A Little Idle Theory

In Idle Theory, people are regarded as alternating between being idle (green) and busy working at essential tasks (red), and their “idleness” is the fraction of their time that they are idle.

33percentIdle

In Idle Theory, economic growth is growth in social idleness (everybody’s idleness). And rising social idleness means that people need to do less work to stay alive. And social idleness is increased primarily through the development of useful tools whose value in idle time gained is greater than their cost in the idle time expended in making them.

Economic growth of this sort cannot be sustained indefinitely, because there is a maximum of idleness at 1 (100% idle). Starting from low idleness, economic growth is likely to initially be very slow over many millennia, and to grow exponentially. The slow economic growth at low idleness is because people have very little idle time in which to innovate, and develop new tools and technologies. The more idle time they have, the faster innovation proceeds, and the faster idleness grows. After the growth rate peaks, people have lots of time for innovation, but it gets harder and harder to increase idleness. Eventually growth stops, with idleness approaching (but never reaching) 1. So, with idleness plotted against time, the long term growth curve will (ideally) look something like this:

long_term_growth_curve

The period of low idleness lasts for thousands of years. And the period of maximum growth may be packed into a single century. So the great bulk of human history has been one of unremitting toil, with the gradual appearance of new technologies. After the very long Stone Age, there’s a Bronze Age, and an Iron Age. And in general over the past few thousand years there’s a gradual steady improvement in the quality of technology.

In the past few centuries of the “Industrial Revolution” economic growth has become headlong. And right now we may be somewhere near peak growth rate. Over my lifetime I’ve seen an entire new technology  – computing – emerge and develop. Back in 1950, a computer was as big as a house. But now the same computing power is packed into a single near-invisible chip.

The first computers were too expensive for individual private ownership, and were held in shared ownership/use in universities, with hundreds of people being allotted time on them. But by 1975 the first personal computers had begun to appear. I bought my first personal computer – an Exidy Sorcerer – in 1979 (and started using it to develop Idle Theory’s economics). Now I’ve got about 5 or 6 personal computers, and dozens of devices (mobile phone, dashcam, voice recorder, calculator) which contain microprocessors, and I earned my living programming devices of this sort. At the present rate of growth, computing power will become free, and there’ll be smart toothbrushes and smart beermats. And this may be how ownership patterns develop: first scarce and shared, then more abundant and individually owned, and finally ubiquitous and free .

One inevitable consequence of rising social idleness is unemployment. Ideally, the dwindling burden of necessary work is shared equally. In practice, some people work, and others are completely idle. Unemployment is insupportable in low idleness societies, where it takes 100 working men to support one idle man. But at high levels of idleness, where one working man can support 100 idle men, high levels of unemployment are perfectly sustainable. Which may explain why unemployment no longer seems to be the bogey it once was.

Another consequence of rising social idleness is the appearance of luxuries and amusements, which don’t generate idle time, but instead consume it. For once people have a lot of idle time on their hands, they generally want to dispose of it by playing games, or watching movies, or listening to music. So as social idleness rises, more and more games appear. If chess is an ancient game, football and cricket and pool are newer ones, and a great many computers are now entirely dedicated to video games. I’m currently playing quite a lot of online snooker and golf.

If there’s an ancient puritanical aversion to these ‘addictive’, time-consuming pastimes, it’s probably because there’s a dread that if people spend all their time playing games which consume their idle time, they won’t do the necessary work to first make the idle time in which to play such games. Hence the drug war, smoking bans, alcohol prohibition, and all the rest. Proverbs 24:33:

A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.

But while such moral strictures make a great deal of sense in low idleness societies, where a little sleep by a shepherd might indeed prove catastrophic for his untended flock, they make less and less moral sense in highly idle societies. For there’s nothing wrong with people disposing of their idle time playing chess or football, or watching movies. The moral danger lies in them watching movies while they’re supposed to be at work making idleness-generating tools.

As social idleness increases, and more and more people have increasingly large amounts of free time to dispose of, there naturally appears a demand for cafes and bars in which to relax, and casinos, football stadiums, cinemas, theatres, museums, art galleries, and tourist resorts, all of which cater for idle people with time on their hands.

It might even be suggested that what is idleness-increasing (and morally correct)  in low idleness societies becomes idleness-restricting (and morally incorrect) in high idleness societies. Idle time is time in which people can do as they want, rather than as they must. And to restrict the range of possible idle time activities with smoking bans, alcohol prohibitions, drug laws, gaming restrictions, is to restrict the number of idle time activities, and thereby annul the freedom that comes with idleness. What is the value of idle time, if one cannot dispose of it as one sees fit?

Our modern antismoking zealots may, in a world where necessary work is vanishing, also be trying to invent (or re-invent) jobs for themselves. A medical profession that was becoming redundant, as traditional epidemic diseases like malaria and typhoid were prevented or cured, has now re-invented  obesity and smoking as entirely new diseases. In this manner they have succeeded in keeping themselves in employment, fighting phantom diseases as if they were real ones. And other  alarmists have invented the phantom enemy of global warming to justify their continued employment. Both claim to be performing essential tasks, but both expend huge amounts of work in achieving negligible gains in idleness (in the form of “health or safety”). And as such they are a burden on society rather than a benefit, and act to reduce social idleness rather than increase it.

It may even be that, with the multiplication of unnecessary or useless or destructive forms of employment, social idleness actually declines in a period of decay that begins when idleness can  no longer be increased.

rise_and_fall

There might even be repeat cycles of growth and decay.

economic_cycles

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About Frank Davis

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22 Responses to A Little Idle Theory

  1. roobeedoo2 says:

    There’s a theme developing here: phantom diseases propagated by ghost money… we’re being haunted.

    https://cfrankdavis.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/the-rising-power-of-the-american-dead/

    Of course ‘haunt’ also means: ‘a lair or feeding place of animals’.

    http://www.yourdictionary.com/haunt

    A gruesome connection, one I got from reading Stephen King’s ‘It’. I might spend some of my idle time listening to these (although one of the short stories has been made into a film):

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32667.Blood_and_Smoke

  2. waltc says:

    On topic: wasn’t Sisyphus said to have found fulfillment and even a sense of purpose in his pointless eternal task? Freud said, and I’m inclined to agree, that man needs ” love and work” though I doubt he meant data-entry, table-bussing or boulder-rolling. My point, I guess, is that genuine work where something is created–whether it’s a theory, or a light bulb, or a chair or even a damn good blog–is as, in fact more, rewarding than watching a football game, though a balanced life requires some of both. Tobacco-controllers, otoh, seem to be deeply and merrily engaged in a boulder-roll under the impression that it’s meaningful and purposeful– and so far the world has seemed to indulge them in that delusion and even rewarded them. Can’t wait for the boulder to roll down and crush them

    • Frank Davis says:

      genuine work

      This goes back to yesterday’s comment by roobeedoo that it was “hard work” for me to write my blog every day. I demurred. I write a journal every day, and have done so for most of my life, and writing comes very easily and naturally to me. Above all, it’s something I want to do, just like I want to smoke cigarettes and drink tea. Work, I said, was what somebody else wants me to do. Every job in my life has been doing something that I didn’t really want to do, but somebody else did. Fortunately, quite a lot of what they wanted me to do was stuff that was quite interesting (sometimes very interesting), and so what I wanted to do and what they wanted me to do was almost the same. But it was never identical.

      But I think that everybody wants to be engaged in doing something. Doing nothing is very difficult. In fact, I don’t know how to do nothing. Maybe sitting and meditating is the way to do nothing. Or (same thing, probably) praying. But I was never very good at meditating. Or praying, for that matter. All I know is that I want to be doing something all the time, even if that something is sitting in a pub garden with a beer and a cigarette while I try to figure out some mathematical puzzle, or I’m talking to somebody about something.

      Sometimes what I do is creative, and I produce something genuinely new. I solve the mathematical problem I’m doing in the pub garden.

      But roobeedoo’s definition of work was that it was something difficult to do. She didn’t write a journal every day, so she found it difficult to easily write stuff. It was “hard work” writing.

      So we’ve got several possible definitions of “work”. Your idea of work as being creative. Roobeedoo’s idea of work as difficult. And my idea of work as something that somebody else wants me to do. Which is it?

      • nisakiman says:

        Work is generally defined as a means of putting a roof over your head and food on the table, and I think it is rare that work in that sense will be 100% what you really want to do, and will usually entail at least an element of what somebody else wants you to to.

        I consider myself very fortunate, insofar as my work (as a self-employed carpenter), although it involves doing what somebody else wants me to do, is nevertheless something that I enjoy doing. It is essentially creative problem solving. I’m asked to build something (a kitchen, for instance), and I have to do all the design work, which I then discuss with the client so we are both in agreement on the aesthetics and practicalities of the project, and I then have to create from those 2D plans the 3D reality. I love it. Every job is a challenge, and no two jobs are the same.

        However, I have in the past done jobs as an employee which have been utterly soul destroying. Those I would put in the ‘difficult’ classification.

      • Joe L. says:

        “All I know is that I want to be doing something all the time, even if that something is sitting in a pub garden with a beer and a cigarette while I try to figure out some mathematical puzzle, or I’m talking to somebody about something.”

        I am exactly the same, and I have also never been able to successfully meditatate or pray. The majority of people seem content burning up idle time blankly staring at a television but I just can’t – my mind is far too active. I need to be actively using my mind in some constructive/creative way at all times, usually in some form of problem-solving. Like you, Frank, I am also a computer programmer/engineer – maybe we’re “wired” similarly?

        “Work” is a word that has become synonymous with employment, however, the most basic definition is simply: “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.” I believe work does not need to be “difficult” or some sort of contractual obligation. This is much closer to Walt’s concept. I find that I am most content while I am “at work.”

      • Jude says:

        I very much enjoy your blogs Frank, as it provides thinking material for my own “idle time”. The puritan ideology of “hard work”, and “the devil makes use of idle hands”, is very hard to shift, it is ingrained in our society, where rational and logical thought, (such as is found in your blog), is looked upon as “a waste of time”.

        This struck me as interesting when I decided to do less hours of “work”, and spend more time doing what I wanted to do. I work only enough to provide me with the means to enjoy some security, (a home, food, etc), and the means to enjoy my “idle time”.

        I am constantly asked why I do not take on more “work”, and I mean constantly, as if working and gaining money is all there is to life. It is seen as something “immoral” to not work every daylight, (or night ) , hours that are available when you are not actually asleep. I see people proudly announce that they work 80, 90, 100 hours a week, as if that is something to be proud of, rather than being seen as rather stupid and pointless.

        Our government, now, has seen fit to divide society into “lifters and leaners”, and is pushing this construct onto society, as if people actually have much choice in whether they are employed, rather than being at the mercy, for the most part, of the circumstances they were born into.

        Why is it now seen as desirable, and even “morally” good, to spend your free time, “working out” , as in thrashing around pointlessly in gyms etc ? Why is thinking, along with a smoke or drink, (or in my case a vape), so worrying to those in power, and is derided as being immoral, or a waste of time, unhealthy etc? What is the link to the puritan ideology and greed?

        Fascinating topic, thanks for providing my thought food for today Frank :)

        • beobrigitte says:

          when I decided to do less hours of “work”, and spend more time doing what I wanted to do.
          So did I. And people did not understand…

          I am constantly asked why I do not take on more “work”, and I mean constantly, as if working and gaining money is all there is to life.
          Thanks to the yuppies, it is. My boss seriously asked my WHY I didn’t want to make work my hobby. He didn’t like the answer. And now he wants to get rid of me. Fine by me.

          I see people proudly announce that they work 80, 90, 100 hours a week, as if that is something to be proud of, rather than being seen as rather stupid and pointless.
          I NEVER announced these horrible weeks as something to be proud of. I took retirement and returned part-time. Problem is that I am still expected to work these hours. And when I say “Fuck off” I have enemies. (Fine, by me, too! I worked hard all my life – going for full retirement whilst I still am like I always was. That means I’ll be doing what I WANT to do.)
          And, yes, it is stupid to work 90 hours/week. You are too knackered to make a life.

        • Frank Davis says:

          The puritan ideology of “hard work”, and “the devil makes use of idle hands”, is very hard to shift, it is ingrained in our society…

          I don’t have a work ethic. I have a leisure ethic. And Idle Theory values leisure far more highly than work, which it views as a necessary evil. A work ethic is for slaves, and that’s what they’re trying to make everybody: slaves.

          I see people proudly announce that they work 80, 90, 100 hours a week, as if that is something to be proud of, rather than being seen as rather stupid and pointless.

          I remember watching a TV documentary about a couple who worked even longer. I seem to remember it was pretty much all day every day. And they had tennis court and a swimming pool and even some horses (if I remember rightly). But they never played tennis or swam in their pool or rode their horses. What’s the point of having such things if you don’t ever enjoy them. Yet they said that if they let up, they’d “lower their standard of living.” I thought they had an awful, awful, awful standard of living. I didn’t think they had any life at all.

          Fortunately, almost all my time is idle time these days. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

        • Some French bloke says:

          “A work ethic is for slaves, and that’s what they’re trying to make everybody: slaves.”

          Exactly, and blaming a sudden, unexplained, loss of work ethics for our social and economic predicament of the last decades is fundamentally dishonest. That massive unemployment we’re having all over the ‘western hemisphere’ is not the opposite of slavery, rather its mirror image.
          The opposite of slavery is autonomy (a mental-philosophical mindset, check out thinkers from Plato to Cornelius Castoriadis), not physical self-sufficiency, which basically died out with the last of the hunter-gatherers.

  3. garyk30 says:

    Have never done such; but, I rather like the idea of ‘capitalism’ where I pay someone else to do the work and the selling and I get left over profits due to business/land ownership.

    If having to worry about the market is work, I can take it. :)

  4. beobrigitte says:

    In Idle Theory, people are regarded as alternating between being idle (green) and busy working at essential tasks (red), and their “idleness” is the fraction of their time that they are idle.
    This, if I understand correctly, adds up to 12 hrs, so the night is neither. I only know 1 person who can sleep 12hrs in one go,most of the people I know make do with 6 hrs or less.

    One inevitable consequence of rising social idleness is unemployment.
    It isn’t as clear cut as this. These days it isn’t automation; it is the ‘increase-productivity-demand-on-the-cheap’ which translates into ‘become-a-yuppie-or-you-will-be-dealt-with’, which in turn translates into: ‘WORK-ALL-THE-HOURS-YOU-ARE-TOLD-TO’.
    There is a new phenomenon: BURNOUT. Somehow people no longer can balance their work with activities they had as a hobby; it is a case of living-for-work and money.
    I always ask people if they would like to have a few pockets sewn into their last gown they will be dressed in…. And then I ask them also if the memory of being in work and living in luxury is a good one to take with them.
    Live is about collecting all sorts of experiences. So, the yuppies have achieved sweet NOTHING. (C’mon!!! Backstabbing and bitching your way up the ladder can hardly be called an experience!!!)

    As social idleness increases, and more and more people have increasingly large amounts of free time to dispose of, there naturally appears a demand for cafes and bars in which to relax, and casinos, football stadiums, cinemas, theatres, museums, art galleries, and tourist resorts, all of which cater for idle people with time on their hands.
    Here we do need to define “idle time”. To me ‘idle’ = doing nothing. If you visit any of the above, you are actually doing something. I do vividly remember my first visit to the art exhibition Documenta in Kassel in 1978. Joseph Beuys’ “Honey pump in the work place” was most certainly impressive! A hole to look into, filled with hose pipes through which honey was pumped and ca. 50 kg of butter in the bottom. (By the time I got to the exhibition the butter had gone rancid….)
    But I did gain an insight into what was then called “modern” art. If I had been idle I would have stayed at home doing nothing, gaining nothing.

    It may even be that, with the multiplication of unnecessary or useless or destructive forms of employment, social idleness actually declines in a period of decay that begins when idleness can no longer be increased.
    We have entered an era of destructive forms of employment. I rarely have ‘idle’ times as usually I am doing something in order to balance work with life – and ‘idle’ time is for sleeping. I get incredibly grumpy when some boss wants to take away this balance.
    Sure, there are a lot of people who are unemployed; some have been for a long time. One of them wound me up the other day. He was ranting about all the foreigners taking their jobs. I did keep calm and just asked him: “Are you qualified to apply for my job?” (I’d have given him the address and phone number + what to say to the boss!!!!)

    Busy time and idle time no longer are clear cut.

  5. roobeedoo2 says:

    Little Rory just loves the Jackanory ;)

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3199873/Ministers-block-tobacco-firms-helping-clean-cigarette-butts-dropped-UK.html

    Excellent does that mean I no longer have to contribute to the public coffers? I’m a smoker; my money’s tainted to.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Another Anti-Smoking Hoax Debunked. Those cigarette filters are 100% biodegradable.

      The cigarette butt menace was created to support outdoor smoking bans because many non-smokers will accept that secondhand smoke is not harmful in an outdoor setting.

      The anti-smoking zealots admit that the tobacco and paper in cigarette butts are biodegradable, but claim that the cellulose acetate cigarette filters are a plastic, like styrofoam and polystyrene, and will contaminate the earth forever. This is not true. Cellulose acetate is a wood product. It is completely degradable through biological, chemical, and photo chemical degradation mechanisms.

      Sorry, I don’t have a nice, easy to read MSM news article to give you. I have research papers from cellulose acetate manufacturers. Ann W., a commentor to a Dick Puddlecote article, put me onto this.

      “STUDY OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION OF CIGARETTE FILTERS: A simulation of the Roadside or Parking Lot Environment.” Stephen K. Haynes, et al,\., Research Laboratories, Eastman Chemical Company, Kingsport Tenn.

      “In recent years there has been increasing public awareness of items which may be discarded as litter with particular attention being given to cigarette filters. Some studies have concluded that when cigarette filters are introduced into the environment, they either do not degrade or degrade very slowly. Previous work in our laboratories has demonstrated that cigarette filters biodegrade readily in environments where mixed microbial populations can thrive. The purpose of this study was to examine the changes occurring in cigarette filters over time in an environment similar to that of a parking lot or roadside area. In this environment, exposure to sunlight, moisture and wind occur, but there is limited exposure to microbial attack … ”

      “CONCLUSIONS: Previous work has demonstrated that cigarette filters biodegrade readily in environments where mixed microbial populations can thrive. This work demonstrates that current commercial cigarette filters also degrade when exposed to an environment which is not optimal for microbial biodegradation.”

      …………………..

      Miss Roses contribution

      The butts contained dangerous chemicals such as cadmium, arsenic and lead

      I thought that India grew it’s own tobacco.

      Arsenic, cadmium, and lead in California cropland soils: role of phosphate and micronutrient fertilizers.
      2008

      “Phosphate and micronutrient fertilizers contain potentially harmful trace elements, such as arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), and lead (Pb). We investigated if application of these fertilizer increases the As, Cd, and Pb concentrations of the receiving soils. More than 1000 soil samples were collected in seven major vegetable production regions across California.

      Benchmark soils (no or low fertilizer input) sampled in 1967 and re-sampled in 2001 served as a baseline. Soils were analyzed for total concentrations of As, Cd, Pb, P, and Zn. The P and Zn concentrations of the soils were indicators of P fertilizer and micronutrient inputs, respectively. Results showed that the concentrations of these elements in the vegetable production fields in some production areas of California had been shifted upward.”

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18396556

      Nothing like a bit of selective information to further the cause, eh? Never mind the cigarette ends, what about the vegetables?

      Another reason I always use manure.

  6. harleyrider1978 says:

    Frank Im definitely into IDLE MODE these days

  7. Joe L. says:

    I see people proudly announce that they work 80, 90, 100 hours a week, as if that is something to be proud of, rather than being seen as rather stupid and pointless.

    I couldn’t agree more. It is scary that this is becoming a “normal” mindset. I left my last job for this reason – it was engulfing my life.

    I feel like this mentality is also part of the overarching social engineering “experiment” that’s occurring. I believe they want us to have as little idle time as possible, because it is during idle time, like at a pub, over beer and cigarettes, where discussions not unlike the one we’re having now occur. Thoughts are provoked; people open their minds to the fact that their lives aren’t as wonderful as they’re being told they are; movements are organized; rebellions are born.

    • Jude says:

      We are always told that we don’t “have” enough stuff, and our lives would be so much better if we had a bigger house, or a nicer car, or whatever, and this is what we should be aspiring towards. To me this is a form of insanity. You can’t take it with you when you pop your clogs, so why bother?

      My Mum gave me some very wise words when I was younger, and they stuck with me, she said , “its easy to know what you don’t want, but very hard to know what you really do want, this takes being brutally honest with yourself”. She was right, and what society or corporate interests, tell you, is not necessarily what you as an individual want.

      She also said “if you act like a doormat, people will wipe their feet on you”, also true, but a discussion for another day :)

  8. richard says:

    “I see people proudly announce that they work 80, 90, 100 hours a week, as if that is something to be proud of, rather than being seen as rather stupid and pointless.”

    The worst example I heard of this was a couple with a young child, complaining on the radio. The mother said that her entire wage was spent on a childminder. The obvious answer – to stay at home and look after the child and be no worse off – didn’t seem to occur to her. Not only stupid and pointless but damaging to the child. Nurturing in early years is essential to emotional and cognitive development. And so it goes on for anther generation….

  9. slugbop007 says:

    Just saw this article from today, August 19, 2015:
    Michelle Roberts, Health Editor BBC News Online
    http://www.bbc.com/news/health-33975946
    She states on her LinkedIn page that ‘I am a qualified doctor with over 10 yrs experience in news, health journalism, publishing and copywriting/med ed. I’m trained as a broadcaster on TV and radio for the BBC. See more at http://www.drmichelleroberts.wordpress.com
    I checked her academics and all it says is
    Education
    University of Liverpool
    University of Liverpool
    Medical degree
    1994 – 1999
    Another failed medical doctor reinvented into an esteemed and respected propagandist for Public Health.

  10. slugbop007 says:

    Non-communicable disease (NCD) is a medical condition or disease that is non-infectious or non-transmissible. NCDs can refer to chronic diseases which last for long periods of time and progress slowly.

    A noncommunicable disease (NCD) is a medical condition or disease that is by definition non-infectious and non-transmissible among people.

    The World Health Organization’s World Health Report 2002 identified tobacco use, alcohol consumption, overweight, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol as the most important risk factors for NCDs.

    If tobacco use is non-communicable then why is there a public ban on tobacco? Time to rescind the smoking ban laws.

    Article from December, 2012
    http://theconversation.com/a-quick-explanation-of-non-communicable-diseases-or-ncds-10923
    Alessandro R Demaio
    Australian Medical Doctor; Postdoctoral Fellow in Global Health & NCDs at Harvard University
    The Conversation is funded by Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Alfred P Sloan Foundation and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Our global publishing platform is funded by Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
    Robert Wood Johnson? Where have I seen that name before?

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