How our thirst for status robs us of our leisure

Were an alien to pick up our news channels, it would conclude that human civilisation depended on the production and purchase of cheap plastic tat. First came the concern that we might talk ourselves into not spending enough; then the fear that the banks wouldn’t lend us the money to spend, even if we wanted to. In November, our governments borrowed money and gave it to us in the hope that we’d get the hint. Are we really so dependent on consumption?

In the short run, yes. Economists worry about a sharp fall in consumer spending because when demand for goods falls, so does demand for labour. Our desire to spend less is quickly revealed as a desire to spend less hiring each other (and our friends in China) to make things. Result: economic collapse, unemployment, misery.

In the long run, the picture is completely different. The typical British man earns roughly twice what his father earned at the same age. When today’s teenagers are in their forties, there is no reason why they shouldn’t decide to enjoy their increased prosperity by working less instead of earning more. Rather than being twice as rich as their parents, they could be no richer but start their weekends on Wednesday afternoon.

The remainder of the article can be read here. Please post comments below.

The Undercover Economist: a guide

Publishing schedule: Excerpts from "The Undercover Economist" and "Dear Economist", Tim's weekly columns for the FT Magazine, are published on this blog on Saturday mornings.
More about Tim: Tim also writes editorials for the FT, presents Radio 4's More or Less and is the author of "The Undercover Economist" and "The Logic of Life".
Comment: To comment, please register with FT.com, which you can do for free here. Please also read our comments policy here.
Contact: Tim's contact address is: economist@ft.com
Time: UK time is shown on posts.
Follow: A link to the blog's RSS feeds is at the top of the page.
Follow on Twitter
FT blogs: See the full range of the FT's blogs here.