Gates elaborates upon the age-old advice of parents to children–get a job–in this winsome if somewhat desultory treatise on political economy.
Regretting his youthful disdain for work and money, here the author makes a case for both. Hunter-gatherers and farmers, he notes, can hardly avoid the consequences of idleness, which leads quickly to starvation. Economies inevitably develop and diversify, a growing division of labor requires the performance of specialized tasks and trade for the necessities of life, and money replaces self-evident use value with mysterious exchange value. Gates extols the usefulness of money as a medium of exchange, appreciates the modern consumer cornucopia and, on a basic Darwinian note, explains that â€œthose who adopted industry had better â€˜reproductive success.’” He also appraises the discontents of work life. People often feel that their identities are bound up in their work, he observes, but they also feel alienated from their apparently pointless jobs as cogs in the corporate machine. Rising salaries don’t seem to bring more happiness either; the careerist rat race for wealth and status is unhealthy and leaves little time for family or personal fulfillment. The author offers his own resumÃ© as a compromise solution: refusing promotion offers, he has settled on â€œa dead-end data entry job and part-time waitering,” which feeds the kids and leaves room for family, books on tape and other pursuits. Gates is an engaging if slightly aimless writer, citing Plato and Marx one minute and tossing out budget and investment tips the next. His Stoic combination of pragmatism and renunciation ultimately strikes a chord. His defense of remunerative employment makes the book a great graduation present from anxious parents to slacker offspring, while his defense of untaxing, ambitionless employment makes it a good graduation present from slacker offspring to anxious parents.
Gates’s writing is strong–hopefully he’ll apply himself more seriously to his next subject.