Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Doing Less with Less


Worried that you're going backwards?

Doing more with less is the modern definition of progress. Making x-plus-one widgets per hour is better than making x, which translates to a higher return-on-investment for stakeholders. Advancement can also be a precondition. To talk of voluntarily descending the corporate ladder presupposes that you have climbed it.

So there is much angst when expectations of where you should be in life fall short of reality. You may not have as many subordinates or investment properties as you thought you would. You may suffer from an illness or have other circumstances keep even the starting line of the rat race out of reach.

Instead of considering this a failure of personal capacity, it can be helpful to take in historical views of advancement.

Doing Less with More

Idleness was once the domain of the wealthy, not the devil’s playground. Marie Antoinette would have scoffed at her modern peers juggling motherhood, duties, charity, and a lifestyle blog. (Her post, “Laissez-vous manger du gâteau”, would have imploded Twitter.)

Keynes envisioned a shrinking work-week as a sign of progress. Yet, subsequent observers now fret that young men are picking up game controllers instead of pickaxes (or guns), when it is exactly what the Habsburg bourgeoisie would do had they access to PlayStations. (They didn’t, but we would now consider their pianoforte obsession similarly frivolous.)

Doing More with More

It can even be helpful to realise that the globalisation-fuelled consumerism of the late 20th century is in many ways an echo. Trade brought advancement to Renaissance Europe and opened up the Americas (alas, for exploitation).

The Enlightenment decided to use the spoils of colonialism to advance science well before post-war reconstruction - and rivalry with communism - spurred on the space race.

Frenzied advancement being routine, if sporadic, also means that our success symbols of today: negatively gearing interest-only mortgages will one day be as naff as doing the Charleston or a future in plastics.

Doing More with Less

Ah yes, the seductive story of the phoenix, the underdog.

Perhaps the historical example that springs to mind is the rapid advancement following World War 2. Countries rebuilt, colonies gained independence.

Riches seemingly coming out of thin air may mask resources that were available but not accounted for. In the ultimate form of Schumpeterian creative destruction, assets such as wealth and employment opportunities hitherto locked in traditional hierarchies were freed when those hierarchies were demolished. Think of the women who entered the workforce when their traditional bindings to to the household were dissolved bywartime necessity.

Upheaval may mean the opposite of impoverishment.

If doing more with less is then a fantasy, we must come to terms with ...

Doing Less with Less

Take heart that you are not alone when facing life with lesser means.

Romantics such as Thoreau, Rousseau, and Bronte promoted the virtue of isolated – perhaps savage – locales, be they moors, woods, or tropics.

Note that they chose to tune in and drop out as colonial commerce filled the pockets of their contemporaries, should you wish to point out that your status relative to your cohort matters, not your absolute wealth. Deciding not to keep up with the Joneses is possible.

Google ‘Lost generation’ and you will not be referred to the woes of millennials. Stagnation was embraced by Hemingway and Fitzgerald before Kerouac hit the road, Generation X chose to remain in the basement, or Mild Yankees pooled their parents’ resources in Japan.

Folks through history have come to terms with regressing. Many have welcomed it.

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