Philosophy Night

PREPARATION MATERIALS FOR THE CONVERSATION ARE FOUND BELOW


Hey Philosophers,

See you all at Jessica's this Thrusday at 7:30 PM. We are having a taco bar (vegetarian and meat options will be a plenty) for dinner. Make sure to bring something to contribute as a donation if you are able. Scott & Perri have provided some info below to look through before we meet. If you want to take a deeper dive into the material, just click on the links. See you Thursday!
 

TOPIC: WORK VS LEISURE

This month we will be discussing the myriad of ways that the topics of Work & Leisure touch our lives/society. What are the proper roles of each in a strong and healthy society and for the individual?

Questions we will wrestle with will include:

  • How does one derive meaning from Work and/or Leisure? 
  • Which is the greater ideal? A life of leisure or a life of hard work?
  • Which of our feelings about work are rooted in societal pressures?
  • What can Marxism or Capitalism tell us about the value of Work or the worker?
  • What does the future hold for humans and our work? Will AI/Automation replace many human Jobs? Is this a good thing or a negative?

Some fun videos to watch prepare for our discussion:
Great background video on the ‘history of work’ as a primer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKnSMCjzmco 

Some other supporting material on Marx/Marxism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSQgCy_iIcc  AND Adam Smith/Capitalism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejJRhn53X2M 

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FROM THE PHILOSOPHERS

Aristotle
What Aristotle appears to have in mind is “the leisure worthy of a really free man, such as  attains when his political duties have been performed, or such as he already possesses, provided he is financially independent and leads a life of true study or contemplation” (Susemihl and Hicks, 1894, 542).

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John Calvin
"There is no work, however vile or sordid, that does not glisten before God."

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Karl Marx
Modern work is Alienating: Although the worker is an autonomous, self-realized human being, as an economic entity, this worker is directed to goals and diverted to activities that are dictated by the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, in order to extract from the worker the maximum amount of surplus value, in the course of business competition among industrialists. 

Captilism Exploits the workerworkers in a capitalist society are exploited insofar as they are forced to sell their labor power to capitalists for less than the full value of the commodities they produce with their labor.

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Adam Smith
“It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of the division of labour, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people.”

The Wealth Of Nations, Book I, Chapter I, p. 22, para. 10.

“What improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

The Wealth Of Nations, Book I Chapter VIII, p.96, para. 36.

“Very good grapes can be raised in Scotland, and very good wine too can be made of them at about thirty times the expense for which at least equally good can be brought from foreign countries. Would it be a reasonable law to prohibit the importation of all foreign wines, merely to encourage the making of claret and burgundy in Scotland?”

The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II, p. 458, para. 15.

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ON MODERN AMERICA  
Over the past four decades, depending on which of their measures one uses, the amount of time that working-age Americans are devoting to leisure activities has risen by 4-8 hours a week. (For somebody working 40 hours a week, that is equivalent to 5-10 weeks of extra holiday a year.) Nearly every category of American has more spare time: single or married, with or without children, both men and women. The only twist is that less educated (and thus poorer) Americans have done relatively better than more educated ones (see chart). 

WHAT IS WORK?
Messrs Aguiar and Hurst think that the hours spent at your employer's are too narrow a definition of work. Americans also spend lots of time shopping, cooking, running errands and keeping house. These chores are among the main reasons why people say they are so overstretched (especially working women with children).

However, Messrs Aguiar and Hurst show that Americans actually spend much less time doing them than they did 40 years ago. There has been a revolution in the household economy. Appliances, home delivery, the internet, 24-hour shopping, and more varied and affordable domestic services have increased flexibility and freed up people's time.

Wrinkles

The biggest theoretical problem with time diaries is “multi-tasking”. Do you measure the time you spend cleaning your house while listening to portable music as “leisure” or “work”? This problem may be exaggerated: usually people seem to combine two work activities (using a laptop computer on a plane), or two leisure ones (watching television and doing something else). The two economists counted many combinations of work and leisure—such as reading a novel while commuting or goofing off on the internet at the office—as time spent working. Another question-mark has to do with child care.

How “Busy” Changed From a Sign of Poverty to a Badge of Honor

A noted American economist, Thorstein Veblen, argued that just over 100 years ago, leisure was a badge of honor. In The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen outlined how people with money could pay those without money to do the dirty, dull, and repetitive work, such as lifting or cleaning, while the rich spent time in more challenging and creative pursuits, such as philanthropy or writing.

Leisure as a badge of honor might surprise today’s workers, but societies and cultures around the world followed this belief, though none quite so fervently as those in the West. It is only in the last decade or so that we’ve seen this shift, where leisure is available to the poor, but not to the rich. 

So why are successful Americans working so much when they have the means to afford leisure time?

They Want To
There are many different explanations for the current situation, but one argument is simply that people want to work. According to research by Arlie Russell Hochschild (UC-Berkeley), work has become more stimulating and more enjoyable than life at home. In her 1997 publication, Hochschild introduced the concept of the Time Bind: when work becomes home and home becomes work. Many people in her study go to work to relax, while others in more modern research are simply working so much because everyone else is do ing it; they’re just keeping up with the Joneses.

Substitution Effect
Another theory is the economic theory called the substitution effect. To put it simply, the substitution effect refers to how higher wages make leisure more expensive. Not because the leisure activity is pricey, but because of the high wages lost when taking time off of work. 

Winner-Takes-All Marketplace
Another explanation is the atmosphere of the current market. Modern economies have a “winner-takes-all” nature, where the most innovative company takes over the market and reaps a much larger share.  Beating your competitors (think Apple) can make or break a business, and the returns for success can be incredible. Many economists believe that this competitive winner-takes-all atmosphere “amplifies” the substitution effect.

Taxes
Economist Ed Prescott has long argued that much of the difference lies in tax policy.  Raising taxes effectively lowers the payoff to an hour of work, causing Europeans to prefer leisure to work.  At the same time, raising taxes also lowers the payoff to market substitutes for home production: it raises the price your dry cleaning, your prepared meals, your house painters and maid services.  Because of this tax wedge, Europeans take more vacation--but other work shows that they also spend more of that vacation mowing their own lawn, cooking their own meals, and fixing their own garbage disposals.

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Automation/AI
The merits of globalization were quite aptly described by British economist Henry Martyn back in the 1700s. He used the analogy of technological innovation to make his point, and suggested that by using a tool (a sawmill in his case), we could perform the work of 30 men with the labor of two men.

Now of course, we could employ those 30 men instead, but that would be a waste of human resources.  The same is true for most technologies, and whilst most would surely agree that technology is a force for good, it's not an assumption that can be guaranteed.

Martyn went on to compare this with globalization, and suggested that if another country can produce textiles (for instance) more efficiently than we can, then it is akin to having a new technology to do likewise, and we should jump at such an opportunity and instead deploy our resources to trade with that nation in areas that we can excel.