Archive for the “Thoughts on Work” Category

I haven’t written much lately, because of work. I went just over 70 hours for the last week. That is an enormous amount of time at the office.

I’ve actually kind of enjoyed it. I am super happy it isn’t like that all year; otherwise, I would burn out…however, I sort of get off on doing what other people don’t think is possible.

I’ve said in the past, many times, that I don’t understand why people work so much. When I was unemployed I actually did a fair amount of research (most documented here on this site) into how much Americans work compared to other countries (9 weeks more on average than Europeans). If I take a notion I’ll link to some of them…..which express my bewilderment that the richest nation in the world need work such long hours when all research shows that money is not making us any happier.

Well, I think that is undisputable. Money doesn’t get you happiness….however, satisfying work can…and that is what I misssed. There are all those stats that say no one is happy at their jobs, and everyone is looking to change employers, and that, if given the option (which they often don’t have), people would choose more leisure/family time over more money….but there is a percentage, albeit not great, that simply work because it is the most exciting thing they have available to them. Stressful, yes…but exciting too.

It requires teamwork, coordination, technology, money, tight deadlines, a high degree of accuracy, lots of autonomy, and too much planning….but how often do you get to give 120,000 people healthcare worth tens of millions of dollars….and you are in charge of that?? while at the same time working on a project that will be rolled out to millions of people combining healthcare and 401k planning in one online tool? It certainly is more exciting than making a grocery list or painting the shutters.

And that is what all the business literature means when it talks about the “talent shortage”. It isn’t a people shortage, or a brains shortage (lots of people are smart). It is a shortage of people that get off on doing what other people think is impossible…and can actually move that idea to action. Those people really are in short supply.

I work with alot of smart people…almost all of them actually…but some of them don’t ever seem to get anything done for some reason, and it is confusing to me. They are capable, but for some reason they can’t get the car out of the garage so to speak. I think I’m going to try to figure out why.

Is that a shallow life to get meaning from work…since you’re really just working for the MAN? Maybe in some ways….however, I would argue that the reason the people like the work is because it brings a degree of meaning to their lives….a life lived with meaning is never wasted, and I think the very opposite of shallow…since shallow, by definition, would be without meaning or substance.

I would still move to Europe in a heartbeat. Don’t get me wrong. I still don’t LIKE or wouldn’t CHOOSE to work so much; there are too many other things I like to do…however, I do see the draw now…which I didn’t get before. It is like an addiction….to doing something somewhat meaningful, or being excellent, or want of success. A lot of people don’t get the chance to do any of those things.

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Twice lately I’ve been reminded of what the school system fails to teach you that has everything to do with success later in life…..I guess with the caveat that “success” does have some correlation to what work you do and how much money you make. If you think the two are completely unrelated, then I guess you can stop reading here.

Since you’re still reading, I will start with the first one: 1) School, at its best (which still isn’t very good), teach us to be employees. It teaches us to work for money. What it fails to tell you is that real success comes when you stop doing work, and start creating it.

It you are doing work, if you are an employee, you will always be doing someone elses work….they will pay you just enough to keep you coming back (sometimes that will be alot, sometimes it will be a little), and they will reap the rewards of your labor.

The tax system in the US is built to strongly support capital at the expense of labor. Those who make money do so with capital….those who work, do so with labor. Getting out of the labor camp, where you work for money, and into the capital camp, where you money works for you… where we should all be striving to get. I’m just now starting to realize this………its what they didn’t teach me in school. Workers get the shaft….those who create the work take the spoils.

Not to be all negative, there has never been a better time in history to be a laborer. With the advent of the knowledge economy, the labor camp can actually attain a standard of living all but unimaginable a century ago.

Then there is number 2….the other thing they don’t teach us in school: We don’t get paid to work.

I work with all these people just out of college; for many of them it is their first job. After high school, and a great 4 year degree from GA Tech….they fail to realize that showing up and doing alot of stuff……will get them absolutely nothing.

I see alot of them get frustrated and start blaming everyone for their inability to get ahead. Their whole life they’ve been told they were smart, and that trying hard and showing alot of work is enough. It isn’t. That isn’t what you get paid for.

They blame management for not noticing their talent….for not planning well enough. They blame coworkers for not giving them the support they need. They blame the company for pay or lack of opportunities. They think they are supposed to be given something because they walked in the door and brought their shiney degree with them.

They spend a lot of emotional effort in blame and hating. Then they wonder why they are not sufficiently motivated to perform at a high level. They aren’t sufficiently motivated because they have wasted all their energy in blaming others. Then they create a loop where the worse they do the more they blame until they convince themselves its everyone else’s fault. Then they quit and I’m sure repeat the same loop at some other company.

We don’t get paid to do work. We get paid to produce results. We don’t get paid to raise good questions, and point out defects…..we get paid to answer questions and fix defects. These new graduates sometimes confuse that with trying hard to answer questions…that’ll get you an pat on the back in school…..but isn’t worth a dollar of your paycheck at work.

So, all that is pretty harsh…I admit. And it took me a good bit of thinking to make peace with it. But it is absolutely essential if you are to ever “get ahead” at work. As I said, if you don’t care about that I applaud the high road you are on……and I hear McDonalds is hiring….pehaps the government, or state as well.

So, I do want to comment on the fact that by no means do I think it is OK to treat employees so harshly. After all, we are humans, not results driven robots. Its just that I know there is no alternative.

Either you marry rich, win the lottery, inherit something, become a wizard investor, get luckly on real estate……or start your own business. Otherwise you’ve got to work.

Either know the rules and get busy winning, or ignore the rules and get busy losing. Because unless you find buried treasure, you’re playing the game. What’s strange is that they don’t teach you the game…yet 99% of us are caught up in it without really knowing how to win.

Again, I want to stress that I don’t think the game is particularly good or fair. I just know that it is the only game in town, and not a bad one by historical standards….or the rest of the world’s standards. Its easier to wrap your brain around its unfairness and accept it than it is to waste your effort blaming other people for your inability to deal with it.

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A split opinion about one of my favorite topics.

This topic is very dear to my heart as I understand well that a rising tide does not lift all boats (as the saying goes)…..a rising tide sinks those without the money to buy a boat.

Also, people deal poorly with inequality psychologically. They are not swayed by absolute wealth past persistence needs, but prefer to be better off than their neighbors rather they have everyone have a little more. That’s great for those with more, but as more and more goes to less and less, it creates more and more resentment, stress, and unhappiness for those left over (which is just about everyone).

There is a sin tax on beer and wine and such….I think it is reasonable to have an “unhappiness tax” acknowledging that earning grossly more than everyone else creates anxiety for society at large. While I’m on the topic of preventative taxes, I also think SUVs whose hood comes up to the windshield of normal sized cars should be taxed extra for making the roads more dangerous for the rest of us.

Working in India put a different spin on wages for me as I watched people do the same highly skilled job as me for 6 times less salary. The argument for why those in the bottom twenty percentile of earnings in the US have made negative real wage gains over the past twenty five years is immigration. Immigrants start at the bottom of our wage food chain and since immigration has accounted for almost all US population growth in recent years…..the argument is that there is an ample pool of cheap labor even though there seems like there shouldn’t be.

The lesson is that the supply of labor in a particular labor market greatly affects wages…regardless of the skill level needed to perform the job. So take a skilled job like computer programmer that is fairly well paid. It is paid so largely because there is a limited pool of labor that knows how to do it….not necessarily because the job is more productive than lower skill level jobs.

All things being equal (which I realize they never are), when supply of labor jumps the wages of the labor decreases. What this has to do with India and wage inequality is that outsourcing does cause us to lose jobs in certain cases (although in certain cases it just looks like that is what it is doing), but it also causes the average wage for that job here in the US to decrease. If an Indian computer programmer makes 10 chits an hour and a US computer programmer makes 100 chits an hour….and they are both suddenly thrown into a common labor pool (which technology has made possible), then eventually all programmers will make 55 chits an hour in my oversimplified model.

So we see the wages of the middle class, in skilled productive jobs, squeezed because the size of their labor pool has jumped…even if some of the pool is living on the other side of the planet. If you sit in front of a computer all day in your job, I wouldn’t expect your job to be around in 10 years (or sooner). If it is around, be certain that you won’t be making as much doing it.

There is always a fight between Labor and Capital for profits of work. The winner in all this is Capital….those who earn money through dividends, interest, and capital gains. They skim (not implying illegally) money from the difference between the old wages and the new. Business gets richer, the wage earner in the US gets squeezed, and on a side note for everyone who has a soft spot for third world or developing countries…the US essentially pays to develop the third world through increased profits stemming from decreased wages. Remember wages (in the US) are the single largest expense for most employers (greater than half of revenue goes to labor cost usually).

That is making no judgment about what development can destroy culturally or environmentally, but, as demand to immigrate to the US shows, most people would love a shot at our lifestyle. Forget the IMF, World Bank, UN, and all the other INGOs trying to end poverty….teach the third world to speak English, build them a communications infrastructure (which can be done wirelessly fairly cheaply), and show them how to use a computer……and US business will do the rest.

Actually, that doesn’t sound so easy. Perhaps better to bet on discovering oil and let corrupt politicians hoard and waste the money….hmm….that doesn’t work either.

Ok, obviously it is hard to end poverty and develop the third world, but a good start would be to let the US find ways to outsource more jobs. Then maybe we could become a third world country too and someone will be kind enough to outsource their jobs to back to us.

If there is a lesson here, which there doesn’t seem to be, it is to move from the Wages camp to the Capital camp. Wage earners seem to be screwed. Open a business and then YOU can exploit the advantages capital enjoys these days.

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I did not write the following piece but I certainly have expressed these same sentiments many times. It is a clever way to put it though. I admit that.

What would the game of basketball look like if it followed the same rules as the “real world”?

First, I would charge an admission fee not only to watch the game but to play in it. And the more one pays, the longer one gets to stay in the game.

Second, there should be a price paid for each shot taken, and the easier the shot, the more it should cost.

Third, as for fouls, one should be able to pay the referees, so that they never call any fouls on you (or walking or double dribble violations for that matter).

Fourth – and maybe most important – there is no good reason that the baskets should be the same height for both teams. It should be possible for the team that pays more to have its basket lowered, and for double that amount to have the basket the other team is going for raised.

Under present rules, those players who are taller and better coordinated and can run faster and jump higher have all the advantages. My rules would exchange the advantages enjoyed by these people for other advantages that would benefit a different group, one that has been poorly served by basketball as now played. That group is the rich. With my rules, the rich would possess all the “talent” (what it takes to win) and – more in keeping with what occurs in the rest of society – never lose a game.

This illustrates pretty well the environment we’ve created in the US.

On the court in the real game of basketball, beside the fame and pay, the best TEAM wins. The best players are the ones that make the players around them better. That is why we love basketball. We are rewarded for what we know is the best in us.

We live in a world that rewards power and money, all the while preaching that the meek shall inherit the earth, that a camel shall pass through the eye of a needle before a rich man enters the kingdom of heaven, and what is done to the least of us is done to all of us.

Those values are in direct contradication.

That is my single biggest issue with Capitalism, the “profit motive”, and the “its just business” mentality. It somehow expects us to abandon our most dearly held values….so that we can buy and make more stuff.

For a lot of people that “stuff” is food….I understand that decision. There is no morality for a starving man. However, for alot of us…it isn’t food. We’re held hostage to a cycle that created the very spiritual bankruptcy we’re trying to escape.

Have you ever heard the term “business decision”? Why would a business decision be any different than any other decision? Does it need its own naming convention? Are “business decisions” some sort of justification for what would be considered immoral in private life??

It is unrealistic to expect people to be able to follow one set of values in private life and another in business. People are not so pluralistic. They break or become numb if there is no consistency between there values and their actions.

My point, and one that I have been thinking about for years, is that Capitalism is a value system….not an economic model.

Life looks like the game of Basketball described above, but we preach a game of Basketball much like the one we play, one that rewards teamwork and people who take care of each other…which is why it appeals to us so much.

If we leave the “free market” to do what it likes, we will continue to resemble the game of basketball described above. We must make it behave using laws and government….or it will make us immoral.

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I was talking on the phone to a friend tonight. He was asking about me and Atlanta and the job and such.

I told him about how busy I am….that I don’t know much about Atlanta because I’m at the office, that I’m too irritable and rushed most of the time to think about finding a girlfriend, that work is alot of stress and deadlines.

He said, “Its good to be busy.”
I said, “Do you really think so?”

I am unsure whether it is good to be busy. “Busy at what?” would be my question.

Busy can be good…as long as you are busy doing stuff that reinforces what you believe in, stuff that is an expression of your values.

But I don’t think it is natural to be busy all the time. Periods of intense activity followed by periods of recovery is the story of life…not in a philosophical sense, but in a biological sense.

Life is series of sprints, not a marathon. The lion hunts the wildebeest, eats its feast, and then sits around for a few days fat and happy. Everywhere in nature (especially in large land animals) we see this cycle of activity and rest.

It often seems we have eliminated the lag periods of recovery from our lives in favor of 24 hour productivity. It is possible to live like this; people can bear almost anything…but it does take its toll.

In the face of the relentless demands of our lives, we become so acclimated to a chronic state of mild anxiety and moderate discontent that we accept it as the status quo and forget what it is like to feel any differently.

And that is one of my biggest fears about work: That I will become numb to distract myself from these demands and that I will use my busyness as an excuse to do nothing about it.

In fact, the busyness both contributes to the anxiety and distracts us from dealing with it. It is both the cause and the cure.

Busyness distracts you from what is important. Allowing the tasks of life to command all your attention guarantees that you will lose track of yourself. This makes you irritated, unhappy and unable to reach your full potential.

Imagine you are out at sea on a boat that springs a leak. Your immediate purpose is obviously to keep the boat from sinking. But so long as you are busy bailing water, no one is steering the boat.

The same is true in our lives. When we are preoccupied with the tasks of the day, we have little energy left to make sure our lives are heading in the right direction, that our actions are reinforcing our values.

When no attention is paid to steering our lives in the right direction, we gradually lose touch with our passion, are less giving in our relationships, and experience a constant, mild anxiety. And that basically descibes most of the United States.

Travel really drove home for me the price we pay for all our productivity and busyness. Those years that I was gone others my age were busy living the “American Dream”. I returned home and found most of them overcomplacent, passionless, inflexible, distant, and unwilling to do anything about it….or even address it.

I was thinking about this because I’ve been trying to get in touch with a friend from NY for a week now. I bet I’ve called her 10 times and she the same to me….but we can’t seem to reach each other.

So now when I leave a message on her voicemail I say, “Tag, you’re it.”

I’d like to know what you guys think: Do you feel busy all the time? Do you think that it’s a good thing?

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My conversation with William Greider went well. We spoke at length about my favorite topics.

I am sorry to say I did not learn a great deal though, not through any fault of his, but because our views were so similar it was almost like listening to myself, albeit perhaps more eloquently.

Mr. Greider wrote a book I read recently called The Soul of Capitalism. It contains some commentary about the inhuman aspects of capitalism but mainly focuses on stories about people, businesses and communities that are finding ways within the current system to make capitalism work for us, instead of us always working for it.

It is an inspiring book, just to know there are people out there who still believe there is more to business than making a buck…and are actually doing something about it.

Our conversation centered around two questions that have been bugging me of late:

1) Are we choosing all this?? Are we choosing shallow lives based on consumerism? Are we choosing work over family and friends? Why do we continue to believe in the American Dream when the reality is that we work ever longer hours in households that now require two wage earners to maintain? Is that really an advancement in quality of life?

2) Does the free market work? This is a more philosophical, academic question, but it does have important implications. It tells us where we should look if we want to see a change, either to the market or the government depending on whether you think the market works. It also touches on a more fundamental question that I think we should be asking: What is an economy for?

So are we choosing all this? There are two real options here:

1) Yes we are. If this is the case then it doesn’t say much about human nature. Every piece of information I gather points to the fact that people would like to work less, get in shape, spend more time with family, feel less stressed, and take more vacation. The reality is they are working more, getting fatter, spending less time with loved ones, feeling more stressed and taking no vacation at all. If we are indeed willingly doing one while saying we would like the other….then that makes us either liars and hypocrites or lacking the backbone to step up and demand a change.

The flip side I suppose is that we would like life to reward our more human side a little more but reality demands us be slaves to the economy. This is a possibility. After all, no one ever promised life would be a bed of roses. Better to be a slave to the economy that to be a slave to land you farm (which could starve you to death in a bad year) or worse yet to be an actual slave.

In the past I would have bought this argument. Life has been a crap shoot for most of human history. But that is no longer the case. We need not work ourselves to death or really even work that hard at all.

The US GDP is over 10 trillion dollars. That is about twice as large as the next biggest economy (China) and three times as large as the third (Japan). GDP per person is $36,000 a year. Only Luxembourg ranks ahead of us. All the top six (except for us) are small countries that are either banking capitals or tax havens.

We have so much fucking money it is ridiculous. In 2001, Americans spent 25 billion dolllars on recreational watercraft. That is more than the GDP of North Korea. The average household income is about $70,000. Worldwatch reports that worldwide annual expenditures for cosmetics total U.S. $18 billion; the estimate for annual expenditures required to eliminate hunger and malnutrition is $19 billion. Expenditures on pet food in the United States and Europe total $17 billion a year; the estimated cost of immunizing every child, providing clean drinking water for all, and achieving universal literacy is $16.3 billion.

Since 1950 our GDP has increased a bewildering 3500%, from 293 billion bucks to its current 10.5 trillion.

During that same period the number of Americans suffering from uni-polar depression has increased 10 fold. The number of people reporting themselves “very happy” decreased from 7.5 to 6 percent.

So, money can’t buy happiness. We all knew that, but I’ll tell you what it can buy: Depression.

Here is the greatest economic paradox of our time: With all our wealth, we are still poor. After a century and a half of technology advancements and time-saving devices, we work harder than ever. Poverty is still with us. 22% of US children live below the poverty line. In Sweden that number is 2.6%. Reductions in the rate of unemployment have been intermittent and temporary. The U.S. is No. 1 in the world in healthcare spending both per capita and in absolute terms, but the only major industrialized nation not to provide some form of universal coverage. More than 41 million Americans have no health insurance of any kind, public or private. One in four people with household incomes less than $25,000 is uninsured.

So, to sum up: There is no scarcity in the US. We are rich beyond the wildest dreams of 99.9% of people who have ever existed. We need not work at the current breakneck pace. It simply isn’t necessary. This leads me to option 2:

2) No we are not choosing this. I believe this is true, not because I wish to implicate the rich in some sort of conspiracy, but because I refuse to believe people are lying hypocrites or submissive doormats.

There are a million small reasons why not all options are available and the weight of all those adds up to tremendous momentum to maintain the status quo. This question also touches on my next topic:

2) Does the free market work? Is our current and lasting inability to address income inequality, health care, poverty, and work hours the result of previous, probably well-meant, government intervention in the market, or….would affairs be even worse if the government had not stepped in? Can the free market address all our problems? Separation of church and state proved invaluable to the quality of life of the average person. Should we also have a separation of economy and state?

I will answer this question in my next post….

And then in my next, next post I will say some positive words about the economy. All is not so gloomy and there is much to be thankful for.

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After a moment of pause I’ve decided not to continue the story of my conversation with the “simple living” lady, but instead summarize my conversation with Arlie Hochschild from last week and the one I had with John De Graaf today. (John De Graaf is the author of the bestselling book Affluenza and national coordinator for the movement to “Fight Overwork and Time Poverty in America”.

It isn’t often you get to talk to such “important” people. They don’t exactly list their numbers in the phone book. But a well written letter, some persistence, luck, and a healthy dose of pity/curiosity on the part of the author can sometimes get you an audience.

Arlie is an expert on the failure of family against the backdrop of overworked parents. I came upon her research quite by accident, but remained interested because she studies the effects of what happened in my family: Father goes to work before child gets up for school, comes home in time to fall asleep on the sofa watching the news, and wakes up in time to see that the kids are grown and off to college to repeat the same mistakes they just made. I won’t report the conversation with Arlie as it went much the same as the one with Mr. De Graaf.

John De Graaf is an expert on time poverty and consumerism. I asked him (and Arlie) a question that is often asked of me when I make various points about the practice of pursuing activities that undermine the very aim they seek to achieve in the pursuit.

To translate:

If one gets a job to provide for a family but the act of job itself causes the breakdown of the family…what purpose is the job serving?

If you buy a cell phone, can’t live without your PDA, eat out instead of cook at home, use 6 minute abs, read magazines with bullet point summaries and have assistants pick up your dry cleaning all in an effort to save time, yet still find yourself stressed and overscheduled….perhaps it is the lifestyle itself and not your inability to schedule it. The more time saving schemes you pursue, the less time you will have.

If money lets you do cool things then more money should let you do more cool things. But what happens when you work so much to get the money that you don’t have the time or energy to do the cool things you set out to get the money for in the beginning?

Anyway, I often point out how work has a tendency to beget more work and harms the very life you began your work to provide for in the first place.

Here is the response I often get: “I agree it seems a little odd how work and stuff run our lives, but in the end this is a free country. People are choosing to work this much, otherwise they wouldn’t do it.”

My common response: “People aren’t choosing it, because not all options are available.” People’s expecations of what should be available is clouded by the status quo and powerful folks with a self-interest in perpetuating it. The economy is like a democracy with votes allocated on the basis of wealth instead of one vote per person.

A recent study by economist Edward Wolff of NYU finds 40% of the nation’s wealth is held by the top 1% of the population. The top 1 percent of households now have more wealth than the entire bottom 95 percent. They can have any system they like, including one where we all work ourselves to death. Our outlet is government, where we have a voice, not the free market, where our voice is largely drowned out by those with the most votes (money). We are not speaking with one voice. I do not believe it is a conspiracy by the rich. It is simply that the wealthy are organized, Labor is not.

In a recent survey by Fleet Bank, 64 percent of U.S. workers said they would rather have more time than more money. Why isn’t that happening?

That was my question to John De Graaf and he gave the answer that I often give: The free market is failing, just as it failed at the turn of the century during the Industrial Revolution when we passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which saved us all from sweat shop conditions, embarrassing pay, and 90 hour work weeks.

If the American worker is becoming ever more productive, why are we working more? If we make more in less time than we used to, shouldn’t we take some of those productivity gains in extra time, instead of more money?

If we had frozen real wages at their 1969 levels and taken all productivity gains as a reduction in work hours (instead of more money), we would be working only a little more than 20 hours a week. I wasn’t alive in 1969, but I imagine life wasn’t unbearable….and how much more bearable it would be if we only worked 20 hours a week??

I would like to ask the question to your guys, my readers: Most people would agree money doesn’t buy happiness. Most people report they would trade less pay for more time. Why then are we working more than ever? Are we really choosing it?

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Dear Readers:

I have been lazy about writing lately. Corina complained that my posts are too long anyway. I contend that her attention span is too short.

Greenville is much the same as it ever was. I am still looking for work and have a few things on the horizon, but it is useless to talk about it until something actually happens.

I have twice written about obesity in this journal, both times as a response to Mr. BigFatBlog who maintains a website promoting fat acceptance.

He wrote me again today. The exchange is posted in the Comments section of these two posts: 02/08/03 and 02/26/03. The rest of today’s entry is better understood if you’ve read the other two, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.

I have always meant to write a piece about the obesity epidemic in the US. Everyone knows I have been to a lot of countries and I can easily say Americans are noticeably fatter than the rest of the world…although other countries are catching up.

Here is my opinion as to why we are so fat and why the rest of the planet will become more so in the coming years unless something is done. I wrote this email to Paul today. He maintains


Everyone has that idea for which they are willing to go down with the ship. This seems to be yours.

You skill with rhetoric is admirable. You seem to have well developed opinions and you express them well…..but no amount of skill will persuade the world that fat is ok. None. Give it up. If this is the idea for which you are willing to go down with the ship….then you just bought your ticket to the bottom.

In fact, the fatter the general population gets, the more desirable it will be to be thin.

Can you change the opinion of the world? I don’t think so, but you are welcome to try.

I stand by the statement that your time is much better served in losing weight than in trying to shift world views.

I am sure you’ve tried. You say diets don’t work. I agree, the research is extremely clear on that point.

But the fact is that our caloric intake has not changed much in the past 50 years. Yet we are much fatter.

The difference is in our lifestyles. 50 years ago over 90% of folks worked in manufacturing or agriculture. These jobs required manual effort and burned calories. Kids played outside because there was literally nothing else to do.

Now 70% of the economy is in the service sector. We do nothing at work more physical than walk to the bathroom. Kids play video games and chat online. Our lifestyle no longer burns calories.

I am not much into placing blame, but the epidemic of obesity and the myriad of health and social problems that come with it has been caused by the monetization of America….and the time poverty that comes with it.

40% of the US labor force works 50 hours or more a week. We work more than any other industrialized country in the world: on average 9 weeks longer per year than Western Europe.

We’re too tired at the end of the day to take exercise and our jobs no longer require us to do anything but punch keys or answer a phone. We went from 8 hours of manual labor per day to 10 hours of sitting on our butts at an office. No wonder we are fat.

And as for children, they used to play outside. But playing outside is cheap. It doesn’t cost anything to go play catch with a friend.

At some point marketing identified kids as a demographic with disposable income and pushed them an endless stream of diversions that compete with outside play. These products simply didn’t exist in the past.

Their parents buy them the crap because they feel guilty about not spending enough time with their kids because they’re at work all day. The fact is they have the money to spend on useless diversions, but not the time to make sure their kids live a healthy lifestyle. In many Western European nations it is illegal to advertise to children.

In short, forget changing world opinion and forget diets. Go join a basketball league or a runners club….if you can find the time to do it.

If you trade all the time you spend defending fatness with time spent exercising, you’d find you no longer needed to make such a defense.

If you prefer your current lifestyle, by all means, continue it…and I will continue to enjoy your website =)

Happy Holidays,

Elliott Dykes

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Lets do some math:

40% of the US labor force works 50 hours or more a week. American men average 49.4 hours a week on the job. As I’ve stated before, the United States works more than any other industrialized country in the world: on average 9 weeks longer per year than Western Europe. We passed Japan in the mid-1990s. The Japanese work so much they have a word for death by overwork: Karoshi.

And yet we proudly work more than they do. I often hear it when I ask people how they are: “Busy,'” they say. As if “busy” has replaced “good” or “fine” as a positive mental state.

People are happy with themselves when they have to check their calender for availability…..and find a spot a week or more out. Our friends are no longer the people we spend the most time with, but the ones who most understand why we don’t have the time to spend.

So here comes the math part:

50 hours a week is 10 hours a day.
The average work commute is 72 minutes a day.
Let’s say eating takes up 1.5 hours. I think that is a fair estimate.
We are now at 12.75 hours in a day.
Lets sleep for 8 hours (wishful thinking).
We are now at 20.75 hours in a day….lets round it off to 21 hours.

You now have 3 hours to brush your teeth, take a shower, shave, pay bills, make phone calls, read a book, plan a vacation, mow the lawn, iron your clothes, shop for a present, fix the grill, walk the dog, read the mail, shop for new insurance, do your taxes, watch some TV, and take a shit. The fact is those 3 hours are easily eaten up just maintaining your life.

And now you are out of time. 24 hours is gone.

You still haven’t relaxed, spoken to your children at all, or spent a second with your wife. Nor have you volunteered in the community, spent time with any of your friends or extended family, gone to church, or gotten a minute of exercise.

I am a bit of an environmentalist. I like it when the tree-huggers point out that you can’t just keep taking from the Earth. The Earth is a limited resource. It will run out if we don’t allow it to replenish. It is common knowledge and, while we don’t act in accordance, at least we acknowledge the fact.

Time is also a limited resource. There are only 24 hours in a day. To me it is common sense, but somehow it is not common knowledge.

Work+Transit+Food+Sleep+Life Maintenance = about 24 hours. And you haven’t spent a minute with your kids, wife, family, friends, or, perhaps most importantly, with yourself. You haven’t gotten one lick of exercise or wasted the first minute daydreaming.

The only one of the necessary inputs that can be changed appreciably is sleep hours, but lack of sleep damages the very aims you are trying to accomplish by getting less of it. We are not robots.

All this while cell phones and email and the myriad of other productivity enhancing devices are said to save us time. Don’t do me any favors!! If they save me any more time I’ll be sleeping 3 hours a night and end up in therapy.

Where is all this time supposed to come from?

The Environmentalists have a whole movement behind them, trying to Save the Earth and the Whales and the Rainforest. It is a noble goal. Recycle, buy Organic stuff, give to Greenpeace….whatever floats your boat.

Where is the Save the People movement? The one where we acknowledge 25% of Americans took no vacation at all last year, that dual income families spend 12 minutes a day talking to each other, and that more work hours in industrial countries is directly related to increased rates of murder, rape, suidice, divorce, pollution and mental illness?

Not only is there no movement to take back our lives, but we seem at least superficially happy with being overscheduled.

“How’s it been going?”

“Aww….you know, just staying busy.”

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Albert Einstein said in 1954 (near the end of his life): “If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make my living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. I would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler in the hope to find that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.”

Mr. Einstein is a very smart man with a unique insight into the human psyche. Though even he would admit that longing for freedom from the demands of being an internationally famous scientist is understandable and not a justification to give it up in favor of plumbing. If he had been a plumber, there would always have been the nagging suspicion of unrealized potential.

He would’ve died in anonymity, ignored as he had the following thought: “If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make my living, I would not try to become a plumber or a peddler. I would rather choose to be a scientist or scholar in the hope that I might leave mankind with some indelible mark and die knowing I did all that was possible.”

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” – Robert Heinlein

Specialization is not for insects. It is for workers in an industrialized world. Without it there would be only farms with family units desperately trying to be all things at once, excelling at nothing.

However, I like Mr. Heinlein’s quote and think that, while specialization does lead to an increased efficiency in the allocation of resources, it also leads to a lack of perspective, inability to empathize with others, and a disconnection from yourself. It is hard to fully develop as a person and understand your neighbors if you do only one thing.

I sometimes think we’ve traded life for something less but safer. Life and work were hard in the past. Now only work is hard and life is spent without real risk in a mind-numbing wage slavery. In some respects life is meant to be difficult and risky. The more you distill it into something manageable the farther you move from its essence.

A man could once feel good about the work he did. At the end of the day it was hard, but it made him able to stand proudly in any room. The house was built by his hands, the food raised by his family.

And then one day workers did not own their tools, did not own the product of their labour and did not make decisions as to the nature of their work. Rather than finding fulfilment and pride in their jobs, workers instead exhausted their mental and physical energies in an unrelenting pursuit of more, yet unable to identify more when they attained it.

In fact, the resiliency of capitalism stems partially from its ability to create new forms of psychological insecurity and material scarcity at the same time it eliminates the old forms. It creates a host of artificial needs and wants that can only be satisfied through a renewed commitment to work.

The constant struggle that once defined our lives is now re-defined as anxiety disorder and depression. We are cured of the pride we once felt in overcoming those obstacles by support groups, therapy and prescription drugs.

Don’t misunderstand me. What I want is an option for the present, not a return to the past. Why must we all work ourselves to death for plasma TVs and anti-lock brakes? Where is the other option? The one where I get to trade those long hours of work for life balance, personal growth, a rose garden, time with friends and hours at the library reading books about stuff that I’ll probably never do, but love to think about?

It is the lack of options that bothers me. Either we can work long hours and get ahead at the big job, or we can work long hours and not get ahead at the trade or mill job. Where is the job you can work 20 to 30 hours a week that doesn’t put you in government housing?

I am not glorifying the past. People once died in the streets by the thousands because we lacked basic santition and personal hygiene. In the winter they died from the cold. I don’t want to go back to the past…the good ol’ days weren’t all that good. What I want is an option for the present.

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