Work, is it so bad?

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BRUTE
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Work, is it so bad?

Post by BRUTE » Tue Dec 26, 2017 1:38 am

'Why hasn't economic progress lowered work hours more?' by Tyler Cowen
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Pk654J8-5c

interesting talk. towards the end, Cowen speculates that maybe the reason that many humans who don't have to work choose to still work might be because work can be enjoyable.

of course, brute is not the Internet Retirement Police, and the definition of "work" is quite broad. but brute thinks that what most humans intuitively understand as "work" probably isn't that bad beyond just making money. for most humans, it's not a terrible package, and for some, it might be hard to match.

some work comes with the following:
- social interaction with similar minded/nice humans
- intellectual stimulation
- an outlet for creative expression
- a sense of progress
- a sense of meaning
- a sense of contributing to society
- something to keep busy to avoid boredom (legitimate problem brute has encountered)
- and of course, money

now this certainly isn't true for all work, but it is for some.

maybe this is some web of goals stuff, but brute has been in several scenarios where, because of not having work, he was missing some of these factors, and he eventually returned back to work (also for money reasons).

there have been phases of life where brute didn't "work" in the colloquial sense, yet still found social interactions, a sense of community, purpose, and progress, but it does not seem obvious that these will all fall into place without "work", if compared to some enjoyable definition of work.

eventually, brute ended up "working" in his newfound spare time on a project that almost 100% replicated his old employment, using the same skills, technologies, methods. so in a way, brute was re-creating his work after quitting, because of boredom.

not sure what brute's big conclusion is here. maybe that FI can be more about FU than about RE?

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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by Solvent » Tue Dec 26, 2017 2:36 am

I also follow Tyler Cowen’s blog and recall seeing comments along these lines there somewhere.

I agree that yes, the changing nature of work means that for many people (probably, in particular, the kind of people that self-select into this forum) work can actually blend consumption into production. Work fulfils some parts of both the production (and getting paid) and consumption in our lives.

This may be truer now than it was say, thirty, sixty, or three hundred years ago. Call to mind your stereotypical image of a white collar professional. They get to sit in a comfy chair in a nice working space that is climate controlled. They hopefully get to have stimulating conversations with interesting coworkers. Their work exercises their brain, and they probably have some sense of control over what they’re doing. They got into their job by their own choosing, they’re not just a wheelwright because that’s what their father was. Let’s not forget that their office is internet-connected where they have nearly the sum total of humankind’s knowledge and culture at their fingertips for exploration.

So maybe the reason people aren’t working less as we (I mean in aggregate) get richer is because modern work is partly consumption? As people get richer, their consumption tends (again, in aggregate) to increase – the part of work that is ‘consumption’ offsets the decrease in the part of work that is the displeasureable part, the part that takes away from our leisure.

Those following the ERE philosophy have more options in terms of working or not working, of course, but the above describes the broad social trends outside this forum’s esteemed clientele.

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FBeyer
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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by FBeyer » Tue Dec 26, 2017 3:55 am

BRUTE wrote:
Tue Dec 26, 2017 1:38 am
...
not sure what brute's big conclusion is here. maybe that FI can be more about FU than about RE?
I'm honestly surprised by this statement. Have you singularly considered FI to be a matter of not-working compared to FI being a matter of all-options-open right up until now? Or did you just[1] discover something about yourself the last time you started 'working' again?


[1]The word just is not meant as a negative, IMO self-discovery is the greatest luxury today where everyone tries to tell us who to be.

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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by IlliniDave » Tue Dec 26, 2017 5:11 am

Purpose, structure, and community, are the three "needs" Ernie Zelinsky talks about in his books that people often rely on their occupation to fulfill. The way I look at it is some of us have vocations while others of us have jobs. I suspect most people that are "right where they want to be" w.r.t their occupation/career probably don't think of reaching FI as FU--they probably don't even notice it if they do reach potential FI. In my case I don't dislike my job and if I could replicate it in a very specific geographic area I might consider ER to be less urgent. However, for me the initial goal was ER and achieving FI was a way point, rather than FI being the goal and ER a subsequent option.

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daylen
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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by daylen » Tue Dec 26, 2017 6:16 am

I see it from a polarized perspective. Call me an outlier, but I had rarely experienced these feelings until I started to take LSD. Before I was happy planning my life, but now I see the bigger picture. Society and self cannot be distinguished due to the inexplicable connection between them. Hence, the only logical pursuit from my perspective is to continue to work on self-guidance, while also helping others and society in general.

I had never really considered suicide until just recently under the influence of LSD. I entered fight or flight mode for the first time trying to figure out if life was really worth living or not. I came to the conclusion that life is indeed meaningless, but overtime it becomes instinctual to the point that time is meaningless. The paradox is that you want to diverge from the whole and converge onto it at the same time. Call it motivation/purpose/distraction/coping, but I avoid depression this way. Hope that helps!

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Seppia
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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by Seppia » Tue Dec 26, 2017 8:08 am

When you do something for 8-10 hours a day for most of your adult life, that something comes to define you.
So I guess "liking" one's job, in most cases, is part genuinely liking it*, part a result of humans' incredible adaptability and part Stockholm syndrome.
As Dave says, the above is not valid for those of us who have a vocation (ie my dad is a doctor and he would do it regardless of pay, it's just his calling).

I have been lucky enough never to consider work "terrible", as I have always somewhat enjoyed what I did.
I would still rather be scuba diving though.

FI, like most of the things I pursued in my life, has been more about freedom of choice rather than "quitting work".

*or liking any side effects of it: money, fame, power, etc.

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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by Farm_or » Tue Dec 26, 2017 8:56 am

I must confess to the consumption sin under the guise of production. I was so happy when I bought the loader tractor a couple of years ago. But I am disciplined enough not to buy something that won't improve my productivity (or maybe fooling myself).

Skills without practice deteriorate. For instance, last week I had to sharpen a drill bit to finish a heavy metal project. Granted I was never very good at hand sharpening as I concluded that even the best hand sharpeners are not as good as the machine designed for the task. Nonetheless, I have hand sharpened several bigger (+1/2") bits in the past successfully.

I had to go to YouTube for a refresher course. I had fallen out of practice so much that I screwed it up trying to shoot from the hip. It took me twice as long to complete the task. It left me doubting myself and wondering how many skills are diminishing from the reduction of demand?

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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by Jason » Tue Dec 26, 2017 9:15 am

daylen wrote:
Tue Dec 26, 2017 6:16 am

I had never really considered suicide until just recently under the influence of LSD.
Finally, someone comes up with an appropriate response to the dreaded "Tell me something about yourself" interview question.
Last edited by Jason on Tue Dec 26, 2017 2:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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BRUTE
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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by BRUTE » Tue Dec 26, 2017 12:24 pm

FBeyer wrote:
Tue Dec 26, 2017 3:55 am
Have you singularly considered FI to be a matter of not-working compared to FI being a matter of all-options-open right up until now? Or did you just discover something about yourself the last time you started 'working' again?
brute discovered something about himself the last time he didn't work for an extended period of time.

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BRUTE
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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by BRUTE » Tue Dec 26, 2017 12:30 pm

Seppia wrote:
Tue Dec 26, 2017 8:08 am
I would still rather be scuba diving though.
40 hours a week?

maybe that's part of it - even the nicest things, brute doesn't necessarily want to do for that long. Cowen makes the point in the video that for how great sex is, most humans only spend a tiny percentage of their time on it. same is true for eating. brute would probably work only 20-25 hours per week if it was completely optional. but he can't really think of anything else that he'd like to do 40h per week, either.

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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by Scott 2 » Tue Dec 26, 2017 1:37 pm

Depends on the work, and who you do it with.

There is definitely bad work.

If I only worked when I felt like it, I wouldn't accomplish much, and it'd be really hard to find anyone of interest to work with me.

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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by conwy » Tue Dec 26, 2017 3:48 pm

Work is a pretty big part of my life. I love my job as a contract software developer to pieces.

It's occasionally stressful, e.g. when trying to secure a new gig, or when shifting to a new technology. But I think a bit of stress makes the reward worth it. The feeling of accomplishment from successful delivery, and the glow of seeing my portfolio constantly expand and improve, making me more and more marketable over time, it's such a payoff!

I guess for me, FI is more about the feeling of security than the anticipation of a reward or payoff. For various reasons, I don't feel entirely certain that any amount of money, by itself, can protect a person from trouble in life.

But I feel that being hard working, cultivating a solid sense of self, having goals, developing healthy relationships, trying to maintain good physical and mental health and a good dose of faith and hope can prepare me for whatever lies again.

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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by EdithKeeler » Tue Dec 26, 2017 4:13 pm

In “Your Money or Your Life” the authors point out that the only thing “work” gives you that you can’t get elsewhere is a paycheck. IOW, need for community, self-actualization, etc. can be accomplished in other ways.

I generally like my job. It’s mentally challenging, I like dealing with people, there are aspects that are fun. However, there are things I hate: being micromanaged, shitty people I encounter periodically, administrative stuff that gets on my nerves, and having to manage my limited number of vacation days—meaning I’d like more time off or just be able to use the pool at the Y when it’s not full of kids.

I don’t necessarily work just to get enough money to quit my job. I could quit now, but there are other reasons to stay. I can see myself quitting and working at something part time, not necessarily for the money, but more for the social aspects.

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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by EdithKeeler » Tue Dec 26, 2017 4:19 pm

I had never really considered suicide until just recently under the influence of LSD. I entered fight or flight mode for the first time trying to figure out if life was really worth living or not. I came to the conclusion that life is indeed meaningless
Well... remind me not to drop acid. I’ve always figured that man is the only creature able to consider whether life has meaning or not, so that, in and of itself, probably gives our lives meaning.

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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by The_Bowme » Tue Dec 26, 2017 4:35 pm

One of the things I worry about when projecting my hypothetical FI life forward is how to set up a set of structure for spending time that combines meaningful accomplishment recognized in some social environment. Doing this on one's own without employment seems like reinventing the wheel compared to just working an acceptably good job.

The trick to taking a job while FI would be to find one without the negative factors (stress, alienation, value compromises, time away from loved ones, languishing of (possibly unrealistic) creative pursuits). In practice, for me that would mean somewhat reduced hours, and lower required marginal productivity, and if I really stretch, something more in alignment with my interests.

But it could be that the benefits and costs of many jobs are just too tightly bundled, and it's easier to accept the costs than try to re-invent the meaning/structure/social rewards on one's own. Cowen did mention the coordination problem/network effect issue here--a solution could perhaps be a switch over to a more unbundled system for securing meaning/structure/social rewards/sustenance (ala Marx's huntin the morning, work in a factory in the afternoon and read Plato in the evening). But that is probably not a realistic change.

I think a lot of the people who work the most in the economy (aside from working class people who haven't dropped out) are the "masters of the universe" as Cowen describes by way of Tom Wolfe. But that seems to be a scarce set of jobs. FU money could certainly give a marginally stronger bidding position for securing such a job--your fixed costs are lower so you can outbid many competitors. However, such jobs seem to require some burdensome pre-commitment (investment in education, insane hours early on, atrophying of other marketable skills), or a very high quality of output through natural talent and conscientious dedication. Perhaps the winner-take-all is further reducing the number of great jobs to only the most productive. Seems like FI doesn't solve for either factor, so would be incidental to this particular tranche of the economy.

@brute Thanks for sharing the video, very interesting. How did you come across it if I could ask? I read Cowen's blog but seemed to have missed this.

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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by OTCW » Tue Dec 26, 2017 5:05 pm

I work about 3 days a week on average. Best job I have ever had, but I don't know if could say that if I worked full (or more) time like I did in all my previous jobs. It's an interesting thought train that I should explore more.

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Seppia
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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by Seppia » Tue Dec 26, 2017 6:14 pm

BRUTE wrote:
Tue Dec 26, 2017 12:30 pm
Seppia wrote:
Tue Dec 26, 2017 8:08 am
I would still rather be scuba diving though.
40 hours a week?
BRUTE wins

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BRUTE
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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by BRUTE » Tue Dec 26, 2017 6:21 pm

Seppia wrote:
Tue Dec 26, 2017 6:14 pm
BRUTE wins
of course the answer is no. there seem to exist very few humans that still get a lot of marginal utility out of the 40th hour per week of any activity.

this should maybe not come as a surprise. the marginal utility of each additional unit of anything, including work and money, decreases.

humans really like to eat food, but not much more than 3 meals a day. why would leisure be any different? maybe the strength of work is that it can come in pretty well-diversified bundles that include some of various attractive qualities like challenge, expression, social interaction.

it seems to brute that work has usurped some of these qualities from other activities, like "spending time with family", which most humans seem to do much less of than humans of the past. social clubs and general friendship activities also seem to be down.

there is a strong network effect where being the only individual to not work is not only "weird" in some sense, but also prevents socializing with others outside of work because they have to work.

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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by suomalainen » Tue Dec 26, 2017 9:33 pm

Since “money is a solved problem” and I’d like to maximize my life satisfaction over the time period during which I will save/compound to reach my FI number, I’ve been thinking more about alternative work arrangements.

I’d been discussing an alternative work arrangement with a law firm and that didn’t work out, but it really clarified for me that I’d prefer to be a variable cost rather than a fixed cost, with the benefit to me of not having a 9-5, 5-day a week work obligation. I may not be able to find a truly variable work arrangement, but I might be able to do part time (28 or 32 hours/week) for 75/80% pay. Just need to convince the boss.

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Re: Work, is it so bad?

Post by Sclass » Tue Dec 26, 2017 11:01 pm

I listened to twenty minutes of this talk. The guy is an academic...a particular form of work. He should work an assembly line for perspective.

So why not less work with progress? Most people don’t own their jobs. Owners just expect more. The best is the spreadsheet. Okay so we have this great tool now that simplifies accounting and takes the drudgery away...but employers want more cells processed a day. If you kick up your feet after achieving a 1974 level of progress at 10am they’ll find another bean counter.

As a one time employer and employee I have some great examples. As a young engineer I inherited a tedious job of hand testing manufactured electronic assemblies with a voltmeter and an oscilloscope. I took the job and within a month convinced management to let me built an automated test system to do the job. Basically drop in a circuit board and get a pass or fail. I finished the tool in six months and could test all assemblies across all their product lines in seconds. A monkey could do it. Drop a board in, press test. Sort pass and fails.

It worked really well. For about a month I was on easy street. I took all the tested boards and stuffed them into inventory and sat in front of the test pc and goofed off. Other workers ratted me out. Management responded quick. They patted me on the back and put a machine operator in front of my machine and made me do something new for them. No relief from work.

I didn’t own the shop. When I finally owned my own shop I got really bored after I reduced the factory to a brain dead routine. I could work less but I chose to work more to make more profit and expand. When my assemblers looked to idle I’d watch them and pile on more duties. I wasn’t paying for them to loaf around and talk.

The invention of engineering CAD tools has not relieved engineers of grueling hours of work. They just produce more between vacations to Hawaii or wherever they run to for relief. And it goes on - doctors see more patients, framers shoot more nails etc.

Because of economic competition, I’m not all that sure you can kick up your feet and take it easy. Even as a factory owner I knew my competitor could tool up and take half of my business which he eventually did because my kicked up feet looked attractive to him. Seriously he saw how much profit the clients were plowing back and he wanted a cut of my action...my easy money. All he needed was comparable tooling. He got a loan and boom he ate my easy lunch.

As for reasons to work I can add one that has jumped out at me in my new home. Everyone in my old neighborhood knew what I did. But I moved. I’m a stranger who appears to live without working. I’ve been asked in many ways by multiple neighbors how I pay for the lifestyle of the area. People are really uncomfortable with my answers. I don’t like telling how I really make money. They have voiced worries about criminals living in their suburb. We have a wealthy drug dealer a block away who gets a lot of gossip. Maybe they’re worried I’m a vampire.

So work can provide a cover. Like the spy who photographs rare birds in some banana republic...among other things.

Man I was just trying to explain to a young family member at Christmas dinner what I hated most about being an employee. Asking permission for a vacation. Vacation that I accrued by not taking vacations.

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