The Brave New World of Lifestyle Capitalism

By Hourigan, Benjamin | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, November 2008 | Go to article overview

The Brave New World of Lifestyle Capitalism


Hourigan, Benjamin, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


The brave new world of lifestyle capitalism Benjamin Hourigan reviews The 4-hour Workweek: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss (Vermillion, 2008, 308 pages)

'I believe that life exists to be enjoyed and that the most important thing is to feel good about yourself,' writes entrepreneur Timothy Ferriss in The 4-hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich.

If you're a cynic, you might object that happiness is overrated and that 'feeling good about yourself is a euphemism for being a self-indulgent narcissist. After all, you don't get much done by being a Pollyanna and thinking everything is fine just as it is. Ellsworth Toohey, the villain of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, has this to say: 'Have you noticed that the imbecile always smiles? Man's first frown is the first touch of God on his forehead. The touch of thought.' It's our dissatisfaction with things that drives us to achieve, to improve our own lot and that of others.

What does an enjoyable life consist of? Slate writer Seth Stevenson captures a typical vision when he meditates on the virtues of slacking and procrastination:

You nurture the creative sprouts that take root only in long hours of idleness. You're open to soulful experiences that lie only beyond the bounded worlds of work and study.

Let's assume for a moment that this really is enjoyable, and that you want 'long hours of idleness' in which to be 'open to soulful experiences.' How to get them? The obvious answer, today, is that you should find some way to rort the welfare system and adjust your consumption habits so you can live on your meagre government handout from the dole, sickness benefits, parenting payments, or whatever else is available to you.

But this would be resigning yourself to a life of poverty and dependence. There's little that so crushes the spirit. Never mind soulful experiences: you'll spend much of your free time calculating how you can afford your rent and your next meal, and the rest of it wrangling with Centrelink over your mutual obligation requirements.

What's the alternative? Should you enter a professional career, then work ten-hour days from your twenties through your fifties, investing the surplus wisely so you can retire in style with a couple of decades left to enjoy life if you're lucky? Ferriss thinks this is a mistake. 'Grads from top schools,' he says, 'are funnelled into high-income . . . jobs, and 15-30 years of soul-crushing work has been accepted as the default path. . . . I've been there and seen the destruction. This book reverses it.'

Ferriss offers readers the prospect of practicing 'lifestyle design' to secure complete financial freedom and the liberty to live anywhere. More importantly, he holds out the prospect of spending your time (all but the four hours of your new work week) on whatever you find more important than the inefficient routines of workplace drudgery that make up many people's jobs.

Ferriss sees that most people waste huge amounts of time on activities that are neithet particularly useful nor enjoyable. The first part of his advice to aspiring pursuers of soulful experiences consists of how to be more productive as an individual by eliminating distractions and then extracting yourself from the traditional workplace. A large part of this involves countering the effects of information overload and addiction to unnecessary communication, by limiting media intake, and avoiding meetings, phone calls, and email wherever possible. In this way, the seeker after free time cultivates 'selective ignorance.' 'I read the front-page headlines through the newspaper machines, and nothing more,' Ferris writes, 'it gives you something new to ask the rest of the population in lieu of small talk.'

He echoes, in a more irreverent style, quantitative options trader and author Nassim Taleb's preference for 'the decorum of ancient thought' over the hullaballoo of daily media. …

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