Why are we rich but not leisurely?

  James Suzman is an anthropologist who has been documenting the lives of the Ju/’hoansi people in the northwest of the Kalahari and the impact they have faced with modern society for the past 30 years.
  The Nana Reserve in the Kalahari Desert of Namibia is located in a remote area. One of the Bushmen, the Ju/’hoansi, lives here. They were once called “living fossils” by Western scholars in the 19th century, and were advertised as the last testimony of the ancient civilization of gathering and hunting. Ju/’hoansi people often ask James Suzman: Why do government officials who sit in an air-conditioned office drinking coffee and chatting all day earn much higher salaries than the young people they send out to dig trenches? Why do people still go to work the next day after getting paid for their work, instead of enjoying the fruits of their labor? Why do people continue to work hard to obtain more wealth, so much that they may not be able to spend their entire lives?

The Ju/’hoansi were once called “living fossils” by Western scholars in the 19th century, and were advertised as the last testimony of the ancient civilization of gathering and hunting.

Work defines who we are and, to some extent, determines where and with whom we spend most of the day, and it is traditionally believed that our work determines our value.

  It is not surprising that the Ju/’hoansi people will ask these questions. In the 1950s and 1960s, Ju/’hoansi people were able to hunt and pick freely. In 1964, Canadian anthropologist Richard Boscher Lee conducted a series of simple economic income/expenditure analyses on the daily life of Ju/’hoansi people. He found that the Ju/’hoansi people not only rely on hunting and picking to live a life of adequate food and clothing, but also maintain a well-nourished and spiritually satisfied life state. What’s more striking is that his research shows that Ju/’hoansi people who live a prosperous and happy life only need to work a little more than 15 hours a week.
  Therefore, understanding the society of Ju/’hoansi people not only allows us to understand the distant past of mankind, but also allows us to rethink: In the age of industrialization, how to understand life and work in an increasingly automated society?
The golden age of leisure has not come

  Thinking about work is particularly important at present. Because of the raging new crown pneumonia epidemic, the number of unemployed people worldwide has surged, and governments of various countries have successively adopted policies to “vaccinate” the economy, such as state subsidized vacation plans and issuing consumer vouchers. These practices, once regarded as marginal, are now almost part of the “new world order.”
  The debate on the prospects of future jobs started a few years ago. The previous debates mainly revolved around the anxiety caused by the cruel cannibalization of the job market by artificial intelligence. It’s not difficult to see why people are anxious, because the work we do defines who we are, and to some extent determines where we are and with whom we spend most of the day, and it is traditionally considered our work Determine our value. In modern society, praising the struggling, condemning the lazy, and achieving universal employment are the mantras of politicians in various countries.
  Since the industrial revolution, people have been attracted by the future prospects, hoping that automation can gradually liberate ordinary people from boring work. In 1776, Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, praised “beautiful machines”, which he believed would “reduce labor.” In the 20th century, British philosopher Russell said that in an upcoming automated world, “men and women can have the opportunity to live a happy life, and they will become friendlier and less oppressive”, and even humans will lose the right to “war interest”.
  Russell hopes that this prospect will come in his lifetime. He pointed out in 1932: “Through scientific production management, the work efficiency of the modern world can make people’s lives quite comfortable.” From the beginning of the 20th century to the outbreak of the Second World War, workers in the world’s major industrial countries worked weekly. It is indeed steadily decreasing.

Work defines who we are and, to some extent, determines where and with whom we spend most of the day, and it is traditionally believed that our work determines our value.

  John Maynard Keynes, an economist contemporaneous with Russell, had similar views. Keynes predicted that by 2030, capital accumulation, increased productivity, and technological progress will solve “economic problems”, and the world will enter a new era, except Except for a few “targeted money earners,” people don’t work more than 15 hours a week.
  Keynes also believed that the roar of automated production lines was the death knell of orthodox economics. The traditional economic structure is entirely based on the assumption of scarcity: assuming that people’s desires are unlimited, but the available resources to meet their needs and needs are limited. He believes that in the future of automation, absolute scarcity will become a thing of the past, and people will be willing to abandon the outdated economic foundation and work culture.
  As posterity, we know that Keynes and others were wrong. As early as a few decades ago, our technology and economy have exceeded the critical line of reaching the “golden age of leisure” proposed by Keynes. However, most people now work longer hours than those of Keynes and Russell’s contemporaries. As automation and the new crown pneumonia epidemic erodes the job market, economists and the government are still focused on creating new jobs for people to choose from.
  However, we also have good reasons not to give up the ideas of these philosophers. The history of mankind is longer than what economists usually consider. Many of our current work concepts are rooted in the soil of the agricultural revolution, and in the long history of mankind, 95% of the time we have to enjoy more than we now Free time.
Our ancestors used to work 15 hours a week

  Fundamentally, we are born for work. All living things seek, obtain, and consume energy when they grow, maintain, and reproduce. This is the difference between living things such as bacteria, trees, and people and dead objects such as rocks and stars. However, even in living organisms, human beings are notable because of their work.
  Most organisms are “purposeful” when they consume energy, which means that external observers can determine the purpose of their actions, but they do not necessarily have clear wishes themselves. In contrast, humans themselves are very clear. When we go to work, it’s usually not just for energy.

  If you draw a map of the evolutionary trajectory of human beings, you will find that the various work done by human ancestors shaped us today. At the same time, the more accomplished our ancestors were in obtaining energy, the less time and energy they spent on food. For example, with simple tools, humans mastered fire about 1 million years ago, so they spend more time on other activities, such as music, adventures, decorating their bodies, and socializing. If it were not for the free time won by fire and tools, our ancestors might never have developed a language, because like our cousin, the gorilla, had to spend up to 11 hours a day laboriously foraging, chewing and processing indigestible food. Fibrous food.

Van Gogh’s painting “The Sower”. If hard work is not human nature but a product of culture, where does it come from? There is a lot of evidence that all of this originated from the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago.

  Now, new genome and archaeological data indicate that Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa 300,000 years ago. However, these data alone cannot infer their lives. The broken bones and broken stones discovered by archaeologists are the only evidence of the life of human ancestors. In order to bring the distant past to life, since the 1960s, anthropologists began to cooperate with the remaining hunter-gatherers, such as Ju/’hoansi People to understand the life of the early Homo sapiens.
  Ju/’hoansi people have been living in southern Africa since the birth of human beings as a species. Scholars once generally believed that hunter-gatherers were fighting hunger almost all the time, living a “dirty, barbaric and short” life. However, the survey of anthropologists shows that compared with people in many agricultural societies, Ju/’hoansi people have a richer diet, a more fulfilling life, a longer life span, and work no more than 15 hours a week, so they have A lot of time and energy engaged in leisure activities.
  What are the characteristics of the economic organization of Ju/’hoansi and other small foraging groups? Anthropological research has found that this is a highly individualized but at the same time extremely equal society, and the redistribution mechanism is “demand sharing”. This system gives everyone absolute rights and can ask anyone else to share. In these social groups, attempts to accumulate or monopolize resources or power will be ridiculed by everyone. For example, if someone dared to hoard tobacco or food privately, the tribe would regard them as selfish and humiliate them with fierce and extremely unfriendly momentum.
  The hunter-gatherer system is thought-provoking. Contrary to the assumption of human nature that underpins our current economic system, these wild foragers are neither worried about food shortages nor competing for resources. The hypothesis of scarcity will allow us to live in Sisyphus’s purgatory: day after day, in vain, people try to bridge the gap between our insatiable desires and limited means, but foragers have very few working hours. Because their needs are few, they can be easily met. They are not worried about the scarcity of food, but believe that the semi-desert environment can provide all the resources needed to satisfy their lives.
  If persistence is used to measure the success of a civilization, then Ju/’hoansi and other foragers in southern Africa are representative of the most successful economic model of sustainable development in human history. However, today’s Ju/’hoansi people have no reason to celebrate. In the past 50 years, most of their land has been deprived, and most people have to make a living in shanty towns and settlements on the fringes of towns in Namibia, suffering from hunger and poverty-related diseases from time to time. In a capital-intensive economy, they cannot get a job, and the unemployment rate of young people is hovering around 50%. They have to rely on begging, temporary work and government assistance to make a living.
Today’s work culture stems from the agricultural revolution

  If hard work is not human nature but a product of culture, where does it come from? There is a lot of evidence that all of this originated from the Agricultural Revolution more than 10,000 years ago. The Agricultural Revolution is not only the root of the belief that “hard work is a virtue”, but also the basic assumption of scarcity from this period. It constitutes the system, structure and norms of today’s economic and social life.
  Many economic vocabularies and concepts such as growth, interest, debt, expenses, capital, and benefits are also rooted in the soil of the great agricultural civilization. Agriculture is more productive than foraging, but it gives human labor unprecedented value. The fast-growing agricultural population needs to continuously increase the maximum carrying capacity of the land. Moreover, nature always punishes those who delay work and fail to repair fences and plant fields in time.
  If Russell is still alive today and knows that there is sufficient evidence that our work attitude is a cultural by-product of the sufferings of the early agricultural society, he may be happy, because it will not only make his “utopia” more realistic, but And people will be more convinced that automation will end the scarcity hypothesis, allowing orthodox economics and the social systems, structures, and norms that have formed around it to die out.
  For most people, the benefits of work far outweigh the salary. In 2017, the polling agency Gallup released a survey report on work conditions in 155 countries, and only one in ten Western Europeans said they were focused on work. This may not be surprising. After all, another survey conducted by the market research company YouGov in 2015 showed that 37% of working adults in the UK said that their work did not make any contribution to the world.
  There are more pressing reasons for us to change the current way of working. Please remember that work is essentially an energy transaction. There is an absolute correspondence between the amount of work we complete and our energy footprint. Therefore, there are good reasons to believe that reducing workload and reducing energy consumption is not only good for our souls, It is also essential for the sustainable development of human habitats.
  The economic trauma caused by the raging global new crown pneumonia epidemic provides us with an opportunity to reimagine the relationship between people and work and reassess how important work is. Moreover, we should also call on and inspire the best and brightest people to aspire to become epidemiologists or nurses, rather than financial derivatives traders, and this requires a new economic model to support. The past year also reminded us that our ability to adapt to work is much stronger than we usually realize.