“I am not obliged to do any more. No man is obliged to do as much as he can do. A man is to have part of his life to himself.”
I assume the famous 18th Century Londoner and dictionary pioneer Samuel Johnson would include women if he were still issuing pithy soundbites today.
Because despite the headlines about high youth unemployment – or perhaps the cause of some of them – the bigger problem is that British men and women alike are working too many hours.
Since the recession pulled down productivity, we’re producing 21% less output per hour of wage slavery than the average G7 nation.
Real incomes have stagnated, too. The 1% are at least getting richer off of all this effort – and you can if you run your life like a capitalist – but many in the middle are in hock to a treadmill they bought on a payday loan from a late night TV shopping channel to keep up with their next door neighbour’s rat rotastak.
Sorry, I think I got up on the wrong side of bed.
Ratting out the rat race
As a nation we’ve worked hard for decades to get ever more deeply into debt.
And what for?
Even the simplest middle-class aspiration – a humble mortgage – looks all but beyond the next generation.
In the South East we’ve built too few homes, allowed too few to buy the ones we have built, and bid up house prices to a level where the Bank of England governor has just stepped in to stop first-time buyers in London (at least those who don’t work in the City or have a hotline to the Bank of Mum and Dad) from getting a house in the traditional pre-financial crisis way – enough optimistic bragging about their income to make an oligarch blush, if not outright fraud.
But maybe it’s all academic, anyway. Who can afford to buy a house after they’ve paid for university?
Instead of slaving away for
45 50 years and keeping your spirits going with stuff you don’t need, can’t afford, can’t digest, or that plays havoc with your marriage and/or your nasal passages, why not slave away (or work smarter) for merely 20-25 years, spend less, invest the spare, and retire early to a life of leisure, global exploration, study, money-making on your own terms, or a dream career that pays peanuts?
Or heck, even dossing at Ladbrokes as the only mug punter in credit if that’s what floats your boat.
The point is to find your own terms, as best you can, and live them. We live in a world full of money, wealth and opportunity, but it’s easy to squander the lot.
“Most people are too busy earning a living to make any money,” someone once said.
History doesn’t record if he said it hunched over a desk he didn’t want to be at aged 65.
Then again, perhaps the words weren’t bitter, but triumphant. Shouted into the wind from a chilly, gorgeous and empty British beach where he was walking his dog during rush hour, because he runs his business from home.
Live this moment
The title of today’s post was nicked from the British poet Simon Armitage’s wonderful Selected Poems.
The following two stanzas from his poem It Ain’t What You Do It’s What It Does To You sums it up for me – and I am partly writing this rant because I’ve drifted myself, and I need to get back on track.
I have not padded through the Taj Mahal
barefoot, listening to the space between
each footfall picking up and putting down
its print against the marble floor. But I
skimmed flat stones across Black Moss on a day
so still I could hear each set of ripples
as they crossed. I felt each stones’ inertia
spend itself against the water; then sink.
You’re a long time dead.