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Why is everyone so busy? (economist.com)
252 points by Futurebot on Dec 24, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 213 comments



So this is probably a little Marxist, but isn't the reason we're not working 3 hours a day the fact that the owners of capital capture all the gains from technological advance? In other words, money is more powerful if you can buy a robot at a high up front cost with small ongoing costs.

On a micro level, I see this as a worker figuring out how to do his 8 hour task in 4. Boss man says great, now you can do this other task for 4 hours also instead of going home at noon.


I'm surprised the article didn't mention anything about the time required to achieve and maintain proficiency.

If knowledge and skill comes from time immersed in work and study, then the knowledge worker who puts in 60 hours a week will be far more valuable than the one who only devotes 15 hours a week.

A surgeon who practices medicine only 2 hours a day will be much less capable than one who does more surgeries, spends more time learning new procedures and technologies, and keeps current with all the latest research.

If you need to design a suspension bridge, do you go with the engineer who spends 80% of her time not designing bridges, or do you choose the engineer who lives and breathes bridge design and has many more successful projects in her portfolio?

An attorney making $600 per hour might survive financially on 4 hours per week if her hourly rate stayed constant. But if she tried to do that, her knowledge would quickly atrophy, and nobody would pay that rate any more.

It's a bit of a paradox. To make enough money per hour to live well on a small number of hours, knowledge workers must acquire a very high level of knowledge and skill to make their time a scarce resource.

But to acquire and maintain that level of knowledge and skill demands a large and continuing investment of time.

Competition with other knowledge workers ensures that the highest rate per hour goes to those who spend the most time actively engaged in their field.


I seem to be doing both, reading up in my spare time to keep up to date, yet having plenty of work to do as a result, yet my pay has not gone up in the last few years.


Have you tried to change jobs that appreciate your skills more?

Making yourself more valuable is not the only thing required in order to get paid more.


Yes, but I seem to be near the top of the pay scale in Spain, and it still isn't lots.


You may consider moving to the US or starting your own business.


I like the equality, free healthcare, and decent holidays that Europe offers amongst other things. I am considering starting my own business.


There is no "free". someone is paying for this, and this someone is you through taxes, but most of it is the companies taxes in Spain.

This makes small businesses lives in Spain hard, and make big corporates think twice before getting real big centers in Spain.

This lack of competition is the reason you need to consider moving to US to have a good chance of a better life.


More money yes, better life is debatable. I moved from the UK to here, where it is generally better paid (not by a huge amount outside of London), but I feel I have a better quality of life in Spain.


Only works if you ignore other European nations that have both the benefits and better jobs.


If you are smart and capable, the US is THE best place to be. If you aren't (and enjoy government financial support) the US is not the best place.

This is why Musk, Thiel, et al. moved to the US.


"If you are smart and capable, the US is THE best place to be."

I think this is generally true if you are looking for a place that can best leverage your skill sets for maximum financial rewards, and you are willing sacrifice some quality of life in doing so.

"If you aren't (and enjoy government financial support) the US is not the best place."

I suppose this is the part that got you downvoted because it came across snarky. But it's also not entirely true. You can still be very average or somewhat talented in the U.S. and still hold much better paying jobs in the U.S. than you would anywhere else in the world, if you pick the right sector.


Growth of productivity with increased working hours is a good point. Another reason for working more is that work is more fun now than ever.


Honestly I think this is why unemployment is so high. At first they had to let people go during the recession, and then they were like, "oh hey, we didn't need a lot of those people in the first place.."

I wouldn't call myself a marxist, but I do think we're entering an era where something like a universal basic income might make sense. Nothing against people getting wealthy off their labor, but it seems apparent to me that the job market will continue to shrink as things become more and more automated, and shaming people that don't have some distinct skill-set that can't be automated doesn't sound like a recipe for a great society...


The problem with this argument is, that the same argument has existed for 200 years. Its exactly the same argument, replace 'maschine' with 'robot' and you could reprint a 200 year old opinion piece on this in the NYT and nobody would notitce.

What has changed now that was not the case 200 years ago. New maschines replace people and those people have to do something else.

The problem is not that there is not enougth work to be done, there are tons of industries and tons of places where people are needed. The problem is far more institutional, why are people not effectivly switching?

There might still by some cyclical unemployment but some of it is structural and blaming robots is the cheap way out.


There are a lot of jobs that have very obviously been automated though. For example: secretaries. Sure the job still kind of exists, although they give them weird fake names so that people aren't insulted (executive assistant!), but it's a lot smaller than it was. It's just not that important when you have email and text messages.

Same thing with factory work. Yeah, you still need people.. but you need less people. Do we really think that all the people that got displaced from their factory jobs are suddenly going to become robot mechanics or something? Sure some of them, but I just don't buy this argument that technology always creates new jobs when it destroys the old ones.

There are also a lot of jobs that currently exist that I suspect are not particularly necessary, they're just convenient. You see this all the time: a manager will hire someone to do something that they just don't like to do themselves. A convenience hire, basically. As long as the budget is there, everyone feels good.

For instance: "project managers" (Different places call them different things). I'd define this role as people that don't actually have any hiring or firing authority, or significant design role, but rather, they're mostly in charge of client relationships. Useful? Sure. But mostly that role exists so that the people doing the actual work have a buffer between them and the client/customer. If the economy fell of a cliff again, we'd probably not have that many project managers.

I just think different economic systems make sense in different contexts. Capitalism was a pretty good idea when growth was the most important factor, but now the US Government literally sets extra wheat on fire to keep prices at a certain level. I mean if you're literally burning food and employing people in jobs that aren't that useful, maybe the whole "growth" thing has stopped making sense.


Part of the reason we have a vast and highly paid entertainment industry, for example, is because automation eliminated a large number of jobs.

Productivity gains enable all sorts of industries to exist that couldn't have previously, such as people who clean dinosaur bones, get paid to play baseball, do interior decorating, restore classic cars, organize your closets, etc.


> There are a lot of jobs that have very obviously been automated though.

I think you have not understood my argument. My argument is that this happens ALL THE TIME. Do yourself a favor and go back and read the discussion going on 150 years ago. Its the same thing you are saying now.

Blablabl the basket makers are unemployed because of plastic bags. The barrelmaker because of plastic barrels and so on and so on.

The point is that this happens constantly and the market is the exact tool to deal with this. People get insentivised to move into the next best thing humans can still do. This has lead to more and more investment in human capital and it has been a good thing.

Capitalism is the best if you want to give people as much freedom and choices as possible, it is also the best if you want to get BILLIONS of people out of poverty and since there are still BILLIONS of people in poverty turing away from it to some sort of 'lets just leave everything as it is' policy is simply madness.

> I mean if you're literally burning food and employing people in jobs that aren't that useful, maybe the whole "growth" thing has stopped making sense.

Thats that terrible thing. It is done to please special intrest groupes and has nothing todo with acutal markets. I would suggest reading about the politcal economy of farm subsidisment and protectionsim.

Its a terrible thing and helps make us all poorer, and it worse because it makes it harder for BILLIONS of people to move out of poverty.


Just because it has been true up until now does not mean that it still is true and will continue to be true indefinitely.

Indeed historically, rapid technological development did often lead to many years of immense economic suffering for large groups of people - it just eventually got better. I don't think it's wrong to ask if now it's possible it will never get better because we're on the verge of technology replacing so many jobs.


> Just because it has been true up until now does not mean that it still is true and will continue to be true indefinitely.

My argument is not that it will go on for ever, my argument is that we can not predict when its going to stop and without some groundbreaking new line of argumentation I see no reason why I should expect it to change very soon.

However the only argument I hear is 'Tech X replaced Y amount of people'.

There are many things that come back again and again. Overpopulation pops up every 20 years. Resource prices will just go up (peek oil).

All these arguments have one thing in common, the stay consistanly the same and they are consistently wrong. Now once in awhile some prediction turns out to be true, and then people cry 'see I was right'. However its very unlikly that these people were actually right in the sence that they had discovered some new analysis or something, they are just luck.

So if there is a great new argument, please tell me and if its good I belive you.

> Indeed historically, rapid technological development did often lead to many years of immense economic suffering for large groups of people

True. But I dont think the last couple of years were specially revolutionary in terms of technology.

> I don't think it's wrong to ask if now it's possible it will never get better because we're on the verge of technology replacing so many jobs.

Its not wrong to ask. Belive me I spent quite some time reading about this, reading both sides but in the end, one side was consistently correct and the other never changed there argument or there position.


I understand your argument, I just disagree. (also: you don't have to be a dick about it. Sometimes reasonable people can disagree, you know?) 150 years ago was a vastly different time. I don't care if they were wrong THEN. Back then they didn't even have computers and motors were inefficient. Time and technology have changed. It's like if someone had invented facebook in 1995. It's not like social networking is a bad idea, it just wouldn't have worked in 1995.


Im sorry, I was a bit angry because I felt like you did not even read my argument.

> 150 years ago was a vastly different time. I don't care if they were wrong THEN. Back then they didn't even have computers and motors were inefficient. Time and technology have changed.

I agree. But simular argument can be made for every decade since then.

Im not arguing that it WILL go on, Im arguing that we have no reason to belive that it will stop soon. Im not hearing any new arguments and the data does not really fit the 'automation' story.

So my question is, why is it diffrent now, and 'now we have tech X' is not good enougth.


From his comments, I suspect that nickik may not be a native speaker, so I would not read too much into what you and me would assume as rudeness.


I think there is always more work that can be done.

Look around you. Is your street clean, is everything working, are old people being cared for, are children being well educated? The problem is misallocation of resources and apparently that is down to free market economics.


Education is not an example of the free market at work; it seems that the constantly increasing spending, and level (at best) results are a clear failure of government.


Free markets have allocated billions to the creator of a social network, which really doesn't provide much value to the world (ok I am sure you can argue that it has some value). Yet you complain about increased spending in education. I personally think the resources would be better spent on the things I mentioned amongst others, but the free market says otherwise. Recycling would be a perfect example, but it is far cheaper to destroy the planet than solve the problem.


People are not effectively switching because they are not evolutionarily or socially hard-wired to do so. We are going through a societal disruption on the order not never seen before in human history. To place all the blame on workers not adjusting is akin to blaming a person for not being prepared for their first cardiac arrest.


What? We have been doing it for 200 years, faster then ever befor in history. If anything the change has been slower in the last years.


I am worried in the long run about automation, but it's true that labor participation right now is about the same relative to the number of retirees as it has always been. Unemployment is very low. The number of "discouraged" workers is 2x what it was before the recession, but we're only talking about a swing of 500k people -- less than half a percent of the labor force.

So, the robots/automation replacing jobs explanation doesn't really float for me right now. First, it's not clear that there's a phenomenon that needs to be explained at all. People have a feeling that there are fewer jobs, but that doesn't actually seem to be true. And, as you said, this has always been a go-to complaint. I'm sure it will be accurate someday, but it doesn't seem to be today.


I think, once we have singularity we will have this problem. But lets face it, trying to predict or plan for post singularity is kind of pointless.


Tell that to horses.


>unemployment is so high

Unemployment is actually not that high in the US. This is why I think a lot of policies people such as basic income, make work schemes, etc are really not that needed right now. The economy is generating jobs.


U.S. unemployment is ~3x higher now than in 2007. A more important statistic is underemployment, and that's still high. And this includes part-time workers who can't find full time employment. While job growth is slightly positive overall it's extremely misleading for two reasons: a.) wages are flat to negative, b.) the grow is geographically disproportionate with more than 1/2 of U.S. states seeing negative job growth. Most of the gains have come in oil fracking boom states. That's a bubble about to pop due to downward pressure in oil prices, and New York state is just one of the first likely to ban the practice. So the state of employment in the U.S. is actually dismal.


But how many of those jobs being generated are "high quality" and/or reasonable/high-paying jobs?

I'd be interested in any stats which measure that - say, coming out of this recession versus previous recessions.


This might be a place to start.

http://www.bls.gov/jlt/


Strictly speaking, if my wife and I worked 3 hour days, and were paid for 3 hour days, we could make a living. It wouldn't be a great one, but it would be possible at our current pay rate.

A surprising number of working professionals are at that level, but some factors prevent it:

1) It's simply more efficient to have one person working on a problem than 2 or 3...e.g. the mythical man month. The problems I work on don't get smaller just because I work less. I can either work on it 3 times as long, which puts my company at a competitive disadvantage over companies that have employees willing to work full-time. Or we can have 3 people working on it, which, for a variety of reasons turns out to also be less efficient than 1 person working on a task and is also a competitive disadvantage.

2) The standard of living at 3 hours a day is significantly less than the one I get to live working 8. Is it sufficient? sure, is it nice? No. Even if I took the cut and downsized, many of the hobbies I enjoy now, I wouldn't have the money or space for any longer. I'm also able to live well below my means and save up significant amount of money for eventual retirement. I can't stay in the labor force 3 times as long to save up the same amount.

You might argue that the owners of capital capture all the gains from technological advance, but it would be wrong. This model only works if there is only one entity operating in the economy that's advancing. In a competitive economy technological advances allow you to undercut your competitors either by offering the same item/service at a cheaper price, or by offering more at the same price. Doing this, you end up shaving into your profit regularly. In general, the profits at the most technologically advanced companies tend to be among the slimmest.

Profits are also eaten up as reinvestment in continuous technological advance. R&D is hideously expensive, and it fails most of the time. Economies that send all the profits home with the workers tend to also have stagnant technological advances and rely on espionage against economies that do innovate to maintain parity.


Isn't (2) a relative issue? In other words, if everyone else also worked three hours a day instead of eight, then the prices of goods would change to reflect that. People with a higher hourly wage would still enjoy a much better standard of living, but the effect of "I'm working less than half as much as everybody else" would be normalized.

The problem is that this just isn't an equilibrium point. If everybody worked three hour days, you could double your income by just working six hour days. The extra money would probably be too tempting, and before long everybody would be back up to eight, at which point the marginal benefit of adding on more hours seems to hit a threshold of sorts.

It's similar to the issue of dual income households. How was it that in the 50s and earlier very few families needed two incomes to afford a nice middle class lifestyle? The answer, partially, is that society had found this pseudo-equilibrium point where no families had two incomes, and so the market prices reflected that at the time.

This was sustained only by social pressure against certain demographics working, mainly women, and when those pressures were finally broken down dual income households started becoming more common. This was a huge increase in prosperity for the initial wave of dual earners, but as it became widespread housing prices came to reflect the doubled earning capacity, and now most middle class folks find they struggle to afford a home with two incomes.


> 50s and earlier very few families needed two incomes

Historiclly this is just wrong. There is a very short window in very view country when couples could not both work. I would argue it was more a social then a economic effect.

Basiclly it was a sign that you had made it, if your wife would not have to work. Kind of goes back to Victorian ideal woman that only sits around and does not really do much.

> and now most middle class folks find they struggle to afford a home with two incomes.

Maybe this is a issue because people all want there own homes. Economicly I have not seen one good argument that buying is better then renting. Countrys that have much more renting are just as well of.


Isn't (2) a relative issue? In other words, if everyone else also worked three hours a day instead of eight, then the prices of goods would change to reflect that.

There would be only 3/8 as much "stuff" (including services etc), modulo productivity effects, to divide among the same number of people. So on average, you'd be able to afford 3/8 of what you could in a 8-hour-a-day world. Regardless of whether prices changed and in which direction.

What is consumed, must have been produced. If less is produced, less is available to consume.


Wherever possible, a company would have three workers filling out a shift rather than one.

I think there would be productivity effects, though, as noted by another poster. And not everything scales linearly in the necessary manner for this to work (but many things do). One upside, though, is that the number of jobs would drastically increase.


Wherever possible, a company would have three workers filling out a shift rather than one.

I thought we have less than 66% unemployment?


> if everyone else also worked three hours a day instead of eight, then the prices of goods would change to reflect that

No, not really. Pricing doesn't work that way. You have to account for the vast price differences that occur globally and the fixed cost of production.

A more concrete example, Samsung makes (I don't know, making up a number here) 5% profit on a new Blueray player. That means the rest of the pricing is fixed. But now instead of 1 person working an 8 hour shift producing x number of Blueray players, they have 3 times the number of people working 1/3 the time. Production doesn't scale linearly with the number of people, and management overhead increases as the need to coordinate more people simply requires more effort. So costs don't scale linearly either. So now Samsung is making fewer Blueray players at greater expense.

Remember, their downward price mobility is only within that 5%.

Do they a) lose profit to maintain prices?

b) increases sale prices to maintain profit?

The demand signal is still similar. You working 1/3 the amount of time doesn't change the number of people who might buy a blue-ray player, it only decreases the amount of money you have to spend on one. Samsung can't simply drop prices by 2/3s because you have less money. The solution is to cut production to meet the demand signal.

Cutting production means they've let go much of their production staff (which lowers the managerial overhead) and helps keep prices low. But the blue-ray player still costs what it costs to produce. Your ability to pay for it doesn't change the laws of physics.

Now let's make things worse for Samsung. China doesn't have a 3 hour work-day policy, they have an 8 hour work day policy. So, even at exactly the same per-hour wage, Foxconn can outproduce and price undercut (by realizing the greater efficiency of fewer workers) Samsung on the same product.

Fewer workers producing the same amount of stuff as more workers increases productivity and realizes efficiencies that can be used as competitive advantage.

Simply cutting everybody's time to 1/3 isn't the same thing.

> It's similar to the issue of dual income households. How was it that in the 50s and earlier very few families needed two incomes to afford a nice middle class lifestyle?

I think there's a very good argument that the definition of "middle-class" has continued to veer upwards over time. The kinds of homes and lifestyle my parents grew up in are nowhere near the quality level of what I've grown up with. The world my grandparents grew up in would be considered poverty levels today.

Lots of families could go single-income today and realize a lifestyle not too different from that single-income lifestyle of previous generations. But having two incomes means more TVs, more internet, more cars, nicer cars, nicer computers, multiple computers, bigger house, granite countertops, large en suite bathrooms, expensive overseas vacations, more expensive schools, more resource to put into your kids, etc.


Your example of the Blueray player is a good one, and I can't disagree with it.

I will say that I mainly had housing in mind when I made that statement. That was somewhat short-sighted of me, but in my defense housing is quite different from something like a Blueray player or a TV. House prices are much, much more fluid than those of gadgets and are also highly localized. One house can be 3x more expensive than another carbon copy simply because it's closer to an office district that employs a large number of comparatively wealthy people. In other words, housing prices in competitive markets are determined mostly by factors other than the cost of production, which can be nearly negligible in some cases. Housing prices certainly would go down if everybody's income was simultaneously cut by two-thirds; this is exactly what happens when a local job market crashes (e.g., see the Houston oil crash in the 80s).

Regarding your final point, about standard of living simply veering upward over time, I think there's a lot of truth to it. But I also think there's a lot of complexity. I know plenty of folks who still live very modest lives that are barely different from the 50s -- small homes, often homes that were built in the 50s and are still standing and are in bad condition, certainly worse condition than when they were first built; small TVs; old kitchens; no vacations; public schools; many family members living in the same house; etc. These people are often working classic middle-class jobs: nurses, school teachers, etc. Despite not having many of the materialistic advances you list, they also often have pretty bad debt, either student loans or credit card debt.


Yeah, you're right of course. Housing prices would go down towards the cost of production. Those $750k McMansions really only cost $300k to build (making numbers up here). But if new homes drop below the cost of production then we're in trouble.

Any economic model that doesn't assume for the cost of production simply isn't realistic.

Japan has a particularly weird model that might work: homes drop in price like cars over time, so prestige signalling means building a new house and not living in an old one. It also means homes are built cheaply and without intention to last more than a couple decades. It also means that the new home construction industry maintains a fairly flat work schedule and increases certainty.

There's a bunch of other construction economics that occur in Japan. Something like 5% of the people working in Japan work in construction.

Studies of Japanese economics are interesting in terms of how many economic problems the Japanese have tried to solve with construction projects.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/world/asia/06japan.html?pa...

http://bigthink.com/Global-Pedestrian/needless-dams-and-road...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/16/world/asia/16dam.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sx63GTCFKzY

http://regex.info/blog/2007-03-25/403

http://nfggames.com/neography/photos/paved.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/07/world/asia/07iht-07japan.8...


It all basically comes down to the question of how much of our spending is due to zero-sum games (or at least things that trend in that direction).

That, I tend to think, depends to a significant degree on where you are. In many areas of the US, housing (for example) is very cheap, and much of the cost is down to the construction of the building and its amenities. On the other hand, in parts of the UK with a decent jobs market, there's a shortage of available land, and housing is very expensive indeed. I spend three times what a friend in Wales spends for his (otherwise similar) house, and three times less than some other friends spend for their one bed flat in central London. That difference in cost has little to do with the difference in intrinsic value of our properties, and lots to do with the fact that the land they sit on has differing value, thanks to the UK's shortage of residential land in places with jobs.

In the south of the UK, I would tend to argue that if everyone cut an hour or two off their daily work, we might be affected a little less than you might normally think - because everyone below a certain class has a lot of their income tied up in an area that approaches a zero sum game.


Right, supply-demand only influence prices, not control them. You can't demand prices to infinity, or supply prices to zero.


Pretty much. That there are more people willing to do the same job for less because there's an oversupply of labor as a consequent of globalization's progression. Further, because of the optimizations of production, it's cheaper than ever to produce most things and especially zero unit cost goods like software. The only problem/challenge from the supply side is that niches are getting more microoptimized because the big problems have already been solved a zillion times over.

My hope is that when people get to live and work in space on a semipermanent basis, it will start the single biggest goldrush the human species is or ever will witness beyond leaving the solar system. (Hint: invest with Musk.)


Sadly however, the rich get richer and the middle are the ones that loose out due to cheaper labor of globalization.


This keeps getting repeated, but while globalization destroys some jobs, it often generates much more.

http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/economics/economic-globalisatio...


Perhaps because it's true, and it's rich academics that handwave the party-line of supposed tiny "benefits" when there are far greater structural problems: such as vast majority of people never being able to ever retire and also having to wait longer for less Social Security.

Have you been to America lately and decades ago?

Most people, especially the middle and lower classes, in the US are far poorer than just a couple decades ago. Many jobs are part time to avoid paying benefits and pension is a long forgetten relic. Ageism is a rampant dirty little open secret also.

Gen Y cannot find a job and many have given up seeking work. This is a fact because there's so much competition for fewer jobs. Existing office workers in the US are getting more "hurried" to perform and produce more, similar to the prevailing mood of office workers in Europe (esp UK).

Janitors that clean our building can't afford rent and so sleep in their car in our parking lot. Don't even get me started on how the meat-packing industry encourages and abuses undocumented workers (by advertising pay in Mexican newspapers).

Also, if you need skilled knowledge labor cheap and you're say a startup, either you can hire "expensive" Americans or people that will work for less. It's routine for founders to hire remote staff because the costs are dramatically diffeent (people are the largest cost.). Belarus, India, Brazil, Mexico... I'm guilty of hiring staff from there too.

The interesting consequence of apps such as Asana, Slack and the like have made workers location-independent, which makes them even more replacable from anywhere.

There are not just one but multiple shanty towns now in Silicon Valley, even after The Jungle was "cleared" out like what happens to immigrants in France. I don't recall ever hearing about such a thing in the 1980's. Expect the homeless population to continue rising.

It's not globalization, it's not the "President's fault," it is the situation of being qualitatively and quantitatively harder for most of the 99% to make a living than it was (in the US).

The non-office jobs that are good are "blue collar" skilled labor work (electricians, plumbers, welder a, mechanics, etc.) that have a stigma because the mainstream bought into the myth that academia is the only true path to success.

Watch "Inequality for All" to see specifics facts laid out.

Finally, if we are to continue on this over aggregation of wealth treadmill, the lower classes have no more religion and so there will be a redistribution in one way or another.


Tbh, the only part of hour comment that is true is that the middle class is having a tough time climbing up compared to the rich. There is no scarcity of jobs in the US, there are actually many openings.

This part of your comment hints at where these openings are.

"The non-office jobs that are good are "blue collar" skilled labor work (electricians, plumbers, welder a, mechanics, etc.) that have a stigma because the mainstream bought into the myth that academia is the only true path to success."


I don't see that working out significantly differently in a Marxist system. Or at least a Marxist-Leninist system. There'd be a change in the boss's motivations, but it'd only be cosmetic. Instead of "Great, that means we can double production, which will earn me rewards because we can sell more stuff!" it would be "Great, that means we can double production, which will earn me rewards because it will impress my superiors!"


>"Great, that means we can double production, which will earn me rewards because it will impress my superiors!"

That would be a Marxist-Leninist system (or rather a Marxist-Stalinist one).

Marxism doesn't say anything other than the society en masse and through democratic means has a say on what the level of production is for each sector. They could have just said "that's enough" if they prioritized leisure.

Of course USSR had two problems: it was underdeveloped, and it faced huge dangers from outside ("capitalistic") powers, so it had to ramp-up its production pronto (else, it would have been squashed by Germany in WWII, for example, something which the industrialization prevented). A single country (or even a small alliance) cannot adapt that well to doing what it wants (e.g. emphasize leisure) without falling prey to other powers around it. That was the whole hoopla with the notion of "socialism in one country" btw ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism_in_One_Country ).


For me the issue is that if you're going to pick a model, you're kind of stuck with something like Marxism-Leninism or Maoism if you want to be able to do any serious hypothesizing.

Vanilla Marxism is the abstract base class of political ideologies. You can't actually instantiate it, because Marx left too much unsaid when it came to the nuts and bolts of how he thought a society should function on a day-to-day basis.


that's an interesting analogy, i don't really think of Marxism as an ideology, but a critique of capitalism. people who berate it as an ideology are correct because they are berating Marxist–Leninism, but Marxism as a critique of capitalism is sound.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxism

> For the political ideology commonly associated with states governed by Communist parties, see Marxism–Leninism.


It's generally considered unsound because it relies on the labour theory of value -- that "true" value comes from the labour expended during creation of a good.

That was the state-of-the-art in classical economics when Marx branched from it. And his argument flows from it.

But the LTV breeds paradoxes. That's why, when the concept of subjective value was introduced, economics left LTV behind.

A thing is only valued according to what it is exchanged for.

So a single good actually has different values, at different points in time and space. The value of the labourer's efforts are a distinct exchange from the value of the good to the manufacturer, which is distinct again from the value when sold to the wholesaler, distinct from the value at the retailer, distinct from the retailer to the consumer, distinct again the value between the buyer and the buyer's son who inherited it, distinct again to the value at a lawn sale, distinct again to the value at a swap meet, distinct again to the value at a recycling centre ...

There was no "real" or "true" value to be expropriated here, so the Marxist critique basically falls to pieces. It continues to be attractive because it makes sense to people who are unaware of more modern economics, because it predicts cyclical behaviour in capitalist economies and because it finishes with some hand-wavy eschatological futurism that sounds really pleasant.


Could the people who voted down the above comment please explain why. I too understand Marxism as described above. I might amend it slightly from "people who berate it as an ideology are correct" to "people who berate it as an ideology would be correct if it were one", but otherwise what's the issue?


I didn't downvote (and I wish they'd just remove that silly feature from this site), but if I had to guess it would come down to a few things:

1. Ideology is not a dirty word. It's just a noun that describes any large-scale philosophy that focuses on political or economic issues.

2. Referring back to that definition, Marxism is very much an ideology. Claiming that it isn't is just playing word games.

3. All that aside, focusing in on quibbling over a word like that, to the exclusion of addressing any of the actual content of the statement that was being responded to, doesn't do much to add value to the conversation. Given the current context I don't think it would be unfair to suggest that it amounts to trying to meet a response to a courtier's reply with yet another courtier's reply.


to me, ideology and marxism are loaded terms.

i think the fact that you refer to marxism as a base class and marxist leninism as an instantiation mean that we fundamentally agree on the nature of the distinction between the two.

i think the nub of our disagreement is whether ideology is a loaded term, and whether marxism meets our personal definition of that word.


Don't expect the majority of Hacker News posters to understand anything regarding Marxism.


As long as we're devolving into argument by dictionary, we might as well cut straight to the root. A Google search for the term gives us:

  ideology (n) a system of ideas and ideals, especially 
               one that forms the basis of economic or 
               political theory and policy

Which I'd say is a pretty darn decent definition, and corresponds very well with vernacular usage.


i suppose you could call a critique or analysis a system of ideas and ideals, but it wouldn't be an "ideal" definition. vernacular refers to marxist-leninism.


This is just looking all the other problems of the USSR and only focusing on those that can easly be reasoned away by tweaking socialist theory. However there are many other very real problems that are pushed under the table and with clames like "they were underdevloped". While its true, the problem of the USSR was not that they could not get the technology to do things, they did not have a resource problem, nor was it a laber problem. They had a problem of ORGANISATION and INSENTIVES and for those you do not need a head start.

Most of these arguments where developed by people who were disappointed in the soviet union (because it took exactly the course critices had said it would) and made up arguments.

The USSR could have traded with others, there is nothing that says a country can not be internally socialistic and externally trade with capitalists. Thats exactly how some market anarchist schemes work.


>The USSR could have traded with others, there is nothing that says a country can not be internally socialistic and externally trade with capitalists. Thats exactly how some market anarchist schemes work.

In some ideal world yes. In the real world, other countries (well, they ruling classes) wanted to see its demise, not trade with it, for it gave their people the wrong ideas...


I think threw most of its history the USSR did export some stuff. Also Im pretty sure that it was the USSR that did not want to trade, not the capitalist nations.

Also the USSR influnced almost half of the world, the extend of the market is easly big enougth. Its not like the USSR was Hong Kong or Cuba.


It's this and that the owners of capital have so much power over labor, that employees can't simply say, "I want a 3 hour day," but hear, "You have to work 10." And you can't argue because unemployment is so high (because of those productivity gains).


I suggest the opposite.

The reason you can't work just 3 hours a day is that you need to make money for other people as well. Too many governmental jobs that has really no real value, but exist due to socialistic idea, governments want to give work to people for votes and for statistics.

And you must pay for those jobs yourself, be it through direct taxes or by the fact that products you buy cost more, because companies are obliged by regulations to hire someone to do something that they have to pay for.


Not only due to socialistic ideas. Even big private corporations have a tendency to grow organizational pockets and positions of no real value. If you have worked there you will have noticed them.


yep, but those will crush financially at the end. They will have to improve. Governments not, they'll just take more taxes.


No, they don't crash. I see this happening in big coporations like IBM, Cisco, and Coca Cola.


The is just more insentive to cut down that sort of thing in coporations. While all big companys are less effective because of organsiation, there are lots of people specially dedicated to finding usless work and cutting it away.

I know mulitble people who have exactly that job, and non of them work for governemnt.

IBM, that has existed for 100 years but they are the exeption not the rule. Most companys dont make it that long or grow that big.

I would suggest you read economic theory on this "The Theory of the Firm" by Ronald Coase is the usual place to start.


I read that paper but it speaks about why firm exists.

There are vast examples of workers not doing anything on any organization, blaming only the public sector is denial. The truth is that a company doing well has enough resources to do well even if they pay non productive workers.


Name some examples of no-value governmental jobs? It's easy to say someone's job is unnecessary from the outside.


Well there are of course diffrent classes, some are just not usful in my opinion. There are lots of things governemnt does that I dont think they should do, stopping people from taking drugs for example.

Then there is just plain inefficeny, and I have seen that. I know people who work in govenremnt and have worked there myself. There are people that work there that basiclly kind of float. They do jobs that could be done in hours in days, I even did that. This is true in any large organisation but governement is usally much bigger then most cooperations and they have less insentive for efficeny.


There are a lot of at random rules. Why do you need >100 senators when they barely meet and have a lot of workers? Why do you need a lot of people in the board of directors of gov co's when they never make any remark? Sometimes they even get paid if they do not show up!


Be specific. Which senator is not needed? Can everyone agree on how many senators are required? How confident are you really that they aren't needed?


> Too many governmental jobs that has really no real value, but exist due to socialistic idea

Data on that?


So this is probably a little Capitalist, but isn't the reason we're not working 3 hours a day the fact that the owners of capital capture allocate investment towards technological advancements? In other words, technology is more sought after if you can allocate research towards a robot at a high up front cost with small ongoing costs.

On a macro level, I see this as a economy optimizing for technological expansion over leisure. Worker man says shitty, then pulls out his magical pocket sized supercomputer on the bus ride home at 6pm.


> Worker man says shitty, then pulls out his magical pocket sized supercomputer on the bus ride home at 6pm.

Total fallacy. Most of the incredible advances we've had in science are due to passion for science, as opposed to financial gain. Financial gain usually promotes iterative advancement.


I think Tim Cook once said Apple doesn't do it for the money too, while having $150bn on the bank.


I'd start with thinking a wee bit further back. True genius doesn't have a price tag, and if it does, it's only because this world has forced it.


Tim Cook was lying. That doesn't mean people who engage in work to support scientific and technological advancement (rather then mere iteration) are also lying.


We should able to bring discussions like this without having to apologize that it may seem Marxist. Marxism was wrong, it gave birth to some of the most awful oppressive regimes in the XX century. But we should be able to have discussions about equality, and the relationship capital and labor with out fear of it seeming Marxism.


Or how about "I've got more ideas on how to improve productivity. How about a raise, or I go to work for your competitor?" Heck, a worker who can double productivity can write their own ticket.


I would like to provide another explanation for the longer hours at work: reverse-telecommuting (doing personal stuff on company time).

Particularly with the advent of the internet, there isn't that much stuff that we NEED to be away from work to do. We can easily organize our personal finances, research and schedule various appointments, order groceries, etc. all the while coordinating with one's spouse.

The expectation to stay longer hours at work seems to have come with more goodwill towards running personal errands and general slacking around at work, such that though we work longer hours, the work itself is much less concentrated.


Superb, hilarious article on this topic: http://www.kenrockwell.com/business/two-hour-rule.htm


>Particularly with the advent of the internet, there isn't that much stuff that we NEED to be away from work to do. We can easily organize our personal finances, research and schedule various appointments, order groceries, etc. all the while coordinating with one's spouse.

Nice theory, but fails down at all those pour sobs working overtime and not allowed to even piss outside of company schedulle -- from factories to call centers etc...


I blame my own personal loss of time partially on long commutes. Previously, I lived about ~8 minutes away from where I worked. Now I live about ~40 minutes (which is only about 12 miles) from work. So, that works out to ~5.3 extra hours a week I lose sitting in my car. Or about 6.5 work weeks of time a year. With that time, I could be teaching the kids something, learning a new skill, exercising, working on my own projects, or just relaxing.

Think about how much work you can get done in 6 weeks at work. That is what is being lost because I live in a state/city that puts infrastructure projects near the bottom of the priority list.


"That is what is being lost because I live in a state/city that puts infrastructure projects near the bottom of the priority list."

I'm not belittling your problem or saying that it's your own fault or anything, and it's empirically true that that short commutes contribute significantly to QoL, but more or better infrastructure is not (should not be) the goal. The mantra (which has become the norm in transportation research, to a lesser degree in professional transportation planning circles and only to a small degree in policy circles) is 'we don't need better mobility, we need better accessibility'.

To make this more concrete, you don't need better roads, you need better jobs close to your home. But you'll only get these once this becomes the common sentiment and people start voting with their feet. Because what you're doing now (take better job in exchange for worse commute) only makes the overall situation worse - more people competing for jobs in central locations, and/or people trading bigger houses further away for a longer commute.

A lot of work is being started (in Europe, I know little details of efforts elsewhere but from the current literature it seems this is a global trend) on getting people to change their sentiments on transport and home/work location. It will take a number of years for the first effects to show of course. Just spatial planning policy interventions take 10 years to become active, let alone for their effects to be significant.


European countries have been fighting to keep their polycentralism for at least a century but it hasn't stopped them becoming more monocentric (both within cities and in comparing cities themselves) than ever today. There is a continued trend in the west for jobs to want to be located in centres, particularly as most white collar jobs want physical access both to other workers and to government buildings (courthouses, politicians, central govt offices, etc). None of this shows much sign of abatement.

The big trends to deal with this now are improving transport (which you argue against), moving people into dense centres (which you seem tacitly against) and remote working (which is a trend in tech but hasn't taken off in any other industry).

There is little to suggest that smaller centres will be the focus of future economic activity, though I'd be interested in your sources. this is my field as an urban deisgner by the way


While I understand how you can understand that from my post, the stream-of-consciousness style of posting on websites muddled my points:

- I see as the only long-term sustainable trend for much more people to move into smaller, much more densely populated areas - megacities. But there are no (not yet) facts that corroborate this claim, although more people in my field and adjacent fields are at least informally starting to share this idea. Not that it's very relevant what the objective situation is - many people feel cities are Bad and think we need to move away from them. And politics follows popular opinion, on macro topics like this.

- 'Accessibility' is not just 'smaller centres'. Without wanting to get into the debate over which of the 5000 definitions is the 'right' one, what I meant was that thinking of time it takes to get to different places in terms of 'we need to increase rush hour capacity so that I can get to work faster' is (apologies to the GP, not meant personally) stupid. The congestion-decreasing effect of adding a lane on a main artery lasts, give or take a few years, 5 years. After that, people have adapted to the new circumstances - i.e. bought houses further away from where they work, because it's cheaper there (in the first years after the intervention) and thereby made the problem worse.

- I disagree with your assertion that the trend to build more and wider roads and more public transport are a way to deal with concentration of economic activity on less area. Moving people into dense centres is, but 'improving transport' is (imo) a band aid to deal with negative externalities of densification - i.e. rising house prices, lagged upgrades of amenities in areas that increase in density, etc. Said in a less roundabout, academic and cautious way: politician build more roads to deal with constituents bitching about not being able to buy a detached house with 10 ares of lawn for their children to play on in the area where I work, and look there are plenty of houses in that shithole farm town over there, just build a road and I'll vote for you.

I'm not quite sure any more where exactly I'm going with this to be honest, just wanted to say that the solution to transportation issues is not 'build more roads' but 'create an environment in which people will naturally need to travel less'. But building roads is easier, of course.


I see your point now more.

I agree on roads being a band aid and pushing people further out, which if it continues requires exponential additions to roadways, which is impossible. Metro rail, on the other hand, is a different thing in allowing accessibility across the dense centre. The most effective 'acessibility' I can see is rail stations as the focal points of density.


Good to know that I'm not the only architect in HN. I completely agree with you.


> we need better accessibility

So why aren't more localities actually innovating around this principle instead of blaming their constituents?

Off the top of my head:

* Encourage telecommuting

* Encourage flexible work schedules

* Encourage new product delivery systems: delivery groceries, delivery laundry, Seamless, Uber, etc.

* Hold employers accountable for commute times, especially in the absence of telecommuting and flexible work schedules

* Make employers accountable for reassigning employees (you're working across town now, but it's still within driving distance, so no relocation benefits)


Because localities don't make money on accessibility, they make money on property and commercial taxes, which encourages build-out and real estate development of anything that's left untouched.

Better accessibility (and higher density) would also mean a leaner city services staff needed to service it all, so it's understandable a municipal bureaucracy is not going to be the prime advocate of that.


We should start by chaing laber market laws that pushe everybody into the traditional work day schedule.


> A lot of work is being started (in Europe, I know little details of efforts elsewhere but from the current literature it seems this is a global trend) on getting people to change their sentiments on transport and home/work location.

European here. Could you point to some ressources on that work being started in Europe ?


Well when I mean 'work', I mean that in the research sense (since for me that's 'work' :) ), and what I see and hear on conferences and symposiums, so I don't have any easy links. There are some FP7 projects that worked on this (search e.g. the Urbact websites, the FP7 website under transportation and sustainability themes, the Interreg website under the respective themes etc) and there are also many calls in Horizon 2020 that cover these aspects. There were some calls in the past in ICT subjects with open submissions that were won by projects working on crowd-sourcing and serious gaming applications that also covered this subject.

Furthermore (and again without having anything concrete at hand), there are regularly articles that cover aspects of this in the usual journals: European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research, Transportation, Transportation Journal, Transportation Science etc.


The idea of a 'business park' [0] seems like it could solve these problems, but the only examples I've seen (in the UK) are dull and lifeless blobs of concrete in the middle of nowhere.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_park


And you're falling into exactly the trap the article is talking about. Worrying about the cost of all that time spent in the car, when you could be thanking your lucky stars you have that extra time to yourself.

My commute is 1 hour each way and it's wonderful. Having a busy job and 2 kids means I have a lot to do at work and at home, but those 2 hors a day are entirely my own.

Mostly I listen to podcasts and audiobooks, but I also carry an iPad and read on that when I get a seat on the train. It's a great opportunity to listen to novels, history and science podcasts, comedy shows or read material I wouldn't get a chance to otherwise. Podcasts and audiobooks are perfect for car journeys too though.


> but those 2 hours a day are entirely my own.

You haven't tasted freedom, my friend. Commuting hours are enslaved hours. I have the fortune of a 15 minute bike ride to work. The extra hours in my week can be spent in any old direction, not just listening to podcasts. I can go to the bank, sit in a coffee shop, play some guitar, whatever.


I commute more then 2h a day. Honstly I dont mind because it means I can live where I want to live.

Its not lost time, I spend 1h on day on Hacker News and Reddit anyway. I would do the exact same thing at home. Im writting this comment from the train. I also have my personal media collection, a book, a kindle and my laptop.


I think you are fortunate to be able to do things you enjoy while commuting. If you had to drive to work and sit through terrible traffic, things might not be as nice unfortunately. I have more recently been taking the bus but I still can't really read on it because I get dizzy..


Well, that's the difference between having a good public transport option and driving. I hope that it won't be too long until self-driving cars solve this problem.


> Well, that's the difference between having a good public transport option and driving.

Why? He listens to podcasts and audiobooks, something which can be done while driving.


No. Not exactly. You cannot both focus on the radio and driving at the same time with the equal amount of attention that a person who is just listen to audio while passively riding. It is not possible. Driving is not just visual clues, it is audio. Are my tires making the correct noise? Am I being honked at? Is that a siren I hear? Does the feedback from the road tell me about any dangerous conditions the road my present?

There were over 30,000 traffic deaths in 2012. Over 5,000,000 automobile accidents. Yes, listening to audio while driving can be enjoyable, but it is a secondary task to not dying or not killing someone else.


> Are my tires making the correct noise?

Seriously? You have to spend a lot of time worrying about stuff like that?

If you're stuck in a crawling rush hour commute, your only concern might be to not rear-end the car in front of you. Commutes in general are often described as being boring and routine, not something that you have to have your senses heightened in order to escape from with your life: think about driving along the highway for 15 minutes, straight ahead.

> Yes, listening to audio while driving can be enjoyable, but it is a secondary task to not dying or not killing someone else.

Of course, the usual fearmongering. We're talking about listening to audiobooks, not blasting techno or death metal at obscene volumes so that you can't hear your surroundings. Driving a car is a pretty routine task which, while we should always have respect for the terrible destructive power it has, being constantly worried about everything that might possibly go wrong is just going to sizzle our nerves. Just being alert and present in the moment is sufficient for a lot of routine driving.


I think it depends on the individual; I know I can't drive and pay attention to the radio or an audiobook at the same time. I could easily miss a red light.

And sure, commutes are routine, but you're not driving with the same people every day under the same conditions. I've lost count of the times I had to evade someone doing something stupid.


I wrote a novel and three feature-length screenplays commuting in Swiss trains. Now I'm in London and my commute is slightly shorter but not as useful :(


> "My commute is 1 hour each way and it's wonderful."

I agree. My commute used to be 20min each way with car, but now I take the train which means my commute went up to 50min each way. When commuting with the car I somehow couldn't get myself around to reading or learning new things when arriving home, even though I had the 1h/day more time on my hands. I tried different things but none of them seemed to stick, so then I just thought to myself screw it, I'll take the train and the longer commute. Haven't regretted that decision one bit.

Couple of positive things I've noticed after taking the train. I'm more productive in the office as I get things rolling already on my commute (note that I don't do any work stuff on my commute) and if I've had productive day at the office I'm productive on the commute back, which leads I also get things done at home :) Also as the commute time is timeboxed I don't muck about so I'm focused on the task at hand. I usually switch between reading/coding/learning depending on the mood of the day.


What science podcasts could you recommend? Thanks


I recommend Quirks & Quarks[1]. It's been on the air in Canada for a long time and has a big back catalog as a result.

[1]http://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks


This is what regularly makes my 8-9 hour day a 12 hour one.

People who live close to the office manage to cook nice meals, exercise, spend time with family etc all while I'm commuting.

The most I manage is replying to a few emails and listening to podcasts while standing up on the train with carriage after carriage of commuters.


> That is what is being lost because I live in a state/city that puts infrastructure projects near the bottom of the priority list.

Isn't it rather because you choose to live 12 miles from work?


Well, you must make these choices in the context of your city, but 12 miles would not be a big deal with, for example, a subway or lightrail.

Living right by work is optimal, but not always practical, so the runner-up of solid transit is a good alternative.


> 12 miles would not be a big deal with, for example, a subway or lightrail

That's not true at all.

I'm from London, which has a pretty extensive subway system (we call it the tube). The only way you'll do a 12 mile* tube journey in 40 minutes in London is if you (i) live and work on the same subway line, and (ii) have <2 minutes' walk at each end. This is not true for 99% of people.

Sure, you could build more tube stations at great expense, to reduce the walking time, but more stops means more time stopped, which means more time spent in the tube.

I've lived in Beijing and Shanghai, and what I've written above, in reference to London, applies almost equally in those two cities.

*When I say '12 mile' above, I'm talking about the equivalent journey by road, not the 'as the crow flies' distance between two points, nor the distance the tube train travels.


The worst part of this as well is that my city, Nottingham, and also the whole of England, changed to a "spokes on a wheel" method of organising public transport. This is where they have all public transport go to a central hub, rather than organising around transport demands and having direct buses from residential to industrial areas or cross country trains.

So you always have to go into a hub (city center in Nottingham, London in England), and then walk & wait around for a new bus/train (or tube from station to station in London).

This significantly increases journey times to anywhere that's not the hub. Also the assholes charge £20 more for having the gall to go through London, even though that's precisely how they set the system up. So now to get to my home town I either have to get 4 trains outside of London, or 2 and a tube through London.

It's more economical and profitable for the bus/train companies, but costs everyone not going to the central hub a lot of time.


To give a concrete example, my commute in London is 5 miles and 50 minutes - 10 minutes' walk to the station, 25 mins on the train, and 15 minutes walking to work. (Cycling is a little quicker, but still in the 40 minute region).


My commute in Berlin would have been 4.7 miles if done by car & takes me ~30-35 minutes by subway (including ~10 minutes walk), so a little bit better but not much.

I would have liked going down to ~20 minutes but beyond that it's entering into diminishing returns territory & I'd much rather work fewer hours and/or from home instead.


That sucks-I regularly make a 45 mile trip into a contracting job and I can be there in ~40 minutes (its +10 minutes at rush hour time). This is into a major metropolitan area in the US. And I do it in my own car-comfortable, quiet, and I listen to my podcasts. Its probably my favorite part of the day.


Darn, I must have an overly rosy memory of my short time in the NY subways & on light rails. It has been many years.


To be fair, NYC's subway system is not a hub-and-spoke system, it is a true network of rail lines. Practically a matrix. One of the finest in the world.


I live and work on line 10 in Beijing, and I still save a lot of ti e by taking the taxi, even with traffic.


And line 10 is one of the newer/nicer lines.


It's hard to get from Bromley to Victoria in 45 minutes.


If more people were allowed (and enabled) to work from home, that would help mitigate that issue heavily.


More like he was priced out of living any closer to work.


I've just quit a job that is 40mins driving for one which is 10mins drive or 20mins cycle. I'm going to cycle.


My office is 40mins cycling away - that's the best!


This right here is my strongest motivator for embracing remote working. Reclaiming these hours has been the single most liberating and uplifting thing I've done in the pursuit of the oft promoted but rarely implemented work-life balance.


Depending on your personal situation and goals, cycling to work could be a solution. 12 miles works out to 20km, which for me would amount to less than an hour of cycling time with good equipment. As a bonus, you'll arrive home with an empty head and you'll already have exercised!


Depends if cycling is practical. Many places don't have the weather, topology, or traffic for it. It would frustrating and bad for my health (pollution) to cycle to work in my current city (beijing) while I did nothing but in my previous coy (Lausanne, even with the hills).


I do not want to sound flippant, just really practical, as I'm also in China (not Beijing) but sometimes have a somewhat long commute. Would it be possible to have a conversation =to argue time in the taxi, with laptop open and on a mobile connection was morning emailing time, and get the taxi charged to the company if it is a regular thing.

I just do shift based on core hours I need to be in the office, as does everyone in the company.


My company doesn't reimburse taxi fare, I just see it as worth the cost. I do shift my hours to make it worse, but line 10 is so crowded during peak, I'd have to anyways.


YMMV, but I find that audio-books and audio-courses are a superb way to make an otherwise boring commute more tolerable. I hate commuting as much as anyone, and thankfully my commute isn't long, but even then, it's much more fun "reading" a book while sitting in the car.


Buy audiobooks :)


"I don't have time for that" should be translated as "That's not a high enough priority for me to make time to do it."

While we live in a world where setting our priorities one way (more money, less time) is facilitated by everything from labour laws to social conventions, we do have a choice to set them differently.

There are two prongs to this: 1) setting our personal priorities differently, and consciously accepting the trade-offs that involves and 2) promoting social and corporate policies that enable our preferred priorities.

Setting personal priorities may involve simply not working through lunch every day and ramping up from there.

Promoting social and corporate policies may involve things that facilitate telecommuting (reflecting the discussions here on the time-cost of commuting) or a move toward more European-style labour policy, which doesn't seem to have harmed European productivity (http://ieconomics.com/productivity-euro-area-united-states). That's another way of saying the Anglosphere all-work-all-the-time ethic is really inefficient, and who wants to be inefficient?

For many people, though, leisure time is over-rated. People work long hours because they value their working hours more than their leisure hours, and set their priorities accordingly. There are a lot of reasons why people have those priorities, some of which may be related to how bad we are at judging what is likely to make us happy: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kirsten-dirksen/happiness-rese...


Sometimes I meet people who feel obligated to work late because they're told to. Since I'm in the privileged position of never having been asked to do this, I can't fully know what my response would be. But I'd like to think at some point I'd simply tell my boss that I would not be working any more, and trust my daytime productivity to keep me my job.

In theory, the company would not take negative action as long as my productivity less cost to employ was positive. In fact, in an ideal world, you'd even continue to be promoted as needed to retain your services. But what would actually happen? I've never had the chance to run the test, and, surprisingly, I haven't been able to convince my friends to experiment with their careers either.

By the way, I upvoted you, but I also wanted to actually say "thanks" for these links. They are very interesting.


1) People seek purpose in their jobs. The jobs that provide this usually require an investment of time.

2) People seek status. Status comes from relative wealth and intelligence, which requires an investment of time.

3) People usually don't have the choice to trade money for time. You usually can't say, "I'm going to work 5 hours less per week and in return take a smaller salary". Hourly workers can (sort of) do this, but they're the ones who usually can't afford to do this.

All that said, there still are plenty of opportunities to exchange money for more time and people (IMO irrationally) pass these opportunities up. Ex. paying for food instead of taking the time to cook, clean, shop. Ex. paying someone to clean your house. I'm not really sure what the explanation for this is.


In paying for these things, you're also giving up control, possibly leisure (some people enjoy cooking), and possibly quality. It can still certainly be a win, but you're not simply comparing prices of a fungible good.


People fail to correctly value (1) the cost of these time saving services and (2) their own time.

It's similar to how people will drive around to save 5 cents per gallon on gasoline. Usually, they will only end up saving a dollar. Or someone will make multiple trips to their car to unload all groceries (which can add significant time in apartment buildings) because they wanted to save 20 cents and not buy a paper/plastic bag during checkout. These little things add up in time.


I think it's clear that people don't value these things properly. The interesting question is why. What are the underlying heuristics and biases? I'm posing the question, but I don't have a great answer to it.


Because most people don't think that deeply about these things. And while money can be easily quantified, its not the case with time. I think pg has an essay on this.


Being a Star Trek fan, I was watching TOS (The Original Series) yesterday with my son. As was the norm for that show, in every episode Kirk somehow managed to find an alien planet with a beautiful woman on it that needed some sort of help. [insert long discussion about misogyny in 1960s TV shows]. I'm a bit of a movie buff, so I started using IMDB to look up some of these actresses to see what they're doing now.

Dang. They're either dead or in their 80s.

We are becoming the first generation to have a multi-media reminder of how short life is. In previous generations once grandpa died, you might have a painting and/or some family stories to share. Perhaps a tombstone to visit. Over time the memory faded away. In this generation and future ones, when grandpa dies? Hell, he might still be online, a bot posting his musings for the next 50 years. I don't see a reason grandpa can't send the grandkids a "Happy Birthday! Now you're 60!" message decades after he passes.

This is a good thing overall, in my mind, but this constant reminder of how short life is has the effect of making people really stingy about their time. That's probably not such a good thing, as many important connections happen when we're not looking for them.

As I get older, I find the need to orchestrate my time instead of conserving it: spending some time on high-energy, deeply-focused tasks and spending some time purposefully _not_ focusing and instead spending time socially with others I care about. Working in a good technology team is good for the former, exercise, outdoors, and family is good for the latter, at least for me.

Being mindful of time is fine. Being stingy with it or bitter about losing it? Not so much.


I think death is less present now than it has been historically. Losing babies used to be a pretty common event, infections were often lethal, etc.

My parents were fairly old when I was born, so I've had the experience of seeing a fair number of relatives of their generation die (I'm younger than 40). None of that has left me with any particular urgency about how I spend my time. I don't mean to dismiss what you are saying, I suppose my point is that such things are probably more individual and personal than you have stated it.


Necessary reading for anybody who's sick of hearing people talk about how busy they are: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=the+busy+trap&gws_rd=ssl

"Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day."


Of course, because problems that don't kill people or at least seriously physically disables them are not real and whoever has them should just suck it up and be thankful they're not living in Sudan, right? rollseyes


Thanks, I've never been trolled here before.


In the current economy, service providers are no longer incentivized to provide ease of use. Everything is commoditized. Grocery shopping, banking, plumbers, auto repair, travel. We want it as cheaply as possible because we're all strapped. This creates time bloat on both sides - it takes longer to get what we want, and it takes longer on the other side to actually provide services.

We're currently in an artificial starvation economy. When you're starving, it's important to conserve energy (or in this case capital) which means that things take longer than they should. You spend a few hours more to save a few dollars more, but, long term, the stress of being stretched causes impulse purchasing, which creates a positive feedback loop.


Its called 'Pain Optimization'. I think its the ultimate goal of a capitalist economy as practiced by Americans (and now parts of China). It doesn't create the best possible situation, it optimizes down to the least worst situation the super-majority of its participants will accept.


> Grocery shopping, banking, plumbers, auto repair, travel

Arguably, grocery shopping, banking, and travel are all easier than they has ever been. Plumbing and auto repair seem more or less the same to me, but car ownership itself is simpler due to improved quality of cars overall.


We want it cheaper because nowadays is more difficult to make money.

Nowadays is more difficult to make money because we want it cheaper.

The busyness and time bloat comes from this. The perpetual looking for the best deal and the perpetual looking for work.

The "bad guy" responsible for this negative loop in western world (besides ourselves): Mr. Globalization.


It's like survival of the least terrible... And then standards of a country plummets and it becomes less competitive compared to an upstart that then disrupts them completely. Upstart is banned.


My opinion is that people who are motivated to do things or make money work as much as they can to work towards what they want. Sitting around would be frustrating. That doesn't mean they need to work so much to survive, they just want to.

Personally I've never done that. I often worked 3 day weeks. Now I do programming at home whenever I feel like and have a low-hours day job. I make enough money to be comfortable and it's quite nice.

I think the predictions have come true - for anyone who wants it.


For anyone who wants it? Surely you mean for some people who want it. People with in-demand skill-sets can fashion these sorts of working situations, certainly; other people are grateful to have as many hours of work as they can get and would gladly take more if it helped them in their struggles to pay the bills. I'm sure most people would work less if they could afford to, but that isn't an option for an awful lot of people.


It was unskilled laboring work. Others in my situation had criminal records and drug habits but they could do it too. Now I do programming for my own business so no clients to worry about, just self-pressure to give customers what they want, but without any deadlines or obligations.

The employment market today might not be quite the same, but it's often surprisingly easy to find casual work if you lower your expectations. And it pays enough to live on while also giving you free time for your hobbies, which for me turned into money after some years.


This also depends on where you live, and your responsibilities. I lived for six months in western Australia working only 2-3 days a week as a bartender. Pay was about $160 per day, which works out to $1500-$2000 per month.

With no kids or dependents, this is more than enough to live on. I paid rent and food comfortably, had plenty of time to learn guitar, go outside and skateboard, meet girls and even had enough leftover to buy myself a new Macbook Pro. Plus it was a fun and social job.

You could live on even less if you were determined, for inspiration on frugal living read Walden by Henry David Thoreau.

Priorities change though - right now I suppose I 'work' about 10 hours a day, six days a week. This is because I decided I was going to learn to code and got motivated and driven to become good at it. Building a skill takes a lot of hours of focus and concentration but it's not 'work' if you get excited about it.


Plus! you don't need to spend money on drinks :P


Do you get paid for the programming that you do this way? I've always dreamed of a world where I can "take a contact when I feel like working" or "just work a few hours a day" but if someone hires me they want as much of my time as I can give them.

Telling a client that I only work three hours a day so their projects will take twice as long as they have estimated doesn't seem like a good pitch.

How do you handle this?

I have been in a situation where I had one main client and several smaller ones. The main client had endless work and the person I was contracting thorough at the time would only guarantee me for 20h per week to the main client but this was only so he could rent me out to others at the same time. If I had said I only want the 20h I wonder what he would have done. It was definitely enough billing to pay my salary but then he has to find another programmer to go my lost time, etc.

Now I work full time for a business. I definitely can't do anything less that 40h per week... It's full time position.

I have a chronic illness that involves fatigue and is likely to worsen over time so figuring out how I can get to 20h a week is a pretty real thing for me. Any advice would be welcome.


My programming is a hobby that turned into a business. It's just one application that I write and sell online. I think the reason it works (just about) is that my market is a niche of professionals. Usually their boss pays for it, so they're not afraid of spending money. Also, most of my competitors are either astronomically priced (get a site visit from their salesman to help decide what options you want) or barely usable (need to learn a huge command language) open source.


Thank you for responding. I am still looking for that thing for me. :)


What types of companies would let you only work 3 day weeks?

I would gladly give up money for more free time but that isn't a deal companies seem to want to make.


I do it, though I do 30 hours so it's three 10-hour days, and I get 75% of my "normal" salary. I started out full time, and after about a year or so I went to my manager and said "how about I work 30 hours?" and he said "sure".

It's a big company which HN would probably scoff at, and we work with super uncool things like Oracle. But it's just a job, and I get to spend Mondays and Fridays with my young kids.


A lot of people just dont ask.


When I was a young graduate, I didn't feel like working 5 days a week. I had many activities that I didn't want to sacrifice.

At job interviews, I asked about part-time and surprisingly, some companies were fine with that. At least, until I got hired, then I was quickly pressured to switch to full time (eventually, I moved to academics which suits me better).


My day job is a school teacher in China. You sometimes have to find a country that suits your lifestyle to do the low hours thing.

I'd guess 90% of HNers could very easily walk into a job just like mine too.


IBM certainly do (I work part time for them in a dev role).


Large institutions can be surprisingly good about this. Government jobs in the UK, for instance, tend to be pretty open to job-shares. Look for companies supportive of working mothers -- if they have systems in place for parents to work part-time, they may well be prepared to accommodate you on similar terms.


They exist, we have people working from 50-90%, depending on position and what people want.


I am a developer as well but I struggle to put anything less than 5 days a week. I'd be really interested to know how you managed to find work that pays so well that you can afford to work only 3 days.


Do you think you can't live frugally on 3/5 of your wage?


Usually, the problem is finding 3 days a week job that pays 3/5, not deciding to live on 3/5 wage.


As a personal corollary, this year I started doing nights and weekends consulting. After having spent years playing video games in my free time I now feel like any hour away from my 9-5 job that I'm not billing is an hour wasted. My bank account has never been healthier but I know I'm burning the candle at both ends and it will catch up with me. I can't shake the feeling of time not worked being time wasted, though.


Work is not supposed to be a religion. Try to figure out what you would be doing on this planet if you didn't have any obligations. You may find it is exactly what you are already doing, but if not, you seem to be in a good position to spend some of your time for your own sake.


Well. Where I live not everyone is busy.

Our population of working age (18-65) is about 3 mio. people with about 1 mio. on some kind of welfare (unemployment benifits, government paid sick leave, disability pension etc.).

So here in Denmark mr. Keynes has turned out to be right.

What he failed to see was the rise of the welfare state and just how unevenly distributed work or "busyness" would end up being.


It becoms a 'Modern forms of slavedom'... You are enslaved by the ppl on welfare. Deal with it.


When I worked for a large established company a lot of the older, more senior staff who had been around for a long time would complain constantly about the workload being much higher than it was a decade ago.

When younger team members got promoted to similar roles with the same workload they didn't have the same issues. The big difference between the two was the use of technology. The workload expectation was based on efficient use of all of the systems and programmes we had available. Those that still used paper-based systems and ignored automated processes and other efficiencies really struggled, and their days were much longer as a result.


Its simple, because we want to consume. People work hard and then buy a expensive car. Well you could have work less and drive a shitty old car.

I dont understand what the mystery is. I myself could probebly get by with working 4 hours per day but I dont, I rather work 8 hours and buy myself cool computer shit and books.


It's perhaps not so simple. I'm a pathology resident. My only interest in cars is to move my family around for the lowest cost (in time and money) per mile. My time costs a fair bit, and experience has taught me a new Honda every 200,000 miles is cheaper overall (in time and money) than used cars. Try finding a used Honda Accord without a salvage title.

My work is dictated by the needs of various hospitals and clinics. Some days I work from 5 am to 11 pm and come in on the weekend to finish. Some days, like today, I'm on Hacker News at 9:30 am because I'm waiting for:

* techs to pull some cases for my research project,

* my batch of surgical cases to come out, and

* tumor board at 11, which I prep'd for yesterday.

I suppose I could be working on a rosalind.info problem right now, but I crushed one on the first attempt yesterday, so I'll delay that until this afternoon, probably after a 5 mile run through the San Diego zoo. I could be working with the videographer for my lab video (requested by some grants) but ... I don't want to. Although, I have 40 minutes, so maybe I could review the script.

We save a fair bit but we also spend on lessons for the kids and an annual vacation.

I'm always busy, because I want to wring every ounce of awesome I can out of life.

There are a number of life lessons that go into this. Find work that you enjoy. Live within your means. Exercise. Get plenty of sunshine. Eat less. Set low expectations, you'll succeed more often and ultimately get further. Give employees specific, actionable tasks ("specific" may vary depending on who you're talking to, and learning where to draw that line is a life-long exercise).

Learn how to modify your own behavior by modifying your environment. For example: throw away your TV. This will significantly reduce your exposure to advertising. Similarly, subscribe to a good music service: you'll avoid the ads and your taste will drift away from the mainstream toward whatever you genuinely enjoy. Avoid the news. There's so much news that someone else will know whatever's going on and you're ignorance will give them an opportunity to tell you. All of a sudden, you're having a valuable conversation. I have adopted Knuth's position: other people make it their job to stay on top of things. My job is to get to the bottom.


You dont talk about one thing. You have kids. That puts a huge amount of responsabilty on you and pushes you to work more.

> I'm always busy, because I want to wring every ounce of awesome I can out of life.

I do so too. I have never enougth time to read all the books and do all the project that I would want to do. Not to mention all the other stuff I would like to do.

Overall I agree with you, you really have to take some time, look at your live and figure out what you want, what makes you happy and what does not, and then changing that. This of course means that one needs some flexibilty, if you live with no savings and with a familiy one can not just drop everything and go on a bicycle world tour.


Finding work that you enjoy is harder than you make it sound! While this may be because I just beginning my career, I find it difficult to identify what it is that I like or dislike about a job.

And of course, if you ever think of changing careers, you will need to spend a lot of time to study, all the while still supporting yourself on a job you don't like.


Another thing to consider is that the law is heavly focused on full employment and there are lots of benefits. This is true in almost all countrys, laber market regulation have a clear focus on this.

We have no idea what the (abstract) free market laber time would be. For better or worse our economys have devloped into a kind of paradigm that is not focused on flexibilty. This has devloped in the industrialisation and should be more relaxed now. In some places (most places programmers work) working hourse are allready much more flexible.


The underlying problem is to figure out what you really want. Yes, I've felt that feeling of uneasiness in "wasting" time a lot, especially as I moved into jobs which significantly increased the monetary value of my time. But one thing I did know was that I did not value money as much as I valued the time I spent meeting people, being outdoors, reading books or just thinking about things.

Another lesson that self-help books give out a lot is that if you don't decide the course of your life, others will do so for you. I suspect that most people take money as a proxy for success and happiness and hence keep desiring more of it. Ironically, our consumerist environment makes us spend even more as we earn more...making us want to earn even more.

Anyways, this is simply hypothesis. I can't say that I've figured out things, but I do think I am on the right path.


The beauty of being human is that we aren't rational when it comes to managing our time. At least, for me, in terms of what has the biggest long-term payoff (e.g. making better friends v. reading articles two-levels removed from original HN linkage).

> But being busy has become a refrain and rationale for the things we don’t do, an acceptable and even glamorous excuse. My friend at lunch reminded me of what the Buddhist monk Sogyal Rinpoche calls “active laziness” – the filling of our lives with unessential tasks so we feel full of responsibilities or, as he calls them, “irresponsibilites.”

https://medium.com/thelist/the-cult-of-busy-bbb124caed51


Commuting not only takes time, it is also expensive:

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/10/06/the-true-cost-of-c...


This piece resonated with me strongly. I am currently down in Florida with my parents on a two week break from work for the holidays. This is the first stretch of time off from work I have taken in 2-3 years which involved more than a day or two out of the lab in Boston (I have accrued 8 weeks of paid time off and in addition my employer has effectively told me I can take as much time off as I want). There is a nice pool where I am, a beach, unlimited booze, other fun amenities, and yet I found myself complaining to my best friend last night on gchat that I have been feeling anxious and somewhat bored / unhappy for most of the trip.

I feel like I should be spending this scarce free time better learning python and facilitating my career switch from bio E into data science; I don't want to eat out because that will harm my ability to cut weight for powerlifting (my main hobby); and when I am not trying to code or work on lab work, I spend many hours a day looking for gyms / in the gym. I effectively am attempting to do what I do every day (work from morning until I sleep punctuated with some time spent lifting) and am feeling miserable because I am not doing it as well as I would be able to do it at home. Last night I was checking how much it would cost for me to change my departure date so that I could go home early and use my vacation days more effectively studying.

Part of this angst is driven by the fact that while I love my family and enjoy spending time with them, I feel angry that this is how I am forced to use my special large break. I am never able to spend time with my friends. I see my best friend and close high school friends maybe once or twice a year for 2-3 days. They are scattered across the midwest and simply don't have any vacation days to spend hanging out with me. My college friends in the midwest invited me to spend New Years with them, but they admitted that they would be working the entire week and would only be able to hang out with me for about a day, so I declined. My friends from work are in the same situation as me and don't have time to go on a trip.

As this article correctly points out, I realize that I have no right to complain as these are completely self-imposed behaviors and though processes, but to be honest I'm not sure what else to do with myself or my time. I sometimes ask why I work the hours I do; is this really the best way to live my life? While I realize that the answer is probably no, I don't know what else to do, and so I keep doing it.


Fulfilling work could actually be the best way to live your life.

Why not?


For anyone interested in the context of the Keynes quote in the first paragraph of this article, here it is in full: https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/keynes/...


Isn't the standard prescription to do something that doesn't feel like work for a living?

I quite enjoy programming, so it's not like I'm constantly watching the clock when I work. I'm sure there are loads of other jobs that people like doing that don't make them feel like they would rather be doing something else.


the article starts out with (paraphrase) "decades and/or centuries ago, we expected tech would save us incredible amounts of time, but it didn't."

if you had a computer in 1984, and somebody told you what processor speeds would be in 2014, you might have expected all software to run flawlessly by now.

as it is, everybody has more computing power in their pocket than the entire Apollo moon landing ever had, and we use this power to look at pictures of cats.

there's probably an economic principle explaining both of these failed prediction categories. in either case, what people do with the new abundance has a lot more to do with what they're willing to tolerate in their lives than what the technology is actually capable of.

great tech will only produce great results if you choose to do great things with it.


In kind of general agreement with many comments below. If I can just take a stab at what I see as at least one of the ways we got here:

During the previous recession after 9/11, many company managers jumped on the title of the book "More with Less" and started trying to stretch resources, people first and foremost. (I say jumped on the "title" because the book actually was a clever thesis that had nothing at all to do with making your workers do two jobs for the price of one).

That recession was long and deep enough & quickly followed by an even worse one that the new job definitions became the new standards. There hasn't been a enough of a good economic period for labor to take back its decent conditions.

I think a lot of it is as simple as that.


> "Ever since a clock was first used to synchronise labour in the 18th century, time has been understood in relation to money. Once hours are financially quantified, people worry more about wasting, saving or using them profitably."

Right. Cavemen lived lazy through the day. If they did not find an animal to hunt one day they told their children not to starve but to go and get some chicken wings from KFC.

Surely they were happy to live before the industrial revolution. The time when time wasn't evaluated by economic ratio. This is a great fairy tale in social sciences.


I know your comment is being sarcastic, but it is also a borderline strawman argument. Please remember that the original promise of the industrial revolution was that it would help us be more efficient and therefore would help workers work less and get the same or more done. The problem is that the oligarchs realized they could "force" people to work the same hours and all the extra efficiency in the form of profit trickled up.

So I would say don't be so quick to dismiss the lifestyle of a hunter/gatherer society. Of course the modern world can't sustain such a thing and thats the beauty of agriculture, but as a person who grew up hunting, it's nice to get a big kill and have enough food to eat off for a couple of weeks.

Thing about how much you spent on two weeks worth of meals, a full half of your monthly budget goes to food in that time. I can spend 1 day out in the forest, get a good elk, and another day dressing/butchering it and have enough food for two weeks. Whens the last time you made that much in one day?

Not to mention that a more time-free society has more time to spend educating itself in more nuanced views, a reason I think the enlightenment is in danger because everyone's too busy to even learn these days.


> original promise of the industrial revolution was that it would help us be more efficient

On what do you base this? Keynes belived this but nobody said 'Hallo everybody, we are now doing a programm called Industrial revolution and we hope that in 200 years everybody will work less', the Industrial Revolution happend because people were seeking to make themself richer and then do with there money whatever they did.

> The problem is that the oligarchs realized they could "force" people to work the same hours and all the extra efficiency in the form of profit trickled up.

Thats just socialist bullshit. Any measure of human well beeing has improved at the same time the world population has increased a gigantic amount. That is a unbelivable achivment.

> So I would say don't be so quick to dismiss the lifestyle of a hunter/gatherer society. Of course the modern world can't sustain such a thing and thats the beauty of agriculture, but as a person who grew up hunting, it's nice to get a big kill and have enough food to eat off for a couple of weeks.

Huting today is not the same. I would advice that you go read actual descriptions of these societys befor you compare it with yourself huting.

There are intresting reports by american living with native americans for example. Or court officels from china going into the steppe.

These people did not hunt once and then lived on it for weeks. If you killed a buffelo it would have to substain a hole clan of people and it would be carved up with little saving in days. There would also be tons of work making the other parts usable.

> Not to mention that a more time-free society has more time to spend educating itself in more nuanced views, a reason I think the enlightenment is in danger because everyone's too busy to even learn these days.

What???? There is more education then ever befor! Again, once you read accounts of actual trible societys you will see that they had no time in education beyond what they needed to live. A steppe mongol would train hourse of shooting the bow and learing when it was safe to cross a frozen river, but he did not sit around in the style of greeks and figure out the universe.


Are you talking your history lessons from Hobbes, perhaps? Tribal life being nasty, brutish, short, and full of back-breaking work?

It didn't really turn out that way http://www.jblearning.com/samples/0763749591/49591_Ch03_McLe...


I think an obvious fact is overlooked that while new technology accelerates existing tasks, it also introduces a lot more possibilities and new tasks. For example, Internet messaging allows us to spend a lot less time for each message, but it also allows us to send more messages within the same time. It's also cheap, so we are free to set our own limits (which we are pretty bad at).


Douglas Rushkoff nailed it in a short TED talk http://vimeo.com/65904419


A related issue: more people nowadays seem to enjoy working too much (at least in the United States) to just stop, go home and do something else. Maybe people, by and large, enjoy their work or don't think about doing something else. The real question is whether it's a healthy balance or not.

Also, glowing boxes like these have an addictive quality. Just go into any college coffee shop and the biggest drug there is no longer the coffee, it's wifi and the glowing screens of laptop, iPad and iPhone getting high on whatever new notification pops up.

In conclusion, the instant-gratification of outright gamification of commoditized labor in an Idiocracy-like future doesn't seem either far off or far fetched.


To the outside observer it can all seem like "work" but to the code artist.. some percentage of it is indeed drudgery but another (hopefully larger) percentage of it is "creative play" using an artistic medium that the master painters and scribes of antiquity would have traded an arm for.

For me the problems arise when money enters the equation because then you find reasons to set aside your vision of a masterpiece so you can hurry up and ship your your "Minimal Viable Product". You do make a good point though about the "addictive quality" of shiny boxes. I leverage meditation to help me "decompress" rapidly on the occasions when I do end up overworking.

Sol Robeson: Have you met Archimedes? The one with the black spots, you see? You remember Archimedes of Syracuse, eh? The king asks Archimedes to determine if a present he's received is actually solid gold. Unsolved problem at the time. It tortures the great Greek mathematician for weeks - insomnia haunts him and he twists and turns in his bed for nights on end. Finally, his equally exhausted wife - she's forced to share a bed with this genius - convinces him to take a bath to relax. While he's entering the tub, Archimedes notices the bath water rise. Displacement, a way to determine volume, and that's a way to determine density - weight over volume. And thus, Archimedes solves the problem. He screams "Eureka" and he is so overwhelmed he runs dripping naked through the streets to the king's palace to report his discovery.

Sol Robeson: Now, what is the moral of the story?

Maximillian Cohen: That a breakthrough will come.

Sol Robeson: Wrong! The point of the story is the wife. You listen to your wife, she will give you perspective, meaning. You need a break, you have to take a bath or you will get nowhere.


Yeah, right. Creative play rarely pays the bills and neither can actual artists because there is an oversupply of creative talent. The reality is most jobs are terrible because most people don't have the courage, ability or financing to prosecute a business model themselves.

What's happening on a larger scale: there's a growing number of single professionals that live mostly at work, have no family and are pretty much destined to die alone once premature ageism has thrown them to the wolves. That's a problem, because most millionaires are married because it's more practical than doing everything yourself.

For the few biased survivors, it's great if they're able to play more than work, but most people are slaves to debt without a partner beside them. (Sucks to be them.)


I hear ya I really do. I'm one of those "single professionals". I agree that it's tough, but I don't think that you necessarily need to found a company yourself to break out of the so called "terrible job" funk, all you need is to be an early employee with equity at a startup that doesn't fail. That means you do have to take risks (even work for equity sometimes) but there are a wide variety of risk profiles to choose from and you definitely can find success in this industry without having to have created a business yourself.

I also don't believe that there's a glut of disciplined creative talent at least not when it comes to individuals who have experience contributing to production quality web applications or open source software. The more of this requisite experience you have, the easier it is for you to interview at interesting startups, pick a winner, and end up with a valuable equity position in a real company. Some people manage to do this all while engaging in "creative play" a huge percentage of the time.

I do however agree with you that the game is stacked to the advantage of those who already have a lot of free time no matter whether that be because they're independently wealthy or because they've opted to not pursue the family life. I don't think of that as ageism per say I think it's something different that looks like ageism because young people have more free time.

I suppose that's the thing really.. why are you into this business in the first place ? Are you in it because you enjoy playing with information technology most of the time or are you in it as a way to get paid to finance a wife and kids ? For me the answer is clear: I'm doing this because I love playing with the technology. To me it's a lot like building glorious lego structures, building robots, remote control cars, model rockets, and all of that other fun "legacy" stuff that I used to enjoy working on as a kid. I used to always dream about getting paid to do that kind of thing one day, and I feel like that's what I have the opportunity to do now with web startup work.

In other words I made the conscious decision to optimize my life for immersion into that kind of play rather than to optimize it to suit a family life because that's what I wanted to do. In other words I was a geek before it was chic and I had long since decided that I was OK with staying that way.

Sure I suppose it would be nice to have my cake and eat it too (have a family), and if I was a millionaire that might be realistic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJTRZI2HThU) , but I don't feel like I have to become a millionaire just to push back against some fear of "dying alone".

As for being a slave to debt, yea that does suck, and I have no quick fix for that, but I will point out that this problem is pervasive and that fewer and fewer industries offer career paths where you can have any real lasting job security. Welcome to the globalized era. I'm not saying it's a good thing I'm just saying that appears to be how it is right now.

My point is merely that some of us enjoy this kind of work because it really can be creative, as in you're birthing new things into the world that didn't exist before and which could turn into things beyond what you imagined them to be when you first started. To me it's that sense of exploration and experimentation that makes software development fun. I am biased towards thinking this kind of work is fun and viewing it as play, and viewing life in the same way. This was not all that different in the past. If you look at say the renaissance period in Europe you'll notice there were classes of artisans, craftsmen, and alchemists who were also optimizing for this kind of play over the pursuit of family life as their highest ideal. Some things of these things don't often change


"American men toil for pay nearly 12 hours less per week, on average, than they did 40 years ago—a fall that includes all work-related activities, such as commuting and water-cooler breaks."

Only being 40 I can't really say for sure, but was it not they case that one man would provide for a household 40 years ago, while now we generally have both partners working?


Similar but a different perspective: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-tra...

I personally strive to never, ever, say that I'm busy.


It is interesting to note that there is lots of factors why people in large cities generally walks faster. Someone did a research on this (forgot wherr the source is) and it concluded in average younger people walks faster, and young people are concentrated in cities.


Just slow down. I don't do good work when I am rushing, I don't take the time to simplify or improve, but if I feel I have time and the support for good work I can be more productive in days than I would by rushing for weeks.


Because land prices have rocketed because the banks lend based on both incomes so now both parents have to work to feed the rentiers.


Quite an interesting read, but it's just stating the obvious repeatedly. Time equals money. And of course, with slower economics coupled with ever-increasing competition of the global market money becomes more valuable. But why do we feel so? It seems, there are some socio-cultural drivers for this need of the resources.

People tend to want same things their neighbours have, or more. Today you feel your neighbour is not just someone living across the fence, but also someone you've just chatted on Skype (across the continents). Our sense of what Normal is is based on the cultural environment we're living in. And with technological progress, modern communications and mass media this sense skews towards images propagated by those who are involved in producing more of this kind of information i.e. western world.

This flip side of this process is what might have looked like a decent living now seems less so. When you live in the area with life expectancy about 60 years and suddenly you realize your friends live somewhere where average is 74, you become more stressed to maximize your efforts. So my idea is that most people who work extra hours do so not to get rich, but trying to avoid ending up worse than average.

So what is the way we can free our time so we could sit on the "park benches with pretty girls" more often?

The only obvious answer I see is to improve the overall life quality of the poorest. This sounds frighteningly lefty, but this notion is based on the realization of one of humanity's ultimate goals: providing personal freedom for everybody to do what person feels preferable for him. The non-destructive way of achieving it is taking off the stress and fears of less income-maximizing life style. When you're certain you still will be well fed and able to afford medical assistance even without extra-hours at work you'll be more inclined to do what fulfils you as a person.

At this point it's natural to discuss the old issues of exploiting social care and parasitic lifestyle in market economy, which might be possible in societies with high social guarantees. This is an axiological issue and answers depend on personal senses of equity and sympathy, and it's a hot topic on its own. However, scientific and technological progress is what I think the only plausible potential way of improving the overall life conditions thus leaving more time for leisure.

*Some context on happiness vs inequality: Paul Alois. Income Inequality and Happiness: Is There a Relationship? www.lisdatacenter.org/wps/liswps/614.pdf

Shigehiro Oishi, Selin Kesebir and Ed Diener. Income Inequality and Happiness. http://www.factorhappiness.at/downloads/quellen/S13_Oishi.pd...


> This sounds frighteningly lefty

Thats not 'lefty' I have the same goals and Im not 'lefty'. Where we might differ is HOW this can be achived.

I want to creat a dynamic market economy that grows and gives other people the same conforts I have, meaning that I can work 8h and always have awesome new gadgets or I can work 4h and just read books on the kindle all day.

What is really 'lefty' is focusing on inequallity instead of individual wealth. It drives me mad that the focus is inequalily instead of individual wealth/consumtion.

I have looked at lots of this 'Happiness' research and I dont have a high opinion about it (even when it confirms my priors) because its not clear at all how to measure happiness. I think, we need to provide liberty, once you have liberty at least your happiness mostly depends on your own action. I dont think society should be in the buissness of providing happyness, because that is even more elusive goal then providing freedom.


I didn't say the goal is lefty, however, decreasing inequality gap by all means is one of the main left ideas.

Focusing on inequality is not means to an end, but it's a usable metric. Society shouldn't "provide" happiness, but happiness dynamics can show successfulness of what society does.

>its not clear at all how to measure happiness

I don't think its significantly harder than measuring any other attribute. You just need to ask the right questions and take into account some social factors (such as fear of oppression) that can distort the results.

Liberty is an essential condition of happiness (probably, not everyone agrees but it's just my opinion). However, I think it's taking us too far from the topic.


> Liberty is an essential condition of happiness (probably, not everyone agrees but it's just my opinion)

That does not turn out in the reasearch. Social or Economic freedom does not corrulate with happyness, specially the 'ask questions' kind very well. You need to ajust for cultural bias, some people, on the question how happy the are say, 'normal' others say 'good'. This depends on culture and attidute, its not clear however that the person that said 'good' is happier then the one that said 'normal'.

Thats why I said measuring happyness is very difficult, its not at all clear how to ajust for culture and many other factors. And when you ajust, how do you do it without beeing totally arbitrary.


TLDR, anyone?


Too busy to read it? ;)


tldr: first world problem.




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