The Aspirations of Many: Work More!

Jeb Bush, hopefully being dumbfounded by his own comment(s)

My aspiration for the country—and I believe we can achieve it—is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see,” he said. “Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in. –Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush said that earlier this month to the conservative New Hampshire Union Leader and instantly drew the ire of many democrats. They seized the opportunity to make Jeb look out of touch with Jeb’s team trying to recover by saying he only meant that American simply need more full-time work.

But across both of the political aisles, no one was really having it. TIME reports that more than one senior advisor to a Republican rival dismissed the excuse while democrats continued to lambast the statement anyways.

As Helaine Olen of Slate points out though, most American seem to actually agree with Jeb Bush.

There’s a large and shared cultural perception that the cures to America’s current woes are for everyone to just keep doing what they’re doing but harder. In order to fix our problems we need not work smarter and perhaps even work less but work much more and “lean in”. Lean more and more until we’re too far to go back.

Thus the American Dream can be safely secured for us all.

The democrats are right to lambast Bush but they’re not much better either. In rhetoric Hillary Clinton and others may say that they understand the “working class” but that doesn’t explain why most Americans still seem to hold work so uncritically. If Hillary and company really understand the working class then why does she think that they agree with her that they need to work less? Perhaps some of them do but it seems hard to believe that most people think that’s the answer at this point.

One of the biggest developing industries in the United States is Silicon Valley and the larger tech industry where many people seem to relish in the fact that they work very long hours per week. Whether it’s developing the newest app, the newest website design or working on some sort of coding project. The work ethic seems particularly pronounced in an industry that while it leads in many things also seems to share the same conservative attitude Jeb expressed.

I’ve worked in the retail industry off and on for the past three or so years. I can’t say that I ever feel like me working more hours would’ve somehow improved America’s good fortunes. And that’s largely because I never really felt like any of us made that much of a difference to the larger economy. If you or I put in a few more hours into our jobs (that we may not like) what does it accomplish? Do we really feel like our money contributes in the same way that the big corporations we work for do? Or the politicians they lobby?

This all may sound disheartening to realize but it needn’t be so.

Because the end goal isn’t or shouldn’t be to invest ourselves so much in one way of living that we start heading away from land once we notice the ship sinking. Instead, the idea is to build and use the time you really cherish or have to make your money as independently as possible. Do what makes you feel satisfied and you feel gives more to yourself and others then just something you do to pass the days by.

The problem is that folks who decide to go their own way are often lambasted. They are seen as “lazy’ or some sort of renegade because they aren’t following the path that isn’t just “well traveled” by now, it’s worn out. They’re refusing to go the same way that other people go and decide to make life their own as much as possible.

A great example of such an individual would be Ultra Romance who Business Insider’s Daniel McMahon reported on recently. Romance decided to work for six months in a year and then go traveling the rest of the time. He survives on peasant diets, foraging and whatever else he can manage to find. Romance says he’s pickier about nutrition than what he is actually eating.

Clearly Romance’s style isn’t for everyone and by no means should be taken as some sort of blueprint for how people could work less. But it’s one option among many that prove to have a better life, at least for yourself, you don’t have to be working all of the time. You can work as you need to and if you’re careful you can end up having a lot more time to yourself and your own pursuits.

And shouldn’t that be the American Dream?

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