A Meditation on Mondays

 

There’s a quote by Slavoj Zizek that I used to really like when I was an economically illiterate communist:

“If you hate Mondays, you don’t hate Mondays; you hate capitalism.” (or something to that effect)

The obvious hidden premise is that you hate Monday because you just had a weekend and don’t want to go back to work. That makes sense for a majority of people in the developed world; if I had sufficient wealth so as to live the weekend lifestyle all week, I probably would. Admittedly, I would still be working… but I would be working by building things and writing things and enjoying the leisure of exertions not tied directly to survival.

The part that Zizek (and most people) miss is that Capitalism is the only reason that not every day is a work day. What I mean is, only the set of emergent properties of voluntary exchange on the aggregate, can generate sufficient wealth so as to allow some people to emerge from the had-to-mouth existence of poverty. Only with the division of labor, the production of wealth through the voluntary exchange of goods and services, and the ability of individuals to act on their subjective values and preferences, coupled with the efficiency of markets in the aggregate, is it possible to generate enough wealth so as to afford the opportunity cost associated with taking two-or-more days a week off.

As I’ve addressed previously, the natural state of man is one of abject poverty. In order to emerge from that state, individuals must either get incredibly lucky (such as finding a region so laden with food and shelter and absent natural predators that one no longer has to work to survive) or, more likely, find a mechanism by which individuals are able to contribute maximum utility to their family/tribal unit so as to create surplus wealth. Rather than reiterating that point in greater detail, I’ll just suggest you read that previous post.

Instead, I want to meditate on Mondays just a little bit more. If I were to wake up in some other time in history and some other place, let’s see what my relationship would be with Monday…

>rolls d20<

Ok, so it’s the mid 19th century in Europe. Political tensions being what they are, various governments have shut down the international marketplace. It’s basically the white people version of most African warlord situations.

>rolls another d20<

Welcome to Ireland (I really did randomly select the time and location, I promise).

The only day of the week that is unique is Sunday. Every day of the week, we lay around and wait to die because the soil is useless and nobody will sell us food or let us emigrate to greener pastures. We try to find or make food, but one might as well try to get blood from a stone. The only reason Sunday is special is because we get to feel guilty about not making it to church because we had to eat our horse to live and our local priest already died.

Why am I writing about to potato famine? Partly because the dice led me here. Also, it is a clear example of what happens when different anti-capital policies reduce people to the basic state of man: poverty. A “Monday” for us is any day after we actually managed to buy some food from a smuggler or find an animal in the arid fields to kill and eat.

This serves as a specific example but, by and large, most of human history has consisted of this state of affairs. Those that manage to develop a skill or combine existing technologies/resources in a novel and useful way, have the ability to improve the quality of life of their neighbors in exchange for their clients’ goods or services. When enough people engage in this entrepreneurship, a division of labor emerges and everyone benefits. When too few people manage to do so, though, people get locked into poverty. There are a number of factors that can interfere with peoples’ ability to engage in entrepreneurship, but criminal gangs (such as government) tend to be the largest impediment.

What has changed throughout history? Why did Monday used to be “the day after Sunday and before Tuesday” and it is now “the first day of the average work week, the day after the weekend”? The division of labor above mentioned allows one person to specialize as a doctor, treating people’s illnesses and injuries, in exchange for the services of a guy who specializes in car maintenance and repair or the product of a guy who specializes in farming or factory labor. That same doctor can take the “surplus” (the amount of wealth he generates that is more than sufficient for mere survival) he receives as a result of his profession being high in demand and low in supply and he can invest it in an entrepreneur who wishes to build a more efficient factory which has lower costs and can sell cars at simultaneously lower cost and higher profit.

Even though this one feature of being a doctor (or a lawyer, or an accountant, or a banker…) is insufficient to create a weekend for everyone, it’s a microcosmic example of that market function. For example, that doctor now makes enough money as part of his profession that he can make that money create more money though investment. He’s so far removed from sustenance living that he is now able to say “I don’t need to work on Saturday or Sunday. Even though I’d make more money doing that, I don’t need that money… I’d rather go skiing with my kids.” The guy who built the factory with his money can likely do the same thing as he corners the automotive market and begins selling his machines to factory owners in other markets.

As more and more people engage in this type of investment and wealth creation, the wealth that individual workers can produce is increased as well. If anyone has played Minecraft in survival mode before, they’ll know what I mean. When you have to run around and find food in the woods and make things by punching trees to get wood, your time is largely focused on not dying. The same is true in the real world: if all I’ve got is a fistful of seeds and a stick, you better believe that I’ll be focused on farming 99% of my time, because if I don’t I’ll starve. Once I can drive a tractor around, pipe water in from beneath the earth, purchase fertilizer from neighboring ranchers, and hire laborers to do the same, I no longer have to worry so much about farming as I do what I’m going to do with all the extra food I’ve made but can’t possibly eat.

This solution obviously hasn’t lifted everyone out of sustenance hand-to-mouth living, yet, but it’s done a pretty good job, so far. As more and more people see their quality of life improve and “mere survival” becoming nothing more than a vague nagging in their reptile brain, they have more chances to make the same decision that the doctor did. This is a historical phenomenon that one can see happen over and over, between periods in which government conflicts reduce people back to square one, but it’s also a phenomenon that can be witnessed in individual peoples’ lives.

When I first got married, I was burdened with crippling debt and a useless degree (mistakes I made). I bounced from part-time job to part-time job, providing minimum value to employers for minimum wage. As time has gone on, I’ve built a resume and a skill set that has given me the bargaining power to secure a salaried position with, you guessed it, a weekend. Mondays are definitely the most strenuous day of work for me… but that’s because I’ve front-loaded all my work for the week so I can be more proactive and provide more value to my employer, thereby giving me more bargaining power when requesting increases in my salary.

People, such as my past self, will complain and point out that “if it weren’t for capitalism, you wouldn’t have to work 40+ hours a week, just for a paycheck… who needs money, anyway, man?” To a certain degree, they’re correct: if it weren’t for capitalism, you wouldn’t have a 40+ hour a week job. Instead, you’d have to work every waking moment to scrounge up enough nuts and berries to feed yourself and the couple of your kids that survived infancy. Even if we were socialists, the best we could hope for is to share those meager findings between us all… but that’s basically just a really lame “food insurance pool”.

I used to hate Mondays. If I had a more preferable alternative, I would still not go to my job on Mondays. But to complain about Mondays is just spoiled and ignorant: you just got two days off to do things like walk into the giant food-warehouse where delicacies from around the world sit on shiny and clean shelves to wait for you to take home and savor or go engage in leisure activity such as exercise, reading, going to the movies, arguing with people on facebook… and your biggest complaint is “now I have to go and provide value to others in order to afford all these privileges I just enjoyed.” I get it, I’m as misanthropic and antisocial as the next guy, but if you’re going to exchange money for my time and patience, I’m going to smile and tolerate your banality with the disposition of a Hindu cow, because I want to take a couple days off this week to drink rum and write blog posts no one will read, play video games, celebrate my grandfather’s 80-something birthday, and roughhouse with my kids.

TL;DR: “If you hate Mondays, you hate capitalism” is a clever one-liner, and I understand where that opinion would come from, I used to be there. At the end of the day, though, anyone with a weekend should celebrate Mondays: without them you would have no weekend. Without the wonders of capitalism, mankind would still be primitive cave-dwellers praying to rocks and clouds in the hope that not all of their kids would die this year. Or mankind would be extinct, courtesy of any number of natural disasters which could threaten a small community of technologically illiterate creatures. Instead, capitalism has elevated your quality of living to the point that you are wealthy enough to say “I’ll take these two days off from surviving and do something fun, instead… because I can.” Someday, I hope to have created enough wealth so as to “go to work” fewer and fewer days of the week and, instead, provide value to people in other, more enjoyable, ways.

Not only is this a more accurate way of looking at things, but it has really changed my attitude towards work, family life, and my life in general. I am genuinely more happy for having learned these things I’m meditating on, today.

If you want to learn similar things, and have your life radically improved by a PhD-level understanding of history and economics, you should check out Tom Woods’ Liberty Clasroom. If that’s too pricey, you can do the next-best thing and support this site on Patreon.

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