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April 11th, 2012

Working Versus Earning Money

From The Hipcrime Vocab

“The more I want to get something done, the less I call it work.”  – Richard Bach

“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” – J. M. Barrie

I was reminded while reading this essay that Ran posted last week about an observation I made a long time ago. I noticed that most people in Wisconsin tend to spend their scant free time outside of work engaged the following pursuits (in no particular order):
  • Gardening
  • Mowing the Lawn
  • Working on the house
  • Playing with the dog
  • Child rearing
  • Knitting and crafts
  • Hunting (in season)
  • Church
  • Socializing 
  • Cooking
So most of these activities would have been “traditional” ways of procuring 1.) food, 2.) clothing and goods and 3.) shelter in pre-industrial society. And these activities are considered so enjoyable that people voluntarily spend their precious free time doing them outside of the miserable forty hours they must “work” to make a living! In my opinion, yard work and mowing the lawn, practically an obsession in southeast Wisconsin, are merely modern substitutes for working the land, baling the hay, etc. The lawnmower can even be thought of as a substitute for a tractor (doubly so if it’s the riding kind). So this observation was instrumental in my feeling that we do not have to have “jobs” to work or to have a functional society. People spend forty hours doing office jobs they hate so that they can spend their free time doing what their ancestors in preindustrial societies would have called “work.” People are not” working” so much as earning money – a distinction that should be made more often. It belies the fact that people will not “work” without the whip and the lash of utter destitution as a motivator. People will work to procure food, clothing and shelter; they always have. They just will not slave away to make someone else’s fortune. If money and self-interest were the only motivators, there would be no such thing as volunteering (or potluck). Not to mention there are still people lining up to do poorly paid jobs that they consider meaningful or pleasurable (social work, arts, entertainment, etc.).

Every single place I’ve worked has certain people who are in the office at 6:30 AM, slaving away. I couldn’t figure this out until I remembered that most Wisconsinites are descended from farmers, because that is what you came to Wisconsin to do (the major exceptions being professionals or factory workers in big cities). So getting up at the crack of dawn for labor, along with mowing the lawn, is in our DNA. As farmers and their descendants were forced off the land one-by-one and migrated to cities, their traditional ways, habits and outlook remained in their blood. That may be why understimulating suburbs are so popular with Midwesterners – they allow one to live near the city while still imagining you are living on your own spread, in your little country house, complete with animals, gardens, and fields (with the vast and extensively manicured lawn substituting for the fields). In other words, suburbs are a simulacra of country life for deracinated farmers, who secretly pine for a life they were forced out of generations ago.

The question is, if the ultimate aim of an economy is to procure food, clothing and shelter for people, why do we have to spend so much time doing jobs we hate in order to procure those things that we would spend our time procuring for ourselves anyway? And what sense does it make to say we need to keep “creating jobs” if people are spending all their free time working on food, clothing and shelter for no money whatsoever? It’s no wonder that people had to be “forced” into this arrangement, as detailed yesterday. In fact, people volunteer on farms for no money whatsoever! Yet we are constantly told how “awful” working the land is, and how lucky we are sitting under fluorescent lights in cubicles in air-conditioned urban office towers working for a paycheck for corporations with internal politics reminiscent of Stalin’s Politburo. That people are just biting at the bit to get off the farm and come to the cities where life is so much better. Is farm work really so awful? Or has it been made awful by consolidation and debt slavery? Notice how people who really do create food, clothing and shelter are always the lowest paid people in industrial societies, while those who spend their days moving money around are the highest paid.

We have to keep coming up with new activities over and above what we need to provide decent lifestyles just to keep people occupied. Most of it is either make-work, or it is a side-effect of complexity. For example, it is nearly tax day, and there are large numbers of people whose job it is to do nothing more than know every nook and cranny of the vast and complex tax code and help people navigate through it. For this, they make a good living and get paid surprisingly well. Yet such people actually produce nothing of value – not food, clothing, goods or shelter. Their jobs are only possible though the massive complexity of our society. I wonder how many people are employed just as side effects of complexity? I remember seeing an article by someone whose only job was to be an expert in all aspects of the byzantine world of construction bonding (the complexity of construction finance is mind-boggling). What do such people have to show for the work at the end of the day? How does society benefit? No wonder people feel so alienated from their work.

And I wonder reading this article if our society has developed into something so depressing, so alienating, so utterly miserable that we need to drug our population just to keep children at their desks all day and their parents in their pens cubicles clicking away at the mouse for money. That anyone who doesn’t like this state of affairs is drugged into submission. That the sociopaths who run our companies and institutions are the crazy ones, and we’re all being drugged to be like them. That it is only by drugging people that we can keep this society going. Is it any coincidence that the first serial killers like Jack the Ripper only emerged with the onset of industrial civilization in England (with minor exceptions). If depression truly is due to a chemical imbalance, how is it possible that almost everyone in society today has this imbalance? Is it really the chemicals in our brains that are out of balance or is it society itself? Between people who are surviving due to drugs or sitting in overcrowded prisons, how can people continue to insist that our lifestyle is what the rest of the world needs?
Posted by escapefromwisconsin at
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Recession 2021
Great Recession 2021
Kondratiev Wave Theory

If a certain economic theory is correct, the US may experience a very greatest recession yet starting in late 2015 or 2016 and finally troughing out by around 2021. If and when this great recession bottoming out in 2021 does occur, it would, by this theory, bring "Spring" anew from the depths of the "Winter" phase.

As noted in Wikipedia:
"Kondratiev identified three phases in the cycle: expansion, stagnation, and recession. More common today is the division into four periods with a turning point (collapse) between the first and second phases. Writing in the 1920s, Kondratiev proposed to apply the theory to the 19th century:

1790–1849 with a turning point in 1815. 1850–1896 with a turning point in 1873. Kondratiev supposed that, in 1896, a new cycle had started.

The long cycle supposedly affects all sectors of an economy. Kondratiev focused on prices and interest rates, seeing the ascendant phase as characterized by an increase in prices and low interest rates, while the other phase consists of a decrease in prices and high interest rates. Subsequent analysis concentrated on output."

Kondratiev's ideas were seriously out of favor with the Soviet government and he was sent to prison, and later death in 1938.

In 1939 Joseph Scheumpeter put forth renaming the cycles identified by Kondratiev as "Kondratieff Waves," to honor him.

If Kondratiev's wave theory is the least bit valid, we should expect to be seeing it play out over the next few years, before finally bottoming out around 2021 after having devoured the United States in a truly great and deep recession. We'll be watching...

Recession 2016
Recession 2016? Did the Great Recession end in the first place? Many think not.

Could Kondratiev be right?

The US economy began slowing down markedly in 2015, reflecting contagion and knock-on effects from the troubled global environment and collapsing world trade.

In 2016 recession is now on the lips of people, everywhere. The situation is starting to look increasingly dire. More and more businesses, and now more consumers, are looking to save money wherever they can.

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According to the laypress, and even many economists, a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP (Gross Domestic Product). While this very simple definition is usually the case during recessions, it is not always so.

Most experts now acknowledge that GDP alone is an insufficient determinant of recession.

For one, GDP is often revised several quarters - even years - later, as more complete information becomes available that changes the components of the earlier, initial GDP estimates in what can be very substantial ways.

For another, not all serious downturns exact as serious a toll on GDP. Often, the decline is much more pronounced in GDI (Gross Domestic Income) and/or employment. If the income or employment of a nation is undergoing a pronounced, pervasive and prolonged decline even if for whatever various reasons its GDP may be holding up, is it not foolish to deny that a recession is underway?

For these reasons and others, the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research), the official arbiter of recessions and expansions in the United States, determines whether or not the US has fallen into recession using a much more holistic approach.

As the NBER explains it:
Q: The financial press often states the definition of a recession as two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP. How does that relate to the NBER's recession dating procedure?

Most of the recessions identified by our procedures do consist of two or more quarters of declining real GDP, but not all of them. In 2001, for example, the recession did not include two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP. In the recession beginning in December 2007 and ending in June 2009, real GDP declined in the first, third, and fourth quarters of 2008 and in the first quarter of 2009. The committee places real Gross Domestic Income on an equal footing with real GDP; real GDI declined for six consecutive quarters in the recent recession.

Q: Why doesn't the committee accept the two-quarter definition?

The committee's procedure for identifying turning points differs from the two-quarter rule in a number of ways. First, we do not identify economic activity solely with real GDP and real GDI, but use a range of other indicators as well. Second, we place considerable emphasis on monthly indicators in arriving at a monthly chronology. Third, we consider the depth of the decline in economic activity. Recall that our definition includes the phrase, "a significant decline in activity." Fourth, in examining the behavior of domestic production, we consider not only the conventional product-side GDP estimates, but also the conceptually equivalent income-side GDI estimates. The differences between these two sets of estimates were particularly evident in the recessions of 2001 and 2007-2009.

Q: How does the committee weight employment in determining the dates of peaks and troughs?

In the 2007-2009 recession, the central indicators–real GDP and real GDI–gave mixed signals about the peak date and a clear signal about the trough date. The peak date at the end of 2007 coincided with the peak in employment. We designated June 2009 as the trough, six months before the trough in employment, which is consistent with earlier trough dates in the NBER business-cycle chronology. In the 2001 recession, we found a clear signal in employment and a mixed one in the various measures of output. Consequently, we picked the peak month based on the clear signal in employment, as well as our consideration of output and other measures. In that cycle, as well, the dating of the trough relied primarily on output measures.

Q: Isn't a recession a period of diminished economic activity?

It's more accurate to say that a recession–the way we use the word–is a period of diminishing activity rather than diminished activity. We identify a month when the economy reached a peak of activity and a later month when the economy reached a trough. The time in between is a recession, a period when economic activity is contracting. The following period is an expansion. As of September 2010, when we decided that a trough had occurred in June 2009, the economy was still weak, with lingering high unemployment, but had expanded considerably from its trough 15 months earlier.

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"Double Dip Recession"?

In the most general sense a Double Dip Recession occurs when an economy falls back into contraction for at least a couple of months (usually at least six) after a relatively brief expansion.

By this definition, the recession of 1981-82 which followed a year-long expansion after the very short, two quarter's long 1980 recession, seems to qualify. Also by this broad definition, the 1937 recession that occurred four years after the end of the 1929-1933 recession also qualifies. While each of those were technically "new" recessions, they happened so soon after their predecessors that many people tend to think of the separate 1980 & 1981-82 recessions as one nasty, long recession. Similarly, most people think of the 1929-1933 & 1937 recessions as encompassing "The Great Depression."

Another definition of a "Double Dip Recession" would be that of a recession which technically has not ended, and was only punctuated by a quarter or twos worth of head-fake rise in GDP. Many recessions throughout history have had such false hopes, only to swoon back down into contraction, until they finally came to an end.

List of Recessions:
Post-1900 US Recessions

Mo/Yr Started Duration
Sep 1902 - 23 Months
May 1907 - 13 Months
Jan 1910 - 24 Months
Jan 1913 - 23 Months
Aug 1918 - 7 Months
Jan 1920 - 18 Months
May 1923 - 14 Months
Oct 1926 - 13 Months
Aug 1929 - 43 Months
May 1937 - 13 Months
Feb 1945 - 8 Months
Nov 1948 - 11 Months
Jul 1953 - 10 Months
Aug 1957 - 8 Months
Apr 1960 - 10 Months
Dec 1969 - 11 Months
Nov 1973 - 16 Months
Jan 1980 - 6 Months
Jul 1981 - 16 Months
Jul 1990 - 8 Months
Mar 2001 - 8 Months
Dec 2007 - 18 Months

What is
Gross National Happiness (GNH)?

An alternate measure of a nation's wealth was conceptualized several decades ago as a means of cutting through the overemphasis on materialism of traditional wealth measures, and seeing the bigger picture.

According to GNHUSA.Org

  Gross National Happiness (GNH) is an indicator developed in Bhutan in the Himalayas, based on the concept elaborated in 1972 by the then King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Since then, the kingdom of Bhutan, with the support of UNDP (UN Development Program), began to put this concept into practice, and has attracted the attention of the rest of the world with its new formula to measure the progress of a community or nation.

GNH is based on the premise that the calculation of "wealth" should consider other aspects besides economic development: the preservation of the environment and the quality of life of the people. The goal of a society should be the integration of material development with psychological, cultural, and spiritual aspects - all in harmony with the Earth.

The Four Pillars of GNH

  • the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development
  • the preservation and promotion of cultural values
  • the conservation of the natural environment, and
  • the establishment of good governance.


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