Join 3,564 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Medium Chill
July 27, 2011 2:10 PM   Subscribe

"We now have a smallish house in a nondescript working class Seattle neighborhood with no sidewalks. We have one car, a battered old minivan with a large dent on one side where you have to bang it with your hip to make the door shut. Our boys go to public schools. Our jobs pay enough to support our lifestyle, mostly anyway. If we wanted, we could both do the "next thing" on our respective career paths..... Fact is, we just don't want to work that hard! We already work harder than we feel like working. We enjoy having time to lay around in the living room with the kids, reading. We like to watch a little TV after the kids are in bed. We like going to the park and visits with friends and low-key vacations and generally relaxing. Going further down our respective career paths would likely mean more work, greater responsibilities, higher stress, and less time to lay around the living room with the kids. So why do it?" David Roberts in Grist on satisficing, voluntary non-affluence, and the medium chill.
posted by escabeche (179 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
See also the always worthwhile Tim Burke, if only for this:
I want fellow professionals who push constantly for ever-more insane levels of meritocratic pressure to be structurally and culturally inflicted on our kids (or on my students at Swarthmore) to just cool it in public, if they have to be tiger moms and dads, to keep that as private as they would if their sex lives involved razor play and urinating on each other.
posted by kenko at 2:21 PM on July 27, 2011 [34 favorites]


This is a good read. Thanks.

We just downsized to a small home. Donated and recycled about 60% of our "stuff". It is a great feeling.
posted by tomswift at 2:22 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Being happy with what you have? THAT IS DANGEROUS TALK SIR. Our country runs on futile striving.
posted by naju at 2:23 PM on July 27, 2011 [75 favorites]


that and dunkin'
posted by grobstein at 2:26 PM on July 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


Money does not buy happiness; you are likely as happy as you are ever going to be.
posted by axismundi at 2:28 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yay mediocrity.
posted by Joe Chip at 2:29 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Our country runs on futile striving.

that and dunkin'


and planking
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:30 PM on July 27, 2011


A lot of people seem to be thinking along these lines lately, I know we are.
posted by bongo_x at 2:31 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hear, hear. And: The Idler.
posted by kozad at 2:32 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am in general someone who believes we do all work too hard, but seeing privileged white people congratulate themselves on their downscaling and making it a "lifestyle choice" makes me twitchy.

It's nice that being less-rich is their choice...I wish it were so for more Americans. About 70% of what keeps me in my current job is that if I took a job with less pay or had crappier benefits, we'd be screwed. That doesn't really feel like freedom at the moment.

I think a lot of "driven" people are driven not simply by ambition/possessions, but by fear...after all, you need to make good money to have something put by for a rainy day, and any job could disappear at any time. I have often worried that I wasn't working/striving hard enough for that very reason.

In my utopia, people would indeed work less, because no one would worry that doing so meant losing their job and then living on the street or dying for lack of healthcare.
posted by emjaybee at 2:36 PM on July 27, 2011 [97 favorites]


Great article.

My family had a lot of money this year, for reasons that may or may not prove repeatable. We stayed in our tiny apartment and continued to only have one kinda-junky used car. We bought books when we wanted to buy books and ate out more than we used to, but otherwise our "lifestyle" remained basically the same.

It was startling and troubling for us to notice how much other people pressured us to SPEND SPEND SPEND ("You're staying in that apartment?" "Why don't you just lease a car? Lexus is having a sale.") and how much we struggled with our own instinct to upgrade our lives, as though that would somehow change anything meaningful about the emotional life experiences we were having.

I blame at least some of this on the fact that we live in Los Angeles, home of the thirty-thousand-dollar millionaire culture. People wear clothes, eat sushi, drive cars they can't even remotely afford. And then you see other people who make about what you make doing that, and you start to wonder if maybe you're doing something wrong, driving your dented Hyundai.

I also wonder how much of it has to do with long-term stability seeming eternally out of reach. Can't afford a decent retirement, good healthcare, a house? Fuck it, let's buy an iPad.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 2:36 PM on July 27, 2011 [35 favorites]


A lot of it makes sense. However, it seems predicated on the notion that people will have the choice to downsize or accept less. Economic forces may dictate that if people want to eat and have a roof over their heads that they may have no choice (particularly if they have children).
posted by ClanvidHorse at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps I'm just incredibly listless, but I've always found people who incessantly talk about upgrading their home, work 60 hours a week and save for their kids college (Ivy league, obviously) before they're even conceived to be kind of repellent.

Besides being tiring to just listen to, they make the world that much worse for those that aren't particularly interested in huge material gain or a career. Some people just want to go to work and then forget about it and not have to be compared to a psychotic overachiever who is in a race to see how quickly you can waste your youth.
posted by lattiboy at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


We now have a smallish house in a nondescript working class Seattle neighborhood with no sidewalks.

Heh. I bet I know where he lives. It's a neighborhood I wouldn't mind having a house in (despite the lack of sidewalks).
posted by grouse at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2011


My wife and I live in a dilapidated mobile home and aren't exactly in high-powered professions, but we're pretty content. Our expenses are pretty minimal, we're paying off some debts but nothing that huge. It's a simple life. I wouldn't mind making about 10% more than we do now, or having more money for travel, but in terms of how much we're getting out of life, we have no complaints.

The thing that scares me, though, and which the linked piece doesn't address, is that our lifestyle is sustainable as long as we have jobs and are still young enough to work. Our "medium chill" (well, maybe more like "medium-low chill") lives aren't providing us with a retirement nest egg. Does the couple in that piece have savings enough to cover months, or maybe a year, of unemployment? Are they on track to provide for themselves after they retire? If so, then they're actually living somewhat of a bigger chill than they think. If not, then what are they going to do if they're out of work, or in several decades when they can't work anymore, and find themselves screwed in a country that's already well underway in the process of dismantling Social Security and affordable health care?

When people talk about material striving, they usually picture Type-A urban professionals clambering up the ladder of success. But I think for many it's driven, not by any particular intense ambition, but by terror of falling through the cracks of our increasingly inhospitable society.

Granted, this terror isn't lighting much of a fire under my ass to start making some hay, but I'm frankly just hoping to live long enough until the Singularity happens and I can get work as a human battery for our new A.I. overlords.
posted by Pants McCracky at 2:40 PM on July 27, 2011 [24 favorites]


A lot of it makes sense. However, it seems predicated on the notion that people will have the choice to downsize or accept less. Economic forces may dictate that if people want to eat and have a roof over their heads that they may have no choice (particularly if they have children).
posted by ClanvidHorse at 2:37 PM on July 27 [+] [!]


I've seen this alot - where economic forces take away a lot of choices that people thought they would always have. From the spending side of life - the article makes a lot of sense, but the shrug and shuffle attitude towards the future would be a little scary for me.
posted by helmutdog at 2:40 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, what emjaybee said.
posted by Pants McCracky at 2:41 PM on July 27, 2011


As I learned when my futile striving was forceably removed by medical conditions, it's not so bad living without it. But in Macroeconomic terms, the U.S. has built up so much demand (and debt) that large-scale downsizing may depress the economy more than the Housing Bubble and the Federal Debt Crisis combined (and probably already has started to). If you're not involved in an industry or activity that sells more outside the U.S. than inside, you may already be doomed. Still, I heartily recommend the downsizing - it has kept me alive more than the medication has. Meet you at the bottom!
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:42 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


> I've seen this alot - where economic forces take away a lot of choices that people thought they would always have.

Yep, except "economic forces" makes it sound like the weather or something similarly outside of human control, instead of a deliberate, sustained assault on the middle and lower classes. A frightened, insecure employee is less likely to ask questions, make trouble, etc. Keep your head down and work harder, or you could be laid off next!
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:48 PM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Money does not buy happiness...

But it would buy me another car, since my old one is now officially dead and it's hard to do much anything without a car where I live... like shop for food. Good thing I'm unemployed or I wouldn't be able to get to work either.

But, like, I'm totally chill you know.... but not about this kind of self-involved utne-reader-style horseshit.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:48 PM on July 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


I thought having no sidewalks was an indicator of a higher-class neighborhood? Reasoning being that the rich should never deign to actually walk instead of drive or fly.
posted by kmz at 2:49 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everybody makes these kinds of decisions all the time, and indeed as the article itself mentions, we have a word for it: "satisficing." So why does anybody need a guide for how to do it?

I suspect these little exhortations to "chill" are not in fact designed to change anyone's behavior. Rather they're a kind of self-congratulation. "Look at me! I'm rich and I don't work very hard!" Last time I checked, the word for self-congratulatory idle rich folks? "Parasites."

Congrats! You won the genetic, educational, and financial market lotteries! You bought low and sold high! Now go do something useful.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:49 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need...

And this remote control. - The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need... And these matches. - The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball... And this lamp. - The ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that's all *I* need. And that's *all* I need too. I don't need one other thing, not one... I need this. - The paddle game and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches for sure. Well what are you looking at? What do you think I'm some kind of a jerk or something! - And this. That's all I need.

posted by R. Mutt at 2:50 PM on July 27, 2011 [20 favorites]


Money does not buy happiness…

I think after a certain point this is probably true, but if you're really poor, then having some more money probably would buy you a bit of happiness.
posted by grouse at 2:50 PM on July 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


Be careful; that smallish home may be "condemned" and taken by eminent domain by the city who wants to replace it with a McMansion in order to collect more property taxes. We can't ever just sit around and relax in this country.
posted by Melismata at 2:53 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Money does not buy happiness…

Economic security definitely affects happiness. So I completely agree with those above saying that at the low end, this is absolutely not true.

I think it's untrue at the high end too. Not having to work (not necessarily not working, but not having to) would make me incredibly happy. I'm not one of those people who finds their meaning in their work, and retiring now would be awesome. I guess I can't prove that, but I would be extremely surprised if it were not the case.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:54 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, "money doesn't buy happiness" is one of those nice condescending sayings that's usually said by those who have money. Sure, being rich doesn't mean you're automatically happy, but when you can't actually make ends meet, when having money is the difference between eating and starving, being told "money doesn't buy happiness" is like a slap in the face.
posted by kmz at 2:55 PM on July 27, 2011 [17 favorites]


> I thought having no sidewalks was an indicator of a higher-class neighborhood? Reasoning being that the rich should never deign to actually walk instead of drive or fly.

It depends on the area. Very rich neighborhoods tend to have large fences with the sidewalk on the outside. The McMansion ghettos in my area don't have sidewalks mainly because they reduce the size of the front yard and because the faux riche don't like people on their lawns.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:57 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


A certain amount of money is a sine qua non for happiness.

Not sufficient, but necessary. Everybody knows this.
posted by everichon at 2:57 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Congrats! You won the genetic, educational, and financial market lotteries! You bought low and sold high! Now go do something useful.

Which reminds me about their asshole friend:
About a year ago, I was visiting with an old friend of mine who lives in Portland now. He's helping to run a tech startup, working 80-hour weeks, half that on the road, with barely enough time at home to maintain a relationship with his dog, much less a romance. The goal, he said, is to grow like crazy, get bought out by Google, and retire at 40. "It's the big chill, man!"
Parasites. Why does anyone think this is the way the world works? Where's Pol Pot when you need him... I guess Michelle Bachmann will do.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:58 PM on July 27, 2011


Finally, I have found my people!
posted by MikeMc at 2:59 PM on July 27, 2011


Not having to work (not necessarily not working, but not having to) would make me incredibly happy.

So true. When I read about people who are worth hundreds of millions of dollars -- or billions -- and haven't retired to a fortress on some private island, I recognize that I am not the same species of human as those people.

I'd like $5 million. That's all. No more. That would buy me a perfectly acceptable level of happiness.
posted by Pants McCracky at 2:59 PM on July 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


Can I do this AND vote myself a bigger share of what the people who keep working harder than me make?



... 'Cause that would be sweet.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:00 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


save for their kids college (Ivy league, obviously) before they're even conceived

I don't think this is just a matter of being driven. I just graduated, don't have a real job yet, and I don't even think I ever want to have children…but my parents and grandparents paid for me to go to college, and I'll be saving money for Possible Future silby as soon as I can, otherwise I'm pretty sure I'd be a bad person.
posted by silby at 3:01 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I used to make about 75% more money than I do now, so I have had the opportunity to have been on both ends of the spectrum, and I would agree that I wasn't any happier when I had more money, I just didn't worry about stuff like whether I could afford groceries this week or if the rent check was going to bounce. That is nothing to sneeze at. There is definitely a point at which there's adequate financial security where a lot of people could probably coast along just fine for a long time. I don't care if I ever have a big disposable income again, but I despair for ever seeing that level of security again as well.
posted by briank at 3:02 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Money does not buy happiness…

I'm increasingly convinced that this turn of phrase was coined by somebody who could take money for granted. A few million euro would make me EXTREMELY happy, let me tell you.
posted by anaximander at 3:03 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Money does not buy happiness…

But at least you can be miserable in comfort.
posted by unSane at 3:05 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


When I read about people who are worth hundreds of millions of dollars -- or billions -- and haven't retired to a fortress on some private island, I recognize that I am not the same species of human as those people

Hah, exactly. I work side-by-side with some of those people and I still don't get it.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:06 PM on July 27, 2011


I think a lot of "driven" people are driven not simply by ambition/possessions, but by fear...after all, you need to make good money to have something put by for a rainy day, and any job could disappear at any time. I have often worried that I wasn't working/striving hard enough for that very reason.

This resonates with me. I would consider a 75% paycut if the resulting income was secure and low-key.
posted by grobstein at 3:06 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anyone who spends any amount of time wearing their "lifestyle" on their sleeve is a poser.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:06 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


> I'd like $5 million. That's all. No more. That would buy me a perfectly acceptable level of happiness.

This is a very easy thing to say, but how do you know if latent traits in your personality that are suppressed or not nourished because you are currently dependent on a job and the hierarchies and relationships that sustain that won't come out if you come into a lot of money? Money tends to change people because with freedom from need comes a sense of power. I, for one, can't make an absolute statement about how I would be if I suddenly were to become very wealthy.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 3:06 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I used to make about 75% more money than I do now

I said this wrong. I meant to say I make 75% less now than I did three years ago.
posted by briank at 3:08 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't part of it simply keeping a low overhead? Perhaps even making dramatic choices for that very reason? Take having kids. It's expensive. If you want to provide for college, it's very expensive. Usually, having kids is not put in a category of things you have a choice about - for most people it's a compelling drive, and it's what means to be alive, so there is no real choice at all. But still, I wonder.

I made an FPP not long ago about demographic trends in households in California, and the largest group, the plurality, is composed of two people, no kids. How many of those chose not to have kids on purely economic grounds? And a trickier question: what if for some, it was not a question of affording kids in some absolute sense, but precisely because of what this FPP is about - low stress, less ambition, more sustainable, less work.

I may as well make this disclosure: my wife and I are childless by choice, simply because we lack any procreative instinct. Yes, we always agreed that there are enough children in this world, and there is no need to add our own. But also - because we believe that on balance, we're better off without kids, not on economic grounds, but on grounds of effort and work and stress. Doesn't that qualify for the medium chill? We're willing to give up the enormous rewards of having children for just that: a less ambitious lifestyle, with fewer of a certain kinds of rewards, but richer with other kinds of rewards.
posted by VikingSword at 3:08 PM on July 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


Yeah, this is a thing. Money has diminishing effects on a person's happiness after around $75K per year.
posted by dobie at 3:09 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Put another way, we all make these decisions in larger or smaller ways every day. We don't work as hard one day, we bust ass the next. Its the self-consciousness of it all, the need to write a magazine article on it, the need to create an imaginary space in the mind where one is "one way" and other people are "another way," that is artificial.

Too much navelgazing in this culture. The amount of identity-mongering is out of control of late. A universe of Sunday Magazine articles. As if we have to "be" someone. Or react against someone else "being" someone else.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:10 PM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


I've been really poor. My family was also really poor when I was growing up. I now make a comfortable wage and even though I work a lot, I'm very much happier having money than not. It's horrible being so broke that even buying a stamp is a major decision. It's great if you can cut down on your expenses and live a more relaxed lifestyle, but in my personal experience there's bugger all dignity or leisure in being poor. And that's what keeps the vast majority of people working, not a need for a bigger house or car.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:12 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Live Slow, Die Old

Anyone who spends any amount of time wearing their "lifestyle" on their sleeve is a poser.

I believe the term for that is poseur.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:12 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Very good and timely article. Americans are addicted (as are some other cultures, but most less so) to material purchase, wealth, and status.

The opportunity for that status came as an artifact from WWII, when we came out of the war with Asia and Europe crushed. So, for 3-4 decades we had advantages in access to capital, manufacturing capacity, channels of distribution, etc. etc. Then, all of a sudden in the mid-90's we noticed that Europe and Asia had reconstituted very powerful manufacturing and service economies, with tons of well-educated people. Game, over. (it was actually over prior to that, but it wasn't *noticed* until the mid-90's, and has become more obvious, since).

With the easy money gone, especially at the top, the solution was to begin hyper-inflating the perception of fast opportunity (dotcom boom, real estate boom, etc.). Bad moves.

What tends to happen when everything goes right for a long time, for individuals and cultures, is that individuals and cultures tend to start taking advantage for granted, and even crediting themselves for making that advantage possible (with no sense of lucky historical accident), and downgrading/marginalizing other individuals/cultures as "less than" (this happens as an inter-cultural and intra-cultural phenomenon).

When people suddenly experience a frustration of the above expectations they start to engage in the 'blame game' (that's the stage we're in, now). (there's lots of good evidence in the cognitive sciences to back this up - no time to cite).

Eventually, after people stop realizing that no politician or policy is going to "save" them they start to look inside for "solutions" (i.e. pure adaptive behavior - and, admittedly, some policies and politicians are better in this regard than others).

What I like about "medium chill" is that it starts to get people thinking about what "enough" is in their lives. "What enough is", is something that most Americans haven't had to consider for most of the last half century. This is another adaptive phase; we're right in the middle of the blame game at the moment, with adaptive phase #2 (what is enough?) taken on by "early adopters" (one might say "early adapters" - you heard it here, on mefi, first :-).

Anyway, medium chill is a good next step - lots of other adpative change will emanate from that, including more of a "work to live" ethic (we see this in Europe) that replaces our current "live to work (and acquire)" ethic.

Medium chill, btw, does not mean dropping out; it's a permanent change, not a stopgap. We can no longer afford excess, because excess in this case kills - people, organizations, hope, and ultimately, cultures. As our culture evolves to medium chill, we will have more time to think, innovate, and live in a way that makes our culture more robust, and adaptive. The latter, especially, is important, because from now on we are going to be experiencing a lot more large-scale change than heretofore.

btw, Many years ago I was predicting some of this, but the "medium chill" article articulates the experience well.

btw, there are still serious social problems that "medium chill" doesn't come close to solving, but this kind of adaptive behavior *does* have a trickle down impact to less fortunate communities, and also permits those who have more time to deploy their empathic reserves for change, and social good.

There are no panaceas - no "killer apps" for complex social problems, but "medium chill" is a good adaptive phase for those that most resonate with it.
posted by Vibrissae at 3:13 PM on July 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


Money does not buy happiness...

A trite platitude believed by those who know that the grapes can't get any sweeter or by those who must, for their own sanity, believe that the grapes must be sour.
posted by Revvy at 3:14 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also, this issue likely has extra significance from the fact that lots of posters are accessing metafilter during work.

I was just thinking today that a 5-hour day with a break but no lunch/meal would be ideal for everyone. In the world. Except the jerks who want stuff.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:15 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


> I'd like $5 million. That's all. No more. That would buy me a perfectly acceptable level of happiness.

This is a very easy thing to say, but how do you know if latent traits in your personality that are suppressed or not nourished because you are currently dependent on a job and the hierarchies and relationships that sustain that won't come out if you come into a lot of money? Money tends to change people because with freedom from need comes a sense of power. I, for one, can't make an absolute statement about how I would be if I suddenly were to become very wealthy.


You know, sometimes I'll fantasize about escaping to a deserted island or something, and for about five seconds it's really sweet. Then I start thinking, okay, but what about toilet paper...what are you going to use, leaves? And hello, what if you injure yourself or get sick? So I mentally add several crates of toilet paper and some kind of satellite phone or something so I can call for help. Then I think about the delicious food I'd be missing out on, so then I need some kind of grill, cooking utensils, and several types of food plants, with gardening supplies. And I guess a couple of goats and chickens. And feed for them. At that point I give up on the fantasy, because it's just too much work.

I've always wondered where this voice comes from, that is an enemy of even my most unlikely dreams. Now...I know.
posted by Pants McCracky at 3:16 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Re no sidewalks, my guess would be that this guy lives north of 85th, that used to be county land back in the day and they had lax development codes.
posted by aerotive at 3:17 PM on July 27, 2011


I'd like $5 million. That's all. No more. That would buy me a perfectly acceptable level of happiness.

Not only do I agree, but that's the exact number I've thought about. That'd be enough for me to live perfectly well off of the interest, safely invested, and not have to work.
posted by rollbiz at 3:20 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of "driven" people are driven not simply by ambition/possessions, but by fear.

Yup. Personally, my lack of a family support system and a few periods of transient homelessness are what drive my minor obsession with money.

Of course the thought of making a bunch of money and then spending it makes me ill. All that security, gone.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:20 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard."

And I mean it... Great FP, the world could use more people thinking like this
posted by pla at 3:22 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Medium chill, btw, does not mean dropping out; it's a permanent change, not a stopgap. We can no longer afford excess, because excess in this case kills - people, organizations, hope, and ultimately, cultures. As our culture evolves to medium chill, we will have more time to think, innovate, and live in a way that makes our culture more robust, and adaptive.

What you mean "we." I can afford excess, give me your fucking excess. Just who do you think "we" is? Does it include Michelle Bachmann and her supporters?

I'd like $5 million. That's all. No more. That would buy me a perfectly acceptable level of happiness.

The problem with this is, where does the $5 million come from? Imagine you found it on the street in a big box labeled "pension fund:" would it be ok to take it home, even if there were no consequences? If you said yes, congratulations, you work on Wall Street.

The nice thing about the current "great recession' is those college education folks are finally getting to experience what the textile workers, the auto workers, the steel workers experienced 30 years ago. You think you are worth the money you get paid? Think again, next time quarterly profits come in low.

Give them five years, either Mr. and Mrs. Medium Chill will have decided they need a bigger house, or will discover that "making t-shirts' means they can't afford the mortgage payments. That's how America works.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:24 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I understand the downsizing 100% and agree with it (and am doing it).

That said, ideas like this need to be destroyed:

Going further down our respective career paths would likely mean more work, greater responsibilities, higher stress, and less time to lay around the living room with the kids. So why do it?

You do it because you can't predict the future. That job you are coasting in may disappear tomorrow. Or your wife could get cancer, lose her job, and then you lose your job. Your kids may leap out of their slacker gene pool, excel in school and decide they want to go to Yale. Are you going to tell then they can't, or that less ambitious dream is "good enough"?

This isn't Europe. You want to take this "medium chill" attitude, don't complain that we don't have universal healthcare, or that there is income inequality, or blame your woes on the rich.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:26 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I envy their stability.
posted by bleep at 3:28 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is almost incoherent. We should abandon the quest for the ideal and settle for what we have! That way, we will reach the ideal state of True Happiness! Give up striving, positive psychology will teach us how to strive for what really matters! Status is the problem! Let's make satisficing a source of status!
posted by AlsoMike at 3:30 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


the young rope-rider : Of course the thought of making a bunch of money and then spending it makes me ill. All that security, gone.

Or, it could all vanish come August 2nd when the world economy collapses.

Keep enough to have a few years' security, but after that, no point in having it if you don't spend it.


Pastabagel : You do it because you can't predict the future.

No, we live for today because we can't predict the future. More money doesn't mean squat if you get hit by a bus tomorrow. That said, living to 110 doesn't mean squat if you need to live in a cardboard box and eat cat-food. Balance in all things - We work to live, we don't live to work.


Are you going to tell then they can't, or that less ambitious dream is "good enough"?

Yup. "I'll put you through a damned fine state school. You want more, find a way to pay for it".
posted by pla at 3:30 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Or, it could all vanish come August 2nd when the world economy collapses.

Well, shit. My savings don't amount to much, but I could really have one hell of a good time if I spent all of it between now and Aug. 2nd. I'm starting to think I might as well.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:35 PM on July 27, 2011


I used to want to win the lottery and quit work. Then I went crazy.

One thing that helps keep my severe anxiety disorder under control (along with medication) is having a structured routine that brings me into contact with other people while allowing me to retreat when I need to. Luckily, I have a job that does exactly that.

Being idle would be very bad for me. I could do all kinds of socially responsible things, but frankly, given unlimited leisure, I'd spend it badly. Having to work makes the decision for me.

That is not to say I wouldn't be happy having all my debts paid and being able to save. We can cover our bills, but there's not a lot left over. And I realize I'm lucky to even be able to do that.
posted by cereselle at 3:35 PM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


adding my voice to the chorus of "what about people who work hard out of desire for stability/fear of no stability".

pla: having enough scratch and supplies to have a few years of security is a lot of fucking money..
posted by beefetish at 3:36 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yay mediocrity.

Giving up the American Dream is part of it, sure. But there is something to be said for knowing when you're full, when you have enough, when you're content. Most people go through their lives never knowing happiness because they keep chasing an illusion, a fantasy that was never theirs. What bliss to be living a full life, and to know it and cherish it, deep in the bones.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:43 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


This kinda sounds like an alternative for rich people who wouldn't mind being less rich.

adequate housing, working transportation stable family and enough money? That is not MEDIUM CHILL for a lot of people on this planet, more like freaking lucky.
posted by Tarumba at 3:44 PM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yay mediocrity.

I'll do more than cheer for mediocrity. I'll take her to the park on the back of my secondhand bike, lay her down on an old blanket and give her the third or fourth best minute and a half she'll probably have that week, maybe.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:44 PM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


You think you are worth the money you get paid?

Of course not. Isn't the whole goal to be paid more than your value? That's one reason why Barry Zito is my favorite (post-Bonds) SF Giant.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:44 PM on July 27, 2011


This isn't Europe. You want to take this "medium chill" attitude, don't complain that we don't have universal healthcare, or that there is income inequality, or blame your woes on the rich.

This is backwards. I want universal healthcare, social insurance, etc. (and am willing to pay my piece of them) so that people have the option of being superstrivers, rather than having to strive well past the point where happiness is increased due to fear of penury.

And yes, if that means picking up on some of the things Europe does better than the U.S., that's fine by me.
posted by feckless at 3:46 PM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Really interesting, thanks. On the one hand, it's like looking into a really clean mirror, so it's comforting to think of our own personal brand of settling for just-enough as a trend; on the other hand, I have to wonder if all this "chill" is the reason the rest of the world is kicking our ass.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:47 PM on July 27, 2011


> Money does not buy happiness; you are likely as happy as you are ever going to be.

You can, OTOH, suddenly become a lot less happy than you now are. I could get by on less money if there were nobody to consider but me. But if I did that I would no longer be able to help my grown children with their rent in months when they're short, or help them pay for even minimal catastrophic-only health insurance (neither of them has a job that gets them health benefits.) I'm guessing I would suddenly be a lot less happy if I knew one of them was sitting evicted on the sidewalk surrounded by their Salvation Army Store furniture, or suddenly sick or badly hurt with nowhere to turn. So I expect I'll be continuing to work 'til I fall over, and folks who seem likely to tell me "Dude, you could cut way down on the stress, just downsize your lifestyle requirements" are folks I avoid for tiresomeness the way I avoid Jehovah's Witnesses.
posted by jfuller at 3:48 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Was this an FPP on Dudeism? Gimme a sec to light up and grab the Sacramental Beverage before we continue.
posted by Slackermagee at 3:49 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


sweetie darling most people in the states are workin way more than the people in this article so i'm pretty sure it has more to do with the results of extremely poor economic and regulatory decisions made since the 1980s by reagan and the rest of the wealthy who would do us ill
posted by beefetish at 3:53 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


This isn't Europe. You want to take this "medium chill" attitude, don't complain that we don't have universal healthcare, or that there is income inequality, or blame your woes on the rich.

Oh, horseshit. Really. Complete, made-up bollocks. In general, Western Europeans work fewer hours than Americans do, have less income inequality (not that we're setting a low bar, here), and have universal health care.

We don't lack universal health care because we're a nation of slackers. It's politics and policy, not us being all "Oh, I'm cool working 40 hours a week for $40K a year." Christ.
posted by rtha at 3:54 PM on July 27, 2011 [35 favorites]


More money may not be able to buy happiness, but less money can make you unhappy.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:56 PM on July 27, 2011


Just to take another angle on this...one reason to not view wealth as necessarily a wonderful goal is that money, I think, has a tendency to wall people off from each other and the world. I think one reason poor people give away more of their money than rich people is that poor people rely on each other much more than the wealthy, and thus appreciate the value of an interconnected community. The more money you have, the less you need other people, and the less you value social interconnectedness. (Of course, I'm shamelessly generalizing, but I'm just trying to make the point that money tends to create a current in that direction.)

Or maybe I'm just projecting my own shame -- when I was a lot poorer than I am now, I did more charitable giving and volunteer work. For one thing, I had a lot more time and energy for those activities, but I was also out among people -- including people in dire need -- much more often, and had more opportunities to help. Higher income -- and I mean a very modest bump -- has created a social bubble that doesn't bring me into contact with needy people very often anymore, and so I have to go out of my way to have those opportunities. And most of the time I just...don't.
posted by Pants McCracky at 4:00 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yay mediocrity.

I'll do more than cheer for mediocrity. I'll take her to the park on the back of my secondhand bike, lay her down on an old blanket and give her the third or fourth best minute and a half she'll probably have that week, maybe.


Were you the guy ahead of me in traffic on the way home, with Ms. Mediocrity (wearing a see-through black lace tank top and gray cotton gauchos) wrapping her legs around you, humping your back, and playfully slapping the back of your helmet as it rested, half on, on top of your head? No? 'Cause that was (medium) chill.
posted by limeonaire at 4:01 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


emjaybee: In my utopia, people would indeed work less, because no one would worry that doing so meant losing their job and then living on the street or dying for lack of healthcare.

That has been one of my dreams as far back as I can remember: to live in a humane, compassionate society with a sane work culture where people's basic survival and health needs are provided for, and not tied to having a job or a spouse.

I live simply in a 500-sq-ft downtown apartment, keep expenses low, don't drive, don't have kids or pets, and in general live a very frugal life. I do this, in part, so that I can avoid taking distasteful jobs for money, and preserve as much of my free time as possible for my writing and other self-driven creative pursuits. Nonetheless, even with all my careful precautionary measures and frugal way of life, I am still facing the loss of my home if I don't find a paid job before the year is out. And don't even get me started about health insurance; I'm single, middle-aged, and live in the USA. Grar.

One problem is that there simply aren't enough jobs to go around for everyone who needs money to live. We need to figure out better ways to deal with this - job-sharing, changes to the money system, learning how gift economies work, ditching our insane Puritan work ethic, and on and on.

The author of the original piece writes:
I've been meaning to write something about...the internal forces impelling us to work harder and harder. We are being driven, but we are also driving ourselves.
It's a delight to see more people writing and talking about this sort of thing at all levels. Whatever you may think of the "lifestyle choice" of the author, it's becoming more and more obvious to many people that we live under the influence of an insane job culture and work ethic, especially in the USA, and we need to do something about it - individually, socially, institutionally, and culturally. I've been encouraging critical thinking and introspection in this direction for many years. (Note: relevant self-link.)

According to the Puritan work ethic, which is accepted quite uncritically by a vast number of people, hard work is noble and virtuous and morally right. Your worth as a person - as well as your ability to eat and have a roof over your head - depends on your willingness to work for money. Individual financial status is attributed mostly or entirely to personal qualities or lack thereof, and the role of larger systemic forces (environmental, social, cultural, economic) is minimized. It's most often trotted out as a way of placing blame on individuals for problems that are systemic.

I think that if we can learn to free ourselves from the dictator in our minds that demands endless hard work and condemns "laziness" as a moral failure, we'll be taking a step in the right direction. So I applaud the efforts of the "medium chill" folks, even as I agree with emjaybee that downsizing by choice is largely a privilege of the white middle class and needs to be considered in that light.

As Charles Eisenstein puts it:
We need to reframe the whole question of labor. Another word for unemployment, at least when it is distributed evenly and dissociated from economic survival, is “leisure”. If only money were not an issue, I am sure many working people would welcome a bit of unemployment. And better even than leisure would be the freedom to pursue our noblest and most generous impulses to heal the hurts of the planet and its people.
Yes indeed. Call it the "medium chill," downsizing, voluntary simplicity, the right to useful unemployment (thank you Ivan Illich)...call it whatever you want. It makes a lot of sense and we need a hell of a lot more of it, if you ask me.
posted by velvet winter at 4:02 PM on July 27, 2011 [17 favorites]


1. Suffering does exist
2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
posted by FreedomTickler at 4:05 PM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


Give them five years, either Mr. and Mrs. Medium Chill will have decided they need a bigger house, or will discover that "making t-shirts' means they can't afford the mortgage payments. That's how America works.

That's how America used to work. "How America works" is a euphemism for collective behavior, in America. The thing is that individual (and collective) brains (cognitive science, here) are wired to remember *wins*.

America, during most of the last half-century, has been able to weather massive displacements from structural employment losses (steel, auto, consumer electronics, communications and computer hardware, etc. etc) because there was enough wigle room (ecess opportunity in our system to absorb most of those losses, over time - and the dislocations were usually isolated; they were sub-regional).

For instance, if we had a recession, voila!, we were out of it in 1-2 years - everyone went about feeling OK and acquiring, as before. That game is over, but most Americans (from a collective point of view, for lower-middle-class, and up) still have a linear historical memory about "wins". They have this idea (born of habituation to certain expectations) that "America will come back to be top dog. Ain't gonna happen.

Another for instance: Many Americans thought Obama was going to rescue them from this malaise; and if not Obama this time, then maybe someone else. Obama didn't rescue us, nor will anyone else, because we're talking about massive, complex structural change at the global level, including the new phenomenon of a wired world, where financial capital can live and prosper outside of national borders. Does money need America? No. Money (capital) needs a place where it can best optimize itself. Call it the survival of the most fit "capital".

So, what happens when "change" doesn't work? People start to get frustrated and play the "blame game". This will continue, for a while, until we have the collective experience of seeing that no matter who is in power, our material and opportunity decline will continue.

The reason I think that most who enter the "medium chill" phase (and others, like it) won't go retro is because it's becoming clear (painfully clear) that nobody is going to save us - we have to save ourselves through adaptive changes in behavior.

Again, this is going to be painful. Change is not easy. Americans have become accustomed to an expectation that delivers the goods, based playing by certain rules. The game, and the rules, have changed. Adapt, or get off the playing field (or go sulking home and whine along with those who are stuck in blame mode). Intelligence and survival and happiness are far more about adaptability than anything else. We can be happy with less than we think; in fact, we can be happier with less. There's solid experimental proof to back that up.

Chill.
posted by Vibrissae at 4:05 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I work hard and "strive" because I love what I do for a living, and I make far more than the median income. I have a low "burn rate" for several reasons, some choice and some luck. Thus, even while living in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the U.S. (the SF Bay Area), I have a far more luxurious life than most while being decently disciplined about personal saving and investment.

But the massive out-of-pocket expenses triggered by some recent minor medical hassles (I pay for my own individual health insurance policy with one of the most reviled private health insurers in the country) have demonstrated once again that it's nice to have a big, fat pile of savings, and 'medium chilling' sounds great until someone literally or figuratively gets hurt...
posted by twsf at 4:12 PM on July 27, 2011


I think this medium chill lifestyle is geared mostly to the "creative class" and folks who either work for themselves of work in jobs that involve a huge amount of freedom. People lower down on the economic/class ladder don't have these jobs. Notice that the author is a freelance writer. This really doesn't work if you have a boss who is demanding an update on the Penske file first thing tomorrow morning, or else.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:42 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Buddha discovered that the direct causes of suffering are desire or craving, and ignorance. This is the truth of the cause of suffering, which is the Second Noble Truth.

We can get knocked off-center by people pushing us to 'need' what we didn't even want. Then we have to maintain all we 'need'. Pfooey.
posted by Twang at 4:42 PM on July 27, 2011


I don't have a well-thought-out defense of my lack of ambition. I'm just happy being fucking lazy.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:43 PM on July 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


Ah geez. Old Mr Veblen wrote about a group of people he called the Leisure Class. One of their characteristics was a vocal distaste for money and the procurement of same, as a way of expressing their high status. After all, only the very rich can pretend to totally disinterested in money and be taken seriously. Trying too hard to make money is the characteristic of a social climber, a person of inherently inferior social standing...
posted by chrisgregory at 4:51 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't have a well-thought-out defense of my lack of ambition. I'm just happy being fucking lazy.

Being happy with being lazy is the perfect defense. No one can legitimately win an argument that is against "I'm happy."
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:57 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yay mediocrity.

Yay not buying into an elaborate ponzi scheme, is more like it.
posted by mhoye at 4:58 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yay mediocrity.

One man's mediocrity is another man's OK. Overachieving douchebags of any variety suck.
posted by jonmc at 5:12 PM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


Two things:

1) Living without a sidewalk is not something to be proud of. Sidewalks aren't a luxury: they're how we keep carbon out of the air, keep fat off your bones and leave you a safe distance from the 2000 pound death machines that could snap you in two.

2) If you're in the creative class doing knowledge work, and have the margin to make these kinds of financial decisions, you should try to write for bigger publications and write a book because you should be giving up the money to do better work. Whatever meaningful thing(s) you decide your life is for, you should be working at them, not because they make you more money, but because they make you a better person. Satisficing is about accepting that the world isn't perfect, it isn't about being good-enough at who you really are. Becomming a better lover and/or creator is what's ultimately more important than anything, even happiness.
posted by Apropos of Something at 5:27 PM on July 27, 2011


This was a nice read-- I'm all about resisting the sea of materialistic craving that blankets the US.

That said, there was a certain smug-tone that had me gnashing my teeth.

You have a decent home in Seattle? You have a loving family that you can feed, clothe and educate? You don't shop at the dollar store, but rather Trader Joe's? Your medical insurance is covered? And at the end of the day you can tuck a little away for the future?

...that's not mediocrity by any means: That's a position of incredible wealth and luck.

This read like a plea: 'I DID NOT SPEND MY YEARLY BONUS ON A NEW LEXUS, BUT RATHER SAVED SOME. PLEASE PRAISE MY ENLIGHTENED FAMILY.'

That's wonderful that you are so fortunate, Mr. Roberts. I hope that you continue to avoid any of the dozens of needles (economic insecurity, health issues, divorce, a child wanting a college education) that can pop a fragile middle-class income.
posted by mrdaneri at 5:29 PM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


Before I met the mister and before the IT crash, he made two to three times what he makes now (he was contracting with the same company where he is now employed). He's mentioned several times he's much happier now that he's not working 80+ hours a week to support a life-style he really didn't want; his ex wanted it and he felt he had to support the lifestyle to which she wanted to become accustomed. He finally put his foot down and she said buh-bye.

We both won. He has a life and wife he loves and I have a husband and a life I love. We have a decent roof over our heads, one new-ish car and can take low-key holidays once or twice every two years. The company he works for makes noises about moving him up to management and he keeps telling them no. He's happy with what he's doing, with the money he's making and he's retiring in five to ten years.

We're both happy with our "mid-chill" life.
posted by deborah at 5:30 PM on July 27, 2011


We got what we expected and that means we certainly had it coming. Laziness is an ugly thin, or if it is not, it isn't laziness. Everything is clear.

(In Praise of Laziness) Things are not that easy, however. For the lazy may goof off, kill time, loiter, play truant, trifle, dally, doodle, dawdle, linger, malinger, vegetate, do nothing in what is called life, live in misery, need, want, destitution, penury, privation, fear; they may be anxious, worried, while always comfortably lying around, lounging around, but they are not (not and again not) idling or loafing. For even though the lazy are idle, the idle indolent, the lazy do not idle

So what do they do? Nothing, we answer self-conficently; therefore, they are lazy.

Take it slowly. For what are the unlazy up to? The unlazy are hardworking. The hardworking work. Those who work create the order in which they live. By creating it, they praise it (provided they do not destroy it in the process--but this is unlikely). The lazy are not like that; they do not praise the order.
from On Laziness by Péter Esterházy
posted by perhapses at 6:07 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Living without a sidewalk is not something to be proud of. "

OTOH not having a sidewalk means I don't have to clear it in the winter or worry about liability if someone slips and falls. So there's that.
posted by MikeMc at 6:07 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


We can be happy with less than we think; in fact, we can be happier with less.

We? You make yourself happy with less; I'm surviving because of food stamps.

I do this, in part, so that I can avoid taking distasteful jobs for money, and preserve as much of my free time as possible for my writing and other self-driven creative pursuits.

Distasteful? Michelle Bachmann is going to eat your brains and you won't even notice. Society has to change, we have to sit in the lotus position and clear so that you can avoid doing something distasteful?
posted by ennui.bz at 6:16 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is this? Reasons people shouldn't complain about being screwed by the rich week around here?
posted by saulgoodman at 6:17 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


A lot of people seem to be thinking along these lines lately....

A lot of people have no choice BUT to think along these lines.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:23 PM on July 27, 2011


Was this an FPP on Dudeism? Gimme a sec to light up and grab the Sacramental Beverage before we continue.

The Dude's abode is up for sale, just $2.3 million for the lot of six one-bedroom bungalows.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:30 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sound like David must be my neighbor. If he thinks his lifestyle is based on or is conducive to relaxation, he is delusional.
posted by mwhybark at 6:32 PM on July 27, 2011


SOUNDS, god dammit iOS
posted by mwhybark at 6:33 PM on July 27, 2011


Distasteful? Michelle Bachmann is going to eat your brains and you won't even notice. Society has to change, we have to sit in the lotus position and clear so that you can avoid doing something distasteful?

WTF?
posted by palomar at 6:33 PM on July 27, 2011


According to the Puritan work ethic, which is accepted quite uncritically by a vast number of people, hard work is noble and virtuous and morally right.

Maybe, but that doesn't mean that saying "Let's not work so hard, let's enjoy life!" is any kind of alternative. The realm of production is ruled by the ethics of hard work and sacrifice, and the realm of consumption is ruled by the ethics of entertainment and enjoyment. They aren't opposites at all, they're Supply and Demand, two faces of a market economy.

And it's not even clear that the Protestant ethic is as universal as all that. No-one tells that stuff to college graduates. They tell them to follow their dreams and passions, find a vocation that they love, make a difference, etc. It's rapidly becoming the norm because it's promoted heavily and employers embrace it. Passionate employees work longer hours, are more productive, pay out of pocket for their own training expenses, and demand lower salaries.

There's nothing radical about getting rid of the Protestant work ethic -- if anything, it's one of the main features of the new economy.
posted by AlsoMike at 6:34 PM on July 27, 2011


Passionate employees work longer hours, are more productive, pay out of pocket for their own training expenses, and demand lower salaries.

what?
posted by jonmc at 6:43 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, that's pretty much what's expected where I work, it seems...
posted by saulgoodman at 6:59 PM on July 27, 2011


Passionate employees work longer hours, are more productive, pay out of pocket for their own training expenses, and demand lower salaries.

This just in from Mars...

(I work just enough to stay afloat. I'm fortunate to be able to do so, but we are a long way from being wealthy or even close to it. But I just can't see working 60+ hours a week for a company I don't care for on a product I could give a shit about.)
posted by maxwelton at 7:00 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Floaking.
posted by bad grammar at 7:20 PM on July 27, 2011


AlsoMike: "This is almost incoherent. We should abandon the quest for the ideal and settle for what we have!"

You forgot the part about, "And not only that - it's SOCIALISM!"

We really need to get away from the idea that what defines a human is their ability or their inclination to participate in the economy.
posted by sneebler at 7:33 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


A lot of us can't settle for what we have, because we're slowly going under on what we have, and we can't downsize because the anchor around our necks (for example, home mortgages in real estate markets that are completely unforgiving) does not afford us even that opportunity.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:38 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


(And, you know, we've got kids on the way.)
posted by saulgoodman at 7:39 PM on July 27, 2011


(But I suppose we should just be happy to eat those.)
posted by saulgoodman at 7:46 PM on July 27, 2011


Yup. "I'll put you through a damned fine state school. You want more, find a way to pay for it".
posted by pla at 3:30 PM on July 27


A damned fine state school? Or a state school conveniently located in the state you already happen to live in? I'd like to understand precisely how you are limiting your children's future to avoid inconveniencing yourself.

I seem to recall endless stories of immigrants and refugees who after arriving in America, worked themselves to the bone to ensure their children had a better life. Those children went on to run the country and occupy so many of the high paying jobs in law, medicine and corporate America. This is in contrast to "medium chill" which ensures kids will have exactly the same lives as their parents.

This is precisely the kind of insidious idea that ruins civilizations. It's perfectly ok to try and fail. It is not okay to avoid trying because it's "hard." The poor and homeless get sympathy, the unfortunate get sympathy, the people who tried and fell short get sympathy. The people who don't try can rot.

But thanks for writing this article, whoever you are. It's pretty damning evidence.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:54 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The realm of production is ruled by the ethics of hard work and sacrifice, and the realm of consumption is ruled by the ethics of entertainment and enjoyment. They aren't opposites at all, they're Supply and Demand, two faces of a market economy.

And it's not even clear that the Protestant ethic is as universal as all that. No-one tells that stuff to college graduates. They tell them to follow their dreams and passions, find a vocation that they love, make a difference, etc


First the realm of production isn't ruled by hard work and sacrifice, the realm of life is ruled by that.

And as far as commencement speeches go, they shouldn't have to remind you about hard work and sacrifice, because in theory you should have been working hard and sacrificing so much the last four years that it can go unsaid. The point of telling you to follow your dreams is to tell you to channel the discipline and hard work to something worthwhile. You think for a second that the kinds of people who give those speeches themselves aren't among the hardest working people in the country?
posted by Pastabagel at 7:58 PM on July 27, 2011


I work a job I don't hate at a decent company for OK pay with pretty good benefits. My partner is a public employee, she works for a decent city for OK pay with great benefits. Together, we do OK. We rent an acceptable apartment in a pretty safe part of the city. We both drive couple year old AWD cars that we almost own, which are the most valuable things we almost own by a lot, and something we've spent a good portion of our money on because winter driving can be dangerous here and we value the reliability and safety. It's our biggest expenditure besides rent.

She mostly likes her job and feels fulfilled by it. However, she can't do much more or make much more without a massive investment of time and money into a masters, which she doesn't really feel compelled to do. I have no degree, so I'm lucky to be making a living wage at all. I simultaneously worked, charmed, and lucked my way into a non-entry position. I don't dislike my job, but there is nothing at all that is fulfilling about it. So, I do a lot of volunteer work. I'd love two things I don't have right now: A little cottage we could visit next to the ocean and lend to our friends when we couldn't be there, and a debt-free existence that allowed me to spend more hours doing the things I really like to do in the service of my community.

I'd like to chide those who are stressing with kids, but I recognize that not everyone planned to have them and I guess I'm glad someone is having them. It is a place where one can put in a bit of work to keep life much cheaper and simpler, however, and that should be mentioned.

It feels something like a medium chill, and I feel totally OK with that. I suspect she does too. Most of all, I feel really lucky to be in a position to be able to feel like we're close enough to happy. I've been really, really broke before, and whoever thinks that money truly can't buy happiness ever has obviously never been looking at an empty cupboard, an empty wallet, and an empty stomach...and that's when you're lucky enough to even have a cupboard to be empty...
posted by rollbiz at 8:11 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I seem to recall endless stories of immigrants and refugees who after arriving in America, worked themselves to the bone to ensure their children had a better life. Those children went on to run the country and occupy so many of the high paying jobs in law, medicine and corporate America.

Yes, what marvelous fantasies we've been told about this. Ask 100 or 1000 immigrants how their reality matches your fairytale, and I suspect you'll find out for sure that it's almost always a fairytale.

People aren't questioning the idea of hard work equaling massive success on a lark, they're questioning it because for an increasingly large percentage of the population it's just not working. You show me your prototypical immigrant kid who comes from nothing to run the country, and I'll show you a thousand broken backs shattered by your silly dream, with nothing to show for it.
posted by rollbiz at 8:18 PM on July 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


I seem to recall endless stories of immigrants and refugees who after arriving in America, worked themselves to the bone to ensure their children had a better life. Those children went on to run the country and occupy so many of the high paying jobs in law, medicine and corporate America.

and besides the real problems our immigrants and refugees face (out of every 10 grown up refugees I work with, pretty much 10 will end up working at a factory for life), there is this issue...

Those children went on to run the country and occupy so many of the high paying jobs...

Which means there are a. lesser people to be run, and b. lower paying jobs that someone has to do. People don't seem to get the idea that a world in which everyone went to MIT or Harvard, would still need janitors, laborers and retail workers. And these people, the backbone of society, have a right to have a GOOD life even though they didn't start up Google. As long as there is a top, there will be a bottom. And that's fine, but the real measure of success for a country is what life is like for the population at the bottom of the barrel, not the Reader's Digest stories about the people who made it to the top.
posted by Tarumba at 8:36 PM on July 27, 2011 [21 favorites]


About a year ago, I was visiting with an old friend of mine who lives in Portland now. He's helping to run a tech startup, working 80-hour weeks, half that on the road, with barely enough time at home to maintain a relationship with his dog, much less a romance. The goal, he said, is to grow like crazy, get bought out by Google, and retire at 40. "It's the big chill, man!"

Weird example. There doesn't seem to be a lot of overlap between the people capable of creating a successful startup and the people capable of retiring young and chilling out. In my experience these guys make their money...and then go on to their next startup.
posted by phoenixy at 8:55 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I liked the part where the privileged glibertarian hijacked the thread with baseless soapboxing.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:57 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


>I liked the part where the privileged glibertarian hijacked the thread with baseless soapboxing.<

I didn’t.
posted by bongo_x at 9:25 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


We believe, we have been lead to believe, that there is another rung on our ladder. Another, secret ladder. That if we play the game really hard, there's something more, just beyond our grasp, because, hey, slack! We choose to be this way, less successful than our parents!

Nope. The slacker ethos means we do more work for less pay, and convince ourselves this is right and true and just.

The old dudes, they work all they day long, but we get more done in an afternoon than they do all damn week. Our kids are brought up in two-bedroom hovels, because, hey, good school district! Besides, we aren't doctors or lawyers, so we don't deserve real homes in nice places.

Fuggit. And I mean =fuggit=... SLACK! It means something. Working your ass off to afford a rent-by-month hovel gets you into an early grave. Have kids instead, and plan to enjoy the grandkids. PLAN on it!

Get out of the city. The city has your number, the city works you 60+ hours a week. Escape to the burbs, or further, escape to the stix! Make them give you work-at-home, you do more in an afternoon than most do in a week. Make them earn you.

But, we won't. We don't believe we're special, we believe we're what we're told to believe we are. Good doobies, die broke, so your kids or nieces can pick up the tab.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:26 PM on July 27, 2011


I seem to recall endless stories of immigrants and refugees who after arriving in America, worked themselves to the bone to ensure their children had a better life. Those children went on to run the country and occupy so many of the high paying jobs in law, medicine and corporate America.

Social mobility in the US has always been a bit of a myth. The notion is good marketing for refilling pools of ever-cheaper labor, however.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:46 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


You think for a second that the kinds of people who give those speeches themselves aren't among the hardest working people in the country?

No, I think they are passionate, creative, energetic, enthusiastic, engaged, empowered, self-actualized etc. Objectively they are doing many of the same things as a "hard worker", but it's motivated out of a different set of values than hard work and sacrifice. They probably even work harder, because life = passion, and passion = work, so then life = work. You're passionate at work for 8 hours, and then come home to study because you're passionate about life-long learning.
posted by AlsoMike at 9:56 PM on July 27, 2011


Being passionate doesn't give you the keys to the kingdom though. There are also plenty of passionate people who don't succeed. Since we seem to be covering all our bases, here.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:08 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a freelancer of over 20+ years, I think being being a staffer at Grist looks pretty cushy. He gets paid no matter what. I'm always working, looking for work, and I don't turn down work because it might not be there next time.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:57 PM on July 27, 2011


Or, it could all vanish come August 2nd when the world economy collapses.

Oh great, that's the day before my 30th birthday.

Oh well, if total economic collapse ain't the sign that I ain't a young man no more I reckon I don't know what is.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:42 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Slap*happy: I think that comment sounds like it could be interesting but I really have no idea what you're saying.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:52 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


axismundi: Money does not buy happiness; you are likely as happy as you are ever going to be.

Axismundi made me think of J.K. Rowling's thoughts on the freedom granted by wealth (emphasis mine):

"Probably the very best thing my earnings have given me, though, is absence of worry. I have not forgotten what it feels like to worry whether you'll have enough money to pay the bills. Not to have to think about that any more is the biggest luxury in the world."
posted by bright cold day at 2:57 AM on July 28, 2011


Pastabagel : A damned fine state school? Or a state school conveniently located in the state you already happen to live in?

The two coincide. I consider myself somewhat fortunate to live in the Northeast, where most of our state schools rank in the top 5 (of all unis, not just state schools) for something, and have a decent rep as good schools in general. Except for UNH, I can't really say I know it as having all that great of a reputation.


I'd like to understand precisely how you are limiting your children's future to avoid inconveniencing yourself.

Primarily by not having any, I meant that as a hypothetical. ;)
posted by pla at 3:25 AM on July 28, 2011


America’s poorest are, as a group, about as rich as India’s richest. Why not work a bit harder and donate the difference to Oxfam? Seems preferable to the luxury problems that lead to this "turn on, tune in, drop out" nonsense.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:45 AM on July 28, 2011


America’s poorest are, as a group, about as rich as India’s richest.

So, all those poor Americans are moving into custom-built billion-dollar towers? No wonder the Tea Party people are pissed.
posted by briank at 4:58 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


You don't know happen to know what a group is, do you?
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:01 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Social mobility in the US has always been a bit of a myth. The notion is good marketing for refilling pools of ever-cheaper labor, however.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:46 AM on July 28


Yes, what marvelous fantasies we've been told about this. Ask 100 or 1000 immigrants how their reality matches your fairytale, and I suspect you'll find out for sure that it's almost always a fairytale.
posted by rollbiz at 11:18 PM on July 27 [7 favorites +] [!] [quote]Other [3/3]


First of all, this is true of every immigrant I know. This is true of the 46 year old guy who now manages all the plant and facilities workers at one of my former clients, who literally crossed the Rio Grande with nothing with his father he was seven. This is true of the guy who owns the siding company who works on my house, who fled Albania as teenager in the 90's. It's true of every single member of my extended family, some of whom manage to own businesses for three or four decades without speaking fluent English. No, it's not a myth.

I've heard other people on Metafilter talk about how these stories are myths. You wish it was a myth. You've convinced yourselves it is a myth because the truth of it is humiliating to you. They aren't myths. Yes, people work extremely hard, but they do have something to show for it. Their children are better off. How come they can come here and make a decent life for themselves without even being able to speak English, and "native" Americans can't? Because native Americans invent ideas like "medium chill" to justify laziness.

The dream of America is not to come here and live a good life without working. The dream is to come here and work extremely hard and live a good life, because the alternative is to work hard somewhere else and still have a horrible life. But nowhere is it ever the case that you don't work hard.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:56 AM on July 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is precisely the kind of insidious idea that ruins civilizations.

Being happy with what you have ruins civilizations? These guys, among many others, beg to differ.

You're assuming that civilization is primarily a matter of moving chunks of matter around from one place to another or telling others to move chunks of matter from one place to another. If productivity is all there is to it, termites and ants are by far the most civilized species on the planet.

However, those non-termite activities like art and science and philosophy and everything else that goes into human culture (and the culture of other animals, as well) isn't just about working hard and acquiring large numbers of imaginary units called money. For the vast majority of human history, leisure and contemplation have been recognized as necessities for creativity and thought.

And considering how addicted Americans especially seem to be to acquisitive activity for the sake of acquisitive activity, I say long live the medium chill!
posted by jhandey at 7:08 AM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is almost incoherent. We should abandon the quest for the ideal and settle for what we have! That way, we will reach the ideal state of True Happiness!

That sounds about right, although it is obviously not that simple.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:59 AM on July 28, 2011


nowhere is it ever the case that you don't work hard

Come, have coffee with me.
posted by everichon at 8:34 AM on July 28, 2011


I live in a house where my mortgage is 1/2 of the average rent in the area only because I bought it 25 years ago. My 5 year old car is all paid for, and I can afford to do required maintenance. I have enough "stuff" to occupy my time with various hobbies. I did this all by working hard since before I graduated high school, worked all during college, and never took a sick day in 17 years. For that I get a huge thank you in the form of two layoffs from two different companies. I managed to save enough money to endure two bouts of unemployment due to layoff, and if it weren't for unemployment compensation, Healthcare subsidies and savings I'd be SOL. So yes choosing to downsize is a luxury fad only the rich can afford.
posted by Gungho at 8:34 AM on July 28, 2011


Because native Americans invent ideas like "medium chill" to justify laziness.

Interesting use of the term "native Americans."

The dream of America is not to come here and live a good life without working. The dream is to come here and work extremely hard and live a good life, because the alternative is to work hard somewhere else and still have a horrible life. But nowhere is it ever the case that you don't work hard.

The dream of the US will always be freedom, from whatever oppression:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


For some people that freedom is the freedom to scrape out a modest living. For others, that is working and living on a communal farm (like say your family's) for no pay. For others, that freedom is the right to organize, speak and change our government.

But the freedom that is America includes the right to become a homeless drunk or a zen monk or an industrious professional (or lucky musician) with a simple life who retires at 45 and goes to the horse track every day. Land of the free.

People should work less, consume less, produce less, waste less. That seems like a no-brainer direction. Call it laziness or whatever, but in general I'm in support of anything that gets people to use less of our dwindling natural resources.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:37 AM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think Mrgrimm has it. Hard work is great and all, but only in the service of worthwhile goals. I-bankers and other folk on Wall Street work very very hard indeed, and while they may have enriched themselves recently, it hasn't been good for society as a whole.

Pastabagel's strident (the failure of civilizations? Really? I don't even know where to start with that) insistence on the necessity and the moral superiority of hard work strikes me as a little off-base. It's the kind of thinking that invites us to assume that the unfortunate would be better off if only they would try a little harder.

In reality, of course, that isn't always true. The way to address social and economic inequalities is not to crack the whip harder, and demand we all emulate the virtuous immigrants working their fingers to the bone. European social democrats, for instance, have taken a different tack. They have arranged their societies in such a way that their citizens are supported in the pursuit of other aims than sheer, mindless grinding away at the coalface. They don't work harder (or longer, rather--their per-hour productivity is the same as Americans')--instead they take more vacations. And they do that while having universal healthcare and giving more to the world's poor.

What's not to like about that? Looks like a mark of civilizational success, to me.
posted by col_pogo at 8:59 AM on July 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


So yes choosing to downsize is a luxury fad only the rich can afford.

"Choosing to downsize" (rather than go in debt) is not a luxury fad. Likely all of us have done it at some point (I sold my car and lots of other possessions for money when I needed it).

... going back to re-read TFA. ... I didn't get "downsizing" as the point of the article. I think the point is rather "don't upsize in the first place," i.e. ye olde timeless adage: "you can't buy happiness."

There's nothing in the article about not working hard (for money or not) on something that you love to do. There's also no suggestion of not working at a 9-5 job to pay rent. Part of it is being frugal (buying a used minivan or using a bicycle/public transit instead of a new SUV), part of it is non-aspirational (country club memberships, private schools) and part of it is non-material (less stuff because we have enough plastic shit already). There's really not that much about selling off stuff or "downsizing."

There's a creeping sense of financial and other privileges in the author's perspective (e.g. if you have a learning disabled child, private school is not necessarily a luxury), but I don't see anything wrong whatsoever with the conceit. Go home and love your family, etc.

In your case (of which there are surely many details we don't know), I'd say you have you a place to live, your health (hopefully), your friends, your family ... what more do you need? I have been in a similar position (on unemployment for 18 months, fending for myself with catastrophic health care insurance, etc.) and I can say it was the most stressful times of my life, so I wish you all the luck in the world.

At the same time, I had friends and family who loved me, and who would have likely helped me out at least a little if I asked. (My only employment for a long time was helping my brother out with a side business.) If I were alone with no support it would have been much more stressful.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:59 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


You don't know happen to know what a group is, do you?

You don't happen to know what relative spending power and black money are, do you?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:01 AM on July 28, 2011


I don't know what "black money" is (Wikipedia says it's a kind of scam?) but that chart already corrects for Purchasing Power Parity.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:54 AM on July 28, 2011


Digging deeper, I see you're describing assets stashed in Switzerland. I guess that could be skewing the numbers (though money stashed in Switzerland isn't being spent in India) but the point of using citizens grouped into 5% "ventiles" is that the lifestyles of a few billionaires (who could easily become American citizens if they wanted) don't really bear on the bottom 4.99% of that top ventile.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:05 AM on July 28, 2011


Way to overthink a joke, dude.
posted by briank at 10:31 AM on July 28, 2011


col_pogo: Pastabagel is a Randroid, you can ignore anything it says.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:04 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


My dad grew up poor and was determined to leave that behind. So he worked 12-16 hour days, sometimes longer. Once, he threw out his back and couldn't sit at all. So he had me or my mom drive him to work while he lay down in the passenger seat, and then he worked standing up the whole time. He was also pretty frugal and invested his money in a patient and prudent manner. He achieved financial security, which allowed him to retire early, support his aging parents, and put me and my brother through college.

But it came with some pretty steep costs. He admits that he missed me and my brother growing up because he was so rarely at home. My mom gave up a career to help him build his practice and to raise me and my brother. Because his job was really stressful, he ate a lot of unhealthy food and smoked a lot to relieve some of that stress. A couple years ago he had a heart attack and had to have quadruple bypass surgery. Since then, he's been angry frequently, and really quick to anger. He and my mom have started saying things that sound like they only expect a few more years of life for him.

I love my dad and realize that I am immensely privileged because of the way he and my mother lived their lives. But I'm not sure they're my best role model for work/life/health balance. I want to squirrel away a lot of money for emergencies and retirement, so every time an offer of overtime comes up, I take it. (I have a recurring nightmare of being laid off in my 50's and being unable to find a new job.) Right now I'm struggling with balancing my desire to work as many hours as I possibly can, and taking the time to take care of myself. It's been a busy couple of months, with lots of overtime. I've been stressed out, to the point of severe jaw pain, and I know I need to make time to exercise, cook healthy meals, and find some healthy way to release stress.

I really can't say that I wish my dad had adopted a "Medium Chill" attitude, because he would have had to be a completely different person for that to happen. I just wish all the hard work hadn't taken such a toll on him and on my family.
posted by creepygirl at 11:18 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea: actually, on word from many friends and acquaintances who are natives of India, what the term "black money" describes is income acquired under the table and kept in cash, to get around the stringent tax reporting requirements of the Indian banking system. I've heard from them and seen other estimates that the black money economy in India accounts for as much as 70% of real economic activity (much of it originating in the low-level bribes people have to pay to pretty much anybody and everybody to get any kind of service).

In other words, official economic figures when it comes to how and where wealth moves around in India are pretty suspect. Not to minimize the living conditions of the poor and the reality of poverty in India, but there's a lot more wealth flowing around in the Indian economy--not that it's necessarily distributed equitably or put to productive use--than is commonly acknowledged outside of India.

I don't know what "black money" is (Wikipedia says it's a kind of scam?) but that chart already corrects for Purchasing Power Parity.

Maybe using the weird metrics economists like to use (you know--like discounting the actual real costs of every day commodities like food and energy due to their volatility, even though those are the costs that actually matter most to people who are alive in the world outside of economist's heads). But rich people in India don't fear having to go hungry, do buy palaces, and typically have a household full of servants. How on earth can you argue that the poor in the US enjoy purchasing power even remotely comparable to that? Have you ever even met an honest to god poor person?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:30 AM on July 28, 2011


So, either you work hard for money or you hang out with people and chill? Those are the two options in life? What about those of us who are passionate about something and work really, really hard on it regardless of money?
posted by aesacus at 12:17 PM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd like $5 million. That's all. No more. That would buy me a perfectly acceptable level of happiness.

The problem, though, is that if you're the kind of person who has what it takes to accumulate that much wealth at a young enough age to retire early and enjoy it (unless you accumulate it by the lotteries of ancestry and/or Powerball, obviously), then you are probably NOT the kind of person who has what it takes to relax and stop accumulating.
posted by dersins at 12:18 PM on July 28, 2011


discounting the actual real costs of every day commodities like food and energy due to their volatility

This bears absolutely no relationship to the way that PPP is calculated, especially when discussing international poverty. Food and shelter make up the vast majority of the "basket of goods" model, and this will also include energy for cooking (and heat where necessary.) One problem that can emerge is using the same basket of goods to calculate exchange rates for the very poor and the very rich, which could be an issue except that this would tend to produce higher income numbers in India, rather than what we see in the chart.

Have you ever even met an honest to god poor person?

I've spent a good deal of time with very poor Americans in several different contexts. I have close friends who work in international development, and in swapping stories we've come to the conclusion that the scope of the deprivation isn't really comparable. Poor Americans have access to a welfare state that is generous compared to that in India. It's a bit miserly compared to Europe (and arguably a lot of our welfare is misdirected for political reasons) but things are orders of magnitude worse in emerging market economies.

I'm sorry I got argumentative: my point was simply that "medium chill" is just another way of saying "I got mine."
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:09 PM on July 28, 2011


I'm sorry I got argumentative: my point was simply that "medium chill" is just another way of saying "I got mine."

This is true in an ultimate sense, but so is almost anything you do that compromises your earning power. For example, if you choose to be a humanities academic for $x / year instead of being a corporate lawyer for $3x, you are depriving the worst off of the gift of your $2x.

In reality, we all make our little accommodations between being happy and being good. The "medium chill" is one way. Depending on how much more money the writer of the piece could earn it could be a relatively very virtuous way.

It's irritating to hear a version of the "Life You Can Save" argument from people like Toby Ord, because they are not really practicing what they purport to be practicing. Ord says that he earned £25K last year and gave away £10K. This is admirable -- but looking at it in terms of share of earnings grossly overstates how much Ord is giving vs. how much he is keeping for himself. He could probably be making much more than £25K in the private sector. Instead he in effect takes extra compensation in the form of academic prestige, job security (tenure), and the pleasure of doing something he finds interesting -- and he keeps all of those benefits for himself. This is probably selfish enough to make the amount he's giving away look like small potatoes. If he could be making £100K (bear in mind he is 31 and very well educated / credentialed), giving away £10K this year doesn't look quite as impressive. (Even if it is good to give away £10K a year.)
posted by grobstein at 2:27 PM on July 28, 2011


I agree with your basic point: in fact, I acknowledged that we all satisfice all the time at the outset. (Even the serial entrepreneur satisfices on non-monetary goods: she has a "good enough" marriage, a "good enough" exercise routine, etc.)

That said, you might be surprised what a PhD in philosophy can do to your earning power, grobstein: there's no obvious sell-out option. Honestly, I think Ord might be persuaded to take a higher-paying job if you offered it to him. Outside of finance, though, I doubt there are many places he could go. (Law isn't quite so remunerative in Britain, is it?) And the high paying jobs in finance probably involve a kind of utility-reducing rent-seeking.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:42 PM on July 28, 2011


I've heard other people on Metafilter talk about how these stories are myths. You wish it was a myth. You've convinced yourselves it is a myth because the truth of it is humiliating to you

Clearly you made no effort or bother to read the link I provided.

Class mobility is measurable by statisticians.

The link I provided to the NYT infographic summarized the measured class mobility of various groups of Americans, among others, in research published in 2004 by Miles Corak, former director of the Family and Labour Studies Division at Statistics Canada.

Despite the dismissive way in which Europe is designated as a socialist nightmare, where the government determines the stratification of society, it turns out that class mobility figures in Europe and the US are measurably similar.

That you hold on so strongly to your anecdotal evidence is in a way proof of how strong a marketing strategy the Horatio Alger narrative remains to this day.

In a way, the Alger Myth is analogous to religion placating serfs back in the Middle Ages: work hard and don't cause trouble, and you'll get your (heavenly) reward. Now we placate people with the promise of wealth, despite mobility-through-hard-work being something of a cosmic lottery.

Going from a posthumous to pre-humous promise is progress of a kind, I guess. Doesn't make it any less a falsehood, though.

I should also note that the truth of this is not humiliating to me. I accept the truth of this, despite coming from a first-generation immigrant family. We immigrants are made of tough stuff, and can occasionally accept truths that Americans may find inconvenient or emotionally upsetting.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:42 PM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


That said, you might be surprised what a PhD in philosophy can do to your earning power, grobstein: there's no obvious sell-out option. Honestly, I think Ord might be persuaded to take a higher-paying job if you offered it to him. Outside of finance, though, I doubt there are many places he could go. (Law isn't quite so remunerative in Britain, is it?) And the high paying jobs in finance probably involve a kind of utility-reducing rent-seeking.

I don't think this is more than a parenthesis to my point -- if a PhD in philosophy kills your earning power, then presumably the optimized choice is not to get a PhD in philosophy. Imagine what the world's poor could do with 5+ more years of earnings, plus the likely wage premium for not being a philosophy PhD.

I agree with your basic point: in fact, I acknowledged that we all satisfice all the time at the outset. (Even the serial entrepreneur satisfices on non-monetary goods: she has a "good enough" marriage, a "good enough" exercise routine, etc.)

"I got mine" is an awfully caustic way to characterize something that "we all" do. If it is an accurate picture of what we all do, then it seems churlish to apply it selectively to the "medium chill."
posted by grobstein at 2:57 PM on July 28, 2011


Lots of comments here that these people are either cheating society, or cheating themselves by not working as hard as they possibly could.

Congrats! You won the genetic, educational, and financial market lotteries! You bought low and sold high! Now go do something useful.

To me, this is a strange way of looking at the world. These people don't owe anyone anything. They pay taxes on any money they do make.

Maybe they can't handle a lot of stress. Does that disadvantage make them as acceptable as the noble poor?

Do you feel this way about anyone who has the smarts and advantages to make a lot of money, but doesn't for whatever reason? How do you feel about artists, for example?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:02 PM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


If it is an accurate picture of what we all do, then it seems churlish to apply it selectively to the "medium chill."

We don't all brag about how we get away with giving our spouse "just enough" attention or how we're "phoning it in until retirement." To my mind, the reality of satisficing is largely tragic.

But look: I was caustic. Despite the fact that our lives are probably quite similar, I don't like the author's style. He makes a purely negative move: we only understand "medium chill" in relationship to something else, not what it is in itself. I suspect that's because the author doesn't really know: he just knows what he doesn't want, but he's still trying to figure out what the alternative looks like. Otherwise he'd be writing about his newly chosen life instead of the old rejected one.

Put another way, I don't like the way the author is trying to raise his own status by lowering the status of others. It doesn't have to be a zero sum game, though: "working hard" and "medium chill" can both be high status. But part of that requires that "medium chillers" drop the critical tools they've developed for the rat race and start writing appreciatively about their new lives. Wendell Berry is a good guide here.

the optimized choice is not to get a PhD in philosophy

PhDs in the humanities are definitely oversupplied, so future Ords would do better to avoid them. But in order to change Ord's mind, you're going to need a time machine to go with that high paying job offer. It's probably also relevant that the original Giving What We Can folks are predominantly PhDs, suggesting that Ord might not have come to this conclusion without one.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:39 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are lots of really rich people who are active on Metafilter but never post in these sorts of discussions. I wish they would because it would be interesting to hear their unvarnished opinions on this sort of thing.
posted by chaz at 3:40 PM on July 28, 2011


We don't all brag about how we get away with giving our spouse "just enough" attention

I made promises to my wife that I didn't make to my employer. Your vows may vary.
posted by escabeche at 3:50 PM on July 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


First of all, this is true of every immigrant I know.

Wow.

The immigrant population in the United States living below the federal poverty threshold changed by 21.6 percent between 2000 and 2009.

Between 2000 and 2009, the foreign-born population living in poverty went from 5,473,300 to 6,655,759, representing a change of 21.6 percent. In comparison, the foreign-born population living in poverty changed from 3,435,394 to 5,473,300 between 1990 and 2000, a difference of 59.3 percent.

In the United States in 2009, 35.3 percent of foreign-born workers earned less than $25,000 a year. 11.7 percent of full-time, year-round, immigrant workers (those working more than 50 weeks a year and more than 35 hours per week) earned less than $15,000 a year; 41.0 percent earned between $15,000 and $35,000.

But yeah, you seem to know a lot of immigrants, so I'm sure this is all bullshit and they're just hiding the earnings from their chains of wheel balancing centres.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:01 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea : I'm sorry I got argumentative: my point was simply that "medium chill" is just another way of saying "I got mine."

Right - Except instead of continuing to eat, it leaves the rest of the banquet for anyone else wanting to partake.

The whole "I got mine" meme really doesn't do much to further either your goals or discussion thereof, for one simple reason - Yeah, I seem well on the way to getting mine, and fuck me if I'll feel bad about it.

That doesn't mean I resent you getting yours, though; and I'll even help you when I can, so far as it doesn't hurt me (yep, I still come first - deal or walk). If, however, you want to play class warfare about it, you just turn off the people most able to help.
posted by pla at 6:22 PM on July 28, 2011


I have close friends who work in international development, and in swapping stories we've come to the conclusion that the scope of the deprivation isn't really comparable. Poor Americans have access to a welfare state that is generous compared to that in India. It's a bit miserly compared to Europe (and arguably a lot of our welfare is misdirected for political reasons) but things are orders of magnitude worse in emerging market economies.

You switched from comparing India's rich to America's poor, to comparing India's poor to America's poor. Of course our poor aren't that bad off, and thank god for it. What, do you only plan to start caring about them once they are?

By that logic, you'll have everybody in the world poor before they qualify for your empathy! Your attitude would literally increase the ranks of the poor suffering in the world out of misplaced sympathy for only the most poor.

I've been around generational poverty my entire life--both among close friends (including some who grew up in circumstances no one should ever have to grow up in, only to be socially outcast as "trash" just on the basis of their family's economic circumstances as they grew older) and among my extended family.

Only an entitled, self-satisfied ass could think life in poverty is so easy in America that it's not a real problem.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:28 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry for coming across so bitter. I was just thinking about a couple of friends from when I was a kid; in middle school, they were often left abandoned at their house for months at a time with no food other than what they got at school, no clean clothes, no supervision. Nothing. It wasn't fair. And it's not fair how society treats kids like that either.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:33 PM on July 28, 2011


As long as I can get cheap trade in XBox games, cheap Chinese food, free tickets to concerts and phone service paid for by my parents and health care paid for by my government I'm 'happy'. Or unahppy, but at least its my own unhappiness.

I'm not going to pretend there's anything moral about it. Its just that I know what makes me satisfied - a good beer, good friends, and $80 Hives tickets.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:05 PM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


OTOH, we do need to strive to be something bigger and better. This is okay as a personal choice, but if you get 'tall poppy syndrome' bullshit that tries to tear down people who rise above the muck and the mire then its fucked.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:06 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I shared chart showing that the top 5% of Indians live on the same income as the bottom 5% of Americans. When did I say American poverty wasn't a real problem? You denied it was true because economists just make things up (use "weird metrics" with no relationship to reality.) But if it is true, then all it means is that being rich in India is just as big a problem as being poor here. It doesn't mean that being poor here isn't a problem.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:20 PM on July 28, 2011


Then we just accidentally got our wires crossed and actually agree. I just couldn't help wondering--and still can't help wondering--if the "income" numbers aren't actually misleading. Metrics and data points have a funny way of not always accurately mapping to practical realities.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:29 PM on July 28, 2011


You're dead for a real long time.
You just can't prevent it.
So if money can't buy happiness,
I guess I'll have to rent it.


-Weird Al, "This Is the Life"
posted by Graygorey at 9:04 PM on July 28, 2011


What Lovecraft in Brooklyn said. Seattle is lousy with medium chillers. I just left employment at a nonprofit that is focused on helping vulnerable children, but many staff treated the place like a charitable organization intended to help middle-class, privileged adults lead low-hours, low-stress lifestyles. I can count the number of people who put in a full forty hours on one hand most weeks.

It's poisonous. New staff came in and saw that Suzy and Johnny and Tessa were strolling in at 9:45, taking long lunches, and heading out of the office at first sign of an afternoon sunbreak and they would soon think to themsleves "why should I work hard when these nitwits who get paid more than me are chilling out?" And if you question the lax attitudes, you get the b.s., high horse riding, rationalizing that this article and many of the comments in the thread seem to be peddling.

And so, fewer poor kids get the help that they need.

Nobody says you have to work 60 hours a week, but this notion of slacking off being the morally superior path is just rubbish in my line of work (and I suspect in many others). Belated
Caveat: I'm a New Englander by birth and temperament.
posted by Cassford at 12:02 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Caveat: I'm a New Englander by birth and temperament.

I never thought of signing my post that way, but I suppose it explains why I hold the view I do (despite otherwise leading a slacker existence).
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:17 AM on July 29, 2011


The article was about taking on a low-stress, lower-paying job, not slacking off at work.
Cassford, why did your lazy coworkers not lose their jobs? Were they irreplaceable, or was the organization just totally mismanaged?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:55 AM on July 29, 2011


Cassford : Nobody says you have to work 60 hours a week, but this notion of slacking off being the morally superior path is just rubbish in my line of work (and I suspect in many others).

TFA doesn't promote slacking off on-the-job. It just says, "Hey, I make enough to live in a way I find acceptable, even somewhat comfortable, so I see no reason to work harder to get 'ahead' of the other rats". Promotion means more work; If you don't care about more pay (or at least don't see it as worth the extra effort), why bother?


Caveat: I'm a New Englander by birth and temperament.

Reformed New Englander, here (at least as far as the Puritan "beat the Japanese at karoshi" thing goes). ;)
posted by pla at 3:39 AM on July 29, 2011


New staff came in and saw that Suzy and Johnny and Tessa were strolling in at 9:45, taking long lunches, and heading out of the office at first sign of an afternoon sunbreak and they would soon think to themsleves "why should I work hard when these nitwits who get paid more than me are chilling out?" And if you question the lax attitudes, you get the b.s., high horse riding, rationalizing that this article and many of the comments in the thread seem to be peddling.

THAT is slacking off. The article is promoting something more like, "working only 40 hours instead of 60 or 80."

...former New Englander here too, for the record.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:08 AM on July 29, 2011



col_pogo: Pastabagel is a Randroid, you can ignore anything it says.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:04 PM on July 28


Are you clinically stupid or just an idiot? Spend 5 seconds reading my comment history.

It's the kind of thinking that invites us to assume that the unfortunate would be better off if only they would try a little harder.

Are you including the "medium chill" people in the class of unfortunates? Because the medium chill people do not deserve free anything. The truly unfortunate, the people who didn't choose to be poor but ended up poor despite their best efforts do deserve help. This thread is not about them.

European social democrats, for instance, have taken a different tack. They have arranged their societies in such a way that their citizens are supported in the pursuit of other aims than sheer, mindless grinding away at the coalface. They don't work harder (or longer, rather--their per-hour productivity is the same as Americans')--instead they take more vacations. And they do that while having universal healthcare and giving more to the world's poor.

I'd like to see evidence of that last statistic, because the evidence I see says you're wrong.

Second, if your per-hour productivity statistic were true (it isn't, it is considerably lower in Europe) America would still be more productive simple by virtue of not taking as much vacation as Europe. And while they have universal healthcare, they ALSO have strong an violent neo-nazi and anti-immigrant movements, they have wars, and they have collapsing national economies across the continent. All of those problems are just as much part of the system as universal healthcare.

What's not to like about that? Looks like a mark of civilizational success, to me.
posted by col_pogo at 11:59 AM on July 28


Really? Tell that to Norway, or the EDL, or the Nazis in Saxony. Or the Bosnians. Or the Greeks, Portuguese, and Irish.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:54 PM on July 29, 2011


But yeah, you seem to know a lot of immigrants, so I'm sure this is all bullshit and they're just hiding the earnings from their chains of wheel balancing centres.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:01 PM on July 28


I love this, because you think you cleverly proved your point, when in fact you proved mine.

Yes, immigrants have a high rate of poverty. "Give me your poor." etc. The guy mentioned who crossed the rio grande with his dad? Technically, the second they entered the US, they were considered homeless.

This is the statistic that matters:

"We find that poverty rates among immigrant groups decline
quite quickly with time in the United States
(Figure 2). Al-
though the initial level of poverty among recent arrivals has
increased in recent decades, the declines in poverty observed
in subsequent censuses suggests that the poorer immigrants
of the most recent wave either exit poverty at a fairly rapid
rate
or emigrate out of the country. Immigrant-native dispar-
ity in the incidence of poverty also declines with immigrants’
time in the United States."
posted by Pastabagel at 9:24 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The truly unfortunate, the people who didn't choose to be poor but ended up poor despite their best efforts do deserve help. This thread is not about them.

But who do you think it is about? It's not about slackers. It's about people who work 40 or 45 hours a week instead of 60 or 65. Do you think every man and woman in America should be working 60 hours a week? You're right about one thing -- that's what my immigrant grandparents did.

You know why? So their descendants wouldn't have to.
posted by escabeche at 9:46 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


the poorer immigrants of the most recent wave either exit poverty at a fairly rapid rate or emigrate out of the country

That last clause is doing a lot of work.

Immigration has a lot of selection bias. The people who come here in the first place are the ones with the kind of social capital that allows them to get themselves off the ground very quickly. The ones who stay are the ones who succeed. Others go back home, either to give up or to pocket whatever gains they made from the higher wages here in the US compared to their home countries.
posted by deanc at 6:12 AM on July 30, 2011


they ALSO have strong an violent neo-nazi and anti-immigrant movements, they have wars, and they have collapsing national economies across the continent.

Good thing we don't have any of those things here!
posted by rtha at 7:49 AM on July 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Second, if your per-hour productivity statistic were true (it isn't, it is considerably lower in Europe)because they work longer hours.

Before the Great Recession, the US was not notable for having much higher per-hour productivity compared to its peer countries.

Why am I arguing with Pastabagel? Personally, I thought this comment was hilarious:

I just left employment at a nonprofit that is focused on helping vulnerable children, but many staff treated the place like a charitable organization intended to help middle-class, privileged adults lead low-hours, low-stress lifestyles. I can count the number of people who put in a full forty hours on one hand most weeks.

It's a non-profit where what was no doubt a highly educated white-collar staff was getting paid mediocre wages will little chance of advancement. What were you expecting? Personally, I'd probably feel sorry for them if I found out they were working them 60 hours a week. They presumably made a conscious choice not to become bankers, scientists, surgeons, or management consultants.
posted by deanc at 9:31 AM on July 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


> I thought having no sidewalks was an indicator of a higher-class neighborhood?

It's a minor point, but no, it isn't necessarily an indication of a higher-class neighborhood. Around here -- and I live a few miles from where the author does -- sidewalks get made only when the owner of the house the sidewalk would be outside does a major remodel. So in neighborhoods like mine (not fancy at all) a block will lack sidewalks for almost the entire stretch, then have a sidewalk outside just the one new house someone built a few years ago.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:05 AM on July 31, 2011


Pastabagel: For the sake of brevity, I didn't qualify my comment about Europe giving more to the world's poor. What I meant was that European average official development assistance, especially from the more social democratic countries, is streets ahead of the US as a percentage of national GNI. Now, private giving may be more in the US, something reflected in the study you link to in the Guardian (which doesn't actually measure the amount of money given: rather the index there seems to fold in self-reported frequency of giving with survey respondents who volunteered or had "helped a stranger" in the month prior to the survey).

The bit about productivity per hour was something I had remembered reading a couple of years ago. Perhaps incorrectly, perhaps not, as deanc suggests.

(Also, the collapsing European economies you mention are partially but intimately tied to the breakdown of the US financial system and not so much to some regional epidemic of slackerdom.)

In any case, on how to regard moralistic calls for us all to JUST WORK HARDER without any attention to systemic inequalities, I think Jack Balkin has it right:

When Tom Friedman tells Americans that they need to become "ten times more productive," he's trying to inspire a rugged individualism of self-improvement. But accelerating inequality makes that aspiration a pipe dream for more and more of the global middle. We need forward-thinking collective action to prevent globalization from creating a new feudalist era of opulent and powerful elites deigning to grant the mass subsistence living standards. Sadly, the leading political force in the US today appears to be contemplating a far more individualist solution for raising household productivity.
posted by col_pogo at 7:09 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


the medium chill people do not deserve free anything

everyone deserves free love and respect. and free hugs.

posted by mrgrimm at 9:34 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The more satisficing white people there are who don't feel like "working that hard", the more room there is for us immigrants and minorities to take over. Excellent. I am steepling my fingers.
posted by superquail at 9:05 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


ha ha nice try bill o'reilly
posted by entropicamericana at 10:28 AM on August 9, 2011


« Older Who is Tom Bombadil?...  |  253 is a novel written for the... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments