Well-being for Virtually Nothing

The coming generations will make less than those that came before. Jerry Brito says, well, so what?

Today…we are in a position to derive much of our happiness from pursuits internal to our minds. We do this by blogging, watching House of Cards on Netflix, listening to a symphony from iTunes, tweeting with friends and acquaintances, seeing their pictures on Facebook or Path, and learning and collaborating on Wikipedia. As a result, once one secures a certain income to cover basic needs, greater happiness and well-being today can be had for virtually nothing. What is the point, then, of doing materially better than one’s parents?

I kind of love this idea. I don’t think it means progressives should take their eyes off the ball of rampant income inequality, but it is comforting to know that we might be making less because we’ve reached a point in society’s development at which we need less.

Just don’t tell the Republicans.

7 thoughts on “Well-being for Virtually Nothing”

  1. “Just don’t tell the Republicans.”
    More to the point, just don’t tell the desert-religion believers. For all the talk about the evils of selfish materialistic commercialism, it does seem that they take “inheriting the earth” quite literally.


  2. I can’t handle crap like this. It’s true I could be happy with (the equivalent of what is presently) 40K a year for the rest of my life, I’ve never been able to earn that as I get my ass kicked by the system (well, libertarian CEOs) over and over again. My unemployment check from this last layoff is about 3/4 of the rent on my place alone, nm food, student loans, and medical bills, and my partner also underemployed and falling to pieces.
    Here’s my dream world, where the poor are OK and the rich can masturbate in piles of gold, cocaine, and botox forever: Minimum wage is only a few hundred dollars a month. But if you’re poor enough, housing, related bills, medical & dental care, and a stipend for food are all free. That could probably be paid for by cutting defense spending less than 50%.
    Oh well, wish in one hand, …


  3. What does “pursuits internal to our minds” mean? It certainly doesn’t mean “requiring nothing but our minds,” if it includes Netflix, blogging, iTunes, Facebook, etc. Those all require a) technology, and b) other people. If it’s efficient technology for using/doing those things, it’s expensive. It’s true that a lot of what we enjoy these days is now data, but data has a physical substrate and you can’t afford that for “virtually nothing.” You need screens to watch your Netflix movies on, speakers to play your iTunes, processors to process your Facebook and Wikipedia and– what he didn’t mention and should have– your video games. Social media adds up, quantitatively and financially.
    However, it’s true that once you have spent the money to have all of this stuff, you pretty much have all of it. Once you’ve got a decent computer with a good video card, you can play many games for not too much. Once you’ve made room in the budget for $45 of internet every month, you can blog and Wikipedia as much as your heart desires. If you want to be “always on,” you’d better shell out for a tablet and smart phone as well.
    It’s true that once you clear a big spike, it feels like you’re paying “virtually nothing” for all this stuff. I just think the spike should be acknowledged.


  4. Let’s not forget that the only reason most of us poor westerners can afford these gadgets is because they’re manufactured by third world slave labor. How much would a “Made in the USA” iPad cost?


  5. Today…we are in a position to derive much of our happiness from pursuits internal to our minds.

    Is this supposed to be an innovation? Has Mr Brito never heard of board games, playing cards, radio, and public libraries? Skiffle? Did he never get those interminable lectures from grandparents about how they used to be poor, but “made their own fun”?
    What he overlooks is that humans are all about status comparison. You can be perfectly happy being (comparatively) poor, as long as you’re not constantly surrounded by images of vast wealth.
    I can’t help but suspect that his idea of “a certain income to cover basic needs” is probably more than a lot of people are making right now.


  6. Dunc- I’m not about status comparison. Like I said, I’d be OK with staying poor forever & the rich skating past me on platinum rollerblades with cloned-out dodos on each shoulder, as long as I got up to the “certain income to cover basic needs” level. I heard that calculated one time to be something like 70K, but I think I could get by on 40, if I’m lucky enough to not get cancer.
    Dys- That too. I don’t need the latest gadget. Give me classic video games and a region-free DVD player and I’m cool. Wage slaves in China need support, but making their masters rich doesn’t make me feel like I’m doing it right.


  7. @great1american1satan – there is a very large body of evidence on this matter. Certainly, there are outliers, and you may very well be one, but your personal experience does not necessarily represent that of others.


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