Money Isn't Leisure


Fred Perrotta

In 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that his grandchildren would work fifteen-hour weeks. While that's almost 4x Tim Ferriss's four-hour weeks, it's still less than half of the average US worker's week of 34.4 hours.

The most puzzling part of the data is that lower-income workers are the ones working fewer hours. Or, framed the opposite way, higher earners are working longer hours.

Doesn't that sound backwards? Shouldn't we be working less as we earn more money to turn that money into leisure? Money itself is not leisure. Money is not supposed to be the ends, but the means to more comfort and leisure. Like much of economics, this theory doesn't hold up in the real world. People do not act "rationally" according to economists. No kidding.

I've heard plenty of theories on why high earners work more hours: competitiveness, over consumption, sheer greed. None provide a definitive answer. All are outside of the scope of this post.

I'm interested in both why this is happening and who will break this cycle. Digital nomads are an interesting case as they're more likely to be outside of the US bubble of high prices (especially housing) and high consumption while still earning US wages.

Will high earners (by Western standards) who live in a place where everything costs an order of magnitude less trade money for time and leisure? I know that some successful digital nomads follow this path. However, most are just scraping by (at best).

Can we, at a larger scale, trade off money for leisure? Or is the desire for more more more too culturally ingrained?


Further Reading

Keynes Predicted We Would Be Working 15-Hour Weeks. Why Was He So Wrong? (NPR)