The joy of idleness

by Chris Bertram on August 7, 2004

The Guardian have “a long extract from Tom Hodgkinson’s How to be Idle”:,6761,1277111,00.html , an entertaining polemic against hard-work, time-keeping, self-improvement, and Protestant anxiety: a worthy riposte to those who think the quality of life is best measured in terms of per capita income. It also gives me an excuse to link to Paul Lafargue’s “The Right to be Lazy”: .



Ophelia Benson 08.07.04 at 6:23 pm

I like that.

You could link to Walden, too. There’s that great bit about people who are shackled to a farm, barn, livestock etc. I memorized it once, then forgot it again. Too much work to remember it.


jamie 08.07.04 at 6:50 pm

What about Herman Melville’s Bartleby, surely the patron saint of cubicle rats everywhere?


enzo 08.07.04 at 8:40 pm

Russell also has a book on the subject. It’s called In Praise of Idleness.


glory 08.07.04 at 9:31 pm

idle theory by chris davis
in praise of idleness by betrand russell
an idler’s glossary by joshua glenn
a loafer’s manifesto by bob jacobson

the theory of the leisure class by thorstein veblen
waiting for the weekend by witold rybczynski
the overworked american by juliet schor
the abolition of work by bob black
the end of work by jeremy rifkin (a rebuttal by black)

on the concept of social value by joseph schumpeter
money in an unequal world by keith hart
the future of money by bernard lietaer (viz a global currency, the terra – “CBS“)
happiness: has social science a clue? by richard layard
how not to buy happiness by robert frank
a happiness compendium (or “consumption divided by desire“) compiled by dan kohn

for your idle reading pleasure :D cheers!


asg 08.08.04 at 1:38 am

I’ve always thought Bob Black’s essays, like PETA, to be clever satires aimed at identifying exactly how nonsensical nonsense must be before no one at all takes them seriously.


sennoma 08.08.04 at 2:46 am


The hours we waste
in work
and such

I beg you,
do not shirk
your daily
of indolence!

—Don Marquis


wood turtle 08.08.04 at 7:23 am

I liked that very much. It reminded me of that saying of psychologists and well-meaning friends- “If you want a good relationship you have to really work at it.” Every time I hear that one I want to go home and crawl into bed with my clothes on.


Robin Green 08.08.04 at 12:07 pm

Unlike asg I find Bob Black inspiring. But I think he has missed a bleeding obvious point in his rebuttal to Jeremy Rifkin (linked above).

Capitalists do not object to shorter work weeks primarily because it threatens their “control over the lower orders” (although that might be a minor factor). They object primarily because, in order to reduce the full-time work week, you have to pay workers more per hour to give them an equivalent living standard to what they had before. So – especially in menial types of work where there is an obvious and direct correlation between hours worked per employee and productivity per employee – obviously capitalists are going to oppose it!

Or perhaps Mr. Black thought that too bleeding obvious to mention? Maybe… but I doubt it: it still looks like neglecting the most obvious explanation in favour of something more conspiratorial and explanatorily weak.


asg 08.09.04 at 1:37 am

Since Mr. Black also apparently thought that the question of who would treat sewage, move garbage, perform brain surgery, catch child molesters, and generally do the things that won’t ever get done unless people are paid to do them was also too prosaic to consider, I’m less sanguine than you are about Black’s willingness to omit the bleeding obvious from his work.


reuben 08.09.04 at 1:34 pm

As sad as it sounds, Wood Turtle, you actually do have to work at good relationships. Even, as far as I’ve been able to tell, at great ones. Yeah, that sucks, and it ain’t romantic, and the leading exponents of the fact tend to be shrill ninnies, but unless you can present evidence to the contrary, that really is how it goes.

As Frank Zappa once said (paraphrasing liberally here), falling in love is easy. It’s what happens afterwards that’s the interesting (and harder) bit.


Douglas 08.09.04 at 8:20 pm

blundering yet further into the OT thickets of working at relationships, I don’t recollect the Frank Zappa lyric, but Tom Waits:
“Well now falling in love is such a breeze
But it’s standing up that’s so hard for me”

Also, ‘echidne of the snakes’ (a blog) once proposed a graduated scale of tests for heroism, the highest grade of which was ‘loving and staying married to the princess for ever after’
Monumental feats are in some ways easier than the quotidian tests of endurance..


wilful 08.10.04 at 5:56 am

Excuse the lack of appropriate linking (hey, it’s my first post ever here), but please find attached a useful guide to looking busy at work:


wood turtle 08.10.04 at 4:27 pm

reuben, douglas,

I hear what you are saying. I just think that when a lot of people in this country are tired from overwork, telling them to “work” at their personal lives too may not be the best approach. It’s the word choice that bothers me.

And if you go through some “monumental feats” in your personal life, they will almost for sure not be easy.

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