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.
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.
Making yourself more valuable is not the only thing required in order to get paid more.
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.
This is why Musk, Thiel, et al. moved to the US.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
I'd be interested in any stats which measure that - say, coming out of this recession versus previous recessions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I thought we have less than 66% unemployment?
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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."
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 ).
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.
> For the political ideology commonly associated with states governed by Communist parties, see Marxism–Leninism.
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.
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.
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.
ideology (n) a system of ideas and ideals, especially
one that forms the basis of economic or
political theory and policy
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Data on that?
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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
- 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 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.
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)
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.
European here. Could you point to some ressources on that work being started in Europe ?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why? He listens to podcasts and audiobooks, something which can be done while driving.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Isn't it rather because you choose to live 12 miles from work?
Living right by work is optimal, but not always practical, so the runner-up of solid transit is a good alternative.
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.
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.
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.
I just do shift based on core hours I need to be in the office, as does everyone in the company.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I would gladly give up money for more free time but that isn't a deal companies seem to want to make.
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.
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).
I'd guess 90% of HNers could very easily walk into a job just like mine too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
> 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It didn't really turn out that way
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.
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.
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 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
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?
I personally strive to never, ever, say that I'm busy.
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?
Shigehiro Oishi, Selin Kesebir and Ed Diener. Income Inequality and Happiness.
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.
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.
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.