Some years ago, I was at the bookstore and came across Tim Ferriss’ best-selling book, The Four-Hour Work Week: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. You’ve probably heard of it. For me, at the time a liberal arts major who was anxious about work and the meaning thereof — and, more urgently, soon to graduate — the promise of the book’s subtitle was very enticing indeed. However, I ended up returning it, finding the book disingenuous in the end, for some reason that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Since then, I’ve realized what it was that I found so troubling about The Four-Hour Work Week, which seems painfully obvious to me now, in the aftermath of the financial crisis: it’s the part about “joining the new rich.”
This is the method he prescribes: Set up a business that runs itself with very little ongoing involvement from you, hire people in India to take care of the grunt work remotely for cheap wages, and laugh all the way to the bank. Then, once you’re bored, sell the business, leaving your hired help to fend for themselves, and begin the next endeavor. Lather, rinse, repeat until you have accumulated enough to fund your ideal lifestyle.
Doesn’t sound much different from the “currently rich,” does it?
Now, Ferriss isn’t completely off-base. He is right to assert that time, in its increasing scarcity, is fast replacing money as the new measure of wealth in the 21st century, because no matter how much money you have, it’s meaningless without the time to enjoy it. Another point that he (and the “lifestyle design” movement that his book jump-started) gets right is that work is merely a means, not an end. But even though his advice appeals to the independent and rebellious American spirit, it’s not really an escape from the status quo. In fact, by taking advantage of the system — or better yet, capitalizing on the opportunities it offers — it actually reinforces it. As an economic philosophy, it’s quite contemptible: “A better world, but just for me.”