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Better technology means higher expectations, which creates more work (www.theatlantic.com)
140 points by pseudolus 6 days ago | hide | past | web | 108 comments | favorite





This is part of the reason I feel like I am turning into a luddite, as someone who once considered himself a futurist and built most of his life around computers and technology.

You have to work hard to find time to slack off -- everyone and everything around me is always creating more work to do. How does anyone like this? A perfect life to me would be spent goofing off and working on art, but achieving that and maintaining the expected level of success is in itself a lot of work. Press articles always talk about how some new innovation is going to make my life easier, but all I see is how it's going to create more maintenance headaches for me (because I care about how it is going to work -- if you don't care maybe life actually is easier?) and how it is going to create more data for someone else (who isn't me! wtf?!) to monetize. I would happily roll back the last 10-to-20 years of technological innovation if it meant I could make software that didn't shackle me with continuous maintenance again, that I could happily disconnect from society at will again, and that social objectives (like dating, or finding friends) reverted back to a model of local scarcity of options rather than this model of app-driven stacked ranking that enhances the top 10% while leaving everyone else fighting over scraps.

The world would be a better place if so many of these innovators suddenly died of a heart attack or something; because their model of innovation is almost always figuring out how to take money away from incumbents who built a working, human-scale system that allowed for things like slack time and local maximums, as opposed to this brave new world of globalizing everything and forcing everyone into the top 1-10% (and making everyone not in that bracket suffer)


I've reached the same conclusion. What we have the past 20 years is phantom technology and phantom wealth. So many tools to distract us and fill our time, but shockingly few tools to liberate us from labor. Only a tiny handful like rooftop solar panels, electric cars and Roombas have decreased our labor measurably.

I'm going through a midlife crisis right now where I'm actively rejecting the decisions I made since 2000. I had a falling out with professional programming last year and am looking into the gig economy. I'm not going to buy new anything if I can possibly avoid it. I'm trying to turn my attention from external expectation to what I felt was my life purpose when I graduated college in 1999.

Which will basically amount to finding a way to earn roughly $1000 per month doing whatever it takes and then using the freed up time to work on inventions. I'm hoping to resurrect my blog and write about progress or my thoughts on tech rather than devolving into my usual diatribes about politics and how the world has generally gone the wrong direction. My acquaintances are concerned about me, and rightfully so, but I just don't care to live someone else's life anymore.

I think you're right though, that when basic needs are met, most people want to work on their calling whether it be art or recreation or simply being human. Which looks a bit like how the aristocracy lived in the Gilded Age over a century ago. There's no reason why we can't have that level of affluence today for every single person by letting machines do the labor, or by taxing profits on that labor and providing cash to all via UBI.


I agree with you in a lot of ways, but keep an eye out on what "basic needs" means. Those are poverty-line wages, which don't give you any provision for becoming sick and little chance to save for retirement. Social Security might still exist by the time you retire, but even if it does, it won't even match that $1,000 per month (in whatever inflation-adjusted terms are available).

If you've spent the last two decades socking away some of that sweet, sweet programmer cash, you may well have enough cushion to live the beach-bum/starving-artist life you're talking about. That's great, and go for it. But a lot of people trying to skate by with the minimum will discover that the minimum isn't quite enough, and then they get caught up in a very bad vicious cycle.

UBI is one plan which would alleviate a lot of that, and I'd be all in favor of trying. Technology means there's so much to go around that not everybody needs to spend a third of their waking life to get the basics. But until then, people should be aware that they have needs outside of basic maintenance that must be taken into account.


I see what you are saying, although I do want to mention that the $1000 per month isn't permanent. I'm doing it more to point out the absurdity of living in a society where it's easier to earn $100,000 per year than $12,000 per year. That's self-evidently outrageous and IMHO unsustainable.

After doing this for a few months, I've reached the conclusion that the status quo structures America this way so that we're all locked into the workaday world rat race to bolster corporate profits. The penalties for working less than 40 hours per week are so severe that it's effectively a dream now, out of reach for most. The opportunity cost of that for American innovation is incalculable. We might as well measure it in years instead of dollars. I've lost 20, has anyone else succeeded as a sole proprietor or made a living from patents?

I've already begun to notice the biases against the working poor interwoven through our society. Overdraft fees are crippling, and groveling to get them reversed is demoralizing (luckily my credit union is more understanding than banks ever were). I've begun measuring everything in time again. Eating at a restaurant costs 1-2 hours of income, rent costs at least 30 hours, veterinary bills are out of the question, medical care is a fantasy, I'm at the mercy of my vehicle holding up. I hardly thought about those things on salary, and I grew detached from the chronic daily misery 100 million Americans face just to survive.

Anyway, I want to document all of this as a roadmap for other entrepreneurs that I never had. Reaching $2000 per month, with half coming from self-employment, is the next milestone. Success for me will look like making between $30k and $50k working 20 hours per week by a year or two from now. I figure the odds of that are 90% against, but by working the gig economy, I might be able to get that to 50/50.


I hear ya. Being poor sucks harder than most HackerNews denizens realize, and I'm frequently aggravated to read "just pull yourself up by your bootstraps" talk from people who don't realize just how much easier life is without a huge number of daily hassles. Being poor is literally very expensive.

Seeing past that realization is incredibly difficult, especially when one isn't motivated to. If you find a way to help make that clearer to people, good on ya.


I also use hours to equalise between between myself and friends on low income.

An important trick I use is to take all fixed living costs out of weekly income. Then divide disposable income left by hours to work out your return on time invested.

For example: one friend gets NZD20 per hour and works 40 hours. She only has $30 left to spend on whatever else she wants after living expenses (carefully budgeted in her case). So 0.75 $/hour is what she actually “earns”.

I use this to help explain to her that we don’t need to put in equal $ when we share activities - instead we put in equal disposable income per working hour.

It also means I don’t feel guilty when a friend who has 5x the disposable income pays more than I do for something we share.


It's good to see someone express this. I really hate working and you've enumerated my concerns about stopping.

The conclusion I came to is that I need about $3M to provide a life-long safety net, then I can try just making enough to cover the "basic needs" and not end up homeless if things go wrong.

Do you have any thoughts about taking a year off? I'm considering doing that once my current employment expires, but I'm concerned that if I taste freedom and begin enjoying life, I may not be able to go back to work.


I personally took a sabbatical precisely to rediscover my love for the craft of programming, on which I'd become pretty burned out. Travel was great, and I acquired a lifetime of stories, but I missed home and feeling like I was achieving something -- as well as the earning of money that I knew I was spending at a rapid clip.

That's just me, of course. I have long enjoyed programming, and am incredibly lucky to be good at a lucrative job. You might find that a year of climbing glaciers or weaving tapestries ruins you for the office job. I personally am well aware that if I were to pursue my passion for theater as a means of living, I'd come to hate it. So I dunno if my experience generalizes, but that's my $.02 for what it's worth.

(I can say that I'd heard a figure of $2M rather than $3M, and God I hope so. That burnout thing cost me over a decade of productive earnings.)


Many of the gains are small & taken for granted. Do you remember what banking was like twenty years ago? These days I might visit a branch five times a year, and everything is auto-pay, e-bill, remote deposit, and p2p payments. Many years I don't have to visit the DMV. I used to call stores to get their hours & check stock, now I can mostly do that online in half the time.

I will agree that around the house, aside from Roomba not much home labor has been saved. Everything has gotten more efficient, but cooking is still cooking, and the washing machine still can't fold. Power tools have become a lot cheaper & better, but in many cases the maintenance overhead is often not worth the labor saved.


I would vouch for the last few decades seeing quality improvements: it's become very easy to purchase obscure goods online, to get frozen gluten-free dinners, find product reviews, learn about foreign countries, and other things where the process isn't always saving hours, but it is in some way putting more guarantees on the experience and hence adding a certain dimension of freedom.

At the same time it's become apparent that fewer hours of labor and more benefits with a pay cut is desirable for many, and we're in a "superstar" economy that discourages such. The oft-heard complaint is that we can't enjoy these technological wonders since we have no time.


> freed up time to work on inventions. I'm hoping to resurrect my blog and write about progress or my thoughts on tech

Beware: are you subconsciously just playing different status games? If you have clocked out to avoid status games (like making-house or making-money or making-job) then substituting other status seeking activities is likely to remain hollow.


> some new innovation ... going to create more maintenance headaches

Not sure which ecosystem you’re in, but for software maintenance, the Mac App Store / iOS App Store seem to have completely changed the end-user experience.

There are apps that are distributed free outside the App Store and cost money in the App Store, where I pay in order to never again think about updates.

The backup/restore/migration story is pretty remarkable too.

> feel like I’m turning into a Luddite

I find that a fundamental point underneath the iOS vs. Android debate. Android is great for tech geeks, while iOS aims to give ‘normals’ their life back, folks with no desire to endlessly tweak and warily maintain.

> futurist

I think the future tech wins are those where the developer invests extra toil so the users don’t have to, where the tech recedes into the background, just ambiently working.


Regarding maintainance: Is your problem the remembering, the time-investment itself or something different?

It's the time investment. The dream, growing up, was to build some piece of software that made money for me passively, as a single-person shop. This used to be possible, in the pre-SaaS world of desktop software (or at least if you didn't want to release new versions constantly). Today, those opportunities seem to have dried up, and you have to maintain whatever you build, not the least because users now expect a level of support and maintenance that is constantly blessing them with new features and shiny things, whether-or-not the product actually needs it. As usual, competition has upped the pace to a level that locks out all but the most committed, and the democratisation of programming has made it so those committed folks are almost always type-A tryhards who have to turn everything into a business empire

What you need are royalties, which happily enough come from creating art or inventing.

The rest of passive income is exploiting an edge (like an install base in desktop software) or rent-seeking, both of which if left to be truly passive will be captured by someone willing to put in slightly more active effort.


The best summary of the article was in this passage:

> The history of American housework suggests that both sides have a point. Americans tend to use new productivity and technology to buy a better life rather than to enjoy more downtime in inferior conditions.

I think this goes along with an informal idea that downtime is both overrated and possibly undesirable.

Often, the alternative to staying busy is boredom, and the completion of tasks at home is gamified with satisfying results.


To rephrase it, we always find ways to keep ourselves busy. Blacksmiths are gone, now we have more lawyers and psychotherapists. A lot of manual work is gone, but now we have a whole communications infrastructure that didn't exist before, to build and mainatain instead. We constantly create new technologies and new societal concepts, then we go on to complicate those things further, and so on. After all, last resort there's always arts and creativity if you have nothing else to do (or maybe if you always had the urge to be creative). Create art and call it an occupation. The amount of music and films alone being created today is unbelievable.

Not necessarily because we avoid boredom, it might as well be some kind of a cultural pressure to do something rather than nothing.

This is why I don't believe in "robots taking away our jobs" and leaving us jobless. I'm not worrying for the humanity in this regard. We are a creative type, we'll always find ways to complicate things and create more work for ourselves :)


Robots and A.I. aren't taking all jobs. They're just taking PAID jobs.

Many folks will acknowledge the secular or scientific benefits of e.g. temperance with food or alcohol, or even restraint with sex. One thing I’ve heard few outside of religious encourage is humility. Some people will just be better than you at different things, have more stuff than you, be more honored, etc. If you can’t deal with that situation without becoming emotional and working 100 hours a week, you’ve got, on some level, a similar problem as the guy who can’t see a cake without eating the whole thing, and becomes overweight as a result.

I don't think this explains the last decade. There is also keeping up with the Joneses, which I think social media has driven people into a rabid spending rage that turns most into debt slaves. Stone kitchen counters and floors, designer Italian faucets, brand name toilets are just the home renos. These are so far beyond a typical home in the 90's, but you wouldn't want that background in your Instagram or Pinterest.

I think that blaming social media as a unique driver of this behavior is taking it further than reality. Advertising certainly existed before social media. Social behavior existed before social platforms.

The 90’s definitely had its fair share of home improvement trends. I remember brass fixtures being a particular 90s staple.

I might suggest that perhaps your own perspective has changed since that time. Maybe you grew up in a rental or basic home and you’re now in or surround by more people living in more upper middle class homes that are updated more frequently.

Looking at building materials, I also think that a lot of material innovation has led to a number of trends that exist today and that these things aren’t necessarily bad. A lot of products out now save money over their predecessors: manufactured wood flooring, faux “wood” tile, and a lot of people don’t realize that the Quartz countertops that are popular now are a manufactured product. I haven’t checked pricing but I imagine they’re cheaper than a solid slab of stone. All of this stuff is better than linoleum and Formica and other ugly, crappy products of the last century. I find that good design is more affordable and accessible than ever before thanks to manufacturing that is far more efficient than it was 30 years ago. When you say “designer Italian” that could mean something from IKEA.

Finally, I have to make the argument that home improvements are a bad example of debt slavery. Home renovations go straight into equity, sometimes the value of the equity even beats the renovation cost since people desire homes that don’t need work. Not only that, a home mortgage is probably the least risky form of debt for Americans: interest rates are close to inflation, it’s tax-advantaged, and disregarding once-in-a-lifetime events like the 2008 housing crisis, it’s basically a guaranteed way to break even as long as you stay in your house for around 5-7 years.

As long as you know you won’t need to move, it’s usually a better deal than renting, in The United States at least.


You may suggest whatever you want, but people are getting into mortgages and home equity lines of credit they can't afford. One of the areas they are overspending are on renovations. If you believe this makes someone a 'good' debt slave, then all the more power to my argument.

>people are getting into mortgages and home equity lines of credit they can't afford

The numbers suggest otherwise:

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MDSP


Furthermore, to the degree that people spending too much for housing is a problem in some places (like the Bay Area), I'd also suggest that's far more a function of land costs than it is granite countertops.

Land definitely explains some of it, yea. But we definitely have inflated our expectations as well. The average home size in the U.S. today is roughly twice what it was in the 1950s.

Three things that I personally feel have a big impact:

1.- housing - We are outbiding each other for the same houses.

2.- health - The health systems is plain disfunctional. Quality is great but paying for it is a big problem.

3.- College cost inflation.


Considering the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" is a phrase that has been around since the early 20th century, I don't think this is a particularly recent issue.

Wait, the Joneses aren't a youtube couple?

> social media has driven people into a rabid spending rage that turns most into debt slaves.

whatever happened to personal responsibility and accountability?!


Moral blame doesn't do you much good when dealing with a population. If most people in a population show poor judgement (let's say they are overweight) your argument for moral blame might still be true, but does nothing to solve the problem. Why does a population of people all make the same error? Well, because people are only ever in partial control of their impulses. Some more than others, but no one has total control.

Furthermore if a population shows poor judgement (or exhibits some other negative trait) we should ask ourselves how we got to this point, and how it can be corrected at a systemic level. Public education is a prime example of a systemic solution to several widespread problems.

Personal responsibility and accountability are still there. I don’t know where the assumption comes from that people make tons of vain debt-ridden purchase decisions en masse.

It’s like we are assuming that most people act like reality television stars on My Super Sweet 16.

It doesn’t really line up with the data, which tells us that younger people spend less on things like cars and homes. I’d argue that depictions of “influential” lifestyles are not taken so seriously, they’re usually forms of entertainment. Watching a YouTuber unbox a $10,000 Mac Pro doesn’t mean the typical viewer will go into debt to buy one.


You seem very unaware. This is no assumption:

US: "Consumer debt was approaching $14-trillion after the second quarter of 2019, according to the New York Federal Reserve. It was the 20th consecutive quarter for an increase."

Canada: "Total credit market debt amounted to $2.25 trillion in the second quarter including nearly $1.47 trillion in mortgage debt and $782.9 billion in consumer credit and non-mortgage loans."

AU: "Hovering around 120 per cent of GDP — that is everything the nation produces in a year — Australia's household debt is second only to Switzerland, and we're not too far behind the Swiss. It wasn't always like this, with that debt burden almost trebling in the 28 years since Australia's last recession in the early 1990s."

UK: "Britain’s household debt mountain has reached a new peak, with UK homes now owing an average of £15,385 to credit card firms, banks and other lenders, according to the TUC."


Throwing out big numbers doesn’t really approach any conclusion on its own.

The concept of inflation alone means that consumer debt would logically be at its highest at any given time. All your numbers besides the average credit card debt per person would also need to account for population increase - and having consumer debt of 120% GDP debt doesn’t sound bad at all when you consider home mortgages.


Those numbers are seldomly inflation adjusted, so just by the 2% inflation most economies target you automatically get new records every year.

A lot of consumer debt is stuff that is not really optional: housing, medical, transportation, education.

How much of that is just regular housing and education?

I don't know anyone who owns property and has renovated it. Of everyone I know my age, I'm in one of two couples that owns our dwelling, at all.

You should consider whether you've got a sample bias.


Honestly, that stuff is not very expensive, in the scheme of things. Granite counters might be $5000, for a big kitchen, and fancy fixtures don't cost that much.

Compared to a boat, or snowmobiles, it's downright cheap.


Certainly inequality plays a much larger role in all of this than the article acknowledges — particularly if you look at the plots of productivity vs income inequality — eg, the amount of wealth held by the top earners vs everyone else.

Sure, there’s a “Protestant Work Ethic” that still underpins a lot of consumer behavior in America, amplified by a marginal theory of economics that says you are what you earn — but most people can’t work less, even if they wanted to.

This became especially true after the 2008 financial collapse, wherein people who managed to keep their jobs were expected to take on the responsibilities of the people who were layed-off. And as the economy recovered, top earners took a larger share, and the majority of workers continued to carry a heavier load.

Contrast this with the 1950s where single earners could provide a relatively comfortable middle class lifestyle. (Also, coincidentally, the generation that dreamed-up a lot of the Jetsons-age inventions they imagined would provide a life of leisure by century’s end.)


> One of the truisms of modern life is that nobody has any time.

I don't agree. We have as much time as we ever did, but modern technology has vastly improved the value of our time.

In particular, we don't get bored as easily as we used to. As a consequence, a lot of non-important tasks that used to offer sort of a refreshing break from monotony look now as a hassle because we have funnier/worthier things to do.


> we don't get bored as easily as we used to

You mean we have more distractions. The experience of boredom is subjective. We therefore require more distraction to remain non bored.

> funnier/worthier things to do

No we don't. The "things" have no intrinsic value. Our feelings about them determine their funniness and their worthiness.

People used to listen to 2 hour church sermons and find them massively uplifting, entertaining and emotionally charged.

When I was in college I used to sit chatting with a friend for 8 hours in a cafe and I was never bored. No phones. No books. Not even a newspaper.

Few people could entertain themselves like that any more.


Sounds like there is a gap between what people actually want and what they say they want. People claim they want leisure but instead they work themselves into the ground. This is not the fault of technology.

With humans it is better to watch what they do, not what they say.


Or, they recognize that if they don't keep up on the treadmill, they will fall further and further behind. If you don't spend enough to go to a good school, then you might be stuck with friends who don't earn much too, and are less valuable in your network. If you don't live in the burgeoning economic regions, then you reduce your chances of advancement in the future, and possibly put yourself at risk of losing income.

If you don't live in the better school districts, then your children will have less chance of success. How much are you willing to stretch yourself to give them as much of a leg up as possible?

This is the reality of a society that's had a widening wealth gap for decades now, and it's becoming more and more visible. And since wealth compounds, it's ever more important to not get left behind.


Health insurance too. Most people in the US are a handful of unlucky mutations away from bankruptcy. Money may not buy happiness, but it certainly buys hospital care.

Yes, I wouldn’t feel economically secure unless I had 2 years worth of family out of pocket maximum saved up (somewhere between $10k and $30k depending how generous one’s employer is), on top of other emergency funds. Which, realistically, I know the middle 30% to 70% probably can’t afford since they earn too much for government assistance and earn too little to save.

A baby on a gold level insurance plan in a high cost of living area recently cost me $5.5k, but that’s only because everything went well and we’re lucky to have a family oop max of $5.5k due to generosity of employer. If the oop max was higher, it probably would have cost around $8k or so.

I can luckily comfortably afford it, but I have no idea how others with household income in the $70k to $150k range can afford to budget for it. They must be giving up niceties such as vacation funds or skimping on essential savings, handicapping the growth of their retirement funds.


I think you'd need to define what you consider success to be. A lot of people are happy with a stable income and living in a smaller city. Unless you're always trying to live beyond your means or chasing after bigger and better stuff you don't really need to grow your income beyond a certain point. Keeping up with inflation while having enough for savings will do.

I don't disagree that there is a widening wealth gap but I think that is defined by a shrinking middle class, stagnant wages and the funneling of wealth to a smaller and smaller elite.


> A lot of people are happy with a stable income and living in a smaller city.

The stable income (that keeps up with inflation) in a smaller city (or town) is what doesn’t exist anymore, hence the flight to larger cities.


Im thinking this may physiological problem. In the era of common manual labor, the body was exerted and signaled "rest time" after a days work. Perhaps the lack of this "rest time" trigger is what is causing people to work themselves into the ground. That is to say, they do want leisure, yet their body is never signaling it's time to satisfy that want.

I have no educational background in this area and it is all speculation.

Edit: meaning technology does play a role


Sounds like there is a gap between what people are willing to do and what they want. In a competitive environment, the former factor seems to dominate in a race to the bottom.

If you dig into contentment you find it's about being contented [1] which is...

> feeling or showing satisfaction with one's possessions, status, or situation

How much if this is because so many lack contentment? Even when many people here or who fell this are in the top 10 or 1% of the things compared to all people through history.

How much of this is just a state of mind?

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/contented


Good lord, not a single mention of fake scarcity????

We don't have time because we are bidding against each other for a small pool of resources with respect to housing (and to a lesser extent, education and healthcare).

The formula is pretty simple:

* Restrict the amount of housing near good jobs (thanks Nimybs!)

* Make large amounts of debt available to purchase said housing

* Watch as everyone soaks up the debt in the pursuit of housing!

If 10 households live in a town with 5 houses, those 5 houses go to the people most willing to work themselves to the bone and take on a huge mortgage. The other 5 are screwed (in reality they just have gigantic commutes, share a home when they'd rather not, etc.)

Thanks to the large debt you took on, losing your income means losing the roof over your (and far worse, your kids') heads. So you check Slack at 11 PM, stay in the office until 8, go on pointless BS work trips that exist to serve the boss' ego and get 16 hour days out of you, and generally structure your entire life around income maximization so you can outbid your peers.

There is no reason you shouldn't be able to get a home for under 100k. Not a fancy one, but a home. If you run out of land, demolish the parking garages and put in more homes. If you run out of homes, demolish the townhouses and put in apartment blocks. If you run out of homes, demolish the 4 story apartments and put in 12 store ones. Also, let new cities grow instead of strangling them with NIMBYs, parking minimums, and zoning restrictions.

The above is how I wound up trying really, really hard (and succeeding) to find a dirt-cheap house I could own in cash - and it was only because no bank would be crazy enough to lend on a thatched cottage (oh, we moved to Europe too which helps with health care). Having no mortgage, and no rent, is AMAZING for your personal agency. Taking 6 months off to write a novel, fart around, whatever no longer is terrifying.


The same thing happens with better languages, tooling, abstractions, and libraries in software engineering. Programming never gets any easier because the expectations of what we should be able to do (and how quickly) keep rising.

IME, the expectations of what a competent programmer should be able to achieve in any given amount of time and effort are not only not growing, they're actually sinking. Today attending a bootcamp is enough to be considered a "programmer" - the moral equivalent to "knowing HTML" in the 1990s. And the languages, tooling, abstractions and libraries of today are often of far lower quality than even in the recent past.

True.

We need to get our education on par with the technology.

People need to level up faster, there are new jobs that are yet to be discovered. More taxes to be paid so the ones that aren't lucky don't have to live at a bare minimum.


Sarcasm never translates well to text.

This was meant as I wrote it, without sarcasm. I believe in taxes as the solution to certain problems.

To clarify: I didn't mean more taxes per person, but more absolute taxes from the working population.


Not sure why you would think that was sarcastic. Calls to improve education and increase taxes are hardly uncommon.

Also, I didn't call to increase taxes! I called to educate people better so they get better paying jobs and in turn pay more taxes.

The fact is, doing good hard work feels good. Some people get addicted to that and carry it too far.

Too much relaxing and doing nothing wears on you too.

The old saying, "too much of a good thing" can apply to both.


there are three bold theses in this article,

> Better technology means higher expectations—and higher expectations create more work.

> A lot of modern overwork is class and status maintenance—for this generation and the next.

> Technology only frees people from work if the boss—or the government, or the economic system—allows it.

It seems high expectations and class and status maintenance are just capitalism masquerading as culture. In France, the slogan we hear is "Work more to earn more," to which people reply in complaint, "I'm working more and earning the same!" But why can't we do "work less, earn less and have more time?"


PDF to the original Parkinson's law article in The Economist (1955) https://www.berglas.org/Articles/parkinsons_law.pdf

This does kind of imply that technology is to blame. I get what his piece is trying to say and it wraps it up quite well by the end, these are social (American) norms that must be fought with. But technology isn't the culprit. It's just also not to be expected to ultimately relieve the number of hours we work.

> the debate over labor and leisure is often fought between the Self-Helpers and the Socialists

I don't think those parties are they only ones who have something to say about leisure. Some would argue work is virtuous and you don't need less of it.


What a stupid article.

> Everybody is busy, burned out, swamped, overwhelmed.

Because money has been depreciating in value by 2-3% every year since the 70s while wages have stayed the same and the value they produce has increased.

This is fairly simple maths, the rich are enslaving the working class with debt through inflation.

Rather than face this cold reality some people would rather blame that new fangled technology, "things where better when there was no technology and I was a naive kid".

It's easy to blame technology as it gives you a simple solution to your problems, get rid of it, but you can never get back your naivety and that truth is much harder to accept.

Some other bad takes

> Better technology means higher expectations

Does it? based on what? I have higher expectations for a coffee made by a hipster barista than a coffee machine.

> A lot of modern overwork is class and status maintenance > structural forces makes it so hard for Americans to find more time, even in an economy that is becoming ever more rich

The rich may becoming ever more rich, but the average American in the working class is getting poorer.

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/19/income-inequality-continues-...

> Americans tend to use new productivity and technology to buy a better life rather than to enjoy more downtime in inferior conditions.

This may be true of some tech like phones and tv, tech focused on entertainment, but most technology is focused on freeing up time and reducing effort like lights, washing machines, dish washers, cookers, microwaves, cars, power tools the list goes on you don't need me to list them as most people take them for granted, I think the author is too.


Real, inflation-adjusted wages have been growing.

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/LES1252881600Q

If you think this federal reserve data is false, tell me more about why and how.


> If you think this federal reserve data is false, tell me more about why and how.

I don't think it's false, I just don't think it reflects anything realistic. My critique is with how they measure inflation, which is calculated in a way that ignores anything remotely volatile (meaning anything that has its prices adjusted to reflect reality) and was designed by someone who had incentives to make sure inflation was always low.

There is no need for me to re-write what is already written so I'll just link Investopedia's summary: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/07/consumerpriceindex....

Alternative measures of inflation put us anywhere from 6% to 8%, which seems to reflect reality much more than the official number. The concern about this is that high inflation is usually met with social unrest, political extremism, and declining standards of living. If inflation truly is understated, we should know because we'll begin seeing these things in the next couple of years. It will metaphorically be a case of bankers and policy makers saying "but inflation is below 2% - you guys should be happy" as a raging mob assembles a guillotine.


Which alternative measures are you talking about?

The GDP deflator is the most solid alternative measure of inflation I am aware of. It uses the whole GDP as the basket https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=nNsE and is nowhere near 6%.

See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GDP_deflator


I am not OP, but upvote for the source.

Just a note: graph does not start from zero, so growth is exaggerated.

Current value compared to worst: 360$ (2019) versus 309$ (1981) - 16.5% increase in 38 years. Taking first value of the graph in 1979 of 335$ gives - 7.5% increase in 40 years. IMHO it's abysmal result.

I hope this positive trend will continue, because if there will be some kind of downward correction - we will be back in 1979.


This is the relevant data:

https://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/2019/11/2...

Median doesn't tell enough of the story for what most of the population is experiencing.


That doesn't seem adjusted by the household size. Households can be earning less, despite people earning more.

Possibly, but I can’t find any data that would adjust for household size. Either way, you can see the top two deciles running away with the fruits of the past few decades.

Average household income is simply average per capita income multiplied by average household size. (This would not be true for median, but I wanted to illustrate how simple it is).

Household size has been decreasing over the last 50 years (less people per family unit), and household income is therefore growing more slowly than per capita income. It's still growing though.

All this is available from FRED data.


No, I can't; if the lower income households have been splitting their earnings into a greater number of households, a growth per person would be masked by a drop in total income per household.

To use figurative numbers, if a couple earns $30k each, then they split but both get a raise of $20k, the household average drops from $60k to $50k despite the large salary raises.


You will find plenty of people that do no accept the US inflation numbers, if I understood it correctly, because it excludes mid-class expenses like housing and education.

CPI includes both housing and education. If there's any argument to make it is around how they are calculated and the degree to which they are weighted in various inflation calculations.

CPI doesn't include food or energy, I believe.

Use the GDP deflator as your measure of inflation to get around those issues.

You still have to worry about hedonic adjustments, though.


https://www.census.gov/library/publications/1971/demo/p60-78...

Gives the median salary in 1970 as $9,870 accounting for inflation the median salary should be $67,662.84 but currently its $56,516. So median wages have not tracked inflation since 1970.

But thats only half the battle the other side of the problem is runaway inflation.

https://www.census.gov/const/uspriceann.pdf https://www.census.gov/construction/nrs/pdf/uspricemon.pdf

In 1970 the median for a house is $23,400 accounting for inflation that should be $160,416.45 today, but the median price is $300,000. So the inflation reported by banks is not real.

It's important to separate value from $$$ as inflation generates $$$ but does not generate value.

A house is a good metric for real inflation, as it is a good store of value, every one needs a house or they will die from exposure so every one values a house, once the house is built the value does not increase.

In other words a house built in 1970 has the same value today as it did in 1970, but the price has increased a lot more than the reported inflation or the inflation of wages. Like I said this is fairly simple maths but it adds up for most other stores of value like gold.


The basket of goods they use to adjust for inflation does not usually include house prices, which have sky-rocketed in the last few decades.

In those kinds of debates about whether labour is more or less 'exploited' than they used to be, it's easiest to just ignore inflation:

Look at the fraction of GDP that goes to labour, capital and land at any point in time. No need to adjust for inflation this way.

Or viewed another way: you are adjusting for inflation, but your basket is the entire GDP, which you arbitrarily set to 1.


Use of the median rather than the mean is extremely misleading here – wage increases have been concentrated in the top 10% of wage earners.

A more representative view of the same data is shown here: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-us...


Median means what the 50th percentile earns; mean is the total earned divided by the number of earners. In right-skewed distributions (like wage data) the median is less than the mean. In other words, your critique is already answered by the parent.

> This is fairly simple maths, the rich are enslaving the working class with debt through inflation.

I often wonder where this baloney comes from. The notion does seem pretty tightly coupled to the rise of Bitcoin hubbub, which spawned a small army of armchair economists. Inflation primarily benefits the non-rich in two main ways:

1. It inflates away savings, which the rich definitionally have more of than the poor.

2. It inflates away debts, which the poor definitionally have more of than the rich.

Inflation is one of a small set of tools that protects an economy from rampant inequality. Another tool is progressive taxation, which has its own astroturfed opposition in "taxation is theft" and "flat tax" enthusiasts who aggressively call for the removal of things that directly protect them.


> 2. It inflates away debts, which the poor definitionally have more of than the rich.

No, they don't. Generally, the more wealthy you are, the more debt you have.

The reason why this is should be easy to understand: Rich people have a lot of assets that can be used to secure loans, and are generally safer investements to the lenders, so they pay less interest, and can take on more debt to use as leverage for investment.

Anything that reduces debt helps the wealthiest segments of population way more than they help the poorer ones, and monetary policy where rates are held below inflation is a wealth transfer from the poor to the rich.


Sorry, I should have clarified net debts. The size of your gross debt is irrelevant because the asset side is also being inflated away. Net is all that matters.

(Yes, there are asset classes that're historically good at being protected against inflation. But they typically represent a small part of a portfolio)

There is no conspiracy here. The implication that the Fed works to enrich the richest is a really dangerous and ignorant thing to perpetuate. The Fed is one of the very few things that offers some protection from unrelenting wealth inequality. It's hardly perfect, or immune from criticism. But attacking inflation itself as some conspiracy to enrich the already-wealthy is absolutely ludicrous.


> (Yes, there are asset classes that're historically good at being protected against inflation. But they typically represent a small part of a portfolio)

Isn't it the other way round? If you invest in shares, real estate or even gold, you don't need to care about inflation? Only fixed income like bonds is bothered by inflation.

(By moderate amounts of inflation. If the country you invest in descends into eg hyperinflation, the whole economy is going down, so shares won't hold up to well either.)


> asset side is also being inflated away

The amount of money those assets are worth becomes inflated, and increased not lowered.


I take issue with #1. The rich have very large percentages of their wealth in vehicles that don't get inflated away. Stocks. Interest-bearing debt. Etc. I would argue that Somewhere in the middle class is probably the peak for "% of total net worth in fiat currency". People who have enough money to save, but not enough money that their emergency fund is a trivial % of their net worth. And even then, they probably don't have a ton of money in instruments that yield much more than inflation. It's a lot safer for a CEO to keep 80% of their net worth in stocks because they could live off 1-5% of their net worth for a lifetime (even if they need to scale back their lifestyle a bit - they won't be homeless).

> It inflates away savings, which the rich definitionally have more of than the poor.

The rich do not have savings they have assets that generate income thats not taxed the poor have savings like pensions as they need money to support them if they are unable to work.

> It inflates away debts, which the poor definitionally have more of than the rich.

This is baseless inflation increases debt as the value of the debt has not increased but the amount of money you have to pay back does, because of inflation.


How about a non economical theory:

20th century went from near zero consumer technology to chokeful of it.

    - no fridge
    - no phone
    - no television
    - no computing
    - no kitchen appliance
These filled very basic human needs, and are gut level obvious benefits.

Most new technologies are justified by highly statistical research and never ending p-rating tricks to make you want more. But at one point, only ignorants/immature will run for it.


Proportion of total labour income to GDP has stayed fairly same-ish since the 1970s.

See https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/LABSHPUSA156NRUG


And what if much of that income is going to proportionally fewer and fewer people?

The distribution of labour income by itself is indeed an interesting topic! That's where the eg median vs average salary considerations come in.

We’ve lost 5%, that’s a lot.

Perhaps. But it's far from "This is fairly simple maths, the rich are enslaving the working class [...]".

You don't want economics where there is no inflation. It would not be nice.

It is not the 2%-3% inflation, which is healthy. It is the stagnation of wages.

Imagine your wages stayed the same or grew but everything else kept decreasing in prices. This was the norm in the United States before the founding of the Federal Reserve.

The US is a pretty bad example. They always had very screwed up monetary policy. Pick Canada or Scotland or Australia as the shining beacon.

See https://www.alt-m.org/2015/07/29/there-was-no-place-like-can...


That's a common misconception.

What's not nice is collapsing total spending (equal to collapsing nominal GDP). In practice, a collapse in total spending often comes with a depression of the price level.

As long as nominal GDP is stable (or alternatively, total nominal wages), prices can drop all they want. We see that eg in the computer sector. Total spending on computers increases, while prices drop thanks to better technology and greater productivity.

See eg https://mises.org/library/less-zero-case-falling-price-level... for some more background.


Before 1970 the manufactured inflation we have today was not a thing. For most of human history economics have worked without it.



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