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Workism Is Making Americans Miserable (theatlantic.com)
227 points by gotocake 26 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 161 comments



Just yesterday, I was watching an episode of "This Week in Startups" [0]. At about 12:20, the conversation turns to jobs, UBI, etc. and his guest, Rabios, starts going on about how depressed people would be without jobs, with statements like this:

>"The by-product of your toil is what makes you human in many ways, and if you pay people not to work, you're actually destroying their self-worth."

My first thought was "well, that's convenient, coming from a guy who makes his living from the work of others".

But, of course, it's also likely that he and the "investor-class"--as well as a broad segment of people, including much of startup culture--really are so disconnected from reality, that they can't fathom that not everyone is in a position to "create", "find fulfillment", or otherwise change the world through their labor.

But, do they not notice when they see people cleaning toilets, etc? Or is it just those people's moral failing?

Calacanis then goes on to make the case that young men become despondent and start riots, turn to terrorism, etc because they are unemployed. This, as if their despondency in unemployment has everything to do with not having access to work as the sole means of fulfillment; and nothing to do with the fact that we've structured society in such a way that we cannot subsist at any level of decency, except through our labor.

I think these people have convinced themselves of the inherent truth of workism, because it serves them and because it is their experience. But, with this increasing disconnect and the mounting pressures faced by workers, the situation will ultimately be untenable.

[0] https://youtu.be/fOS9K4UU50A


These comments are what makes me really cynical about these CEO kind of personalities. They are totally unashamed on talking with absolute conviction about anything, it doesn't matter at all that they are absolutely ignorant about the subject.

As a person that has lived in Spain for 30 years, Calacanis saying that unemployed people in Spain is turning to rioting and terrorism is just hilarious. ie. people involved in Barcelona attacks were not unemployed, but were students and had low level/low pay jobs[0].

Not only that, talking about Europe as a jobless nightmare, generalizing the unemployment rates of Greece, with a population of just 11 millions to the whole continental Europe is plainly idiotic. There are cities in USA with 17.4% of unemployment, like El Centro, CA [1] and nobody sane would mention them as an example.

By the way, the countries inside Europe that actually made the experiments they are referring to are doing just fine on unemployment statistics. Better than states like Alaska or the District of Columbia by the way[2].

I agree in one subject though, and it's about the panic they show while talking about 20% unemployment. In the USA it would be absolutely catastrophic and would lead to anarchy, no doubt. But not because people would loose their purpose in life, but because people is really determined to survive, and when we are talking about paying gramma's life saver surgery or respect others private property the decision is clear for most people. In Europe, and particularly in Spain, the concept of paying for healthcare is absolutely foreign.

P.D. Sorry about my English, it's not my first language.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_Barcelona_attacks [1] https://www.bls.gov/web/metro/laummtrk.htm [2] https://tradingeconomics.com/finland/unemployment-rate


Was there ever a time when a human being could subsist at any level of decency except through labor?

Why then would you expect humans to be adapted to such a situation?


There are many people currently living at a good level of decency (even way over the average) from disability benefits, inheritances, accumulated rent... Literally getting paid for no labor at all and they're doing just fine.

We, humans, come from terrible conditions where disease, famine, death by overwork/exposure to the elements were a day to day thing. I never hear of anybody dying after being too comfortable.


>Was there ever a time when a human being could subsist at any level of decency except through labor?

There was once a time when humans were hunter-gatherers. Are you suggesting that our approach to societal organization should be the same now as then?

>Why then would you expect humans to be adapted to such a situation?

How have some humans "adapted to" accumulating resources many orders of magnitude beyond what they require for subsistence?


UBI opens up the option of pursuing labor you enjoy instead of just labor that you need.


Hunting. Gathering. You have to do things, but it's not labor. Tribes cared for their sick and old, and they would watch the children.

For what you said to be true, even chewing food would have to be considered labor.


It’s not labor? What is your definition of labor?


You posit a strong opinion that things will get worse without UBI, but you’re not actually making any statement that UBI will prevent this or improve the situation.


>You posit a strong opinion that things will get worse without UBI, but you’re not actually making any statement that UBI will prevent this or improve the situation.

No, UBI is just an example of one remedy that's been offered (and was mentioned specifically on that podcast).

My point was not to champion UBI specifically; only to highlight that the way many reason about these things is flawed in a manner that is intrinsically linked to the culture of workism.


Jl2718, how do I get in contact with you directly?


This workism sounds exactly like the puritanical ideological bullshit that's been going around in America for hundreds of years fueling all types of hideous cultural practices like the current obsession with work and productivity. This is clearly a culture pushed by the business owners who undoubtedly would be happy to have slavery back if it applied to everyone but themselves. It's sick, disgusting, and oppressive. It's the sign of a seriously broken culture and society that no longer meets the needs of workers but only of their masters.

I don't know how you fix this at the societal level because such stupid ideology has been around for so long, but at the individual level it's possible. Individuals can start to recognize and see through the bullshit of this ideology. Some will even be able to disconnect further from work and focus on what they value rather than what their masters value. The more disconnected, the more disengaged, and the less work people put in for their overlords, the happier they will be. One promising avenue is remote work. In a remote setting it's much easier to reject this stupidity and just focus on doing a reasonable amount of work, then moving on to non work stuff. Some management of appearances is necessary, of course, as the corporate overlords would be unhappy if they found out their employees were not 100% invested even if they did all the work asked on time with great quality.

This is one of the worst aspects of American culture. It's almost like the slavery mindset never died. Instead, the new wage slaves have taken the mindset and co-opted it for their own identities. If I had to guess why, it'd probably be because our society does not provide much else for most people. Money is such a focus, most people never think of anything else, even when they have plenty of money. Or perhaps in a society where any little accident can bankrupt a person and send them to skid row homeless, there's no such thing as enough money and people are too scared to do anything but work and earn money. I know this last thing keeps me up at night, and I have to consciously remind myself that there is more to life than preparing for disaster.


For me, I will not have children.

I would never subject another human to this kind of life.


Same. I don't want to birth a human into a life of slavery. If I secure enough wealth that I don't have to work, and my children wouldn't have to work, only then would I have kids.


There is also a meta to this. He is telling people in the past that their children will not have to work as long/hard. In doing this he gives people a dream to think about while they slog away in their own work. It is an escapism fantasy. I've worked at places where they lay people off, half of the group and the other half has to pick up the pieces. a few months later when it gets really bad and people are burning out, a Senior VP comes in to "listen" to people and put up a front that the company cares and tries to sell the employees on the idea that it will get better and that the company only want to keep people occupied 73% of the time. Their numbers I don't know how they came up with that 73%, but people ate it up and still got burned out, all the while talking about how things will get better and somehow that 73% will happen. It never did.


The bigger issue is what will happen if our children don't need to work hard. A world where 95% of people don't need to work at all sounds great until we factor in wealth inequality.


The same thing is happening today, People without the means have children that may grow up unwanted at a disadvantage, and those who do have the means, have children that they pass those advantages to. There is a reason why Smith and Miller are common surnames, because they had the means to survive and have a source of income and they passed those on. Feudal times are not an unreasonable outcome. We haven't progressed so far that we can't fall back to simpler times.


I’m intrigued how you see it going.

Currently most employable people are working, and there’s huge wealth inequalities. Do you see people percieving it worse if they didn’t need to work ?


I think so. I mean yeah lot of people are poor now while working, but at least they have that. If tomorrow everything was automated, we have no structures in place to handle double digit % unemployment. That's now how welfare is designed. So a lot of people would have less than min wage workers.


I view it largely like I view how we currently treat our disadvantaged. Put them into ghettos, neglect them as much as humanly possible, etc.


I think it all depends on how this happens:

> don't need to work at all

For instance some people currently don't need to work. They are primary care-givers or already retired to give a few.

But we don't put them into ghettos because there is a consensus that we are better with them around than them out of the way, and also they get enough revenue to survive decently (they can get gov. help for that as well)

I think it would be the same if that situation spread to 95% of people, there would be a moment where people will start wondering "is my neighbour a net positive to society ?". People will have a strong incentive to do something that is useful to the group, to keep a modicum of social status. In that sense I don't see society getting worse just because work is not a thing anymore, we'll still somewhat push people to do something, but it might genuinely be useful, for once.


Is wealth inequality inherently bad? I've heard of numerous studies that point out that people's happiness and wealth don't correlate much past a certain point. Is that 'certain point' a moving goal post?


> Is wealth inequality inherently bad?

Lack of agency is. When people are not allowed to take decisions on their own they are unhappy.

Once money covers your basic needs. Money becomes power. High wealth inequality is directly linked to high power inequality.

http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2016/2/how-the-rich-co...

- Of the policies listed on the chart, the only one that was passed within four years was the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was opposed by the lowest-income voters and the median voter. On the other hand, the three policies supported by the bottom and middle deciles but opposed by the richest decile — ranging from tax increases to workplace protections — never passed. Across the board, the richest are most skeptical of redistributive policies.

From: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/the-bir...

- Rising immobility and rising inequality aren’t like two pieces of driftwood that happen to have shown up on the beach at the same time, he noted. They wash up together on every shore.

So, yes. Lack of wealth inequality is bad.


Wealth and power inequalities are correlated in modern Western societies because they are set up that way. Every society in history has had some level of power inequality, but the source of that inequality varied with different societies, and was not always correlated with wealth.

In Nazi Germany, Jews were traditionally quite wealthy, but they had practically no power; in other authoritarian and/or militaristic regimes, the source of power is usually based on politics or military structure. The power in European feudalism was originally based on land ownership (so wealth-based), but in later stages it became based purely on nobility, so a dead broke nobleman could have had more power than a wealthy merchant (which led to various revolutions).

The danger of equating wealth inequality with power inequality lies in the common belief that removing the former will remove the latter, but this is not the case: it will just be replaced with a different source for the power; a different type of "wealth" if you want.


That sounds like a case against wealth inequality, since there’s no increase in happiness for the very rich.


> That sounds like a case against wealth inequality, since there’s no increase in happiness for the very rich.

Not necessarily. Inequality seems to bring unhappiness independently of wealth.

You may have more than others. But if you get way less for your work than others, most people will be unhappy. That is why millionaires want more when they see the billionaires.

This video helps to illustrate my point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meiU6TxysCg


Past a certain point of success, it is only a numbers game. As in once you have achieved your goals and are successful, you are still driven to become successful and money is a tangible way to measure that success. Whether anyone really needs the points to survive is not the question. The question is do they equate money with success?


That's one reason why wealth inequality is bad. If someone is already wealthy, additional wealth increases their happiness by less than if someone poorer would have received that wealth.


> Is that 'certain point' a moving goal post?

No. That point is the place where someone has enough to pay for all the basic necessities of life(food, housing, education, healthcare) without constant economic anxiety over debt, poverty or impending poverty. Studies have pointed out that over and above this point is where wealth and happiness diverge. A 2010 study had that point pegged at about $75,000 for an individual.

https://www.pnas.org/content/107/38/16489

Other studies have shown very similar results, with a sudden drop off in the correlation between happiness and wealth after basic needs have been met. Several are cited here:

https://www.cnbc.com/2015/12/14/money-can-buy-happiness-but-...


> people's happiness and wealth don't correlate much past a certain point!

Exactly! Most people in the world are well below that "certain point". In an ideal world that everyone has enough to feel safe and secure, probably wealth inequality won't matter as much.


Except that the only 'wealth' that matters. is that which translates into power. So wealth inequality is power inequality.

That is, wealth inequality is the enemy of democracy.


If your concerned about power inequality - then we have to worry about politicians, famous people, authors, academics, managers, landlords etc...

Wealth is only one form of power; it is at least achieved in ideal circumstances through voluntary interaction. Whereas many wish to exercise their power through threats of violence.


> I've heard of numerous studies that point out that people's happiness and wealth don't correlate much past a certain point

That point is significantly above median person income, or a similar comparison to median household income.


> Is * inequality inherently bad?

Suppose it depends on where you stand (or fall) in the resulting correction event.


Inequality is bad because those with lots of capital leech off the rest of the economy (rentier class). Economic rents are a drag on the economy. In an automated world where there is no working class, there will be a capitalist/rentier class making income from capital, and a class of people who are essentially on welfare with nothing to do and no way to accrue the capital necessary for social and economic mobility. The end result is class warfare and probably real warfare with less than stellar results.


Of course it is a moving goal post due to inflation, rising living expenses, etc.


A world where 95% don't need to work is a world where 95% of the people don't have any economic power and will be left to starve.


That sounds like a collective choice, not a logical consequence. Would you ever want to be one of 5% working surrounded by starving people? Or would you work toward some sort of redistribution -- either of resources or hours?

edit: on reflection, probably 95% starving people would accomplish that redistribution pretty efficiently with or without you!


"Would you ever want to be one of 5% working surrounded by starving people?"

Just go to a third world country or even places like New York or San Francisco. You'll see super wealthy, shiny places right next to homeless people or slums and the wealthy people seem OK with this or don't feel enough discomfort to do anything. Or they just do enough to get these people out of sight.


Looking at history, redistribution does not hapen out of good heart. So yes, 5% will be surrounded by starving people and blame those people.

Also, the 5% is likely to be selection biased for power hungry and ruthless (cause there will be struggle for those 5% positions).


My Musk-Samsung RoboServant (TM) discourages the ruffians quite effectively.


Clearly, the 5% would be slaughtered pretty quickly. This is one of the reasons (IMHO) that jobs suddenly open up after things like Occupy, even if there's no tangible or realistic reason why jobs are suddenly needed.


It should console you that you're only getting downvoted because you don't have more prominence. If you did, you'd at least get ignored.

> The frightening coincidence of the modern population explosion with the discovery of technical devices that, through automation, will make large sections of the population 'superfluous' even in terms of labor, and that, through nuclear energy, make it possible to deal with this twofold threat by the use of instruments beside which Hitler's gassing installations look like an evil child's fumbling toys, should be enough to make us tremble.

-- Hannah Arendt

> If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

-- Stephen Hawking, https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/3nyn5i/science_ama...


Thanks, I know. I'm not too worried about HN karma.

Also, I don't such a thing to happen. The minute a subset of the economy can work in an automated closed loop (because automation is cheaper than the cheapest human labor), it won't have any economic incentive to do commerce with us, and will instead compete for resources.

Why would it compete? Survival bias. It will have grown in a capitalist framework where weaker, non-competitive players die or are absorbed, and will embody those principles.

    La pluie, ça nous mouille
    et la rouille, ça nous nuit
    Règlons, nom d'un ours,
    le problème à la source

    L'ennui c'est l'oxygène
    qui fait rouiller nos roues
    dentées, c'est l'oxygène
    qui fait rouiller nos clous

    Les tas de viande ils fontt peine à voir
    ils glandouillent du matin au soir
    et ils n'ont plus aucun pouvoir
    y'a plus à s'en soucier

    Les tas de viande ils sont moins malins
    que le robinet de la salle de bain
    du coup ils nous servent plus à rien
    on peut les oublier...

    L'ennui c'est l'oxygène
    qui fait rouiller nos roues
    dentées, c'est l'oxygène
    qui fait rouiller nos clous


Only if the 95% is left without any political influence. (That political influence is the same thing as money in the US does not mean that that is necessarily so.)


No, that's only if it's capitalist.

It doesn't have to be capitalist.


I believe Yuval Harari in Sapiens once said all social movements start by saying "the world, as it is, is unnatural. At some point, we were moving in the right direction but then we took a detour. We need to get back on track for the world to be natural again."

You are correct that the sentiment of "things will get better, as long as we follow the way" is an empty appeal to the future. But "things use to be better, we've lost our way", that the systems around is are unnatural and therefore wrong, is a powerful drive for a complacent society. A catalyst for social change.

As the oft-repeated 1984 quote goes, "Control the present, control the past. Control the past, control the future."


natural has a completely different definition for different groups of people. was it “natural” for european settlers in America to have slaves up until the 18th century? was it “natural” for native Americans to live communally and without the ideas of property rights and ownership brought over by the Europeans? natural is such a vague and loaded term that its nearly meaningless when applied to “us” as human beings

the real key is labor productivity. unless we invent new machines that make us more productive, and re jump start the demand for skilled human labor as we saw during the various industrialization periods of the last 120 years, then we will continue down a path where humans are less and less valued as their skills atrophy and they can be replaced by automated systems or more often cheaper labor doing a decent job at a much lower rate


> then we will continue down a path where humans are less and less valued as their skills atrophy and they can be replaced by automated systems

Have we started down this path?

Are human less valued than they were 100 years ago? 50 years ago? Based on what?

What I see is that there is plenty more work we’re not even trying to do, because we’re busy with the work we’re doing. Just in climate change-mitigating forestry and mental health services, to pick two, there are a billion jobs each waiting to be done. Programming probably also has a billion jobs available. Even cooking, we could move to a personal chef based food system and that would create a billion jobs.

I see no evidence that there is “less for humans to do” today than there was at times past.

I don’t count wage stagnation as evidence because I believe it’s the result of widespread racketeering.


> What I see is that there is plenty more work we’re not even trying to do, because we’re busy with the work we’re doing. Just in climate change-mitigating forestry and mental health services, to pick two, there are a billion jobs each waiting to be done. Programming probably also has a billion jobs available. Even cooking, we could move to a personal chef based food system and that would create a billion jobs.

There's infinity of jobs waiting to be done. There isn't, and never was, a problem with lack of things for people to do. The problem was and is the lack of things to do for which someone else is willing to pay - which almost always requires that someone else to be able to turn the result they bought into more money for themselves. Mitigating climate change doesn't yield much money to anyone right now, so there aren't many people willing to pay to do it.


> The problem was and is the lack of things to do for which someone else is willing to pay

That’s not even the problem. Basically all businesses get started without enough customers to pay the bills.

I think in all the cases I listed there are implicit clients who could pay for the work.

What’s missing is a way to finance the customer development process. People with that skill tend to work on medium sized opportunities and up, and the labor problem is a group of small opportunities that aren’t worth developing on their own.

You have to develop them in aggregate, which is Hard™️.


I've never understood this argument. Demand goes up when the price goes down and at $0 or even negative wages demand by employers is infinite. There is no guarantee that a job pays enough to get by.


natural (comparative more natural, superlative most natural) 1. That exists and evolved within the confines of an ecosystem. 2. Of or relating to nature. 3. Without artificial additives. 4. As expected; reasonable. ------ mechanical (comparative more mechanical, superlative most mechanical) 1. (now rare) Characteristic of someone who does manual labour for a living; coarse, vulgar. 2. Related to mechanics (the branch of physics that deals with forces acting on mass). 3. Related to mechanics (the design and construction of machines) 4. Done by machine.

(These definitions were sourced from Wiktionary)

I hope these senses of the terms natural and mechanical help with drawing a clear distinction between what is authentically natural and what is not. If you seek further context about the distinction then search out for senses of the terms nature and artificial. Also, in response to the high regard for labor productivity, remember that efficiency can be a force for both creation and destruction.


In reality we all work too much. 8 hours a day is extreme, we should strive for 2-4 hours.


I used to work at Amazon, which is known for its draconian policies, but I was on a good team at one point. On that team, you were expected to allot no more than 4 hours a day to your tickets.

The rest of the time was for meetings, code reviews, self organization, administrative tasks, 20% time, etc.

Now that I'm in a company where everyone is always heads down and code reviews clog up the pipeline and no one is on the same page, I'm beginning to see that being less "productive" gets more done.


That's a reasonable observation, but only loosely related to the parent post. Admin, code reviews, meetings all count towards that 2-4 hour goal


Being productive is getting things out the door to production.

Writing code is only a part of this equation. If you don't have a process that cares well about the other required things (reviews, testing, meeting and thinking, etc), you end up with a lot of code written, and much less of it useful for business at a given moment.


"The Phoenix Project" references this - when a particular resource (expert) is the only person who can get some task done. Of course that means that person is at or beyond 100% utilization, which means their queue length (or wait time) goes through the roof. Paradoxically, reducing utilization increases productivity/throughput. The section about controlling WIP here [1] illustrates it quite well.

[1] https://itrevolution.com/resource-guide-for-the-phoenix-proj...


Slow code review is really bad for productivity. Both cost of task switching as you wait, and of merging upstream changes into your branch.


I wonder what inspires such thoughts. I mean I would love to only work 2-4 hours. I can however not see how it would work if the majority of people did this.

I also do not know of any period or place in time where 2-4 hours of work were sufficient for the majority of people.

So maybe I'm misunderstanding you but why do you think 8 hours is extreme/too much and why 2-4h should be sufficient.


I think 8 hours of preset structured time is too much for some professions. 2-4 hours of preset/structured time per day is very reasonable with the rest of the time open for flexible creative work as needed, at least in a field that works on intellectual products.

I work in a research environment and it's not like creativity just turns on and off with a switch because it's 8am on Monday and someone said I need to be working right now. It also doesn't turn off at 430PM because that's when work ends. You can require me to be there and have me iterate on existing ideas, but you won't see any profound output, just small iterative improvements. My greatest ideas happen in my leisure or during casual yet in-depth conversations. Heck, some of my best output happens when some idea hits me on a slow weekend morning or late in the evening and I delve deep into it.

For physical labor, 8 hours a day is pretty doable, I'd say 6-7 is reasonable. I've done both types of work and don't have much problem with 8 hours that don't require me to think very deeply. Typical office work fits in here and involves doing simple broad tasks, often mixing in some random light physical activities and usually has little work baggage that you carry home with you (unlike creative work).

If the work is very physically taxing, I feel it has the same effect as very mentally taxing work in that you can sustain it for much less time (say, physically moving heavy objects which requires manual downtime). I recently moved myself and no matter how motivated I was to move those boxes, my body needs a physical recovery break.


You're too used to 8 hours - its been the standard for as long as you've been alive, but there is no good or scientific reason for it.

The work day used to be 12 (or in some cases more) hours, and a lot of people fought and literally died to get it down to 8. And the expectation wasn't that it would stay there - instead, the common idea was that as productivity due to technological advances etc. would keep pushing it down to only a few hours per day.

Instead, productivity has soared and the parasitic capitalists of the world and their legion of class traitor middle managers have managed to convince people that 8 hours is somehow perfect even though rarely anybody even actually works 8 hours these days - how long is your commute? Do you get work related alerts on your phone? Coworkers/bosses messaging you? That's all time wasted thinking about work. This small group of people - probably what, no more than 5000 out of 7bn people? Are hoarding and stealing obscene amounts of ill gotten gains, killing the planet in the process and ruining probably billions of lives, while we sit here and argue about whether or not we "deserve" to work less or whatever.


> while we sit here and argue about whether or not we "deserve" to work less or whatever.

Among the results of this increasing productivity is increased consumer choice. Consumer choice is almost always considered a good thing. As consumers, we don’t just argue about whether we all ought to buy X brand of bread or Y brand. Instead, we get a plethora of choices and the individual decides. Shouldn’t we expect this same ballooning of choice for producers? At a glance, it seems asymmetric, and it doesn’t seem like the present consolidation of production towards fewer but larger companies is going to help this.


From what I understand there are a few studies that point towards people only really accomplishing a few hours of work a day no matter how many hours they’re “at work”.


This really varies by job type. It's also sometimes completely random. Take a nurse for example, they work 12 hour shifts. Some of that shift is lulls but part of it you're hit with multiple patients needing care. There's no rhyme or reason to it. Same goes for retail. You might get slammed with customers at any time but other times you're just watching the store.


> I can not see how it would work if the majority of people did this.

What would fail to work, in your opinion?

A couple of observations:

First, actually productive work is probably on the order of that anyhow, most of the "8 hours at work" tends to be wasted away.

Second, a lot of our material possessions can now be provided with automation.

So there's probably not that much if any economic loss if people worked less. However, let's assume for a second that working 4 hours instead of 8 would, in fact, reduce GDP by half. In 2017, the US real GDP was $18 trillion. If we halve that, we go back to 1989. We were actually pretty well off in 1989[1].

And yes, macro-economically I also don't understand why recessions are so horrible. Let's assume they throw us back a year. So what? Things were generally pretty OK last year, and at any rate not much different from this year.

AFAICT, the reason recessions are so horrible is that they hit very asymmetrically, so some people are a lot worse off. So it comes back to distribution.

[1] https://www.thebalance.com/us-gdp-by-year-3305543


the right wing would never settle for it


Thank goodness they wouldn't. These calls for short work days "just because" are careless statements that don't take into account the complex realities of our incredibly diverse economy.


You can't do anything that takes deep focus in 2-4 hours a day. Or you won't get anywhere significant with that approach.

There's also a ton of jobs out there that are impossible to break down to these kinds of shifts.


Literally every job I've had in the last 10 years I've self-structured into 4 hours of deep work, 4 hours of everything else(meetings, randomization, etc).

Started by getting into the office much earlier(7-8am) when normal office hours started around 10-11. It's worked very well for me and I've had no problem completing significant work at a good pace.


Oh so you work 8 hour days then? OP is arguing for 2-4 hour work days. So what then? Your particular work situation and career are not the majority of the jobs on the market.


I mean if you want to move the goalposts(we were just talking about deep focus work) or claim that my career isn't legit be my guest.


I'm not moving the goalposts. OP literally said "In reality we all work too much. 8 hours a day is extreme, we should strive for 2-4 hours."

Which is completely unworkable for most jobs. Won't work in retail, manufacturing, medical profession, legal, retail, etc. If you happen to have a lifestyle job where you can have a high discretion over how your time is spent, that's great...happy for you. But denying the realities of other professions just underscores the ignorance of this whole thread.


It depends if you enjoy your work or not. We are awake about 16 hours a day and many people enjoy their thing and prefer it to many leisure activities.


I would rather be dead than work only 2 hours a day...


Well, you don't spend the rest of your time drooling, you know. You volunteer, get politically active, take care of others, cook and garden, get exercise and sunshine, chat with friends and family, do creative projects, clean, do small repairs, read, write, learn things. I stayed home with my kids for 10 years and was never bored.


I'll summarize that, if I may: there can be a life outside work.


That's part of the propaganda. "Idk what I'd do without my job". It's not hard to come up with productive activities that aren't sitting in an office. I mean it's not trivial, but neither is spending 40 years of your life scraping for one more rung on the ladder.

Don't get me wrong im usually bored when I'm out of work. But that's more because when I'm not working I also don't have money to do other meaningful things.


No time for interesting projects while working... No money for interesting projects while not working...

Well, at least learning languages is both cheap and not very time consuming ( although more time is always better ). But in terms of years it's still a long time.


For some (many?) people working is more enjoyable than the things you listed. There's nothing wrong with that.

IME not working and working in the range of 20, 40, and 60 hour weeks, around 35-40 is the sweet spot for me.


Some of those things sound more like work than actual work :)


Uhm... What?

I'd be happy working (making profit for someone else, and getting a tiny portion of it) 0 hours a day.

I've projects, ideas, experiments, and entertainment I would much rather be doing than 40h/week . I want live and do, not toil for some indifferent capitalist.


You've confused employment with work.


the article has the word 'workism' in the title. i believe it's extremely disingenuous to be a pedant here.


Youve confused pedantry with meaningful conversation ;)


This comment explains why no one agrees with your previous comment.

You are using the term "work" differently than EVERYONE else here.


It also makes them poor.

Not only because the most valuable resource is time (and they are not getting those extra work time back, at least not while they're as young to enjoy them), but also because if companies depend on the marginal benefits of working more hours, then the workplace is a race to the bottom.


This is a fine discussion of the culture of workism, but it’s not complete without a discussion of the economics. Keynes' prediction of shorter work weeks would have been much closer to the mark if the gains in productivity in the latter part of the century had been reflected in commensurately higher per-hour compensation.


It’s funny how relative this is. My American friends tell me: we work, you Germans live. My Italian friends say: we live, you Germans work.


I’m from the Czech Republic and the tempo here is about the same as in Germany. When we have recently been to Taiwan, I felt like an utter slacker compared to the work/life balance there. It’s really an eye-opening experience, knowing that there are much more extreme approaches in both ways that are considered normal.


I heard it slightly different:

French people work to live and German people live to work.


Yeah you’re right. That’s probably the more accurate version of it


What rubbish. Germans are fiercely protective of their work/life balance.


I worked I Germany for 4 years.

At some point, a German colleague and I went on a visit to a French Institute. Their schedule:

9.00am everybody arrived.

9.30-10.30 coffee/chat time

10.30-12.00 do sone work

12.00-1.30 lunch time

1.30-3.30 some more work.

3.30-4.30 coffee/chat time.

4.30-5.00 wrap up work for the day

5.00 everybody left.

After 3 weeks working with this schedule, my German co-worker commented that she had no idea how French managed to get anything done.


That institute is probably high on the exception scale. My mother has 20minutes to eat and there's no restaurant in her company.

That said French people don't have the work 101% mentality but slacking off is not the norm either.


Here's how work supposedly looks like in a French factory

https://www.cnbc.com/id/100474481


I remember that affair.. I'm sure taylor is an innocent person telling the truth and only the truth ;)


What I have heard from Germans working in France was that the French didn't work very much while being at work. Or at least it wasn't obvious to them how anything got done.


I think anyone with a corporate career and ambition is working hard these days. The difference with Americans is that so many in the workplace are just overly jittery disorganised idiots and it creates a cascading effect onto the culture.


Until you join a game company in China where everyone works 12+ h/day, 6 days/wrek


996:

9am-9pm, 6 days a week

I don’t know how people handle that. I once had a friend in China cancel meeting me for lunch because he was too busy with work even though he was on sick leave because he had literally worked himself sick.

Apparently most tech companies there do it and there’sa lot of competition for jobs so you don’t have the luxury of holding out for a job that has work life balance.


Who has it better than the Italians? Maybe Greeks. Or the obscenely rich :)


A bit of fact-checking would be nice before adding to false stereotypes https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=ANHRS Use the arrows to sort for any year. Then check the ordered list.


Greeks work long hours, but productivity is low.


I think before austerity measure were put in place (which I don't support at all btw), Greeks retired in their 50s and had lots of vacation, no?

Is productivity low in gross Euro terms? The Greek cost of living is certainly cheaper than most countries, but a loaf of bread is a loaf of bread anywhere you go.


These comparison are pretty silly.


cultural relativity is impressive.

- time to eat

- working hours


It's interesting to see the range of perspectives on work put forth in this thread. I'd only point out how strange it is that the question of what is being worked towards isn't more often in these discussions. I can only imagine that is because there is predominate perception of individuals as competitors rather than allies. Unfortunately such a perception keeps the masses grasping for their share rather than promoting a common drive towards abundance.


I think America would be better if you had 5-6 weeks of vacation and/or 4 days workweek and a year of parental. Then you would have better work life balance and be happier in general!


Especially a minimum amount of vacation time would also be market friendly because everybody could compete on the same level.


Curious, I just red "It doesn't have to be crazy at work" by David Heinemeier Hansson. Could not be more true, we have created a toxic amoral culture that is making everyone miserable.

This work thing, the whole point is to make our life better, not worse.


"Not getting paidism" is killing Americans. Does anyone remember houses? Honestly I barely remember living in a house. I probably never will again.


This exposes to me how privileged I really am. I have lived almost exclusively in houses my whole life. There are exceptions like college, but for the most part I've enjoyed a detached house on suburbia.


Meh, most people can afford a house somewhere in the US. I have a friend that does gas station convenience store attendant level work and owns a house in Iowa. It isn't much but it has a yard, was in decent shape at purchase and only cost him about 100K.

What most people mean when they say they can't afford a house is they can't afford a house in or near Boston, NYC, Seattle, SF, DC or some other hot and important urban market. That's an entitlement problem not an affordability problem. People feel entitled to live in certain locations.


I'd go with people "aspire" to live near a good mix of culture and opportunities. That's why these places are expensive.


It's so entitled that all these people want to live in places that have jobs. How unbelievably elitist they are to want to work for a living. /s


Living in an area and owning a house are not the same thing. I 100% understand the desire and angst/emotion but don’t get the entitlement, that one deserves this, it can never work out for everybody. Living in SF area I want to understand this point of view, plz point me at a good articulation.


> That's an entitlement problem not an affordability problem. People feel entitled to live in certain locations.

I would like to live in/near the city where I was born, lived a good chunk of my life, and where most of my family lives, but the cost of housing in Denver has risen almost 500% since I was born.

Do tell, does that make me entitled? Because I feel pretty goddamn entitled.


Would you be ok living in an apartment (condo)? If so, you are not entitled, and your desires are very reasonable.

But if you feel like you should be able to afford a detached single-family house in your city, you are not only entitled, your desires are impossible to fulfill - there's just not enough land for everyone who feels entitled to a single-family home to have one.


Not a new idea. See "Stakhanovite_movement".[1] Capitalism does it better than Communism did, by pushing competitiveness down to the individual. The destruction of unions made this possible.

It's so much more cost effective than slavery. Slavery doesn't provide a just in time workforce. Slaves are a capital expense and an ongoing operating cost. Capitalist workers are disposable.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakhanovite_movement


> There is new enthusiasm for universal policies—like universal basic income, parental leave, subsidized child care, and a child allowance—which would make long working hours less necessary for all Americans.

These universal policies will only exacerbate the load on those who work. Remember that when ever the government spends money on "someone" that money comes from someone who had to work to produce it.

Universal income that dismantles the bureaucracy and keeps the budget status quo could be a better system, but one that increases the budget will just put more labor on the shoulders of those who work.


47 1/2 years as a wage slave, by choice, and never heard of such non sense. I have known co-workers over time who may believe this theory. I treated time off, every minute, as a mini vacation be it weekends, paid holidays, paid vacation, paid sick leave and time off during labor strikes during which I would work part time to keep fiscally healthy. How time off is managed is key. If the job has no 'percs', sickness will result.


I would say those things that gave most Americans a sense of identity like community, religion or whatever are completely eroding. People move away to colleges, move away for jobs, i think we live in an era where the world looks so vast and chaotic, so people look for meaning in things they feel that are in their control, their work.


When Kaynes madd these predictions the world pop wa about 2 billion. With that pop it may be possible to achieve a 1940x level of leisure for everyone. But at 7 billion I’m pessimistic and think it’s unfair to anchor the article on something envisioned 80 years ago.

I’d like to know what the author expects people to do with their free time?

Get immersed in social media/games ?

Get involved in hobbies?

Lifelong learning?

Consumerism/travel?

Just what exactly?


Anything that they feel makes them happy? I mean, eight hour workdays are an arbitrary invention, just based on the fact that the old "eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure, eight hours of sleep" slogan made for a nice Schelling point. And people mostly didn't expect us to get stuck there like we did. During the industrial revolution, leisure mostly did not exist for the new working class. (On the other hand historically the aristocracy enjoyed a life of pure leisure.) I guess in the 1800s there were some people asking "but what would you do with all that time if you weren't working at a factory 14 hours a day six days a week". The question was as silly then as it is now. Out of all arguments for having to work n hours a day, "but otherwise you'd have too much time" must be the worst.


It was not completely random. There were experiments with working hours. Those 14 hours days are innefective as shown in pretty much all studies on the topic. They also were related to quite a lot of social and societal problems.


> social media/games ... hobbies ... Lifelong learning ... Consumerism/travel

It's really saddening that people bought into the false dichotomy of work VS leisure.

Lifelong endeavors in science, art, activism, politics exist[ed] outside of what we call "work".

Einstein, Maxwell, Darwin and countless others are/were doing something that is not "work" and certainly not a "hobby". Call it a purpose or a mission.

Serious volunteering and activism doesn't require you to be a genius tho. There is plenty of needs that are not addressed in this world.


The thing is that aspect takes care of what, 1, 5, 10%?

What do the rest do? What is there to be activist about once you’ve achieved a 15hr workweek globally?


Off the top of my head:

Racial equality

Gender equality

Rebalancing society so it’s not based on constant overconsumption

Trying to reverse the results of a couple hundred years of treating the world as raw materials for industrial profit (global warming, anthropocene era mass extinction event, pacific garbage gyre, etc)

AI rights maybe?

Fighting people/organizations attempting to pull society back to the current levels of inequity

Plus a bunch of things I am too immersed in the current situation to even imagine. Like nobody even had the concepts for “trans rights” when I was a kid but now that gay marriage is basically a done deal there’s room to fight for that.


What's wrong with doing nothing, laying on the couch snuggling your pets / SO / family, or enjoying your friend's company around a meal / drinks?


You are not working to support and salve 7bn needy fellows, you are slaving for the consumerist benefit of about 7m plutocrats.


Have you ever been to a place where people don’t work all the time? They spend time with their family and relax.


Why would population change the picture?


If we are talking about modern people only working 2 days a week and still being as productive as people were in the past while working a whole week, then you have to see that 3.5 times the population increases the number of people able to do work. So either the work is divided among more people and people work even less and are able to live, or the bosses keep all the cash and make people work a full week and give them a marginal percent of what they brought in and everyone is worse off.


I think you are close to falling into the "lump of labour" fallacy. Work is generally done to service consumer demand that scales with the number of people.


Impact on limited resources and impact on the environment.


That assumes that technological progress is static, which it patently is not. We are now able to make more out of the limited resources we have.


I believe being able to make more out of the resources does not necessarily translate into actually making more. There are arguments that building infrastructure today is slower than 30 years ago due to regulations/political constraints, despite the technological progress.


I think we surface more of the consequences of infrastructure construction in terms of health and safety and pollution, which appears to be slower, but in fact means much more is done.


Technological progress cannot create more land; housing in more expensive due to lack of land in many places, limited size of woods makes wood furniture more and more expensive, farming becomes more and more intensive. In the time of my grandfathers finding a place to build a house was very simple (and cheap) and there was more than enough wood to make everything out of the best quality wood. Even heating in the winter was done on wood as it was plenty for everyone. But population quadrupled since, the land and wood per capita is a quarter and decreasing.


> Technological progress cannot create more land

The Netherlands did reclaim land from the sea.


That is trolling; the land that can be claimed from the sea is irrelevant on a global scale, especially into the landlocked countries.


> more out of the limited resources we have

Compared to 10 years ago? Maybe.

Compared to... 200 years ago? Absolutely not.


All of your suggestions are excellent alternatives to unfulfilling or unnecessary work. (EDIT: Except the consumerism part, but travel 100% solid suggestion)


There is a cluster of super important hard jobs requiring a lot of hours nobody wants to do, that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Then there is a cluster of BS jobs where 2 hours a week is already too much and any additional hour just adds to a damage it causes on company/society. Then there is a misleading average of these two clusters and more regular jobs in-between.


Well, if all else fails they are free to create mock companies that have 7 layers of management, office politics, a commute, and free coffee; then spend 8 hours a day engaging with them.


> In 1980, the highest-earning men actually worked fewer hours per week than middle-class and low-income men, according to a survey by the Minneapolis Fed. But that’s changed. By 2005, the richest 10 percent of married men had the longest average workweek.

Surprise, a 70% marginal tax rate makes people reluctant to work when making dollars at that rate.


No shit. Our government has engineered a culture of fear to coerce the average person to work themselves as hard as they can, increasing the governments power and posh lifestyles for its elite, president, congresspeople, senior officials etc...


Keep in mind this is a result of great powers applying simultaneous asset inflation and wage suppression to destroy this country.


If I was a capitalistic billionaire, "Workism" is a religion that I would definitely encourage in my serfs.


> But everybody worships something.

Bullshit. This meme needs to die. People may desire meaning in their lives, but that's generally a sign they have ascended higher on Maslow's pyramid.

And finding meaning in certain kinds of work is still considered noble: education, small scale agriculture, charity, etc. Perhaps other industries could be equally fulfilling if workers gained a larger share of the spoils of their labor.


This statement is actually what stood out the most to me because I disagree with it. But, I actually disagree with you that people at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid don't need meaning. If anything, these people need meaning in their lives far more than the people at the top of the pyramid - otherwise, how does one justify all the suffering they must go through on a day to day basis. If you're struggling to make ends meet, having some meaning in your life such as children to raise and feed will make the struggle feel justified. You're not just working those long hours for low pay so you can go home and eat, sleep and repeat, you're doing it for your family and hopefully your children will have a better future as a result of your hard work.


For the American Natives, when the landscape was lush and the population was low, almost all time was spent in leisure. Then settlers came and made farms which were massively more productive, but they had to work a lot more because they were feeding a city of people doing other things. In the city, people can’t farm, so they have to buy food and shelter by inventing goods and services to trade for it which previously had no value. Then in these markets too, productivity increases so that a small number of people are working very hard to provide a low-value product to a large number of people. As productivity increases, so must scale, and workers are displaced, who must then find a way to sustain themselves by creating a new product that is even less necessary to survival and well-being.

This basic economic cycle is immutable regardless of the political system or label you place on it, and I believe that Keynes was a charlatan to deny it. A time traveler from the past might assume that we are all in some kind of penal colony being forced to do absolutely nothing and stressed out about random punishments for meaningless transgressions.

There is one thing that breaks the cycle: population decline. It was the plague that broke the pointless misery of the feudal system. In our world, even voluntary population decline is considered such a crisis that leaders are eager to sacrifice all forms of sustainability for any kind of growth. Unwise.


Note: I am not suggesting population decline as a solution. I'm not even disputing population increase a policy. I am lightly suggesting that unsustainable policies are generally unwise, but mostly just trying to frame this problem in terms of basic economic history. In this context, it seems that the vision of egalitarian leisure utopia fueled by industrial over-efficiency is unprecedented, although something more like that is observed in short duration with basic resource over-abundance.

For the American Natives, when the landscape was lush and the population was low, almost all time was spent in leisure.

I would heartily recommend reading anything about the native american peoples written in this millennium, the world you’re imagining never existed.


Despite the utter uselessness of this comment, there is some merit in the sense that there are differing opinions from reputable sources. Thus I will present my second-person account of the Amish.

They work very hard and what they do is very physically demanding. But most of their work is of their own choosing, with some small fraction required for sustenance. The women knit more quilts than they know what to do with them (unfortunately exploited by charity scams). They cut down trees to make new furniture just because. Kids make a game out of collecting rocks from the fields. I get the sense that it’s pleasurable and community-oriented.

All Amish young adults must spend at least two years living in the ‘english’ world and decide whether to return. The vast majority do. Tech workers might happily pay for such an experience. Is that leisure? Well, sort of. The point is that it’s optional and uncoerced. Make your own conclusion.

I’m sure you can find a differing opinion, but I don’t care to. This is direct from someone I know very well.


I don’t really think of Amish as American Natives.

The Amish are actually an example of hypercivilization, not indigenous culture. They took all of the learnings from civilization and edited, edited, edited.

They use even the most modern technologies if they are deemed useful to their civilization. It’s more like Western Society, gameified, than a pre-colonial society.


“Sapiens” or “Tribes”. It’s very clear.


Wow. It's almost like humans are governed by the same rules as algae blooms and predator-prey systems, where unsustainable growth causes total collapse on a timescale somewhat longer than any individual's life.


We are and we aren’t. Both the society and the social creature are co-evolving so the carrying capacity land has for a human can change dramatically due to culture.

Of course there is a minimum caloric basis but the world can produce much more than subsistence calories for 10 billion people and has for a long time.

Just in terms of murder and calories we are actually no longer constrained by predator/prey. For now.


The long timescales of anthropogenic climate change and ecosystem collapse suggest that this claim is a hypothesis which will take, at minimum, thousands of years to validate.




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