While clearing out some old bookmarks, I recently came across an oldie but goodie that I somehow neglected to share with you.
It’s an article by Jeffrey Kaplan in the May/June 2008 issue of Orion magazine, exploring the historical context behind corporate and government efforts to “Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied.” These efforts were in response to the fact that our industrial capacity in the 1920s was capable of producing far more goods than people felt they needed. Here’s an excerpt:
“By the late 1920s, America’s business and political elite had found a way to defuse the dual threat of stagnating economic growth and a radicalized working class in what one industrial consultant called “the gospel of consumption”—the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn’t enough. […] They celebrated the conceptual breakthrough: “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.”
It includes a fascinating look behind the Kellogg Company’s 6-hour workday initiative (introduced in 1930)—which, although it meant lower overall pay, was enthusiastically embraced by its employees. Workers appreciated the extra time to spend with their families, in their gardens, and participating in their communities. Instead of feeling impoverished by their decrease in buying power, they felt enriched by the increase in their leisure time.
The article is a thought-provoking piece about the work-to-spend cycle, which posits the question: What if we used our industrial capacity to reduce our working hours instead of ramping up our consumption? Consider this:
“…we could work and spend a lot less and still live quite comfortably. By 1991 the amount of goods and services produced for each hour of labor was double what it had been in 1948. By 2006 that figure had risen another 30 percent. In other words, if as a society we made a collective decision to get by on the amount we produced and consumed seventeen years ago, we could cut back from the standard forty-hour week to 5.3 hours per day—or 2.7 hours if we were willing to return to the 1948 level. We were already the richest country on the planet in 1948 and most of the world has not yet caught up to where we were then.”
On a personal level, I’ve thought about this issue a lot lately. My dilemma: do I put Plumblossom in daycare, and continue to work full-time? Or do I cut back on my income-producing activities in favor of spending my time with her? So far, I’ve opted for the latter, and I’m fortunate that I’m in the position to do so. Of course, minimalism helps a lot; my husband and I feel that as long as we can meet our basic needs (housing, food, healthcare), the extra income I’d bring in is not as valuable as the time I give our daughter.
Anyway, back to the article…The take-home message for us minimalists: when our wants are few, and we have little desire to acquire extraneous items, we can break free of the corporate message that what we have is “not enough”—thereby escaping the pressure to work more, simply so we can spend more.
Less consumption = less work = more time = happiness.
What do you think? If your basic needs were covered, would you choose (or have you chosen) fewer working hours over extra income?