“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” – J. M. Barrie
I was reminded while reading this essay that Ran posted last week about an observation I made a long time ago. I noticed that most people in Wisconsin tend to spend their scant free time outside of work engaged the following pursuits (in no particular order):
- Mowing the Lawn
- Working on the house
- Playing with the dog
- Child rearing
- Knitting and crafts
- Hunting (in season)
Every single place I’ve worked has certain people who are in the office at 6:30 AM, slaving away. I couldn’t figure this out until I remembered that most Wisconsinites are descended from farmers, because that is what you came to Wisconsin to do (the major exceptions being professionals or factory workers in big cities). So getting up at the crack of dawn for labor, along with mowing the lawn, is in our DNA. As farmers and their descendants were forced off the land one-by-one and migrated to cities, their traditional ways, habits and outlook remained in their blood. That may be why understimulating suburbs are so popular with Midwesterners – they allow one to live near the city while still imagining you are living on your own spread, in your little country house, complete with animals, gardens, and fields (with the vast and extensively manicured lawn substituting for the fields). In other words, suburbs are a simulacra of country life for deracinated farmers, who secretly pine for a life they were forced out of generations ago.
The question is, if the ultimate aim of an economy is to procure food, clothing and shelter for people, why do we have to spend so much time doing jobs we hate in order to procure those things that we would spend our time procuring for ourselves anyway? And what sense does it make to say we need to keep “creating jobs” if people are spending all their free time working on food, clothing and shelter for no money whatsoever? It’s no wonder that people had to be “forced” into this arrangement, as detailed yesterday. In fact, people volunteer on farms for no money whatsoever! Yet we are constantly told how “awful” working the land is, and how lucky we are sitting under fluorescent lights in cubicles in air-conditioned urban office towers working for a paycheck for corporations with internal politics reminiscent of Stalin’s Politburo. That people are just biting at the bit to get off the farm and come to the cities where life is so much better. Is farm work really so awful? Or has it been made awful by consolidation and debt slavery? Notice how people who really do create food, clothing and shelter are always the lowest paid people in industrial societies, while those who spend their days moving money around are the highest paid.
We have to keep coming up with new activities over and above what we need to provide decent lifestyles just to keep people occupied. Most of it is either make-work, or it is a side-effect of complexity. For example, it is nearly tax day, and there are large numbers of people whose job it is to do nothing more than know every nook and cranny of the vast and complex tax code and help people navigate through it. For this, they make a good living and get paid surprisingly well. Yet such people actually produce nothing of value – not food, clothing, goods or shelter. Their jobs are only possible though the massive complexity of our society. I wonder how many people are employed just as side effects of complexity? I remember seeing an article by someone whose only job was to be an expert in all aspects of the byzantine world of construction bonding (the complexity of construction finance is mind-boggling). What do such people have to show for the work at the end of the day? How does society benefit? No wonder people feel so alienated from their work.
And I wonder reading this article if our society has developed into something so depressing, so alienating, so utterly miserable that we need to drug our population just to keep children at their desks all day and their parents in their