The 6 words that summarize why American-style bare-knuckle capitalism is doomed

Written by Sven Eberlein

This is not from The Onion, but from yesterday’s business section of the San Francisco Chronicle:


I’m trying to find the right analogy to wrap my mind around this head-slapping double-whopper of hamster-wheelin’ futility. My geography professor once coined the expression “We celebrate what we obliterate” for when humans do things like paving over a creek or mowing down a forest then calling the developments “Creekside Mall” or “Forest Hill Apartments.”

In this case, the corporate overlords have exploited and terrorized their workforce to a point where people are even afraid to take a weekend off for fear of looking like slackers and losing their jobs.

Whoa! Hold on there, young banker. Your boss wants you to kick back and stop working so hard. That’s the message from Bank of America, which recently issued a memo advising its analysts and associates to “take a minimum of four weekend days off per month.”

Along come all these stress-inducing studies that say 80 hour weeks and 4 hour sleep nights are just a bit unhealthy. I mean, who woulda thunk??? She looked so energized while getting her 7th cup of espresso at midnight!!!

This growing pressure to relax isn’t limited to junior bankers trying to get ahead in a shrinking industry. In fact, a major source of stress on U.S. workers right now is the onslaught of data about the costs of being so stressed and sleep-deprived.

It’s not that we would want people to have humane working conditions because they are, um, human beings, but after a (presumably stressful and overtime-inducing) cost/benefit analysis the CFOs came to the conclusion that irritated, sick or dead employees are less productive.

You’re more likely to crash your car, drink too much, blow up in a meeting, divorce your spouse, and fall prey to everything from a cold to a heart attack. Just being around a stressed person, so-called secondhand stress, can leave you feeling more stressed. For most Americans the main source of that stress isn’t their finances or love life or lousy neighbors. It’s their job. Specifically, it’s the workload from their job. (The kind of workload that prompts a Bank of America associate to, say, work over the weekend.)

To summarize this recipe for disaster:
1. come up with an economic system based on perpetual growth
2. devise corporate entities that are legally bound to put quarterly profits above all other considerations, whether they be social, environmental or just plain human dignity.
3. Squeeze every inch of productivity out of your workforce to maximize short-term profit by creating a culture of either voluntary or fear-based “live to work” mantra.
4. Realize that productivity rates are declining because of natural limitations to the human body.
5. Pressure employees to take an occasional weekend off to boost productivity
6. Find that employee is too preoccupied with work to know what to do with free time.
7??? Mandatory Meditation? Party Pills? Quiet Quota? Angst Algorithms?

About the author

Sven Eberlein

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  • Angst algorithm! Haha!

    When Netflix declared their new policy of unlimited vacation days for their employees, they knew what they were doing. There’s not much point in counting vacation days and keeping track of each individual employee’s time off anymore. The work culture has reached a point that it effectively polices itself on that account. In fact, with “unlimited” days off, employees are now much more competitive with each other in taking less time off and putting more workdays in. After all, you’re no longer “entitled” to the 10 days an year you did have before when the eager ambitious co-worker in the next cube is pulling all nighters and weekenders.

    Again, well played, corporations! I’m impressed! Unlimited time off = unlimited time on!