Why is humanity constantly in a rush? Couldn’t a lighter work ethic still sustain a prosperous economic environment for everyone?
Mebbe. Now think about who gets to make the decision. In a free place, in a liberal polity, that’s the individuals who have to do the work, or who get to enjoy the leisure.
To an economist this is “utility”. That mix of communing with nature, slumping on the couch with a pizza, working to provide the cash for hyperconsumerism that people do. The economists’ assumption is that people rationally – rational here not meaning entirely calculating, but just consistently – maximise their utility.
OK. So, what do people actually do?
We’ve been doing less work and taking more leisure for about 800 years now.
What confuses people is the thought that work is what we get cash for. This isn’t true. Work is everything that isn’t personal time – sleeping, eating, washing – and isn’t lesiure. Work comes in two flavours, household, also known as non-market – caring for children and family, washing the clothes, cleaning house, cleaning the gutters etc, cooking – and market – going out to work for The Man.
The accurate description of working hours over the past 800 years or so is that we’ve been doing fewer and fewer household production hours, women have been doing more market hours, men less, and both men and women have been having more leisure.
Effectively, and not wholly accurately but it illustrates the point, we’ve been automating the household work and going out to work in the market to pay for it. In modern times think vacuum cleaner, washing machine, microwave, ready meals and so on. But it stretches back a long, long, way. The spinning wheel was the automation of hand spinning. The early industrial revolution the automation of the spinning wheel. And until you think about it you’ll not realise how much time women did spend upon hand spinning. At least hundreds of hours of labour a year for near each woman.
Another way to put this. We all, now, have vastly more leisure than even our grandparents, let alone those hundreds of years before us. Given that this is so we must have a lighter work ethic, right?
And how much lighter should it be than it is now? Well, that’s up to the people doing the work and taking the leisure, isn’t it?