German Sundays are rather quiet. With loud noises banned, you can walk down a residential street without hearing a lawnmower or a leaf blower. German law also prohibits supermarkets, department stores and most other retailers from opening. You cannot even get into a laundromat.
Like Germany, France too limits Sunday business. French courts have told a home improvement chain store to close 15 locations on Sundays and Sephora was ordered to lock up its Champs-Elysée flagship store at 9 pm on Sunday rather than midnight. As you might expect, store owners resent losing business that could add 15 or 20 percent to their bottom line especially since employees, paid three times their normal hourly rate on Sundays, are happy to work. But they also say Sunday rules are okay if everyone complies.
Where are we going? To how the length of the work week matters.
More Sunday Shopping
In France, a sluggish economy appears to have created a tipping point. With the French economics minister saying Sunday business is necessary for economic growth, his government has pushed through legislation that chips away at the Sunday rules. Projected to be a reality by next Christmas, the new regulations extend the number of businesses with permission to open on Sundays.
I suspect we could say that the camel’s nose is in the tent. More than just a law, permitting Sunday shopping represents a cultural shift toward working harder and longer hours.
Our Bottom Line: the Work Week
We might have some irony here. Looking back at U.S.history, we have to go back to the 1920s when Henry Ford became one of the first U.S. employers to implement the five-day work week. Five days became viable only after work hours declined from a 60 to 70 hour average during the 19th century to 50 hours by the 1920s.
The difference was how long we had to work to pay for our necessities. In 1918, close to one hour of work would get us a dozen eggs. Now, we just need a few minutes.
Fundamentally though, it was all about more productivity enabling the length of the work week to shrink. With output and wages going up, both the supply and demand sides of labor markets–employers and employees– could agree on a shorter work week.
Now though in France, the pendulum has swung too far in that direction.