The Transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau has provided us with two invaluable quotes about money. Each of which should be looked to by anyone who is trying to figure out how to gain more financial independence, while at the same time, not forfeit all of their time and happiness as a means to achieve it. Thoreau said, "That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest," and that "wealth is the ability to fully experience life." On the surface these two quotes seem to be at odds with each other. The former says want/ spend less and you will be richer, and the latter seems to say only riches will allow you to fully experience all that this world has to offer. This is how these two phrases read to the lay observer, but this is not what Thoreau meant when he said them.
What Thoreau is saying in the first quote is along the same line of thought as the Roman philosopher Seneca when he said, "It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor." In other words, things and possessions do not make you happy, which is to say "rich." Wealth, in this sense, is a state of mind more than an accumulation of a certain amount of riches (i.e. possessions). It is this understanding of "wealth" -- happiness and contentment -- that should be applied to understanding Throeau's second quote. "Wealth" which to say a happy and prosperous state of mind, "is the ability to fully experience what this world has to offer." Having the right perspective on money and what it means to live a truly fulfilling life, such as that found in the writings of Thoreau and Seneca, is only half of the battle. We need our economic model to reflect these values so that we can all truly lead richer and happier lives.
The following is a three part study exploring our current economic picture, and how we can better understand it, and thus hopefully reform it to better reflect what it truly means to live a prosperous life. By looking at how we spend our time and exploring an alternate economic model that will help us all achieve a better standard of living, we can see how/ why we find happiness and purpose in what we do, and thus we can better understand our relationship with work, money, and time, and how they are all related to what it truly means to be rich and happy.
Part I: Wasting Time Defeats Purpose
Most of us are completely wasting our lives. Look at how we spend our time. A full time job is typically forty hours a week. The average adult needs between six and eight hours of sleep each night; let us say seven hours. That is about 50 hours a week spent sleeping. And I would conservatively estimate that most people spend at least an hour and a half each work day, getting ready for and commuting to and from work (and for some of us, it is much more). Add all of that time together (40+50+7.5) and that is nearly 100 hours spent (basically) just working and sleeping. That leaves us with a measly 68 hours in the week to do what we actually want to do.
Let us say that we have about five hours to ourselves each day after work (i.e. 25 of the 68 remaining hours). This time, which is more than a third of our total free time, is often completely wasted as well. It is typically spent eating dinner, doing household chores, and getting ready for bed. Many of us are too tired from working all day, and thus lack the requisite energy to put forth our best self into a passion project, a hobby, family time, or whatever else provides meaning in our life.
Some may say that a job should provide meaning for us. That is a nice idea, which is to say, that is the ideal. However, that is rarely the case. One recent article highlighted the unlikelihood of someone finding purpose in their work, and even went so far as to compare a person who loved their job with a unicorn or a leprechaun. In other words, a person who loves their job is fictional. This is not the hyperbolic statement it seems; as it turns out 85 percent of people do in fact hate their jobs.
Whenever this subject of hating work is brought up, it is usually quashed quickly with the dismissive statement: yea but we all need money, so we all need to work. This idea of the cause and effect of work and money is hardly ever challenged or analyzed. Meanwhile this is the idea upon which our whole entire society is based. For most people, work and money go hand-in-hand. You work and you get money, it is that simple.
Except, it is not that simple.
Let us look back at the history of work in America. Prior to 1914, the average workday was sixteen hours long. (Talk about wasting one’s life.) In 1914, that all changed, however, when the top company of the age, Ford Motor Company, decided to reduce its worker’s hours to eight; not only did Ford slash the workday, it also doubled its employees’ salaries. What was the result of such a drastic measure? The result was increased productivity for the company, and increased health and happiness for the employee. The latter is to be expected, but the former seems surprising to some. How can workers working less produce more? The answer to this paradoxical question is why we need to re-evaluate how we think of work today at this critical juncture of change.
Two recent studies shine a light on why Ford (and other companies) found that reducing their employees’ hours was better for the business’s bottom line. The first study reveals that in a given eight-hour workday, an employee is only actually productive for two hours and fifty-three minutes. The rest of the time (which is to say the other five hours) is lost to pointless meetings, non-work conversations, and a whole lot of other nonsense that employees partake in to pass the time during the excruciatingly long workday.
The second study analyzed the impact a four-day workweek would have on productivity. Microsoft Japan experimented with a four-day workweek, and the results matched those of Ford in 1914. By reducing the hours of time spent at work (without reducing employee pay as well), the worker produced as much (if not more) in four days as five. And not only that, they were much healthier and happier – both at work and at home. The worker who worked less not only produced more, but they were absent from work much less as well. It is straightforward: less stress leads to less sick time being used and/or needed.
Let us now turn to our current economic situation. The second quarter of fiscal 2020 just closed, and the US economy contracted nearly 33 percent, making it the worst year over year GDP drop in our nation’s history. The only time big changes are ever made to the economic model is when the world changes in a big way first. In 1914, World War I had just broken out, showing the world just how fleeting life is. It only made sense that workers would want/need more of their time back.
We must take advantage of this opportunity that is before us today, as we, too, see how fleeting life can be. The world is going through another major change, and likewise, we should allow our economic model to adapt to the times. By either, reducing worker’s hours from eight to six, or by reducing the workweek from five days to four, the research tells us that both -- the business and the employee -- will stand to benefit in numerous ways from such an action.
Businesses might contend that reducing employee hours will leave them short staffed. Currently, unemployment is near its record high, so a latent effect of a reduction in hours (again, WITHOUT a reduction in pay) is that it will lead to more employment opportunities for those currently on the sidelines through no fault of their own.
I understand that what I am asking for here is a lot. The idea of shorter workdays or shorter workweeks is hard to accept for both businesses and workers alike.
The research shows that by reducing employee hours without reducing their pay, you will retain happier, healthier employees while simultaneously adding to your bottom line by means of their increased productivity. Remember, the goal is production not enslavement or distraction.
Choose to do what’s right for your employees and your business will benefit as a result.
Please understand that there is so much more to life than work. We are taught in this country to feel bad about not working, like we are lazy or parasitic when we choose to take some time off. That is preposterous. We are here on earth to enjoy all of the wonderful things that this world has to offer -- most of which exist far outside the bounds of the nine-to-five grind. For nearly 9 in 10 workers to hate their job is a real problem; for most of us to spend 5/7th’s of our life hating what we do is such a sad state of affairs. When people are forced to spend a majority of their time doing something they hate, their “free time” is less the time they HAVE free and more the time they ARE free. And that is all the difference in the world. The former implies that the individual has a sense of control over what they do, the latter highlights the lack of control the individual actually has.
Yea, but we all need money, so we all have to work. The same dismissive comment is heard again in the distance…
Part II: 4 Reasons We Need a Universal Basic Income
It is August 17, 2020. Today the stock market is about to reclaim its pre-pandemic high. How can this be? Other headlines of the day include unemployment claims and new coronavirus cases reaching all time highs as well, and nearly a third of the country is on the verge of becoming homeless. How can there be such a disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street?
This gap between the stock market and real economy is actually quite simple to understand. Small, local businesses are not publicly traded, so the fact that they are shuttering their doors in droves does not reflect the market numbers. The stock market is mostly made up of big corporations, which, because of the rapid move to digitization, have stood to benefit tremendously from the pandemic (i.e. Amazon, Dominos, Shopify, etc.). Furthermore, the CARES Act, which was passed by Congress in late March, provided $1200 stimulus checks to most Americans and an extra $600 a week in unemployment insurance. This appears to be a move to help workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, what it really did, however, was prop corporate America back up on the shoulders of the American consumer. What is more, the CARES Act also supplied businesses with tons of free money, by means of the Paycheck Protection Program. This was a program that provided rescue money for companies whether they needed the money or not. Companies, which the Treasury Secretary says are allowed to keep their anonymity despite the fact that they are receiving taxpayer money. The Paycheck Protection Program was, at times, such a blatant disregard for economic justice that some companies even gave the money back to the government.
This post – the second of this series on Work and Happiness, and the connection between how we spend our time and the money we earn – is my attempt to articulate the other side of the economic story so that Americans can understand exactly how the economy really works. By understanding how things really work, you will come to realize that YOU should no longer have to. The following are four reasons we need to adopt a Universal Basic Income, and provide all Americans with a steady flow of money whether they work for it or not.
1. Artificial Intelligence
The topic of a universal basic income used to be cast aside as a crazy fringe idea. But as our world has leapt into the future faster than we could have ever predicted, UBI is becoming a more mainstream idea. It fits our time, so to speak. Democratic presidential hopeful, Andrew Yang, put forward a respectable showing in the 2020 campaign, and his main point was a UBI. The entrepreneur-turned-politician proposed giving all Americans $1000 a month regardless of income level or employment status. The main reason used to support his “controversial” platform was artificial intelligence. A.I. is the future of work – plain and simple. Up to 80 million jobs are at risk of being lost to automation by 2030. These are mostly the repetitive, tedious jobs, which are often done by those on the lowest end of the income scale. If A.I. really does put a third of the American workforce out of work, think about what that actually means. We lament the current unemployment picture as being “As bad as the Great Depression.” The unemployment rate is currently somewhere between 10 and 15 percent. If a third of the workforce is put out of work that number will approximately triple. How could the unemployment picture, which is as bad as the Great Depression, be three-times worse than it already is? Well, that is the not-too-distant future. Keep in mind that these are the projections for 2030. In other words, we must act fast to make UBI a reality, because if we don’t then a third of the country (or more) will be thrust into unemployment and subsequent poverty.
2. We Are Capable
It may seem like I am painting technology as the enemy because it will force people out of work. That could not be further from the point. I think technology, as long as it is used responsibility, is a great boon for humanity. People working repetitive tedious jobs should be put out of work – no one should have to spend their life doing tedious labor in order to survive. As the previous section of this study shows: we should not be spending the majority of our lives doing something we hate just to get by. Human life is more valuable than that. As Einstein said, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” In other words, we all have different skills and talents, and our current economic model does not always do the best job of allowing those skills or talents to thrive. The image of the starving artist comes to mind. How can anyone hone their skills and passions if they spend all of their time working and/or wondering from where their next dollar is coming? Moreover, the point I am trying to make is that technology is a good thing; it makes our lives simpler and easier (or at least it should).
More to the point, as we saw with the $1200 stimulus checks that most Americans received thanks to the CARES Act, the US Government is fully equipped to send money to Americans quickly and efficiently. One of the old arguments against a UBI was that the Government was incapable of paying everyone in a timely and efficient manner. The stimulus payments of the CARES Act refute that argument effectively. We can (and should) provide checks to Americans on a regular basis.
3. Good for Business
The main argument against providing a universal basic income is that it is a disincentive to work. The question that should be raised here, but never is: why do we have to waste our lives working, if technology and fairer economic practices can change that unfortunate fact? (I won’t hold my breath waiting for an answer.) Let us look past the absurd, and focus on the apparent flaws with “the disincentive to work argument” (as if work itself wasn’t a disincentive to begin with -- but I will cover that point in greater deal later in this article). First, many of the tedious jobs can be automated, so the need for people to do the work is gone (or soon will be). It must be asked: if a business can still be just as productive, why would it still need people to do menial labor?
What businesses do need, are customers. Customers only exist if people have money to spend. As we saw with the CARES Act and the subsequent quick rebound in the Stock Market: when Americans have money, they spend it (perhaps they shouldn’t, but they do) and when Americans spend money, businesses and the economy as a whole do very well. It does not matter how the consumer got their money as long as they spend it. Americans have an ever-present need to spend – all one needs to do is look at the average household debt to see what I mean. What Americans don’t have, however, is an ever-present stream of money coming in (especially now that so many have been put out of work). Furthermore, no matter what people are given as a UBI it will never be enough, so people will still work when they have bigger goals than just sustenance. The point of a UBI is to make it so people do not live or die based on some opportunity for and/or desire to work. It should not have to be reiterated but I will say it again: human life is more valuable than that.
Elon Musk just became the fourth richest person in the world as I am writing this. Musk, who obviously understands how money works, has always been an advocate for a basic income. He even said as much on his Twitter feed at the end of July. He followed up his support of a basic income by saying, “Goal of government should be to maximize the happiness of the people.” Andrew Yang, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates, all of who are Capitalist entrepreneurs, all support the idea of a UBI – it is time that other leaders in the business community see the value in providing people with money. Simply put, it is good for business.
4. Reclaim Our Time
As the first part of this three part study highlights, most of us waste more than 100 hours of our 168-hour week just working and sleeping. And add that to the fact that 85 percent of workers hate their jobs, and our current economic model really is a crime against humanity. So if we as a society can be as productive as we always have been without having to waste all our time doing repetitive, menial tasks then why don’t we? Because someone has to pay for everyone to sit at home all the time! I can hear the critics scream. You are absolutely right someone does have to pay for it. Isn’t it better for those few fortunate ones, who have more money than they could ever spend in multiple lifetimes, to pay their fair share of the money that they have earned within a system we all work and pay for, than for the majority of people to pay with the majority of their life time just to get by.
Think about what I am saying. With the help of artificial intelligence, companies will be just as productive as they have always been (if not more so). So why is there this constant need for people to keep doing menial tasks and back breaking labor just to survive? It's because, sadly, human labor is cheaper than technology. Workers are vastly underpaid for their production and have been for years. What is more, as we saw with the stimulus checks and added unemployment insurance, the majority of Americans simply feed the money back into the system, which is good for the economy, whether they are working for the money or not.
To remind you once again, we are still in the midst of a pandemic and the worst economy since the Great Depression, yet the stock market is already back to its pre-crisis high. According to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, the top 10 percent control 92 percent of the stock market. And while 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment since March, the rich have profited over $637 billion dollars. But the $600 for unemployment is a disincentive to work? This whole economic picture is ludicrous. So I do not want to hear that what I am proposing is preposterous. It makes a lot more sense than our current economic model.
What I am proposing is less work and more money for the majority of Americans. And I have shown how this translates into the same production and profits that businesses have always enjoyed. So I ask you again, what is the problem with what I am proposing?
The answer to this question comes from Steve Forbes, the founder and namesake of Forbes Magazine and a former Republican presidential candidate. In a recent article he challenged the idea of a universal basic income with two typical tactics. He said it would hurt human ingenuity and it would cause higher taxes. Both of these objections are completely misleading. Many people who are already rich create valuable things all the time, so it is easy to see that people have other motivations and incentives to create things and use their "ingenuity" besides money and financial gain. If anything, wasting time doing menial labor is what crushes ingenuity. And as for raising taxes, Forbes is explicitly referring to the increased sales tax proposed by Andrew Yang, which is how Yang proposed to pay for his plan. To which it must be said, why would people care about paying higher sales taxes, if the majority of the money they are spending did not cost them their hard earned labor and/or valuable time to receive it? The financial picture of the majority of Americans would clearly be much better than it is today. See, the argument can be easily turned around.
When Forbes warns of higher taxes, what he is really doing is hinting to other Forbes readers (the affluent) about the dangers for them of a UBI for the people. A UBI would lead to higher taxes on the rich -- no one is denying that fact. I just want all those who use "higher taxes" as their argument to be forthright and admit that they do not believe people should get a UBI because they are selfish and do not care about people having the basic necessities of life.
What Forbes proposes instead, which is also what Trump has been proposing, is an earned income tax credit, which would allow workers to take home more of their check and pay less taxes that way. This sounds good, but do not be fooled. The point they are reinforcing is that only people who work deserve anything – so in other words, go back to wasting your life and working your menial jobs and we will let you keep some of your pittance. What a Machiavellian plan. It must have took a lot of that so-called capitalist "ingenuity" to come up with that one.
A universal basic income is not only a humane and practical way to provide for the people whether they work or not, but by allowing people to have more of their time back, you will see a creative boom like never before. With more time to devout to passion projects and hobbies, we will go through a renaissance unparalleled in human history.
Part III: Finding Happiness in Work
The final part of this three-part study will revolve around the happiness part of work. As I have already mentioned (on multiple occasions) 85 percent of people are not happy with their current jobs. This fact is why it is almost comical to me that some say that the $600 a week for unemployment insurance is "a disincentive to work"; work itself is already the disincentive. What is revealed in this statement is that they know people hate their jobs but they also know that they make subsistent wages and live hand-to-mouth, and without keeping them desperate, then they can never get them to do their slave-like jobs any longer. Portraying these poor exploited people as lazy or parasitic is truly evil incarnate.
Some of you may mean that the extra $600 a week for unemployment is disincentive to work because they make more on unemployment than they do at their job. If that is the case then perhaps you should give yourself a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself: Why do you pay your worker so little, that a mere $600 added to unemployment is more than they make? Perhaps that is the problem.
Why is it not called “a disincentive to work” when the rich get more money? They don’t need to work to make end's meet. Where is the outcry there? Let us talk about the true incentive to work: happiness.
It has been said by many that "money cannot buy happiness." Anyone who has struggled with money, however, knows that not having the things you need will definitely lead to unhappiness. The truth is, happiness lies somewhere between poverty and wealth. In a 2010 study, it was revealed that happiness only increases up to about $75,000 a year. Apparently this is the magic number; it is around this amount that someone in America can acquire all of the essentials they need, and a few other treats as well. People who feel the need to earn much more than this do so out of obligation or obsession, but not in a quest to be happier (despite what they may tell themselves and others).
Reading this same work-happiness study, an entrepreneur from Seattle named Dan Price, acted on the information. He took a one million dollar pay cut in order to make $70,000 a year the minimum wage for all of his employees. What was the result of this bold action? Despite critics like Rush Limbaugh saying, “I hope this company is a case study in MBA programs on how socialism does not work, because it’s going to fail,” the company actually tripled in size. Not only that, 70 percent of the staff paid off debt, their 401(K) contributions doubled, and ten times more employees bought homes and started families. Isn’t that what we all want? The business in turn has less employee turnover, and twice as much engagement in their job than the national average. So by simply paying people a fair wage, both the workers and business did much better as a result.
Paying people what they are worth is only half of the battle. More than just money, people need to find purpose in what they do. Sure you could become an accountant and potentially make $90,000 or more a year, but what if you instead decided to follow your passion and make a little less. What if you instead created an online brand where you sold comic books and had a YouTube channel about it? With the same amount of time you put into accounting, you could likely turn your comic book passion into $60,000 a year. You might make less money, but you would be much happier. Isn’t that worth more than the money? It should be said again: money cannot buy happiness. Purpose must come first.
Again, that is not to say, however, that money up to a certain point is not very important. There have been numerous studies linking depression with unemployment. Many people will often draw the conclusion that this connection stems from a person’s need to work, as if work alone, no matter what the work is provides purpose. As I hope I have made abundantly clear, work for work’s sake has no purpose, and in fact, it will drain the life out of you.
Because of the CARES Act, and the extra $600 a week for unemployment we finally got to study the mental health impact of unemployment from a whole new perspective. Without the usual financial burden that often comes with losing one’s job, does a person really feel depressed not working? The truth is, the depression of unemployment was a direct side effect to the loss in wages and not at all from the loss of labor. The point I am trying to make here is that without money, we are unhappy up to a certain point. But after our need for money is quelled, our happiness depends directly on the purpose we find in life, and making sure that our life’s labor is a labor of love.
WORK & HAPPINESS CONCLUSION
It is hard to tell if it’s irony or a paradox, but some people have made their life’s purpose: money itself. This severely muddies the water, and makes things much more difficult for the rest of us. Money is supposed to be a tool to get you to the goal, it is not supposed to be the goal itself. Happiness is supposed to be the goal. This confusion is the problem. Where the majority of us – who believe that the necessities of life (water, food, shelter, healthcare) are basic human rights which should be provided for all, and who only want to work, if the labor provides us true purpose in life -- are in a never ending struggle with those who are in control of this oppressive labor system, who need the status quo to continue no matter how inhumane it may seem.
Socialists and capitalists can both agree that the goal of human labor is to be productive. The problem is, however, that productivity comes in more variations than either system can adequately define and/or reward.
Victorian poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins said that all people have within them an “instress” which is the catalyst or impetus that causes a person to go through the process of “selving.” In other words, the “instress” is that feeling or impulse inside of you that drives you to follow your passions, and by following your passions you become who you are supposed to be (you “self” so to speak). We all feel this drive – many of us unfortunately quell this feeling because we need to go to work everyday and make end’s meet and acting on this impulse will likely hurt us, but the ones who follow their “instress” are the ones who become the great ones. In our current system the only ones who are allowed to follow their passion are the fortunate ones with the means to do so, or the brave ones who are willing to endure the struggle to be who they are supposed to be (oftentimes to their own detriment).
The U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans "the pursuit of happiness." And my whole life I have heard fabled stories about the "American Dream." What I have laid out in this study is how both of these ideas can be achieved. I believe that if people’s basic needs are provided for, and they are allowed more free time to follow their passions and dreams, then more of us will be able to witness our full potential, and our productivity (the goal of whatever economic system you support) and our happiness (the goal of life in general) will soar to ever increasing heights.