27th June 2013

A friend of mine was recently promoted. Of course, she was given a raise. She was also told that she would (informally) be required to work around 55 hours per week. This was 10-15 hours MORE then she had been working. My fella pointed this out and said; “so you haven’t actually got a raise, have you?” My friend’s face fell slightly as her eyes rolled upward. She did the math. He was right.

This got me thinking about how little we value time. In a capitalist economy, companies are expected to maximise profits in order to continue to grow. Continual growth and profit are the two pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. But when does it end? Is it possible to grow too much? Gigantism, a disorder of the pituitary gland, causes adults and children to grow too much. The disorder results in multiple health issues involving the circulatory or skeletal system. If a population continues to grow unabated, resources are depleted and the environment cannot support the excess. The point is, at some point, too much growth is not necessarily a good thing.

What if we were to value time as much as profit? To consider time spent with family and friends and ourselves MORE valuable then a new car or a pair of shoes? We show off our purchases to others, but we rarely show off our excess time. Can you imagine? Friend 1: “Wow, I’ve accumulated 20 hours of excess time this week!” Friend 2: “Really? Cool, I wish I had more time…” (said with a hint of envy). Instead, people are embarrassed to admit that they have excess time, since our culture encourages us to work, work, work as much as humanly possible. Excess time spent doing something other than work is laziness, pure and simple. When we meet a long lost friend, a common conversation opener is often “are you busy?” And they don’t mean “are you busy contemplating the universe…”, they mean “are you busy working.”

When we meet someone for the first time, we usually ask “what do you do?” People discuss ‘workaholics’ with a kind of envy rarely bestowed upon other addicts…. “Sometimes I really wish I was an alcoholic or a crack addict.” I’ve never heard anyone say THAT, but I have heard people say “part of me wishes I was a workaholic…”. Because workaholics are ultimately rewarded in our culture. They are the kings and queens. The people we aspire to. Whereas the unemployed are at the bottom of the pecking order, lazy, good for nothing, weak, parasites.

I, like many economists of the 20th century, believed that as technology improved, we would all work less. That we would have more time. Children would benefit. Relationships would benefit. The planet would benefit. But we were all wrong. People are working longer and longer hours, while unemployment continues to rise. On what planet does it actually make sense for one person to work 80 hours a week while another person in unemployed? Oh, right, that’s how it works on our planet.

But before you start praying for an acapolypse; consider this. We all have some control over our time, it cannot be taken from us forcefully, we have the power to say no, and to place a value on time. If your boss wants you to work more, they need to pay more, simple as that.


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