Arnold Kling  

The New Leisure

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What I'm Reading... Heritabilities Are Meaningful ...

According to Gallup,


American workers who are emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace -- known as "actively disengaged" workers -- rate their lives more poorly than do those who are unemployed. Forty-two percent of actively disengaged workers are thriving in their lives, compared with 48% of the unemployed. At the other end of the spectrum are "engaged" employees -- American workers who are involved in and enthusiastic about their work -- 71% of whom are thriving.

Pointer from Phil Izzo on the WSJ blog.

As folks like Tyler Cowen and Michael Mandel develop insights into economic trends, I think that the issue of people getting by without working should get a lot of focus. We call it involuntary unemployment, but we could call at least some of it "unemployment that beats the alternative."

I am not criticizing people who are unemployed. The fact that work is today a lot more optional than it used to be is a good thing. A really good thing. But the adjustment of our culture and our approach to policy has a long way to go.


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COMMENTS (7 to date)
liberty writes:

Two advantages of a freer market economy over a more heavily interventionist system are often (1) lower unemployment, (2) a vital, entrepreneurial enough economy to offer more satisfying work. This may mean fewer people stuck in (often depressing) long-term unemployment as well as fewer people stuck in (often depressing) crap low-paid jobs.

However, there is one significant advantage to not going too far with a completely non-interventionist free market economy: being unemployed is often superior to taking a job you don't like. Even if there may be more good jobs in the free market, having some state help for the unemployed may still offer better job-matching, and hence more satisfying work to more people. Having the option to take a longer time to find a new job may offer the chance to wait for a *really* good job. The state can help with that in case workers have not had the chance or opportunity to obtain private unemployment insurance that can offer them a good length of time to peruse for the best job.

David R. Henderson writes:

Arnold,
I agree with your statement about it being a really good thing with one big qualifier: as long as government isn't subsidizing it.

Jason Ruspini writes:

Work today is a lot more optional? In what *sustainable* way? Real returns are low. Income growth is low. Retirement is more difficult. People are living longer. The prices of necessities are rising. To me, this points to a possible societal breakdown, not an incrementally more utopian future.

Jonathan writes:

Is there a statistically significant difference between 42% and 48%? Probably not.

The standard error on the 400 actively disengaged persons is 2.5 percentage points and the standard error on the not engaged persons is 1.5 percentage points, so the confidence intervals of the two estimates overlap.

sqrt((.48 * .52) / 400) = 0.024979992
sqrt((.42 * .58) / 1 116) = 0.0147742875

I'm too lazy to calculate the t-test for the difference in means.

@liberty,

...being unemployed is often superior to taking a job you don't like.

Yes. I live with the kind of people that would almost certainly be less happy if they didn't have student loans (for classes that occupy very little of their time) and grants to keep them seemingly perpetually off the job market. They are too excited with things that interest them to be bored by unemployment, unlike alot of people who probably just need to feel engaged by almost anything that will keep them busy and goal oriented.

In this vein, this study shows the importance of not merely being busy, but being busy doing something deemed worthy of, well, doing.

Stefano writes:

Before the industrial revolution, 80% or more of the human resources were needed just to provide the basics (food, shelter, clothing).

Now these same basics can be provided using 10% or less of the total resources (in terms of labor, energy, etc.).

If you are frugal enough, a 4-Hour Workweek is not impossible.

A=A writes:
The fact that work is today a lot more optional than it used to be is a good thing.

I was going to post about the nonsense of this statement; that only somebody who is independently-wealthy enough to not have to work -- like Arnold, who cashed-in on homefair.com in the late 90s did -- could hold such an opinion.

But Jason Ruspini beat me to it.

Arnold, if I do not work, I do not get to save for retirement, which, thanks to advances in medical technology and health awareness, is a problem, because by the time I -- as a 29 year-old software developer -- am old enough to die, I will likely be well into my 90s or 100s, given the rate of improvements seen in lifespan.

If I do not work, I do not get to buy groceries, or a new car, or new computer, or go on vacations, or rent or buy a home, or anything else any more than my savings permit me. And while I can safely live my current lifestyle for over 2 years on the savings/investments I do have, that S/I are not *nearly* enough to permit me this absurd "optional work" fantasy you claim (and have claimed many times before, to far too little objection).

I have the fantasy of becoming i.e. Tony Stark and fitting the model you describe, and am working towards that goal -- in my free time, when I'm not earning a salary to sustain myself. But I am a VERY long way from that life. So is well over 99% of America (to say nothing of the rest of the world).

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