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In the Crossfire

Do Americans need mandatory R-and-R?

(CNN) -- President Bush and Congress are going on vacation for the August recess. Should the federal government mandate R-and-R time for all Americans? Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, and Steve Dasbach, executive director of the Libertarian Party step into the "Crossfire" with hosts Paul Begala and Robert Novak to debate whether the United States should follow the European example and mandate holiday time.

NOVAK: Jeremy, just a quick preliminary question: Do you still have these crazy ideas about the government mandating the vacations for everybody?

RIFKIN: Well, you know, we've had this discussion before.

NOVAK: Many times.

RIFKIN: Look, we started the industrial revolution with a 70- hour workweek. Pretty bad.

NOVAK: And it built character, too.

RIFKIN: Well, maybe, but it also ruined a lot of lives.

And when productivity rose all through the industrial age, people organized, working people came together and they demanded a 60-hour workweek, then a 50, then a 40, increased the pay and benefits. And that's how we judge the success of the 20th century.

My question is this: We've got all these new technologies, they're raising productivity, we think we may be on the cusp of one of the greatest technology advances in history in the 21st century, why aren't we talking seriously about raising the idea of a 35-hour workweek, or a 30, or even a 25?

NOVAK: I tell you why. And I'll answer the question with a question, as I usually do.

We are in a war, the president says we're in a war. The stock market has collapsed. The economy is not so good. A lot of people have to work.

Don't people have to work harder? This is -- these are not the easiest times. I would say we ought to increase the workweek.

RIFKIN: I really disagree with you. I think people have to work smarter. And we had this discussion last year. The fact is ...

NOVAK: Two years ago.

RIFKIN: In Europe, as you know, there's a 35-hour workweek. I played some role in having that happen in France and some other countries. And I'll tell you, the morale of workers in Europe is better, productivity is doing well.

And what you're going to see in the next year is the American miracle turned out to be a little bit of a fraud and the European miracle is moving right to the floor. And we've got a lot of European workers that are more motivated...

NOVAK: The European economy is in the dumps.

BEGALA: Let me bring Steve Dasbach into this.

First, thank you for joining us.

DASBACH: You're ready for a vacation.

BEGALA: I am ready. I'm a fisherman. And there's not much I like about President Bush and Vice President Cheney, but they're fishermen, too. And I like that a lot.

And they're going to spend most of the month of August -- Cheney in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, beautiful place in the mountains; Bush at his ranch in Texas, my home state. And they're going to spend a lot of time on the water chasing fish.

And you know what that's going to do? It's going to rejuvenate them, regenerate them. They will come back ready for work.

So we're at war, the economy is tanking; if our president and our vice president can do that, why can't we?

DASBACH: Well, if it's a personal choice, we make decisions about where we work and under what conditions. But that should be our choice.




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