Priceless Moments: How Capitalism Eats Our Time

Yves here. This thoughtful article curiously omits one of our pet peeves: the neoliberal fetish with markets as the preferred answer to all problems, which produces the not-acknowledged cost of shopping as a tax on time. We’ve pointed this out repeatedly with Obamacare advocates presenting the annual torture of shopping for a new plan (which users apparently are expected to do to secure the best deal; plan terms and pricing change sufficiently that sticking with your existing plan, even when that is possible, often comes at an opportunity cost), particularly given that critically important information, such as what providers participate, is notoriously unreliable, and worse, that’s perfectly permissible. Doctors are faced with their own tax on time, of having to arm wrestle with insurers to get paid, with the result that more and more are leaving the profession.

By Maria Askew, a postgraduate student of International Politics at SOAS University. She is currently researching alternatives to neoliberalism, social movements in Latin America, borders and decoloniality. She is also a professional theatre maker, writer and performer. Originally published at openDemocracy

Economic rationality leaves no room for free time unless it produces or consumes commercial wealth.

One of the most famous advertising campaigns of my generation is MasterCard’s Priceless. Launched in 1997, this twenty-year-long award-winning international campaign has been watched in 112 countries and 53 languages. The adverts show characters undertaking activities and using products that are ‘price-tagged’ by voiceovers and captions.

One advert shows a father and son attending a baseball game (“tickets: $46”) and another depicts a baby receiving toys (“most popular toy for toddler: $500”). This ‘price-tagging’ leads to the final ‘un-priced’ activity which is declared “priceless.” A father is rewarded with “real conversation with 11 year old son,” and parents watch their baby “play with a cardboard box instead.”The famous (and widely parodied) tagline follows: “There are some things that money can’t buy, but for everything else, there’s MasterCard.”

These adverts appeal to our deep, instinctive desire for meaningful interaction, as when a young child plays with a cardboard box, blissfully unaware of the superior ‘value’ of her toys. In this way MasterCard achieves the very opposite of what it claims: by taking these supposedly “priceless” moments that exist outside of the world of economic rationality and using them to advertise itself, the US multinational credit card giant gives them a price—simply sign up for a MasterCard, spend more money, and you too can experience these “priceless” moments.

In order to watch a baby innocently playing with an empty cardboard box, the $500 toy that came inside it first had to be purchased, so we can easily be forgiven for believing that spending (plus the debt that usually goes with it) equals more time for true happiness. These adverts sell the ‘necessity’ of credit cards to create the most meaningful moments in time, thereby marketing the world as one of total consumerism.

The irony of MasterCard quantifying the unquantifiable is reinforced by the company’s questionable track record. The European Union has repeatedly criticised them for their monopolistic trade practices, and, following a two-year investigation, filed formal charges against MasterCard in 2015 for charging its customers “an artificially high minimum price” for card payments in violation of European antitrust laws.

The company has also faced plagiarism lawsuits in Paraguay and Chile as a result of allegedly appropriating Argentinian-born Edgardo Apestguia’s advertising campaign for Bancard’s credit card, which was launched in Paraguay in 1994 with the almost identical slogan: “Hay cosas que el dinero no puede comprar. Pero, todo lo demás, se compra con Bancard.”

MasterCard’s Priceless campaign reveals the ways in which time is being colonised by capitalism, as Nichole Marie Shippen demonstrates in her book “Decolonizing Time: Work, Leisure, and Freedom.”  Shippen argues that the erosion of free time is due to the ever-expanding economic rationalisation of all aspects of time. Capitalism necessarily demands the gradual deployment of economic rationality to all aspects of daily life, so catchphrases like ‘time is money’ become entrenched into our collective psyche.

Shippen differentiates between ‘meaningful leisure’ and the ‘free time’ of today, which really implies ‘unfree time’—just  as MasterCard’s ‘priceless’ reward is presented in relation to moments that are ‘priced.’ In order to live a good life as opposed to simply live, one must first reduce the time spent on necessities. However, in the current system where arduous, repetitive, un-stimulating and/or excessive work is created and placed at the centre of society, the idea of ‘free time’ has been rendered virtually meaningless.

Today, much more time is spent in relation to work: traveling to work, recovering from work, attempting to disconnect from work, searching for work or engaging in unpaid domestic work. This increase in work-related time pressures is connected to the rise of zero-hours contracts and the erosion of employment rights, developments that have especially damaging repercussions for people on lower-wages. Research by the Social Mobility Commission reveals that the UK’s low pay culture traps people in poorly-paid jobs.

Inequalities in these restrictions on time are themselves racialised and gendered. Graduates from black and ethnic minority backgrounds face significant employment and pay penalties in the workforce, and unemployment is ten percent higher among ethnic minorities than the national average. The base of all industrial work is the unpaid time women frequently spend on housework and childcare, and low pay is endemic for women in their early 20s who juggle work with childcare responsibilities.

Although there is a clear need to generate more discretionary time for people under so much pressure, this challenge has been individualised and depoliticised under neoliberalism, which attempts to ‘solve’ it through the purchase of time management and time saving devices such as business apps which in turn reinforce the capitalist agenda by ‘winning back’ time for their users in order to increase productivity and maximise their working potential.

That’s why collective problems need collective solutions, found in the likes of Universal Basic Income, The Living Wage, and extensions to holiday pay and parental leave. All of these solutions provide much needed financial support so that people are not forced to give up all of their time to generate income, rather than engaging in activities such as social activism or spending time with their family and friends, reading fiction or enjoying art and music.

A 2014 study commissioned by MasterCard found that only half of all Americans have been on, or are planning to take, a vacation. In response to this seeming irrationality, the company launched its #OneMoreDay 2014 campaign with an advert that featured children advocating for Americans to take their vacation days. The campaign implored viewers to “pledge to take one more day of vacation, and make the most of it with MasterCard.” The company’s motivation to come out in support of taking holidays seems clear: more free time equals more time for consumption—a perfect illustration of the fact that taking ‘free time’ is not enough to free ourselves from capitalist culture.

The current system rests on workers using their limited free time for consumption in order to sustain the economy, to the extent that it can seem impossible to achieve quality time away from work without excessive or unsustainable spending, let alone envision meaningful alternatives.  Economic rationality leaves no room for authentic free time that neither produces nor consumes commercial wealth.

Consumer culture has led to shopping malls replacing town squares, and a watered down, formulaic movie industry which dominates over more innovative or challenging forms of entertainment. However, in a world permeated by economic rationality we can still find cracks. Shippen gives examples of meaningful leisure found in community gardens, mindfulness and the slow food movement, advocating solutions based on improving the qualitative aspects of life, not only for individuals but for all of society. While these activities are limited in their ability to reclaim time from capitalism, community-centred actions strengthen our ability to self-organise and conceptualise non-capitalistic ways of doing things.

Ultimately, to improve the quality of our leisure time we must become conscious of the structures that depoliticise and rationalise our time in economic terms, and the related inequalities that come with this process. Only when we see these structures clearly can we begin to actively resist them and build alternatives. Increased awareness empowers us to protect and strengthen the intrinsic riches of our communities; embrace authentic, meaningful moments as they arise; and take action to reclaim time from capitalism by radically transforming the world in which we live.

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  1. Tony Wikrent

    Reminds me again of the now forgotten fight between the American and British schools of political economy. The British school won.

    “The English school of political economy treats man as a mere machine placed on the earth for the purpose of producing food cloth iron pins or needles and takes no account of him as a being capable of intellectual and moral improvement…. In England a large portion of the people can neither read nor write and there is scarcely an effort to give them education. The colonial system looks to low wages necessarily followed by an inability to devote time to intellectual improvement. Protection looks to the high wages that enable the labourer to improve his mind and educate his children. The English child transferred to this country becomes an educated and responsible being. If he remain at home he remains in brutish ignorance. To increase the productiveness of labour education is necessary. Protection tends to the diffusion of education and the elevation of the condition of the labourer .”

    — Henry C. Carey, The Harmony of Interests: Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Commercial (1851)

  2. fresno dan

    So I am (trying) to see a specialist. I get 15 documents in the e-mail from this clown to fill out….
    I also get the next day some kind of internet thing that I have to apply to and get a password to fill out even more crap.
    I emailed the guy and told him I am the bottom line payer of his salary – he doesn’t assign me work, I assign him work, and if I get another email from him he will have one less patient.

    1. beth

      fresno, I agree with you, but I am in the position that I would have no doctors if I did what you did. I am on Medicare. More and more doctors are not accepting Medicare. I got dropped by one dr who went Medicare free and have found it very difficult to find an internist. I haven’t seen the new doctor yet so I am not sure this will be a match.

      By sticking with my old internist yesterday, I was charged $95 for an blood test and $80 for the visit. I needed the visit or I would not have done that.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Re fresno dan, I’ve had a version of that with my SSN. My insurer doesn’t use that as an identifier but sometimes MDs ask for that. I leave that line blank if they ask for it. Once in a while, I have someone refuse to see me over that even after telling them they don’t need it, they can confirm it with my insurer, and I’m paying at the time of visit. Remarkable how rigid some of these guys can be.

        Re beth, in the future, you could see if you can come up with a reason to go to a lab instead of having the MD make the test if you think it’s not warranted or he’s upcharging beyond Medicaid rates. One excuse is you forgot to fast if the test requires a fast. You would need an MD scrip and a diagnosis code but his office could/should send it over to the lab directly. Most clinical labs have offices open to the public. Labcorp in particular has a lot.

        I’ve taken to going to labs because among other things, their phlebotomists are way better than those of most MDs since all they do all day is draw blood (I get turned into a pincushion way too often when they are trying to nail a vein). You could use the latter as an excuse with your MD, that he’s bruised you too many times and you want to go to the lab.

        Also can you just refuse the test? I do that all the time for tests I don’t think are warranted.

        1. J Baker

          Lab Tests… have used Lifeextension for a few years for tests. A CBC…35.00. They have a lot of different tests available. I order online and get the order in the mail and take it to labcorp. No charge at labcorp. Get the results in a couple of weeks on paper.

        2. Collins

          Re: SSNs- 1) Most insurance forms require them for the doctor to get paid 2) Most patients don’t know -for sure- if it’s required on the form (and the insurance ‘patient advocate’ may get it wrong, all their mistakes usually are in their favor), finally 3) few if any patients are willing to pay the full cost upfront, to be refunded later, if they are wrong about the doc not needing the SSN for the claim form.
          In short, need for the med office to have a SSN is not obsolescence.

          And for fresno Dan who dislikes the “patient portal”, welcome to the New Normal where Medicine truly has been turned into a Business, just like the Ultimate CheeseCake Factory (praised as a model for medical care some years ago). Empowering (for both you & the doctor ) isn’t it?

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Did you read what I wrote? That is not correct. My insurer is one of the biggest and went of SSNs 20 years ago. I believe some of the other majors have too.

            And I also clearly wrote that I pay myself and submit for reimbursement.

            Please don’t comment if you are going to ignore what was written.

      2. fresno dan

        February 28, 2018 at 11:20 am

        beth, I am super empathetic. I don’t know how long it will take before people realize we are in a new gilted age and everything is manipulated to strip mine every last vestige of income from the 90%. In case you didn’t know I am a HICAP (health insurance counseling and advocacy program) volunteer here in CA, and what I see is heart wrenching – I just hope the old people catch on before its too late. As I said in another post, they changed the war on poverty to the war on poor….

        1. Anand Shah

          @fresno dan,

          is it possible to provides details of the HICAP volunteerism in CA… maybe people like us who are about to age, could volunteer @ local chapters… to help others down the line… and be a part of understanding policies and changes that would occur over time…

    2. Ford Prefect

      My parents are in the socialist Canadian health care system, complete with death panels.

      My dad had to go into hospital due to some nasty stroke-like symptoms a couple of weeks ago. They got immediate attention and the doctors were able to pull up his complete history (it turns out EDRs do have a purpose other than for rejecting insurance claims) including x-rays and cat-scans and compare them to his current condition.

      He got to see a specialist that worked through his drug regime and made some appropriate changes. His next appointment is with his internist in a few days to review everything. His internist will have the complete records of his hospital visit when he is there.

      Regarding paperwork and billings…..I think he had to give them his provincial health insurance card for them to check him in. I don’t think they are expecting a significant bill other than a couple of small co-pays.

      If only they could be working within a modern privatized healthcare system so that their experience could be vastly improved.

      1. marieann

        Ah yes Canadian Death Panels….bring to mind this patient I looked after when I was still nursing.
        She was from a nursing home 99 years or thereabouts, she had pneumonia.
        I get a call from her son half way through the evening shift, he was not happy with us.

        Did we know that she had an advanced directive that stated No Hospitalizations, I started to explain that we could cure the pneumonia and that she was on IV antibiotics.
        He just said he was sending a copy of his mothers wishes and to make sure it was understood.
        The next day when I came in she had been sent back and died soon after.

        I think patients final wishes get confused with what everybody else think should happen

        I hope my sons are willing to fight for me like this lady’s son did for her

      2. Pogonip

        Hi Ford,

        In the late 1920’s my grandparents left Virginia because they were starving. Darn near every day for the last 20 years I have had occasion to wish they had decided to go north rather than west.

        I tell the pre-computer generation how simple it used to be to conduct most business and they nod politely but I can tell they don’t believe me. They can’t conceive of a society where you could open a bank account by filling out a paper or two and depositing your money. Where you could just pull a box of sinus pills off the shelf and buy it. Where if something went wrong you could call the company and they would usually make it right, rather than the Customer Service Representative sympathizing with you but telling you she can’t do anything because The System won’t let her. Where the phone was answered with a person saying “Acme Company” rather than a computer saying “Thank you for calling Acme Company. Your call is very important to us. Please listen carefully because our menu options may have changed…” followed by a long list of perfectly obvious things, none of which fit your problem because if the solution had been perfectly obvious you’d already have the problem solved.

        Nope, they can’t conceive of it.

        1. John Wright

          My grandfather had a small grocery store in South Dakota.

          My dad told me a story of him getting a check from a customer (probably in the 1920’s) and going to the local bank to cash it.

          The teller told him the check was not good, but that the customer had a bank account at a competitive bank across the street that might have some money.

          Sure enough, the customer had enough money at the bank across the street.

          My grandfather crossed off the name of the first bank, wrote the other bank’s name on the check and cashed the check.

          Per my dad’s telling, the customer was not happy with this turn of events.

          Prior times had some very “flexible” and simple financial systems.

    3. Altandmain

      Oh wow… Sounds awful.

      I am continuously alarmed at the endless attempts by politicians and business elites to try to bring the worst aspects of American style crony capitalism to Canada.

      Dental care is not universal un Canada and sadly, is often a mess.

    4. Pogonip

      Fresno Dan, that specialist who assigned you all that homework probably holds stock in CVS. ?

      Around here, if you didn’t do the homework you wouldn’t see any doctors. A lot of that stuff is required by Obamacare, though, so it isn’t all their fault. One provision of Obamacare is if doctors don’t collect all the info it wants, even from patients not on Obamacare, Medicare won’t pay them for anybody, and since old people pay the rent for most doctors…

      I could live with the homework; what upsets me is the computers. I want my doctor looking at me, not looking into a computer sifting through the 5,000 canned chart notes trying to find the one that applies to my ailment. (My previous doctor retired because of that and the current one is thinking about it.)

  3. marieann

    “engaging in unpaid domestic work.”

    This always gets me…the idea of monetizing the work we do around the house.

    A house does not run it’s self….someone must be at the helm……you could of course hire somebody to clean and cook etc. so when you do it yourself it’s “unpaid”.

    Is your personal care…teeth brushing,showering,putting on lipstick unpaid…should you be paid to do self care.
    A home is an extension of ourselves….and yes we need someone to do all those things, it’s not a paid job, it’s called life.

    Yes I’m old fashioned, when I stayed home keeping it clean,making healthy meals and baking cookies was my job and I did it for my family, when I worked part time I still did it but not as much. When I worked full time…well that only last for 4 years because someone has to be home to manage a home.

    We paid for my services but rejecting capitalism and not consuming.

    1. WallaceN

      “We paid for my services but rejecting capitalism and not consuming.”

      That was good Marieann. My Millennial son have learned (had to) to live with less. And you know what, they’re okay with it. Both are educated with decent jobs but went a long time with marginal employment after college. And still carry a lot of debt. They see consuming only as a necessity. Hopefully capitalism doesn’t get to them.

  4. david

    Go, Fresno Dan, go. I’m in a similar position with one of my docs. It seems like every time I have any contact with the medical profession, something goes wrong and I have to spend my time fixing it.

    PS When I lived in SF I had Kaiser and there was none of this. Sadly, no real HMOs where I live now.

    1. JE

      Longing for Kaiser and the HMOs? Mercy. I remember when employer provided health care benefits were of the quality that HMOs were scoffed at and getting a Kaiser plan seen as a sign of crapification and a decided downgrade. And I’ve only been in the workforce for 20 years! How far we’ve come.

      It seems that many of you are paying out of pocket for health care. As a (currently healthy) newly self-employed entrepreneur (talk about capitalization of time!) I am cutting way back on my health care plan, one of the nearly useless high-deductible plans waiting for the repeal of the individual mandate penalty. Any tips for finding docs that understand and welcome an old-fashioned doctor-patient commercial relationship with a reasonable and upfront price structure?

    1. Carla

      Well, I scanned it.

      Piketty asks: “Why didn’t democracy reduce inequality?”

      Because we don’t have democracy. Duh.

  5. Paul Cardan

    Andre Gorz’s Critique of Economic Reason deals with many of the same issues and is well worth a read. He’d agree: “Capitalism Kills Love,” and even has an argument to this effect: economizing, thinking about how to gain the most at the least cost, including one’s time, is inimical to a host of human relationships: between teacher and student, parent and child, friends and lovers too.

    But what to do about it? Askew seems to favor UBI. But, assuming this was actually used to allow for more free time, what can people do with it? That is, what do they know how to do, and what do their environs allow to be done? Well, they know how to shop, and there are lots of places to do this. They know how to consume, and the home is now largely a site for that, and not much more. Perhaps there should be a job guarantee instead (something Gorz considered back in the day, and favored over UBI until eventually deciding that some combination of the two was needed)? But how is that consistent with ecological constraints? What are people working guaranteed jobs to do, given increasing automation? Shine shoes? Peddle flowers on street corners? Doesn’t Keynes talk about job guarantees somewhere, comparing them with something like an Easter egg hunt? We bury hundred dollar bills, give people shovels, and then they dig them up, all day, every day. Seems more efficient to just give them the money. But then we’re back to UBI.

    1. akaPaul LaFargue

      Glad to see Paul has risen from his tomb to impart some insights via Gorz. UBI has become so deformed as a concept that it is almost useless to refer to it. And JG. To paraphrase Marx’s question in another context – “Who employees the job creator?” At one point G. considered a form of civic responsibility influencing the fulfillment of socially necessary labor and this shared so that it would take only hours in a week to do. Might still be true (after all the broken bits of infrastructure are repaired – NOTE: will we need a vast highway system w/o millions slavishly commuting to b.s. jobs?).
      The point is: people have unexplored skills, desires and capacities that are submerged by the time-locked, psycho-socially reinforced regimentation of consuming. Forcing them to work would be just another constraint. What could happen freed of those constraints?

      1. Paul Cardan

        Well, Cornelius wasn’t using it anymore.

        Yes, part of Gorz’s proposal involved sharing the remaining work that must be done within ecological constraints. “Work less to live more.” This he regarded as far preferable to the likely alternative: creating two classes of laborer, one consisting of relatively few, highly paid, credentialed professionals who rightly see their fortunes linked to those of their employers, and the other made up of many persons who, when and if precariously employed, essentially do servant work (that is, jobs that most adults can do for themselves).

        I believe Gorz has been called “the Cassandra of the Left,” for good reason. True prophecy no one believes.

        There’s a lot of talk about and interest in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire on NC. I think Lambert is even soliciting reading suggestions. And there’s that category “Imperial Collapse Watch.” There’s a sense that a civilization, the one to which we belong, is collapsing, having rotted from within. The rot’s only just now showing at the surface. Well-meaning proposals like JG and UBI, by themselves, seem to me like efforts to polish the apple, long after it’s already gone bad. What’s required is imagination, as Askew says, but that’s a tall order in this case, as what we need to imagine is a quite different form of life. Or so it seems to me.

        Sometimes looking back is a good way to move forward, as with the Renaissance. That’s what Castoriadis did, as did Arendt. Maybe the Greeks could give us some ideas about how to use that freed up time of which you speak. Certainly, suggestions would be helpful, since, as Arendt pointed out, the prospect of a society of laborers without labor is not a happy one.

    2. Summer

      “But what to do about it? Askew seems to favor UBI. But, assuming this was actually used to allow for more free time, what can people do with it?”

      If there were a UBI:
      The free time is needed to figure out what you can do with the time. Others already may have ideas of what to do or try. But at the end of the day, one would want to concentrate on what they’re now able to do with their own time.
      Too much time spent thinking about how to regulate others behavior.

      1. Paul Cardan

        Behavior has to be regulated in some fashion; that’s the price of living with others of our kind. But it’s not the question I’m raising. What people can do depends on their abilities, character traits, and circumstances, including social context. I could not presently be a knight errant. Herodotus could not have been a saint. Arguably, no one can engage in politics in a police state, except perhaps the police. So, what opportunities does our society provide people for doing anything other than labor and consume? Even if such opportunities were afforded, would we choose to take advantage of them, disposed as we are to do what present arrangements allow or even encourage?

        1. Summer

          “What people can do depends on their abilities, character traits, and circumstances, including social context. I could not presently be a knight errant. Herodotus could not have been a saint. Arguably, no one can engage in politics in a police state, except perhaps the police. So, what opportunities does our society provide people for doing anything other than labor and consume?”

          People will need the time to explore their abilities, character traits, etc. in a scenario without constant pre-scheduling, helicoptering, rating of time. I’m just not freaked out about the possibility of such a large scale exploration. A writer could be sipping a beer while sitting under a tree and still be writing.

          1. Paul Cardan

            Yeah, freaking out is never the thing to do. But do we have institutions for discussing and implementing the results of that exploration? Do we have people who are both able and disposed to engage in such exploration? My impression is that the answer to the first question is “no.” As for the second question, I consider Russiagate and, before that, widespread acceptance of the case for war with Iraq. Both appear to me to be the results of completely risible yet disturbingly effective ad campaigns. Now, most people in this country who are decades old have lived through decades of a relentless ad campaign for a certain way of life, a campaign that pushes certain ideas about what’s good in life and what’s possible in this world. Those ideas are tailored to what the dominant institutions can deliver (though, problematically, for fewer and fewer citizens). Due to defects in our educational system, historical horizons typically extend no more than about thirty years into the past, and pretty much only extend to the past of this nation. Thus, very few of us “unique,” “self-actualizing” children of Romanticism even consider the possibility of becoming, say, a shaman. Instead, “unique,” “self-actualizing individuals” aspire, by and large, to work in offices and live in suburbs.

            So, what will such people do with their free time? What will their explorations amount to? I think about what peasants of Medieval Europe would have done had their corvee days been reduced. I’m no medievalist, but I’d wager they’d simply have done what they were accustomed to doing when not working for someone else. What else could they have done, and, given what their society allowed for and encouraged, what would have been the point of even trying to do something else?

            Look, I don’t deny that “freedom from” is worth having, including the freedom from pointless busy-work. It is absurd that people in this society are being asked to devote most of their waking lives to out-competing the Chinese (or whomever) in the production of junk. But I think that “freedom to” needs to be given some thought, because it has to be created, usually in cooperation with others. And I very much doubt that human beings just have innate, untapped, creative powers adequate to the task. Rather, such powers have to be cultivated. It’s the kind of thing our educational system might do if it weren’t harnessed chiefly for the production of compliant worker/consumers.

            1. akaPaul LaFargue

              A society of “order-takers” and “order-givers.” It defines the society from the eye of the bird (or the astronaut), but it gets more complex on the ground. I may be influenced to be a bit more optimistic by living in Northern California where the relative bounty percolates alternative ways of living that aren’t totally dominated by clever ways of commodification. And having grown kids who fill out their non-working lives with all sorts of socially relevant pursuits that they would love to devote more time to. I don’t wish to discount those who live in the most disabused parts of the country and have few options beyond drugs.

              I’m not so sure either that this is an ‘educational’ issue as much as a more specifically a cultural one. I’m thinking here working-class garage bands for instance – and I realize for some this is the desire to commodify a life-style, but not entirely. Another example would be the research highlighted on NC regarding urban (Philadelphia, I believe) parks created from the trashed empty lots. Detroit and the Boggs Center comes to mind. Without the internet these isolated “adventures in desire” wouldn’t spread beyond the borders of a neighborhood, but today urban gardens exist everywhere (and finally some academics published the obvious results known to many for decades now).

              None of this is on the scale necessary to totally address the issue of time well spent, I agree, but we aren’t living in a complete cultural wasteland, but one that is hidden most of the time by the journalistic fog of “what bleeds leads.”

  6. human

    As a decades long member of the gig economy, I’ve seen this movie before. I spend more and more time perusing job offer lists whose payment offers have stagnated recently, if not actually declined, as completion terms have become increasingly harsh and sometimes unrealistic and/or contradictory. Middle management aserting itself.

    I have had several “longtime” (1 to 2 year) relationships with some, what are termed, providers (of job offers). Taking a day or two off puts one in the position of not being able to immediately fulfill a job request. I have often resorted to claims of sickness or car trouble in order to justify taking a minimal time off, hoping that some deep seated humanity on the part of the faceless person at the other end of my request did not see through my ruse or otherwise relegate me to the back of an always full Rolodex where I would necessarilly be required to expend additional job search time in order to find and complete work for new providers under their new, to me, job and completion terms.

    Stressfull yes, but, not being one to kowtow to overarching demands, and living a simple life, I am able to say no to maintain my sanity.

    I often explain to people that if you are not depressed in this current climate, you are sick.

  7. Disturbed Voter

    You can to a degree, choose a lower standard of living and consume less. That isn’t the American Dream, but the American Dream is past its sell by date.

    There is no solution to medical expense, the cost/demand curve is inelastic. It will continue to grow until it is 100% of the economy, or people revert to herbal remedies and a shorter life span.

    1. Robert McGregor

      @Disturbed Voter, Remember the “Pareto 80/20 Principle” applies to American Medical Care. Only 20% of it is substance, and 80% of it is bullshit. If the average American spends 80% of their “healthcare money” and time on better food, sleep, exercise, meditation–they are going to be better off.

  8. lyman alpha blob

    Our local grocery store recently installed some self check out aisles. Now, rather than the grocery company training a few people to use the machines necessary to check out customers, every single customer needs to take the time to learn how to use the machines, passing labor costs from the company to the customer.

    One of my favorite new pastimes at the grocery store is seeing how many customers the person behind the register can check out while those in the thrall of technology attempt to use the self checkout machine. Generally the human being can put through 2-4 customers while the self checkout takes care of one, and that’s often with the person at the self checkout having fewer items than anyone in the human line.

    1. Pogonip

      I wouldn’t mind self-checkout so much if you could SHUT THE DAMN THING UP. A momentary pause is sufficient to start it yapping away, distracting me while I’m trying to read the screen.

      On the other hand, my autistic relative loves it because he doesn’t have to talk to it. He’s able to shut out that woman’s irritating voice. (Who is she and why do all companies use her to record their scripts?)

    2. Paleobotanist

      What you can do is settle down to gum up the self-checkout and make such a big mess that a human cashier has to come over and sort out the mess you’ve made. Nothing like an idiot on the loose! I modestly declare that I can figure out how to crash any computer system. When the human comes by, you politely whisper “I’m trying to save your job.” and all is well. A little creativity and you can tangle up self checkout for 10-15 minutes. Evil cackle! Sabotage rules!

      1. Julia Versau

        My grocery store installed four self-checkout lanes a couple years ago. They were okay for packaged goods with barcodes, but a time sink if a customer had produce to be identified, weighed, etc. However, the lanes are now gone (well, a couple of them are express checkout now, but with a store clerk). I asked why the change … turns out there was massive pilferage by customers. And this is a well-to-do community with a university, low poverty, a thriving downtown, etc. Maybe customers do exact their own revenge …

  9. Julian

    Silly article. You don’t have to spend time researching all the options. You have the freedom to choose the first thing that pops up or is convenient over taking time to compare alternatives.

    1. WallaceN

      Yeah, ‘silly article’. Bit of a stretch. Scan through your options, make a choice – for most everyday encounters. But HC is a bitch. Obamacare requires great determination to get to the finish line but that’s the exception/once a yr thing. Medicare is basically easy to navigate but you still have to be careful as it will eat up one’s precious time. And you must spend the time as you go in for an operation and the surgeons are in your plan – but what about the anesthesiologist? Gotta know that too or it may cost you.

      But aside from HC, capitalism has made choices IMO easy, but that may be b/c I’m old, have streamlined my life and don’t give two shits about most ‘things’ that are suppose to be important. I finally understand the importance of time wasted. The world is finally getting wise in understanding capitalism’s avaricious appetite. The beast needs to be fed!

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      John Galbraith pointed out that consuming is work. If you don’t think shopping takes time, you must have someone else doing it for you. I am sure you don’t buy the stuff nearest the door in the grocery store and walk out. You’d wind up with orchids or charcoal or newspapers rather than food. And pray tell me how you buy shoes or clothing.

  10. The Rev Kev

    In nutting this one out I have been thinking about who benefits from the way things are developing and I can only conclude that it is the salary class here. I will have to back up and explain this. About a year before the 2016 election, John Michael Greer came out with an outlandish post in which he predicted that Trump would be elected President. In this post he went to to explain why this would be so ( and it depicted the history of the wage versus the salary class over the past half-century. It was fascinating and I cannot recommend this post enough.
    The wages class have been annihilated at the hands of the salary class of course so think of it in these terms. In the past coupla decades, to keep the salary class thriving, it needs for work to be generated for it to process. You, and I mean you, come up with the extra work for them to process. Not for nothing is the term Bullshit Jobs ( an actual thing. In the US, this whole rigamarole of “choosing” plans each year must keep an army of “health” workers employed. Single payer would shrink this force dramatically. Remember Ferguson, Missouri where it came out that most of the blacks in that town were being deliberately criminalized in order to support city hall and all its police, judges, etc? The Defense department keeps over 600,000 contractors employed alone as well as all those Americans working on producing weapons. It does not matter that many of these weapons are now inferior rubbish so long as all these people have a good lifestyle. The ultimate example of course of how the American people are being either ignored or racked & ruined but Washington DC as a city is absolutely thriving if not booming. See the pattern?

  11. leondarrell

    Most businesses have used their tech to dump the work of using a service on the customer. Think of your encounters with insurers, banks, gov’t agencies, etc. MBAs are trained in these scams, indeed their primary value to their overlords is as value-adders. The overlords pocket the savings.

  12. orangecats

    I liked the article but I don’t think capitalism kills love. Capitalism appropriates love. If the number of relationship books, movies, tv shows, and advice columns is any indication, love under capitalism is WORK. If there is unhappiness or malaise it’s because your marriage sucks, you can’t get a date, or you want to date too many people, you won’t go to therapy, you do go to therapy, on and on. The message is you are not working hard enough, good enough, and that’s AFTER your 8-10 hour job, which, by the way, is not at all a cause of your soul-sickness. Your needs can only be met through love, preferably the impossibly romantic sort that is Hollywood’s money-spinner.

    It’s all work, all the time.

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