Who Wins?

In a world without work, some new science suggests, being busy will be the ultimate status symbol.

The article reporting this news also suggests that the new findings are at odds with the old Thorstein Veblen theory that the ultimate status symbol is leisure, the winners being those who can afford to spend time doing nothing.

What do we, Escapologists hoping for a toil-free future, think of that?

Well. As we already know (see Escape Everything!), work and consumerism are two sides of the same coin. They’re the same economic transaction seen from opposite ends. So the new science isn’t at odds with Veblen at all: the person with the most leisure time and the person with the biggest workload will be seen as equally impressive. It is already the case and it will still be the case in a post-work future too.

The kind of leisure currently and increasingly seen as a status symbol doesn’t involve lazing around like a lotus eater or slowly walking a tortoise like a 19th century fopp. Social capital is only dished out for those who actively participate in leisure industries. The gym, tourism, shopping. Nobody admires the efficient soul who gets through the week without breaking a sweat.

Moreover, the kind of work and busyness currently rewarded with social capital isn’t the useful work of wiping elderly bottoms or raising helpless children, but non-essential busy work. The CEO, seen as a great leader and a productive member of the international society, is extremely busy despite their work being essentially useless and even harmful to their own health and the world in general.

So in the post-work future, who will be seen as the winner? Those with the most leisure or those with the most hair falling out from busyness? It’s the same guy.

The only way to break the cyclical curse of this is to be an Escapologist and learn how to idle properly.

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at www.wringham.co.uk/about.

6 Responses to “Who Wins?”

  1. Martin Greaney (@histliverpool) says:

    I heard a podcast yesterday of an interview with James Livingston, who has written a book which had a working title of F*** Work, and another book subtitled ‘Why consumerism is good for the soul’. He was all for a Universal Basic Income, so I’m curious as to why he’s also in favour of raising wages to promote consumerism (assuming he’s not simply changed his mind since 2011!). Maybe it’s proof that all we need to do is keep money flowing around the infinite pool of the economy to keep everyone confident. He also had some interesting things to say about useful work, which has been traditionally low paid (your bottom wiping, for example): http://www.cbc.ca/radio/tapestry/making-a-living-1.4005654/jobs-are-disappearing-and-to-me-that-s-a-good-thing-why-we-should-abandon-work-1.4005658

  2. I listened to him on a podcast too! Same one? What I heard was a Canadian one – CBC maybe. Anyhoo, I liked the guy and I don’t think his new book, Fuck Work, will counter the kind of things I tend to harp on about. His Against Thrift: Why Consumerism is Good for the Soul though — now that’s interesting! I don’t see the premise of that one clicking with the new one. I may be wrong though and I want to be challenged, so I’m keen to read it.

  3. Ah yes, CBC, you linked to it already. Sorry. That was the one I enjoyed too.

  4. Drew says:

    I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of consumerism or the keeners who (at least for a period of their lives) want to work their asses off, achieve status, yaddah yaddah. And I’m totally comfortable with that. In fact, we need people to continually strive to invent new things so that we get the not-so-new things on the cheap. The more suckers there are on the work-consumption merry go round, the better it is for Escapologists who want to buck the system and live a life of leisure. So go out into the street on Monday morning, find someone wearing a suit, hug them and say “keep up the good work, champ!”

  5. chris says:

    The reality is that stuff such as clothes, electronics, internet connections and the odd holiday and entertainment are very small costs in comparison to the mammoth cost of housing, transport, energy and food – all of which is rising quite fast and will continue to do so. These basic costs of living will become almost impossible to sustain without a job of some sort regardless of whether someone saves a few pound on clothes or non car ownership.

  6. Nobody is suggesting we ignore the bigger ticket items. This ain’t no coupon-cutting club. Cost of housing and the likes can be crunched down too if you’re clever. There are many people whose model for living is different to the one you’re defending: my current monthly outgoings are £467, sustainable without employment. If you’re averse to reading New Escapologist, I recommend the archives of Mr. Money Mustache and Early Retirement Extreme (all for free) on ways to manage money properly. And for some home truths about jobs, this essay by Steve Pavlina. You should also remember that while saving money’s a good idea in that an inexpensive lifestyle puts less pressure on your job-replacement scheme, saving money is not the ultimate aim and you’ll forget all about money after a while. The point of all this is to live deliberately and in line with your own values instead of doing what other people insist on.

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