Monday, June 24, 2013

Why We Work Ourselves to Death

"Its the Economy, Stupid!" Was a famous campaign soundbite from a 1990's U.S. presidential election.

It seems today that everything is the economy. We worry about jobs, the "economy" (whatever that is), retirement, how to fund education (in order to make enough money so that we can participate in the "economy")... the key is, we worry.

LiveScience recently reported that only 1/3 of Americans described themselves as "happy". (Personally, I was impressed that the number was that high. I would not describe 1/3 of my Wall Street colleagues as "happy". I would not describe 1/3 of my former clients and partners as "happy". Of course, that's hardly empirical... readers can form their own opinion.)

In a politically charged society in which every Special Interest Group exists only to foment angst, anger, and resentment within their group I should think it would be very, very difficult to be "happy" while also being a "victim" - but there was something else going on, me thinks. That other thing I refer to personally as "the enslavement protocol", a programed format that has evolved (or if you are into conspiracy theories, and I am not, "was designed") to stop the individual from pondering the meaning of his/her existence and existing only for the purposes of participating in this thing called "the economy".

I have not read this book yet "Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream", by Benjamin Hunnicutt, only this excellent article in which the author answers a short series of questions, in which Hunnicutt poses the question "What Happened?" to the ideal of free time and personal examination in the United States that was blossoming in the early part of the 20th Century. Rather than calling it an "excellent article" I think that perhaps this article is, to my mind, one of the most important articles I have ever found on the Web because the article connects a couple of dots I have been pondering long and hard about but had been unable to connect.

From the article:


The book is about a mystery in U.S. labor history that I’ve been trying to unravel for 40 years. In the early 20th century, there was strong support for the “shorter hours” movement, and working hours were essentially cut in half as people began to embrace the possibilities of life beyond everyday work. In the 1920s and 1930s, people like [British economist John Maynard] Keynes suggested that by the mid 20th century—and definitely by the 1980s—we’d be working more like 2.5 hours a day! 
No one predicted that this process would stop. But after the Great Depression, working hours stabilized, and there has been no increase in leisure since. Even in the 1960s and 70s, there were predictions that the process would begin again—that there would be a return of short hours and increased leisure. But instead, there’s been a reversal. In 2005, Americans were working on average five weeks longer than in the 1970s. 
So what happened? Why did something that looked so inevitable stop? Why are we now working 10 hours a day rather than 10 hours a week? In the book, I explore various ways to explain this phenomenon, looking at the role of things like consumerism, government policies to stimulate the economy, and machines and technology in contributing to longer hours and reduced leisure.


I assert that what happened, Mr. Hunnicut, was the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permitting the income tax (also of 1913), and the Federal Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program (otherwise known as Social Security), Medicare, and the Student Loan Machine. The unintended consequences of these government programs were the enslavement of The People, the end of Free Time, and the Permanence of Stress - and all of it inflicted by debt. The crazy thing is that the Left get's the problem but can't see their role in all of it.

The increase in the velocity of money and the money supply that came with creating a mountain of debt has not freed us any more than all of the "labor saving devices" that were sold to us actually saved any labor.

What really happened to "free time" was the enslavement of the masses to our present system of debt, and it is going to be hard to stuff the shaving cream back into the can on a macro basis. Individually, this is a rather easy bullet to dodge, its just difficult to have the chutzpah to actually duck.

This is what the corportocracy has reduced us to. We are no longer individuals pondering the meaning of our existence but workers in a hive slaving for our corporate masters in complete denial of our own mortality. The frenetic pace of our existence is an absolute imperative of the corportocracy - otherwise me might have the time to sit and think.

And they can't have that.








8 comments:

WillSoFlo said...

I can attest to the veracity of all of this. I know the value of human life and opted out of the rat race at my earliest opportunity. Why? Because it WAS a rat race, not a life. The family model is broken and I don't see a fix in sight!

WillSoFlo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I keep encouraging my kids to live small and stay out of debt. Another side of the problem is modern marketing convincing everyone that there is so much that they JUST GOTTA HAVE! Get past that one and life gets more secure and a bit easier.

Regards,

Coal Guy

tweell said...

Old version:
You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

New version:
You update sixteen spreadsheets, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me, I say with a moan
The bank has my soul for my student loan

I have had indifferent success with my children on this. One is paying off a student loan on a degree that didn't help her one bit, another is currently taking on more student loan debt for a business degree that is all but useless. So far my two youngest have listened to me, and the oldest is not about college.

Ben Hunnicutt said...

I do agree with the blogger that new government policies and the growth of government are part of the reasons for the end of shorter hours and the disappearance of the original American Dream of Freedom. More importantly, observers such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Robert Hutchins (celebrated president of the University of Chicago), prominent business leaders such as Walter Gifford (AT&T) and W K Kellogg (see my book, “Kellogg’s Six Hour Day”) believed that new government policies designed to sustain full time full employment (following FDR’s initiatives and his administration’s defining “full employment” at forty hour or better) were creating new forms of enslavement (Wright call government creation of work a form of “conscription”). I also believe that shorter work hours, as a FREE consumer choice (government was not needed for shorter hours to happen for a century) is the best hope for the future. Robert Hutchins tried to sell his ideas along with Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World after he burned out at the University of Chicago– PLEASE have a look at my book. I hope to speak to libertarians and sane conservatives- or better to “re-present” true conservatives such as Walt Whitman and Benjamin Franklin who extoled progress beyond both the economy and politics – in the opening “realm of freedom” - - humane and moral freedom and progress that might create forms of human conviviality that would overshadow the technical marvels we now enjoy. That would be American’s promise and true glory. Remember the lines from America the Beautiful “And crown thy good with brotherhood.” Isn’t that our nation’s real calling? Benjamin Hunnicutt author of Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream

Ben Hunnicutt said...

I do agree with the blogger that new government policies and the growth of government are part of the reasons for the end of shorter hours and the disappearance of the original American Dream of Freedom. More importantly, observers such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Robert Hutchins (celebrated president of the University of Chicago), prominent business leaders such as Walter Gifford (AT&T) and W K Kellogg (see my book, “Kellogg’s Six Hour Day”) believed that new government policies designed to sustain full time full employment (following FDR’s initiatives and his administration’s defining “full employment” at forty hour or better) were creating new forms of enslavement (Wright call government creation of work a form of “conscription”). I also believe that shorter work hours, as a FREE consumer choice (government was not needed for shorter hours to happen for a century) is the best hope for the future. Robert Hutchins tried to sell his ideas along with Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World after he burned out at the University of Chicago– PLEASE have a look at my book. I hope to speak to libertarians and sane conservatives- or better to “re-present” true conservatives such as Walt Whitman and Benjamin Franklin who extoled progress beyond both the economy and politics – in the opening “realm of freedom” - - humane and moral freedom and progress that might create forms of human conviviality that would overshadow the technical marvels we now enjoy. That would be American’s promise and true glory. Remember the lines from America the Beautiful “And crown thy good with brotherhood.” Isn’t that our nation’s real calling? Benjamin Hunnicutt author of Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream

Greg T. Jeffers said...

Mr. Hunnicutt!

I thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us. I look forward to your book with great anticipation. Judging only from this short interview I expect great things from it.

)As an aside... for the most part Libertarians bristle when Liberals lump us with Conservatives, as well as when Conservatives lump us with Liberals.)

Podoloski advani said...
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