Leisure Time v. Consumerism Open Thread

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125 Responses

  1. Avatar dhex says:

    i want to open an aleister crowley themed southern barbecue joint called “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the slaw”Report

  2. I’ve never seen anyone criticize comic books, tattoos, video game systems, stereo systems, and other electronic products, expensive bikes and/or other outdoor gear as being consumerist or materialists.

    Well, I’ve known people who’ve criticized at least a few of those things, especially stereos, electronics, expensive bikes, and outdoor gear (not so much tattoos and comic books), as consumerist or materialist.

    To address some of your questions. I don’t see why anybody *should* value leisure time over consumer goods or vice versa, and I’m not too worried about the effect of those who do/don’t on the hours others have to work. (That’s one reason I’m disinclined to forbid “clopen” practices.)

    I do think leisure time is a luxury, and I probably value it over most consumer goods, except for maybe beer and junk food, but one usually needs leisure time to enjoy them as they ought to be enjoyed 🙂 (Oh….and my computer because blogging, etc.) Leisure is, I think, a luxury of the rich inasmuch as someone who has more leisure, ceteribus paribus, than another is in my opinion relatively wealthier. Though I would say that, because I usually value leisure more.

    I do think, and this has been the occasion of a snippy conversation recently at the OT in which it was suggested I was accusing someone of favoring something very bad, I think one has to measure the quality of leisure. I don’t think the “leisure” of an unemployed person looking for work and frustrated because he/she cannot find it is qualitatively less good than, or at least different from, the leisure of someone with a full-time job who has a day or two off. Hence my above “ceteris paribus” hedge.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Wait, video game systems are on Saul’s list of things he hasn’t heard people criticize?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Nope. Now people who criticize video games systems as mindless consumerism are out there. But I mainly here anti-consumerism as going after yuppie things.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Well, people who spend more money on shit get more heat from it. This confused you?

        Everyone in poor neighborhoods having an XBox and a flat screen has long been something people say as a criticism of the deceptive nature of consumerism. But game systems are one thing. Stuff yuppies buy is myriad.

        This is a common refrain from you. I gather you just don’t like it when criticism is directed at you, so you focus on it, but don’t seem to engage it at all.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Distinguishing seems between leisure time and consumerism seems like a really false distinction. Having a really great home entertainment system is useless if you never have the leisure time to watch something on it. Owning nice clothing is dumb if you can never wear them. You need time to enjoy your goods. Likewise, you can have all the leisure time in the world but be bored out of your mind if there is nothing you want to do. A lot of the allegedly more emotionally fulfilling leisure time activities like camping, hiking, bike riding, community sports, and more require at least some specialized equipment. This means that some consumerism is inevitable in most leisurely activities.Report

  4. Avatar Chris V. says:

    I wish the “anti-work” people (for lack of a better term) would focus less on people making wrong choices vs. not being able to make choices. When I teach intro microeconomics, I tell people about the “labor-leisure trade-off”. You have a wage, you can work more or less and have less or more money. It’s all bogus as a model of an individual’s choice, but a world that actually looked like that would be a nice one. If people make different trade-offs, to me that’s no problem.

    But for way too many fields, you basically have zero options other than an absurd 60+ hour workweek or seeking other employment. That seems like a legitimate problem, although I don’t actually have good policy solutions.

    In her presidential address to the American Economic Association, Claudia Goldin argued that fields with more “linear pay” (that don’t reward people for working extremely long hours) have a lower gender gap in hourly wages. I’d also bet the people in those fields are happier with their options than Biglaw associates.

    Making part-time work, lower hours (with correspondingly lower pay) a real option seems like a worthier goal than consumption shaming. And some countries (the Netherlands, for example) seem to have made progress there, although apparently at the cost of less gender equality (which I don’t actually care much about if people are freely making these choices, but others may differ.)Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      FWIW, I’m a plaintiff’s lawyer and every firm I worked for gets paid on a contingency fee. Meaning we get a percentage of the victory amount if any. Sometimes you work long hours (the judge wants a brief by 8 AM and doesn’t tell you until the day before or you are in trial), other times you get to leave earlier.

      “Making part-time work, lower hours (with correspondingly lower pay) a real option seems like a worthier goal than consumption shaming. And some countries (the Netherlands, for example) seem to have made progress there, although apparently at the cost of less gender equality (which I don’t actually care much about if people are freely making these choices, but others may differ.)”

      How would this work in very expensive areas like the San Francisco or NYC? I think the Netherlands can do it because they have a very extensive welfare state including mandatory vacation policies. People can move to some areas because it is possible to live well on a more limited income. My impression of Portland (Oregon) is that it is or was until recently entirely possible to live comfortably and only work 3-4 days a week in a bike repair shop or a coffee shop. In other words, you could still be a Bohemian in ways that are now close to if not actually impossible in NYC and SF.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto says:

        Have you actually looked at what living expenses in Amsterdam are like? Rent’s not all that much lower than NYC or SF.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Except when it is a professional expense, living in NYC or SF is a consumption good.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        The same can be said for the person who lives in Montana because he or she really likes fly fishing and skiing.

        Now it is largely a lot cheaper to live in Montana than SF/NYC this is true but geographic location is a consumption good for almost anyone unless:

        1. You were born in the area and still have family there (I am not willing to call choosing to live near family a consumption good)

        2. Were transferred by your job.


        I haven’t but I still think that social democracy helps lower the expenses. Our part-time worker will probably not have health insurance.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        To clarify, it’s the cost premium that makes SF and NYC personal consumption. So for Montana to be, either you would have to live in an expensive part of it or you would have to count foregone income (which is reasonable, if the foregone income outstrips any reduction in COL).

        #1 also counts. Paying more or earning less to live near family is a luxury, usually, just like the flights my wife and I take to visit our families.Report

      • Avatar Chris V. says:

        You would know about the legal profession more than I would. I was thinking of white shoe firms, where my understanding is that billable hours have exploded since more leisurely times:

        In 1965, the American Bar Association found that hours billed by American lawyers ranged between 1,200 and 1,600 annually, practically a part-time schedule today.

        Larger firms now generally expect at least 2,000 to 2,200 billable hours from their associates, and billing 2,500 to 3,000 hours is not unusual.

        How would this work in very expensive areas like the San Francisco or NYC?

        My not-very-satisfactory answer is that housing in San Francisco and NYC need not be even close to as expensive as it is. A good recent discussion is here, but it’s been well known in economics for a while thanks to the work of Edward Glaeser, among others. There is simply no reason other than absurdly bad public policy for housing to be as expensive as it is, so my “solution” there would be to fix those policies. Which may be utopian-sounding, but is it any more so than changes to the work week?Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      But for way too many fields, you basically have zero options other than an absurd 60+ hour workweek or seeking other employment. That seems like a legitimate problem, although I don’t actually have good policy solutions.

      The inverse is also an issue for people who are offered fewer hours than they’d like to work at a given wage (by anyone they can find, not just one employer, though having to find a different employer at perhaps a different wage itself is an example of the insufficiency of the model you are critiquing).Report

  5. Avatar Jeremiah says:

    Even in light of my normal posture, I agree it is easy to crusade against materialism when your belly is full.

    When we look at visualizations of the Good Life in literature or movies, there usually is a combination of material wealth and spiritual happiness- very few authors are bold enough to have their hero choose between them.

    Compare, for example, Its A Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart, and the similarly themed The Family Man with Nicholas Cage.

    Jimmy Stewart starts by cursing his poverty, and ends up realizing how unimportant it was. Yet he remained poor, and even celebrates it.

    Nicholas Cage, by contrast, is given a look at a world in which, instead of being rich and alone, he is blessed with a family. Yet by the end of the movie, he ends up with both.

    It almost doesn’t matter if one argues for more leisure time or more material wealth, since the simple universal human frailty means that we turn everything into a competition for more.

    Which is why any political theories need to confront the essential defect in human nature in order to be credible.

    Of the two movies, The Family Man probably most correctly reflects our true desires; We have many complex and contradictory desires, and it is impossible to satisfy them all at once.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I don’t disagree with your last sentence.

      Others have noted that minimalism itself is a form of privilege and people with a lot of stuff are often made of fun as being poor. The show Hoarders largely makes fun of the poor, gawking at them:


      • Avatar Chris says:

        Minimalism is certainly a form of privilege, because it’s a choice. Having things imposed on you is sort of the opposite of privilege. Making choices based on values and preferences is generally a form of privilege. And as privilege, it carries responsibility. “In choosing myself, I choose man.”Report

    • Avatar James K says:


      While I’m broadly in agreement with this comment (especially the idea that human desire is complex and multi-dimensional), I have to question the idea that non-satiation is a defect of human nature. Without ambition, we still be living in caves banging rocks together.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        I have read stories about wolves that find themselves in a sheep pen, and then go into a mad frenzy, killing more sheep than they could eat in a lifetime.

        They have no off switch, since never in nature do they find themselves in such a position as to need one.

        Our lack of an off switch had a valuable function when we were trotting through the savannah looking for the rare bit of fat, salt, or sugar.

        Today, not such a valuable function.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      It almost doesn’t matter if one argues for more leisure time or more material wealth, since the simple universal human frailty means that we turn everything into a competition for more.

      THis is where I go all institutional analysis on ya! I think you’re correct that there is an internal competition between our interrnal desires. I mean, that’s the stuff of tragedy and myth, as old as human kind. But I also think there’s a tremendous amount of external factors which alter a person’s internal ranked ordering, which shape an individuals choices. I don’t know whether that constitutes a disagreement with you or not. But one thing I’d like to say about turning everything into a “competition for more” is that adopting *that* paradigm is itself a choice. Often one that is made for us given our own – as you say – frailties.

      Which is why any political theories need to confront the essential defect in human nature in order to be credible.

      Yeah. Very well said. Very good comment, in fact.Report

    • @jeremiah

      A little bit tangential but also on topic (sort of): a friend of mine once made a comparison between Full Monty and Good Will Hunting (I saw the first, not the second, but I know the story). My friend said those movies represent the differences between the English and the American class systems and the way we look at class in our culture.

      In Full Monty, the working-class protagonists join together, do something that earns them a little money and establishes their self-respect, and then (presumably) go back to being working class in a deindustrializing town.

      In Good Will, we have a guy who is working class by virtue of his origins and occupation, but who doesn’t *really* deserve to be working class because he’s intelligent. And finally the world is righted when he ascends out of his class. (If I have the story, and my friend’s take, right. Again, I haven’t seen it.)Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Good Will shows someone rising because he has the quality which defines the truly superior person: being good at math.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        In response I point to Burt Likko’s Three Classes, and in doing so claim that Matt Damon doesn’t “ascend” out of anything. He ends the movie in the same class that he started in.

        In America, class is not wealth. Class is not income.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Is Jeremiah a prophetic reference, or do you just like eating liver?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Which is why any political theories need to confront the essential defect in human nature in order to be credible.

      To be credible, a political theory must confront what I unilaterally and without supporting argument declare to be a defect in human nature, and not just a defect but the essential one.

      That is, tribalism.

      Oh, you had something else in mind? Huh. Two assertions without any supporting logic. How is one to choose between them?Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      One does not start to value leisure time at all until one has enough means to be several steps up Maslow’s hierarchy: your belly needs to be filled first. I’d rather work two jobs than go hungry. If I have to work two jobs lest I go hungry, then I’m not thinking all that much about materialism, I’m thinking about survival. If one job keeps my pantry full, then I get to think about leisure time and worry about whether I’m too materialistic,Report

  6. Avatar James Pearce says:

    “Why should society or a person consider leisure time more important than consumerist goods?”

    I don’t know if they SHOULD, but if an individual does, I don’t think it’s any great crime. Speaking for myself personally, I consider leisure time more important than consumerist goods because, of the two, “leisure time” is simply more scarce. Pretty much anything I want or need from a material perspective would be easily acquired without much effort.

    Leisure time…not so much.

    “Why should there be a preference for a lot of three day weekends instead of one or two longer vacations a year?”

    Business needs? Myself, I prefer a mix of both, but I have left vacation days “on the table” because of “business needs.” I do not intend on doing that this year….but I probably will anyway.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      I consider leisure time more important than consumerist goods because, of the two, “leisure time” is simply more scarce.

      That’s a good way of putting it. For myself I also just like leisure time more than most goods. I don’t even have a video game system, my house is 144 years old and only slowly being updated, and my cars are 10 and 15 years old, each with over 160k on them. I need to spend probablt $150 on a good pair of dress shoes so I don’t have foot and knee pain, which I’m pretty sure is a good reason, but the thought still bothers me, because I already have a pair of shoes. Sure, it hurts to wear them, but the soles haven’t fallen off yet, so… Plus, buying them means I have to go shopping, which is a damned steep price to pay for anything.

      And extending that, I’m inclined to agree there would be good outcomes (from my perspective) to less consumerism. But the key there is “my perspective.” Saul, of course, need not share my perspective. So I’m a personal, not moralilstic, anti-consumerist. (Which isn’t meant to imply JP’s any different; I’m just riffing off his comment.)Report

      • Speaking for myself, shoe shopping is one of the worst kinds of shopping there is. Fortunately, my feet/knees don’t have special needs, so I can usually just pick out a pair of shoes and leave within minutes. (Actually–and I believe I mentioned this before–I have a shoe supplier who runs marathons. When he wears his shoes out, they’re still good for walking, and he gives them to me. I haven’t bought shoes in at least a couple years, unless it was dress shoes.)Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Gabriel Conroy, I agree. My feet are very small for a man and its not unusual for shoe stores to not have anything in my size. Making matters worse is that my feet are also wider than normal, so even if they have my size the shoe might be too narrow.Report

  7. Avatar greginak says:

    I think there is a fair criticism of materialism/consumerism in that they don’t deliver on all the things they offer. Most people won’t be fully happy or have “good” life solely based on buying the newest or fanciest things. Many people get seduced by the commercials dreams of being fulfilled when you have the right car or dress or whatever. Businesses spend tons and tons of money to convince people true joy resides in a new tv. I would guess the people who are loudest about their anti-commercialism were people who feel for the dream and hurt badly when it was found to be false. I agree lots of the criticism by anti-commercial people end up being just differing tastes. However i also don’t have a problem with people trying to loudly offer a different message then the one businesses try so hard to sell us. And if a person really does lead a full life based on having the newest finest gewgaw, well good for them if that works for them.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      “I think there is a fair criticism of materialism/consumerism in that they don’t deliver on all the things they offer. Most people won’t be fully happy or have “good” life solely based on buying the newest or fanciest things.”

      How do you define happiness and the good life? I get what your statement is saying, retail therapy is often a temporary lift at best and sometimes not even that but not always. I have a pair of shoes that I’ve posted about here before. I bought the shoes to celebrate getting a new job and because of a friends wedding. They were expensive but everytime I wear these shoes people say “Look at those shoes!!” and I admit that this does give me a self-esteem boost. I like that people admire them. My one bedroom in San Francisco makes me happier more than a house in Concord. I like my shorter commuter time and ability to walk to restaurants, bars, several different grocery stores, the movies, several concert venues, etc. Yet the one bedroom in SF is probably more materialist/consumerist/expensive than a house in Concord.

      As I mentioned above, the people I know who are anti-consumerist/anti-materialist generally seem to be of a somewhat spiritual/hippie bent. I don’t necessarily mean they are religious or they live lives of monk-like austerity but there is often something vaguely “peace man” about them. They also generally have very different definitions of a perfect weekend than I do. One of my friends from undergrad is pretty non-materialist/consumerist (though he doesn’t get preachy about it as far as I know) is ideal weekend could be spent hiking around a very muddy trail and I think most of his clothing is from REI type of stores.

      This is not how I would like to spend my free time. In fact it is largely the opposite of it but my friends preferences are largely how the anti-materialist crowd seems to me. A dive bar is better than a nice cocktail bar. A muddy hike is better than going to the Brooklyn Academy of Music or Cal Performances.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        I’m defining “good life” in the various ways i’ve heard other people use it. I’ve heard almost nobody say buying stuff is all they need to be happy. They may have very different values from me in all sorts of ways, but they value more then possessions and acquiring. Of course if i worked among very rich people who can make acquiring a major part of their lives i might hear different things. But various surveys find the same conclusion money and stuff is nice but not everything.

        Btw, i’m going to REI tonight, got a gift card to blow. I’ll also be buying new pair of xc skies in a couple months since that will give me more tools to do activities which make me happy.Report

      • Avatar James K says:


        I strongly suspect we’d all be better off if we retired the concept of “The Good Life”, as if there were a single path to happiness.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Saul, you’re one odd duck, it seems to me. You seem to spend an inordinate amount of time bitching about how other folks don’t value your lifestyle choices. I just can’t figure out why you give a shit what they think. And why you think their lack of appreciation is a failing on their part.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        James K,

        Isn’t one of liberalism’s original ideas is that there are multiple versions of the good life and people should basically be allowed to pursue their own version of it within reason while quietly discussing it with other people?Report

      • Avatar James K says:


        I think you’re right about that, and its an aspect of liberalism I closely identify with.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I’ve been thinking about it and I like the things that I like not only for aesthetic reasons but also some vague feeling that I prefer the things that I prefer because they are objectively better than other things.

    As such, it bothers me when people like things that I don’t like because not only is there the trivial matter of taste, but the sensation of objective betterness.

    As such, I think that if you were better, you’d do a better job of liking things and get more in line with the things that I like instead of the things that you like.

    Now, I completely understand that some of the things that I like might not be as easy for you to acquire as they were for me. It makes sense that you’d end up with the things you’ve ended up with so far because of your unwillingness to make the trade-offs that I’ve been willing to make but this comes back to your need for improvement which, I’m sure you’ll be interested to know, I am more than willing to help you with.

    First off, your hair is awful. You should dye it.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I think it is the feeling of objective betterness that really causes the debates.

      I don’t consider 2000 dollars worth of tattoos better than a 2000 dollar suit. I just think they are different choices and I know which one I would make.

      Yet many people probably have very strong opinions on whether one or the other is objectively better.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      One of the weird things about Americans is the belief that their preferences are wholly unconnected to anyone else in any way, so that if someone might criticize another for liking what they like, it can only be for aesthetic reasons (objective or not). Americans are social Leibnizians. I wish we had a Voltaire.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        i dunno, people criticize the lifestyle choices of others all the time. in some cases (parenting comes to mind) they’re clearly taken personally.

        i presume i’m misunderstanding your point, though.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Well, there are certainly aesthetic reasons to criticize other people’s choices. I’m from the South, where doing so is the national pastime. However, I’m pretty sure that when we’re talking about criticisms of consumerism, of careless buying of goods that were made under less than stellar conditions, etc., generally bring in the effects of these things on other people, not just “I don’t like them, so you shouldn’t like them.” But here we have both Jay, a libertarian, and Saul, a liberal, spanning a pretty large segment of the mainstream American ideological spectrum, essentially criticizing them as aesthetic critiques, with a sort of “It’s my preference, it’s not your problem” attitude.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        ok, gotcha.

        well, one thought is that it’s a way to skip the whole more hardcore than thou treadmill. at some point every fair trade coffee drinker is going to meet a level five vegan, etc. and who wants to get yelled at by some preacher going on about hellfire and damnation because of off-label use of genitals or what have you?Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @chris reasons to criticize other people’s choices. I’m from the South, where doing so is the national pastime.

        I’ve been meaning to ask you about a weird Southern dichotomy, to see if your experience is like mine.

        Southern people have both a very, VERY gossipy/nosy side (it’s sort of the dark side of that “friendliness”) and ALSO a real tendency (or maybe aspiration) to MYOB and keep their noses out of neighbors’ business (though they often fail).

        I distinctly remember as a kid, when wondering aloud about some “strange” (to me) information or appearances about a neighbor (be it their customs, or lifestyles, or personal life details), being told words to the effect of “that’s *their* business, not *yours*, and don’t you worry about it: you worry about your *own* business.”

        And I know for a *fact* that there are people in my immediate family who kept secrets to their graves. Stuff that they just would not talk about (and them natural-born storytellers!)

        Which IMO can be admirable, and an ideal I try to aspire to (“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.)

        And yet: anyone who’s heard a good Southern gossip session knows there ain’t NO gossip like a Southern gossip, with everyone and everything fair game for all kinds of vicious criticism and wild speculation.

        Maybe it’s just a “a time and a place for everything” kind of thing? Some weird remnant of ye olde English “manners/gentility” thing, where certain things just aren’t considered fit topics for polite conversation, so all the “dirty” data is supposed to be conveyed on a subcarrier?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Well, we can come at it from an environmentalist angle, I suppose.

        “Your stereo uses too much power, you should have an energy star stereo.”

        But I hope we agree that it doesn’t matter whether one is listening to Mel Torme’ or Melle Mel on this objectively bad stereo system.

        Or am I confused about your point as well?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I concede your point on consumerism and the fact that products might not be made under the greatest labor conditions. There are issues with due diligence though. I try generally very hard to buy products especially clothing that are not made in countries with known poor working conditions. At the same time, the conditions for earning a “Made in Italy” label can be very lax. I don’t know about the rules governing something like “Made in the U.S.A.” or “Made in Canada” or “Made in the U.K.”, or “Made in Japan”.

        One of my favorite clothing companies is called Engineered Garments and they do make all their clothing in New York. I’ve inadvertently wandered into their factory (which is above their mid-Manhattan store) and met the founder/owner/designer.

        So I concede that there is a point in this order.

        Maybe my essay should be clarified as the fact that anti-consumerism I largely seem to encounter happens on aesthetic/tribal grounds.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        …when we’re talking about criticisms of consumerism, of careless buying of goods that were made under less than stellar conditions…

        I’m tempted to comment on what you are saying about Americans, but it is kind of an unfalsifiable statement.

        The problem with the statement above, however, is that you are packing a whole bunch of unproven assumptions into an attempt to make some sort of objective moral/ethical/economic judgment. What does it mean to carelessly buy a good? Is there some objective measurable benefit to buying goods with lots of qualifiers (organic, sustainable, fair-trade, locally-grown, biodynamic, etc.) or is it just another form of consumption signaling? What are less than stellar conditions? Is it better or worse for someone to work in less than stellar conditions than to have no job at all?

        These are questions that need to be addressed before you can make the claims that it seems like you are making. Although, maybe you are raising those questions and not making the claims that I think you are.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I played a level five vegan in D&D once.

        @glyph , that sounds consistent with my experience. I don’t know that it’s like that anymore, what with all of the implants (Austin, which is unfortunately not very southern, is a busy body city: gossip about you and notify the HOA for having your hedges 2 cm too high), but that’s definitely the way I remember things. I heard gossip all of the time (my mom, sitting in the kitchen on the corded phone, talking about neighbors and friends), but everyone did their own thing, and no one did much to try to alter anyone’s behavior, unless it was really problematic (like the neighbor who sold construction equipment, and used to warm up his gas-powered jackhammers at 6 in the morning so that they’d start on the first pull when he showed them to potential buyers later).Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        If people are criticizing you for listening to the wrong music, that’s probably a strictly aesthetic judgment (unless you’re listening to white power music or something). If people are criticizing you for the sorts of things Saul’s talking about in his post, there’s a good chance that it’s not just about not liking the same things you like.

        Hell, I like McLarens.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        @jr those are valid conversations to have. My point is that the criticisms to which Saul refers generally aren’t strictly aesthetic. Now, it’s true that these things become about identity and signalling and all that, but if we’re going to render invalid any social or political view that is frequently used as a mark of social identity, we’re going to be left only extremely antisocial social/political views.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        “If people are criticizing you for listening to the wrong music, that’s probably a strictly aesthetic judgment (unless you’re listening to white power music or something).”

        i feel there’s a lot of flexibility with this particular “unless”. as a hip hop fan you no doubt have heard variations on the same kind of criticism one might extend toward explicitly racist music or lyrics – that the act of consumption leads to actual real-world violence. depending on the critic, it might be a narrative about co-option of black culture by whites, or about how violence in lyrics causes violence in black neighborhoods, or about how listening to music which reduces the humanity of women will lead to sexist behavior in real life, etc.

        one person’s murder ballad is another’s match on the kindling. i don’t buy this argument, but i do own a burzum album so who knows.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Yeah, I was thinking as I wrote that particular parenthetical that it was problematic. We’ve had some interesting discussions about that sort of thing around here in Jay’s ethics of art posts, but it’s been a while.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        if we’re going to render invalid any social or political view that is frequently used as a mark of social identity

        To what extent are those, in fact, aesthetic?Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @dhex – I don’t agree with everything in it, but I always think back to this piece:


        It was written in the aftermath of Columbine (when Marilyn Manson and “german techno” were being briefly blamed for things) and examines the whole question of culture <--> violence, via ABBA(!)

        It’s a bit long, but well worth your time; just a tour de force of writing. TWAS used to be my favorite music blog on the web.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        glyph – that was pretty good indeed.

        one of the things i thought about addressing in the guest post on “brutality” is that ugliness, emptiness, rage, etc, are all useful and even valuable human emotions to address through music; and that they may be far more useful than general themes of longing (for sexual + emotional companionship, status, money, power, fame, etc) that dominate most lyrical efforts. but that’s an entire separate topic, almost.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Nietzsche’s “The thought of suicide is a powerful solace: by means of it one gets through many a bad night” comes to mind.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        …if we’re going to render invalid any social or political view that is frequently used as a mark of social identity, we’re going to be left only extremely antisocial social/political views.

        Not sure that anyone is advocating going that far. Anyway, the short answer to your question of why @saul-degraw wrote the post and why so many agree with him on this particular issue is that lots of people make thinly-veiled aesthetic judgments disguised as ethical and moral judgments.

        Also, I will add that the onus should be on the person making the judgment to demonstrate why a certain behavior is ethically or morally wrong, not on the person being judged to prove why his or her behavior is OK.Report

  9. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    We were just having a discussion at work the other day about vacation time verses pay. We’ve had a bunch of mid-tier managers jump ship lately and people are starting to talk about other opportunities that might be out there for people in our line of work. Of the 5 people involved in the conversation, 4 of us agreed that trading four weeks of vacation for one or two with a new job would be brutal even if the pay was better.

    This year, instead of taking a few long vacations I have been using my vacation in small pieces. Three and four-day weekends with a few augmented by holidays. I’ll take three days for Thanksgiving week and the company will give me two more which means a total of nine days off for the price of three vacation days…awesome. This strategy has been pretty awesome and I don’t see myself going back. Every few weeks I get a day off. Who doesn’t love that?

    We’re also trying (with little luck so far) to talk the bosses into letting us do four 10-hour shifts each week. It seems like a fair trade. Hopefully they will bite. If they allowed that and/or working from home a couple of days I think I will pretty much love my day job as much as humanely possible.Report

    • The place I work has probably sub-standard wages compared to other places in the industry, but it offers 24 vacation days (in addition to another 24 sick days) to those when they start. I don’t think you accrue more as you continue working, but you can carryover, I believe, up to 24 vacation days each year.

      That’s a HUGE draw.Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

      We’re also trying (with little luck so far) to talk the bosses into letting us do four 10-hour shifts each week. It seems like a fair trade.

      I don’t think this is a fair trade. Hours 9 and 10 aren’t going to be as productive as hours 1-8.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        How productive do you think hours 4 are on any given day? Hours 6-8 on Friday? Hours 1-2 on Monday during Football season?Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:


        Sorry, not convinced.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Well, when I worked 4 10s, my morale was higher than when I worked 5 10s and was only allowed to bill for 40 of those hours.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I don’t think this is a fair trade. Hours 9 and 10 aren’t going to be as productive as hours 1-8.

        Which means you inevitably get called in on Friday for a few hours, which turns into an 8, and then you’re demanding to go back to a normal work week.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        @scarletnumbers @mike-dwyer

        In some states, it might also be illegal or hard to do.

        California law mandates overtime for every hour worked over eight as well as for every hour worked for 40 hours per a week. This makes employers largely unwilling to give 40 hour weeks in 4 days.

        Though I’ve heard it is done for salaried government workers.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

        I think it depends on the job and whether or not they can keep morale up. We’re trying to convince them to let us do four 10s for just our work group. I don’t think our productivity is going to suffer because most of us hit our stride in the afternoon anyhow. I usually find myself cursing the clock at 5pm most days because it seems like that’s when I have the most momentum in my projects. Now of course the flip side is that I might be less productive between 3-5pm knowing that I still have 5-7pm to crank it up.


        My company only pays OT when you go over 40 hours per week. I could work 20 hours on Monday and Tuesday but if I was off the rest of the week there would b no OT.Report

      • @saul-degraw

        In some states, it might also be illegal or hard to do.

        California law mandates overtime for every hour worked over eight as well as for every hour worked for 40 hours per a week. This makes employers largely unwilling to give 40 hour weeks in 4 days.

        I don’t know about the others here, but I’ve worked in situations in which OT was worked off the clock or management looked the other way but kind of expected even the non-exempt employees to do extra. As I understand it, that’s illegal and ought to be illegal. It’s despicable, too. But it happens. My point is, sometimes the law says one thing and people do different things and because it’s all unofficial, it’s hard to enforce. I’m not accusing you of not knowing this, but just pointing it out.

        As for the California law you mention, I think that’s an example of regulations designed to do good having a potentially undesirable effect. A lot of people would prefer 4 10’s over 5 8’s. And for many of those people, the preference is because the 4 10’s equal in practical terms more leisure time: two less trips to/from work; a chance to sleep in; a chance to run errands when other businesses are open. But their employers have a regulatory disincentive not to accommodate them.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I don’t disagree with your analysis but the trick in any regulation is how to do it. Is it better to serve people who want 4 ten hour days or people who want 5 eight hour days (really 7.5 because California is also very strict on half-hour lunches at a minimum.)Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        “California law mandates overtime for every hour worked over eight as well as for every hour worked for 40 hours per a week. ”

        I work in California. Our workplace follows a 9-80 schedule (9-hour days Monday to Thursday, Fridays alternate between an 8-hour day and an off day). None of this involves booking anything as overtime.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:


        I suspect you’re mixing up hourly employees and salaried employees when quoting California law. Hourly employees are due overtime or paid time. In any case, FLEX time is perfectly legal — while perhaps salaried employees are due overtime, it’s perfectly legal to calculate it by week and not by day. (That is, after 40 hours in a week nor 8 hours in a day). That’s generally considered a plus to employees, as they can work late one day to take off early the next to handle outside issues.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        @jim-heffman @gabriel-conroy

        The California law applies to hourly employees.

        Salaried employees can work a 9/80 as Jim points out (I’m on one for the summer) or a 4/10 or a 3/12 with a four hour telecommute or whatever.

        There are some labyrinthine requirements for very long shifts, IIRC, but that’s mostly OSHA stuff to prevent companies from turning hourly workers into salaried employees and making them do physically dangerous work for long shifts and whatnot.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Salaried employees can work a 9/80

        Not unless there are 9 days in a week. A 7/80, sure, generally accompanied by “You knew this was a startup!”Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:


        Just in case that wasn’t a joke…..9/80’s is a two week schedule. (eight 9 hour days + one 8 hour day = 80 hours for two weeks. So every other Friday off, in general).Report

  10. Avatar Damon says:

    So, so many things to comment on:

    Anything you buy can be subject to consumerism. That’s not inherently bad. People should be allowed to buy what they want. “I don’t see why spending 2000 dollars on tattoos is less consumerist and materialist than spending 2000 dollars on a suit or a purse” Ofc not, because it isn’t. There is no difference, except to the buyer. “…that anti-consumerism is often short-hand as a way of criticizing people for spending money in ways that the speaker would not. ” QFT. That’s an aspect of the mindset of some people who think it’s their job to tell you how to live your life and what you should or should not be able to put in your body. You know, statists. Note, this is not contradictory to my comments below re tattoos, since that’s just my opinion and I’d never support restrctions on tattoos to conform to my opinions.

    Allow me to be the first to comment on tattoos for you then. At least on men, I find them annoying. You’re doing it wrong if:

    That “tribal” tattoo is not actually from a real tribe, and was not done by a real tribal member.
    That barbed wire, or other common image, doesn’t make you a renegade, it makes you a conformo.
    You didn’t get that tattoo done the traditional method, via bamboo instruments.

    One of the reasons why you’ve not seen a 15 hour work week is that standards have increased. The one car per family has gone to two, etc. Ofc, another factor is that the dollar buys less due to inflation and devaluation.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

      “One of the reasons why you’ve not seen a 15 hour work week is that standards have increased. ”

      There’s also the old-union-guy insistence that a workweek is forty hours because a workweek is forty hours.

      My comment above, about the 9-80 system, *did* take a long time to sink in to the older members of the workforce who just. Would. Not accept the idea that you could work nine hours in a day but not book overtime. “You’re letting the company steal money,” they kept grumping, as they went in on Friday and I stayed home and slept in.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:


        Good point. Yes, I used to think that the “work from home on occasion” was the single best rentention policy one of my companies had, until I began working 9/80s. I was wrong. 9/80 JUST FRICKIN ROCKS.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I have “work from home on occasion” and (like today) I use that perk. I don’t have 9/80, though. I have something more like 12/110. A bit much.

        I’m guessing I’m not going to get a whole lot of sympathy, though.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:


        I’m not an employment attorney, but the billing model of most law firms that I’ve heard of seems to pretty blatantly violate all sorts of employment law principles.

        Is that because I’m not an employment attorney, or is that an accurate sussing on my part?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        You’re absolutely right, @patrick . Or you would be, if those wage-hour regulations applied to us. We’re exempted from them, you see (or more properly, our employers are exempted from them with respect to us). See IWC Order 4-2001(1)(A)(3).Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        What do you mean by violating all sorts of employment law principals?

        Lawyers are famously excluded from the Federal minimum wage law and this was partially done so they could take alternative billing and pro bono cases.

        Most lawyers are salaried and not paid an annual rate or their income comes from their fees to clients. Many (but not all firms) charge clients per the billable hour (which gets broken down to 6 minute chunks). And firms require lawyers to bill X per a year for profit, profit, profit.

        Now I suspect that there is some power laws going on and the firms with obscene numbers of billable hours tend to be medium to large corporate law firms with medium to large corporate clients. Many (but not all) people consider working at these firms to be the brass ring of law jobs but in reality, these firms make up a minority of lawyers in the United States.

        A lawyer who charges on a flat or contingency fee is probably going to have more reasonable hours. Many people like being a government lawyer because the pay is often 6 figures butt the hours are often 9-5.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        Can you explain to me the justification where you are paid by salary but your time is reported by the hour for the purposes of billing?

        That seems to be a pretty odd situation.

        I’m one of those guys who looks at employment law as it is and sees a lot of shenanigans in there. It’s one thing to say, “we need an exception to this law in case we need to call out the fire department/police/whathaveyou for a regional crisis” and it’s another thing to say, “Well, we need an exception for this law so that we can put everyone we employ into the exception category and then just ignore the law”.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        The billable hour was not really introduced until about 20 years or so after the first federal minimum wage laws were enacted. IIRC the billable hour was introduced in the 1950s because lawyers felt they were getting a raw deal compensation wise. Previously things were done on a flat fee. I had a professor in college whose father was a lawyer in the pre-WWII era mainly. According to my professor, his brother-in-law wanted to introduce billable hours to the family firm and the dad flipped at this idea like it was crazy.

        There are a lot of shenanigans in the employment laws. Remember that the Federal Fair Labor and Standards Act was passed during the New Deal when the Democratic Party needed to play nice with Southern reactionaries to get things done. This took agricultural workers and domestic help out of the original FLSA.

        Associates are being paid a salary and so are income partners. Equity Partners are paid from profit (if any) and have an incentive to have as much profit as possible,. Hence huge billable hour requirements in corporate law.

        The rise of biglaw or even lawfirms with more than 10 lawyers is relatively new. Even during the Industrial Revolution, many Wall Street law firms were just two or three partners working together. Maybe they had one or two associates who would be paid a small percentage of profits. The idea of a salary for associates was the Cravath lockstep system and that was not created until the turn of the century. Many of the BigLaw firms started off as just two or three people in a small office in Downtown Manhattan or other places.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        As it stands now, lawyers are exempt from overtime work because money.

        Let’s say the law firm of Thompson, Likko, and Kowal LLP hires Saul DeGraw as a full-time associate attorney. Young Mr. DeGraw will be offered a salary of, let’s say, $75,000 a year. He is to generate not less than 1,800 billable hours per year as a condition of his ongoing employment. As you know, Thomson, Likko, and Kowal will then charge those 1,800 hours a year at $300 an hour, generating receivables of $540,000. Of that $540,000 in potential earning, an amount about equal to DeGraw’s salary is apportionable to overhead that DeGraw uses (malpractice insurance, amortized capital cost, rent on the office, paralegal compensation, oi the list goes on and on) leaving $390,000 to be divided up amongst the partners in the form of sweet, sweet profit.

        Or that’s the theory, anyway.

        1,800 billable hours a year might mean 1,800 actual hours a year DeGraw works, and a lot of people would think that a) $75K a year is objectively a lot of money so what the hell does anyone have to complain about here, and b) 1,800 hours a year is 150 hours a month, which is actually a bit less than full-time work. But it doesn’t work like that in reality. In practice, it’s more like 2,700 hours actually worked a year, because there’s so much other crap going on that even the most efficient of lawyers can rarely bill every minute of every day. If DeGraw is a reasonably efficient junior attorney, the 2:1 ratio for billable versus non-billable time is achievable, although often the ratio is less than that.

        If we have to pay DeGraw overtime, the math works out to the real compensation to the hourly-pay attorney would be $114,375, and now the profit that associate generates drops from $390,000 a year to $311,250 a year.

        Intolerable! So you see, the law simply has to be this way else we remove all the vital profitability out of employment and soon enough no one has any lawyers at all.

        (In mitigation, note that the associate must be paid, without fail, whether the associate actually generates billable work or not, or whether the client pays the bills or not, and lots of clients don’t pay their bills, which seems shocking to non-lawyers at first but yeah, we get screwed by our clients a lot and while IN THEORY it would seem like the last person you want to not pay is your lawyer, in practice, well, that’s a different story.)Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I am so glad to work in a field of law where billable hours doesn’t work as a practice. It makes my life so much saner.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I’ve had jobs where I was paid a salary but my time was billed hourly, the total of the latter far exceeding the former, of course. The rationale is what Burt said, that the risk is all on the employer’s side.Report

  11. Avatar Anderson says:

    Good background information on the growing American turn from vacations: http://www.vox.com/2014/8/18/6030429/americans-are-taking-fewer-vacations-than-they-used-to

    key takeaways:
    *Around 1980, 80% of workers took a week-long vacation; now only 56% do.
    *About one-quarter of American jobs don’t offer paid vacation; in most OECD countries the governments mandate it.
    *Average American gets 14 days off each year, but only uses 10 of those days.
    **What I found most interesting (though unsurprising): “workers pay a career penalty for vacation” (linked from the WSJ)
    *And then this oddity: finance is one of the only industries that requires workers to use their vacation days…Apparently this rule helps prevent embezzlement. Who knew?

    Now, I’m somehow who enjoys work–granted I’m also a recent college graduate so perhaps that will change–but the idea of not even taking one week-long vacation for the entire year. Unpalatable. I mean, vacation time should appeal to the leisure lover and the consumerist alike, right?Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

      I know people from a wide range of firms, none of whom are financial, and all of them are required to take vacation time (in the sense of “you cannot accumulate more than a certain amount”).

      All of them enjoy their jobs more than vacation, which is how they’ve been able to accumulate so much. If they didn’t like their jobs they’d quit and do something else.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Many people probably don’t take vacations because they like their work more than the idea of vacations but I’m suspecting that a lot of people who don’t vacation aren’t that enamored with their jobs. Certainly the majority of wage and lower level salary workers might like to go on a vacation. Many of them probably would like to take time off but don’t do so because they fear how it would effect they are perceived by their employers.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        Oh hi there Silent Majority how are you today? Still huge but silent? All right then.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        You can’t accumulate more than a certain amount of vacation because untaken vacation is a liability, and the amount that is allowed to go on the books is limited. That doesn’t mean it gets taken, it means people that are maxed out stop accumulating more.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      I blame the fall of communism and globalization. Even though American companies weren’t mandated to give vacation days like their European counterparts, they could afford to be more generous during the Cold War for various reasons. The market was more limited. Since the other companies that they were competing against were mainly in Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, places with mandated vacation days, than they didn’t have to worry about losing money because of slack work in the summer. From what I understand, summer used to be a more leisurely time for many adults until recently even though they had to work if not on vacation. The pace was slower than it was during the fall, spring, or winter. When my dad started his legal career, every non-criminal court in New York and New Jersey would shut down from July 4th until labor day. The increased spread of the market leads to more pressure because companies are now dealing with countries without a vacation expectation.Report

  12. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    As my son gets older, one thing I really want to do with him is build a WIG. Doing so will require a great deal of both disposable income & leisure time. To some, it may seem to be a very consumerist & materialist thing, but to me, it will be (figuratively & literally) a vehicle to education & adventure for both of us.

    I’m sure to some it’s a strange thing to work for, but hey, revealed preference.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Build one of those, and there’ll be hell toupee.

      Seriously, what’s a WIG? Google is just showing me the obvious.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        It’s kinda like a landspeeder, but real.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Wing-In-Ground Effect vehicle. @glyph has it kinda right. It was an area of study of mine during my undergrad.

        It’s a cool use of aerodynamics, but of limited utility except in coastal regions & island archipelagos. Luckily I live near a large coastal region. 🙂

        Also, they are largely unregulated, similar to ultralights & gliders. As long as they (mostly) stay under a certain altitude, the FAA considers them marine craft & leaves it to the USCG.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Well, I wasn’t thinking of trying to build something like the Caspian Sea Monster. Something smaller, like a two or four seater.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        2-4 seats?! What kind of Mad Scientist ARE you, anyway? Dream big, man!

        This looks cool, though I’m not clear on where its “wings” are?


      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        What kind of Mad Scientist ARE you, anyway?

        The kind with a kid & a budget (and an aversion to robbing banks & Saudi Princes).

        I’m not clear on where its “wings” are?

        Think ‘lifting body’.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Way cool. I Googled a bit and found this on a Coast Guard page:

        Presently, there are no Coast Guard safety standards for WIG craft. The Coast Guard has started the process of developing safety standards that will address the design, construction, operation, licensing and maintenance of WIG craft with further assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration. Additionally, the United States is working with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to develop international standards for WIG craft.

        So build it quick before they start spoiling your fun,Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Ah, duh. You’re right, the body *is* the wing.

        I have to say though, that shape doesn’t look like it’d be too stable once it lifts off, instead of a more planelike fuselage with two wings?Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Eh, the USCG has been saying that since at least the early 90’s. I won’t give up breathing or sex waiting for them to get around to it (not enough WIGs running around to make it a priority issue).


        I can’t see the horizontal stabilizer very well, but the picture suggests it is very small. Probably too small. I bet the pilot finds his WIG very unstable in both pitch & roll. It’s actually one of the things that makes home built WIGs tricky, is most home builders don’t know how to size the control surfaces, so they wind up using the handbook methods for aircraft, which are not adequate for WIGs.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        “Let’s see, the handbook is about 5″ x 7″ x 2″, so …”Report