Maybe those people living paycheck to paycheck who are running out of money at the end of the month are learning to see that it’s actually best that way. They are enjoying the really important things that deprivation can reacquaint them with—togetherness, family, nature, and so on. Likewise, underemployment is a chance to enjoy the riches of leisure, if you can block out the nagging insecurities of precarity from your mind.
…Has there been a general shift in values, though? Do people want less stuff and are thus willing to work less? Do we choose unemployment over drudgery and better appliances? Are we all eager to “take our share of the economic surplus in leisure,” as it’s sometimes technocratically expressed? (I wonder if this is a reason new households aren’t forming. Opting out of parenting, say, is a frugal lifestyle choice.) Reading values from macroeconomic data seems like slippery hermeneutics. (The mere fact of a drop in consumer spending doesn’t necessarily mean a drop in the desire to spend, unless you assume revealed preference is the only reality that matters.) Wilkinson makes the case that for creative-class types, being an economic free agent isn’t so terrible once you choose autonomy over material goods. Rather than make as much as you can, you can be a “threshold earner,” make what you need for your minimalist lifestyle, and then segue into “medium chill” mode, to use David Roberts’s coinage: “This is me,” Wilkinson admits. “I don’t want to maximise income. I want to maximise autonomy and time for unremunerative but satisfying creative work.”
Well. It’s easy to romanticize poverty, but I’ve spent a lot of time worrying like crazy about not being overdrawn at key times of the month, and I’ve spent months on end having no less than a few thousand in the bank at any given time, and I know which one I prefer by far. The stress of never knowing if you have enough to get groceries this week or pay the rent on time is no small thing, and probably contributes to a lot of ruined relationships. Make and save your money if you can, by all means. Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash. Staying out of debt is the most important thing, though. One less chain around your leg when it comes to your employment options. One less way for the bastards to hold you by the short hairs.