Is work fun?

Ladders runs an excerpt from my book Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero, here is one part:

Another way to think about the non-pay-related benefits of having a job is to consider the well-known and indeed sky-high personal costs of unemployment. Not having a job when you want to be working damages happiness and health well beyond what the lost income alone would account for. For instance, the unemployed are more likely to have mental health problems, are more likely to commit suicide, and are significantly less happy. Sometimes there is a causality problem behind any inference—for instance, do people kill themselves because they are unemployed, or are they unemployed because possible suicidal tendencies make them less well suited to do well in a job interview? Still, as best we can tell, unemployment makes a lot of individual lives much, much worse. In the well-known study by economists Andrew E. Clark and Andrew J. Oswald, involuntary unemployment is worse for individual happiness than divorce or separation. Often it is more valuable to watch what people do rather than what they say or how they report their momentary moods.

There is much more at the link.


A verse translation:

another way to think of pay
and non-pay benefits:
consider joblessness (hooray)
what it costs and what it pays.
anticipate that such dire days
could overtake you soon:
don't put off your suicide bash,
buy your rope while you have cash!

Such is life in Trump's America. Famous communist leader Vladimir Lenin is said to have said that capitalists would sell the rope communists would hang them with. Now American workers must pay out of their pockets the rope to hang themselves.

when did England criminlize narcisism?

That was my first thought when I read that. My second thought was that the judge is a narcissist.

Somewhat related: in the UK it doesn't have to be a crime to warrant police attention:

is work fun? you betcha just learn to code!
its a mental disorder/socialconstruct/& the nytimes can use it as a
perjorative for illegal aliens
what is its dsm code?
answer -DSM-5 301.81 (F60.81)

"But no samurai wanted to be unemployed. This meant poverty, and the samurai as much as anyone wanted a family and a position in life. "

It is nice that modern America has so much in common with medieval samurai from feudal Japan. Work or commit suicide. If only unemployed samurai could vote for Trump instead of exposing their bowels to the open air.

Yes, the only possible options for a society: involuntary unemployment or unsatisfying employment

Nonsense. You could be Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates. You just aren't trying hard enough.

Amazon: Hey Walmart, pay your workers $16 an hour.
Walmart: Hey Amazon, pay your taxes. Something more than zero dollars.

Oh dang! Wondering if Tyler or anybody here saw the Twitter feud between these two corporate anti-heroes regurgitating left wing talking points like they are Elizabeth Warren or something. The next blurb for Tyler pimping his book should be: Are corporations social justice warriors or just pretending to be one?

"Sometimes there is a causality problem behind any inference"

True, but yes a meaningful activity is highly beneficial for humans. Furthermore, humans judge meaningful by what is meaningful to their social group as well as to what they personally like.

About the only things worse for happiness than involuntary unemployment are death of a child or spouse, being thrown in jail, and the most extreme forms of illness.

I think that depends on how sensitive a person is in regards to being judged by others. Involuntary unemployment means that person was deemed unfit for work by society. That is, society is calling them "useless".

I would guess involuntarily celibates ("incels") are more depressed in fact than the involuntarily unemployed.

Yeah but that doesn't fit the narrative that big business is the real American hero. Making rich people even richer is worth more to the economy than your sick kid. This is how think-tank employed libertarians think. Also your marriage isn't a social, romantic, or personal arrangement but a fiscal and legal liability.

"Still, as best we can tell, unemployment makes a lot of individual lives much, much worse."
I disagree. As best as we can tell, suicidal tendencies makes life much much worse. People lose jobs all the time and they are ok. The ones not right in their head will have a much harder time. But I get it. This is a book about business not a psych text.

This is true. I was unemployed for 6 months in 2009 because of the crash. Only time since I was 14 yrs old. It really messes with the way one views themselves.

Did you tell yourself oh no I'm a dirty little welfare leech like those evil dems? Did your libertarian mind self-annihilate at the thought as you reached for your unemployment check and cashed in your food stamps?

Or perhaps you do as all of the personal finance folks say and save 6 months of salary instead of buying crap you don't really need.

You forgot to tell him to pull himself up by the bootstraps. That usually helps.

That was implied (and better than what your ilk has to offer).

Just borrow a couple hundred grand from your parents. That's another helpful one I keep forgetting about.

I did have unemployment, nothing else from the govt. And I did save for a rainy day, and would have been OK without it. I guess I didn't feel bad taking for 6 month as I'd paid into it for 28 years. Would you feel bad calling the insurance company for a wreck after paying premiums for 28 yrs? That'd be odd.

If not for big business, we'd all be unemployed, miserable, and commit suicide? Is this actually an excerpt from Cowen's new book? My impression is that people who work for big business are employed but also miserable, including especially those who work for so-called tech and are highly paid. Is this book adulation of big business or a tribute to Leo Strauss?

I see little reason to believe the problems of misery at work are worse in larger businesses. Sure, Wal-Mart pays it's workers as little as possible, but the same is true for mom-and-pop retailers.

Mom and pops == no benefits

Walmart == no benefits

So this what America has become, nobody gets Bennie's except employees of large corporations and the government. The rest of us get ¶h✓¢€* in the @$$.

Not having a job when you want to be working damages happiness and health well beyond what the lost income alone would account for.

I love to see how that study was cosntructed. Randomly select 200 people for a study on happiness. Give 100 an annuity that replaces their current salary and benefits on the condition that they quit their jobs.... Compare after 1-3 and 5 years.

@John - True. It's hard to measure this, so people rely on anecdotes and self-selection surveys, like TC infers (people who are out of work possibly aren't suitable for work).
My own anecdote: I wanted to work more in my field but a lot of clients abandoned me when I moved to SE Asia because of the lack of face time and immediacy, since Asia is 15 hours ahead of PST. At first I was sad, but later, I found I could make even more money just asking my relatives for help and from a certain inheritance from my senile uncle, who's estate I rescued from some domestic help trying to steal it (and kept it myself). Just got the IRS letter btw, today, saying I'm off the hook for not reporting it on time on IRS Form 8938 (it was a technicality, since I reported it to Treasury on time, but the two departments don't talk to each other) . I've not missed work since I retired involuntarily years ago. I will say this: a lot of people outside of the high-pressure white collar jobs such as mine "love their work" because it's too easy. My job I took seriously, more seriously than my clients. But a lot of people, even in my field, just 'float' and 'go through the motions' and simply are conduits for information rather than trying to change the outcome like I did, successfully. But changing the outcome and pushing the limit is stressful. I notice most of the practitioners who last a long time in my field are 'conduits' rather the 'outcome changers'. You last longer. But it's not for me, just like in the life of Bartleby, the Scrivener (who also worked hard in the beginning!). Coming from rich parents, I never thought of a job as a way of making money, just a way of having some spending money and not being a burden to my family. I made $0.5M on my own, validating that I can do it, enough money to pay for my expenses in life, and now I've rejoined the 1% rentier class, and happier for it. Your mileage may vary. As John says, if you were given a choice between an annuity or work, would you take work? If so, I posit your job is probably too easy and not stressful enough.

Are you still in tech? Things in tech aren't exactly easy as you have keep up with this stuff. The field changes faster than most other fields.

Annuity - hands down. The whole point of having a job is to have enough annual income from sources outside the job to not have to have the job to live in the manner in which I want to live. At least that's the goal now.

I would ask what the conditions of the annuity would be. Would I not be able to earn money in other ways in any capacity? If I did earn money could I pay the money back up to the amount of the annuity each year and then keep any over that amount?

I certainly wouldn't continue to do the job I am doing now, but if I spent more time on my hobbies I would invariably find some ways to at least offset the cost of those hobbies (buy big lots of stuff, keep what I want, sell the rest through various venues). If I couldn't "sell" the rest could I at least "trade" it or would that be considered "earning money?" Could I offer my services in trade for other benefits - could I sit at the front desk of the gym for a few hours a week in exchange for free gym membership?

If instead I dedicated my time to reading up on a "big problem" (let's say cure cancer to make the example concrete) and I actually made a break-through, could I profit from that?

But yeah, I'd take the annuity even if I had to "give up" any earnings up to the amount of the annuity.

Today Google lost its Chief Diversity Officer. That's 3 in 3 years. Now I know this is a libertarian blog so it will draw some snickers but think about how much real work is being done by someone in this position. They had the Damore affair, the controversial Rubin allegations and payout, the sexual harassment suit filed by the DoJ, in addition to the usual outreach they do to be a good corporate citizen. You will be attacked by the right for diversity recruitment and from the left for being a big corporation. Social media has not been kind either. Is the work fun? About as much fun as being Trump's press secretary, but the pay is a lot higher. If Tyler wants a corporate anti-hero, here's your hero(ine): corporate America's chief diversity officers.

They have a large org to shoulder the burden. Likely they have far less work than comparable VPs.

Do not pity them one iota.

In short: you are wrong.

Don't know about that. It's a 100% workplace drama job, there's no amount of money that would make jump at the opportunity, big tech salaries be damned.

If you graduated from a liberal arts college with a grievance degree and $100k in debt, you would be elated to find out that that that the scams who sold you on the degree at least did force the government and business to take on part of the costs. It would be better than throwing rocks at the police in Portland, secretly jealous that your comrade are mostly trustafarians

"You will be attacked by the right for diversity recruitment and from the left for being a big corporation."

They are between a rock and a hard place, yes, but through an entirely self-inflicted wound.

Diversity directors deserve to suffer.

Some people think div directors need a punch on the face. I dunno ...

Love is the answer.

If you love them, then why do you want them to suffer? Only I, Your Lord and Savior will suffer for love.

Ok, should we do that crucifixion thingy again?

No one in Silicon Valley cares about right-wing criticism, and especially a Diversity Officer would take it as a badge of honor. Being accused of being insufficiently woke is an occupational hazard, but only a snowflake would compare it to those with jobs with real occupational hazards. I won't shed a crocodile tear for any of them.

Eh. Some right wing idiot got arrested for making death threats at Omar. Real life snowflakes get violent when someone says something they disagree with. Some people are upset at Google for various reasons (China, surveillance, monopoly, culture wars, etc.) and their physical safety is dependent on the least emotionally stable person in that group. Let's not forget that some weirdo did drive all the way to Silicon Valley to shoot up Google's Youtube office. Occupational hazard is real, son.

Unlike politicians, the worst that a diversity officer is likely to face is a twitter mob (Nasim Aghdam didn't target the diversity office), grandpa.

The New Zealand white supremacist terrorist hated diversity and murdered Muslims by the truckload to prove just that.

That guy didn't target a diversity officer either. Sorry, but being a diversity officer in Silicon Valley is not an especially hazardous occupation unless dodging a self-driving car counts as an occupational hazard.

Real life snowflakes get violent when someone says something they disagree with.

Only if male. Female 'flakes will get triggered all day and night and mostly respond with mean words.

A job that's mostly young female annoying (pissing off SJWs who skew disproportionately to shrill obese legbeards) is a lot less physically risky than a job that's young male annoying (just ask Salmon Rushdie and Charlie Hebdo).

I don't know the name of the diversity officer at the large national non-profit with which I am most familiar, but whoever they are (they is) their gig for the past couple years has been running interference for the top brass, who were revealed to have been sleeping with the subordinates they promoted (despite all being married) in tacit violation of policy. While in the past the lower ranks need never have known about this, or cared, now it has been the subject of many emails and apologias and even a town meeting-style listening, exorcising webinar thing. The "scandalous" doings of the higher-ups have meant all low level staff have been made to enjoy to extra training. The chief diversity officer has presumably been enlisted to write the e-mea culpas carefully explaining why no one actually involved has faced any sanction, or, it goes without saying, lost their high-paying non-profit gigs.

*Note: these leaders have not sent an organization-wide email in the past 18 months that had anything to do with the mission or work of the organization, but the directives about sexual harassment and diversity have been coming fast and furious.

Thanks, I'll now tell my daughter that taking her medication is "fun" because being sick makes people miserable.

... it's not Work -- unless you would rather be doing something else.

but few people labor in a job they daily find genuinely preferable to other possible pursuits.

Most people strongly prefer 'self-directed' time and efforts.

economists call it the 'Disutility of Labor'

Does this correlation hold for other countries than the US. Americans value work seemingly more than most other countries.

+1, That's a good question.

I'm sure Tyler's press secretary will be answering that question tomorrow.

A large portion of the benefit of work is the “sorting”. It is difficult to find large numbers of people of similar aptitude and interests with whom one can spend considerable time.

Social media makes social sorting a lot easier. Every little weird niche has its online community. Higher signal to noise ratio than work even.

That makes a lot of sense!

The only worse thing than having a job is looking for one. This tells us not very much about the benefits big business.

If work's the funnest thing you can do with your time, then no need to worry that MBI will remove incentives to work and lead to opting out of the workforce....

As noted upthread, a definition of fun such that "Activity people don't enjoy and will chose not to do if not paid to do.... but which may have some (dubious) beneficial psychological side effects" = weird-arse definition of fun.

Betteridge's Law

Magic Johnson disagrees

Of course purpose matters. How many people dream of retirement then hate it when they do, even if they are financially comfortable and healthy.

Work may be fun or not depending on what point in a person's job or career or life you sample their mood.

A job or profession may be fun at the beginning, and turn sour because of a bad boss, or changing marketplace. A profession may be most engaging in the middle years, when an individual has achieved complete mastery, and less satisfying as it becomes less challenging.

Many people recall their first, minimum wage job fondly, simply because of the novelty of the work, the learning about humanity and adult life, and the camaraderie.

Doctors, I know, can experience wide swings of engagement in their attitude toward their jobs.

Work has given me some of the happiest, most fulfilling experiences of my life, and relatively few bad times (all having to do with bad bosses).

Also, as in many things in life, you yourself are responsible for making work fun for yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.

This will be an important question as AI gets going for real. Western Europeans were bred for capitalism, like the animal in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that wants to be eaten. Hard work is a morality for most people in the west, think of our hosts disdain for alcohol because it stops him working. Think how we look down on lazy people. Think how people who retire immediately look for projects. Other cultures are not like this, they are perfectly happy to kick back and enjoy idleness. Western culture is successful now because of this genetic trait but every civilization has its time, the future belongs to those cultures who can consume free time without guilt.

Excellent comment.

But this is a tiny bit of a generalisation: "Other cultures are not like this"

China and Japan are quite a bit like this. But using relative statements about culture, while only knowing one seems to be acceptable these days

"China and Japan are quite a bit like this."

+1, the original poster's view point is rather parochial

The Puritan work ethic, which the Mormons exemplify, does not view work as "fun." It is a calling:

“One of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work! If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the Spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; and if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people and he will be happy. There will be no homesickness, no worrying about families, for [he will have] all [his] time and talents and interest … centered on the work of the ministry. Work, work, work—there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work.” (Ezra Taft Benson,

Mormons sell out their country for Chinese money too. Must be the one religion the CPC loves:

I'd say that Brazilians would be the first to sell out their country, but there's nothing valuable in Brazil to sell.

Serious question: What is the difference between "much more at the link" and "more at the link"?

Been wondering for a while. Is it merely a Tyler's personal speech quirk? Or is there really a difference in the English language that we should take note of?

If work is so much fun, and so satisfying, why is the first question asked by a new employee always "What time is break?" Why is a top ten topic of conversation on the job always "retirement"? The fact is, everyone wants a job but nobody wants to show up for work. Ergo, they want the paycheck.

This is a framing that could only be offered by someone who gets to host a self-serious version of “Between Two Ferns” for a living. While it may point toward the validity of The Economic Theory of Suicide, “work at a lousy job or kill yourself” sounds eerily like “Arbeit macht frei.” Most of us have to work, but trying to make us like it is the discourse of capital attempting to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of us. Like the good capitalist Homer Simpson, we shouldn’t strike, but we should show up and do a really half-ass job.

Regular toothbrushing saves a great deal of money in the long run, sort of like getting a wage. Infrequent toothbrushing correlates with all sorts of bad things, many of them much worse than dental bills. If one who regularly toothbrushes misses a day, that person strongly desires brushing.
Therefore toothbrushing is fun?

Typical mind fallacy. Just because work works for you doesn't mean it works for everyone.

A long time ago when I was in school and my summer vacation started I met with some friends, drank some beer and one of them mentioned how she had planed to do stuff almost everyday during the vacation because she couldn't stand doing nothing all summer. This type of thinking was entirely foreign to me. I loved doing nothing all summer. Over the decades since I've learned that people like her (and Tyler) make the rules and ruin everything for the rest of us.

It's nice that you like your work and find meaning in it (but not everything can have tenure). For must of us work is something we must do so that we don't starve. Unemployment leads to depression and suicide because of lack of money, not because of lack of work. I hate the fetishization of work, work not as a means of creating value but as work as a value itself. When I have the luxury of not having to work I eat healthier (cook more for myself instead of eating crappy fast food), work out more, read more and am generally happier. The ancient Greeks were right: A truly free life can only be lived by someone who does not have to work.

But hey, we don't live in a post scarcity society. Most of us have to work. It's a necessary evil, not something to celebrate.

So what is to be done? One thing that makes work more bearable is the prospect of sweet Śūnyatā at the end of the workweek through alcohol or other substances. So of course neo-puritans like Tyler hate it and defend prohibition (that noble experiment),

It's Friday and I'm drunk (three hefeweizen are enough for this at my age). So fuck you Tyler and fuck your fetishization of work.

Tyler to paraphrase Joan Robinson, being employed and illtreated by a boss is better than to be unemployed and be illtreated by no one. Having said that I don't understand why your book has a long passage on the obvious consequences of unemployment. I don't think anyone of any ideology advocates unemployment!
Moreover contrary to real business cycle theory unemployment is for most part involuntary. What purpose is served in telling the unemployed that they will suffer from depression etc? Or is it that in America big business provides most of the jobs and those who are opposed to big business should be reminded of the cosequenced of being unemployed?

Comments for this post are closed