2012 at 8:02 am | Reply
  15. Matt

    What always worked in the past is no longer politically correct. Sometimes you have to snuff someone else's flame so yours can burn brighter. Colonialism is the answer, can you stomach another round or will you just whine about Christian and humanitarian ideals that don't pan out tangible results?

    August 7, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Reply
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