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Americans Work Too Much and Too Little: Solutions for Our Unhealthy Economy

LinkedIn is the worst social media site in existence.

Engaging with literal pornbots on Twitter is less soul-sucking than reading the tone-deaf striver banalities and motivational tripe that festoon the place: “Here are five things I learned about peer-to-peer marketing after proposing to my girlfriend,” etc. 

LinkedIn’s “hustle and grind” culture is toxic and a sign of broader economic and political problems. Americans work way too much. Simply staying afloat in this economy as a middle-class household usually requires that both husband and wife work full-time. Americans notoriously have relatively few vacation days when compared to workers in other advanced economies.

In 2018, more than half of all American workers reported not using all of their Paid Time Off (PTO) and 55% of employees reported working while on vacation. With the rise of email, Zoom, Slack, and remote work, Americans no longer need to go into an office to make a paycheck, but it also means that their work is never more than an arm’s reach away. 

American wages are getting crushed too. The starting salary in 2023 for new college graduates was $56,000 a year. In 2019, that number was $53,000. The problem? Inflation has skyrocketed during that time. The median mortgage payment in America is $2,200 a month today, compared to $1,200 a month in 2019. 

The cost of food, housing, and transportation has nearly doubled in the last five years. In effect, the value of the starting salary for new college graduates has fallen by almost half. The median new college graduate salary today is the equivalent of making $12 an hour in 2019.

Yet even while Americans are throwing themselves ever more intensely into the grind of corporate life for ever less money, the number of homelessness and those on welfare are ballooning. Tens of millions of adult Americans don’t work at all or only part-time, surviving off of government benefits like disability instead of holding down employment. 

Lots of white-collar jobs, too, aren’t really jobs at all. These are pejoratively known as “email-farming” gigs where middle-aged women can make an okay living shuffling paperwork back and forth while sitting in an air-conditioned office. 

The deindustrialization of the American economy has meant a shocking decline in the number of productive manufacturing jobs that once made up the beating heart of our political and military might. In 2018, American steel production, for instance, stood at only 70% of what it was in 1970, even though global production of steel has tripled in the last five decades. In the 1950s, 700,000 Americans worked in steel production. By 2018, just 83,000 did.

This disappearance of tough, real-world jobs in favor of virtual and office jobs—or simply not working at all—has meant that many Americans are, in crucial respects, working less than ever before. 

Our economy is unhealthy. Many Americans who should be working are not. Other workers are throwing themselves into the corporate grind, sacrificing their youth in exchange for declining wages, higher taxes, and a lower quality of life. 

This does not bode well for the future. At some point, this system could simply fall apart. Much of the populist anger of the last decade has been a product of the legitimately enraging economic conditions created by our ruling class. We need to articulate a new and better vision of American work if we want to avoid the deep problems that could easily boil over into our culture from a toxic economy.

First, managers and business leaders need to recognize that the 40-hour workweek is obsolete for most white-collar workers. Productivity, not time spent at a desk, should be the measure of success and reward in the modern office workplace. Flexible work schedules and work-from-home are the new standard. The tell of good management is the ability to organize competent teams of workers around the new technological and cultural realities surrounding work.

An intelligent and motivated employee who does in 10 hours what it takes another 40 hours to achieve should not be forced to stay at his desk those other 30 hours in order to spare the feelings of the less talented. Moreover, talented employees should not only be rewarded with increased salaries but also the opportunity to spend more time on themselves. 

The boomer mindset of time equaling work done simply no longer makes sense. We need fresh blood inserted into the leadership culture at America’s large firms.

Americans born in the post-war generation—between roughly 1945 and 1965—have dominated the leadership roles in American economic and political life since before the 1990s. This profound generational imbalance—America’s political class is increasingly made up of men and women in their 70s and 80s who have been in office for decades—has created leadership imbalances as well. 

We need a wave of new leaders in corporate life. Organizations need to cultivate young talent and then promote them into positions of real authority. A c-suite filled with individuals over retirement age is a bad idea; it creates resentment in those who are forced to wait in mid-level limbo for a chance to demonstrate the full extent of their talents. 

At the blue-collar level, American trade and foreign policy should be aimed at cultivating industries in America that can employ a person of ordinary intelligence straight out of high school in trades and professions that can provide a good middle-class life. The nature of blue-collar work is such that a more rigid schedule with longer hours needs to be the norm. 

The tradeoff should be that these workers get to earn a good salary and benefits without the need for a high IQ, lots of credentials, or connections. The American labor market should be such that we always have a “shortage” of labor. In other words, wages should be high and benefits should be good. In that economic market, there is hardly even a need for unions. Ordinary market forces will propel salaries upward.

In America, an 18-year-old with a high school diploma and average intelligence should be able to find a job that allows him to pay off the mortgage on a 1600-square-foot home in 15 years without needing to pay more than a third of his income per month towards housing. That might sound like a ridiculously high bar in the brutal conditions of Joe Biden’s inflation-ridden economy, but this kind of life isn’t impossible. In fact, within living memory, such economic conditions existed. 

By deporting immigrant scab labor, slowly raising tariffs on manufactured goods, and easing absurd zoning and environmental requirements, we can build an economy that is much better for blue-collar Americans. That is a political platform worth fighting for.

We should work to assist white-collar workers as well by disrupting the college industrial complex. The federal and state governments should cut off aid to higher education institutions in exchange for forgiving the bulk of Americans’ student loan debt. This would cause most American colleges to go belly up, a nearly unrequited good for the country as a whole. Shutting down leftist indoctrination centers that hold the keys to higher salaries and political and cultural power is a good idea. 

Creating a better, healthier economy should be the goal of all American politicians and corporate leaders. Simple changes could radically improve the standard of living for tens of millions of Americans, with very little downside. It is time our leaders took those steps.

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About Josiah Lippincott

Josiah Lippincott is a Ph.D. student and a former U.S. Marine Corps officer. You can find him on Telegram at https://t.me/josiah_lippincott or subscribe to his Substack here.