For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Global Public Square staff
Last week, Jimmy Fallon took over as host of “The Tonight Show.” More than 11 million Americans tuned in at midnight to watch his debut – that's about 3.5 percent of the population.
Americans love their late night TV. But there's one country that loves it even more: Spain. An estimated 25 percent of Spaniards are up watching TV at midnight, according to Jim Yardley in a great piece in the New York Times.
And it’s not just TV – staying up late is part of the culture. Restaurants rarely serve dinner until after 10 p.m. According to one survey, Spaniards sleep on average 53 minutes less than other Europeans. During the day, Spaniards are known for taking long lunches and breaks – and of course, siestas.
Well, a number of Spanish economists are saying this needs to stop. By some accounts, Spain loses 8 percent of its GDP to reduced productivity. So, what can be done? One suggestion is that Spain should turn its clocks back.
Take a look at the map in the video. On Greenwich Mean Time you have countries like the U.K., of course, but also Portugal and Ireland. Spain falls in pretty much the same longitudinal range. But Spain is actually an hour ahead of England, along with France, Germany, Poland, and many other Central European countries.
It wasn't always so. Before World War II, Spain kept the same time as Britain. But during the war, when Hitler sought to gain Spain's support, the Spanish dictator Franco moved to align his country's clocks with those of Germany's. Seven decades later that remains the case, despite Spain's geographic location.
Economists say that turning the clocks back would make Spaniards more productive and boost the economy. It's an interesting thesis – and we don't know if it would work. But the good news is that Spaniards are thinking hard about improving their economy.
We tend to think of Spain as a European basket case. Unemployment is at 26 percent, while youth unemployment is double that. Every second person between the age of 18 and 25 is out of a job. Spain has been in a recession for several years. The eurozone has had to bail it out so that it could avoid defaulting.
But beyond those headlines, there is now some good news.
After years of recession, GDP has finally begun to grow: by 0.3 percent in the last quarter. Economists predict double that rate in 2014. Exports grew nearly 6 percent last year, and will grow by that amount once again this year. Spain's main stock market is up by a third since June. Foreign investors are back – even Bill Gates bought a $150 million stake in a Spanish construction firm.
What's changed? Well, Spain has been willing to take its medicine and put in place some tough economic reforms. Both the public and private sectors have become leaner and more efficient. In the face of stiff opposition, Madrid has raised the retirement age; it's tweaked the rules to make jobs more flexible. Companies can now hire and fire more easily. Spain's relative labor costs have declined steadily – even as those of Germany, France, and Italy have risen. All of these measures have made Spain more competitive, boosting exports. Growth is bringing in tax revenues and stabilizing the country's finances.
But Madrid can and should do more. Spain's revenue from taxes (as a fraction of total GDP) remains among the lowest in all of Europe. And the greatest challenge remains unemployment – especially youth unemployment. If Spain can't create jobs, an entire generation of Spaniards will be lost.
European countries have accepted painful austerity measures, but what they really needed were structural reforms. It’s not clear if turning the clocks back will make much of a dent. But if it sparks a conversation about productivity in general, it is high time.