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The news hook for this post is the Hilary Rosen/Ann Romney flap, but in truth just about every week offers some hook for the following observation: Rich people don’t have jobs, they have hobbies.

If any multi-millionaire CEOs and investment bankers read my stuff (love to hear from you), they’re probably screaming: “What do you mean I don’t have a job? I have the toughest job in the world! I work 80 hours a week, and the stress follows me home. Waitresses and coal miners are slackers compared to me.”

We'll examine that objection below the squiggle.

[reposted from The Weekly Sift]

Whenever the national conversation turns to inequality, the corporate media gives us gobs of stories about and testimonies from the hard-working 1%. Probably some of it’s exaggerated – waitresses and coal miners don’t have publicists, after all – but maybe a lot of it is true.

By all accounts, Bill Gates was very focused during those years when he turned his first Microsoft billion into fifty more. Warren Buffett may spend every waking hour researching Berkshire Hathaway’s next big investment. For all I know, Kobe Byrant and Tiger Woods train like maniacs.

It doesn’t matter. Rich people have always devoted a lot of time and effort to their hobbies. That doesn’t mean they have jobs.

You know what a job is? It’s something you do because you need to eat, or because your family is counting on you. You don’t necessarily hate it, and maybe you’d even keep doing it if you didn’t have to. (I used to get my hair cut by an 80ish guy who just liked feeling useful and talking to people. He told great stories about barbering on luxury trains back in the day.) But that’s the whole point: If it’s really a job, you do have to.

That’s the only test that counts. It’s not how hard you work, it’s what happens if you stop. If quitting means real hardship for you or your family, you have a job. If you keep at it even though you could spend the rest of your life skipping rocks at your house by the lake, you have a hobby.

I’ve got nothing against hobbies. My blog is a hobby, not a job, no matter how many hours I put into it. One way to describe the Marxist vision of Utopia is that we’d all be hobbyists, and the world’s work would get done by people who just wanted the satisfaction of doing it. (That vision even works sometimes: Wikipedia, open source software, and so on.)

People have hobbies for fulfillment, for identity, to get out of the house, to make the world a better place, to test themselves against worthy adversaries, and for a lot of other creditable reasons. People have jobs because their kids need braces.

It’s not a difficult concept.

And that brings me to the Romneys.

Like most Republican politicians, Mitt Romney has been having trouble figuring out how to respond to the fact that women don’t like him. Across the country, Republicans have been pushing policies that (at best) are insensitive to the needs and desires of the vast majority of American women. Democrats have packaged that as a “War on Women”, and polls show that their message is working. In particular, it’s working against Mitt, who had to endorse a lot of War-on-Women policies to compete with Rick Santorum for the votes of social conservatives.

What to do?

Romney still has problems on his right flank, so he can’t just shake the Etch-a-Sketch and draw a more feminist set of policies. Instead he’s been touting Ann as his connection to the women of America. (That’s patronizingly close to a some-of-my-best friends-are-women defense, but it’s all he’s got.) Women, Ann tells him, don’t care about so-called “women’s issues” like contraception or equal pay:

My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me, and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.
On CNN’s AC360, liberal talking-head Hilary Rosen objected that even if we shift away from social issues to economic issues, Ann Romney is not the best person to represent women’s interests.
Guess what? His wife has never actually worked a day in her life. She's never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing.
And that brought down a hailstorm of outrage, because it allowed Republicans to brand Democrats as anti-Mom. How dare Rosen say Ann Romney has never worked? Ann raised five boys – that’s work enough for anybody! And so on.

All of which is beside the point, because the job/hobby distinction applies as much to within-the-home work as to work-for-money.

Yes, a lot of effort goes into raising five boys to adulthood, and Ann may have done a fair piece of it herself. For all I know, she could have changed all the diapers, nursed all the colds, and packed all the lunch boxes. If so, she must have been reasonably good at it, because the kids seem to have turned out fine.

But here’s what makes all the difference: She didn’t have to. If Ann lifted a finger around the kitchen or nursery, it was because she wanted to. She found it satisfying, it was part of her identity, or she had some other motive unconnected to necessity. If her search for fulfillment ever turned her in a different direction, an upscale domestic-help agency could have dispatched an armada of well-qualified maids and cooks and nannies to Romney Manor in no time at all.

So whatever vomit-wiping, homework-correcting, and cheese-sandwich-grilling Ann did was part of her hobby, not her job. If it ever became too much for her – for one night, a weekend, or forever – she had the option to become Lady Ann and have the servants call her whenever the boys did something cute or fun.

It isn’t like that for most American moms, whether they work inside the home, outside the home, or in somebody else’s home. They have jobs.

It wasn’t like that for my Mom, a housewife who differed from Ann Romney in about a quarter of a billion ways. Mom took pride in providing a good home for her family, but it was a job, not a hobby. Dad worked two jobs of his own, so most of the time there was no back-up.

Cooking in particular was a job. Mom took pride in keeping us well fed, but she rarely bought cookbooks or experimented with recipes. She had an adequate repertoire and stuck to it. Early in their marriage, she nixed Dad’s suggestion of camping or rent-a-cabin vacations. “If I have to cook,” she said, “it’s not a vacation.”

It’s too late to ask her, but I doubt Mom would have picked Ann Romney to be her voice in the halls of power. I don’t think they had a lot in common. Hobbyists and job-workers rarely do, even if (by all outward appearances) they’re doing the same things.

Maybe someday everybody will live in Wikipedia World, where the work gets done by hobbyists and nobody is driven by economic necessity. Some of us get to spend a lot of time there now.

But most people don’t. They have jobs – in the home, in the factory, in the office, or out in cyberspace somewhere. Working a job is a central fact about their lives -- which is precisely why you won’t figure out what they want or need by talking to hobbyists. Not even hobbyists who work very, very hard.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (16+ / 0-)

    Read the Weekly Sift every Monday afternoon.

    by Pericles on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 12:42:09 PM PDT

  •  Well, since you're singlehandedly... (0+ / 0-)

    ...redefining the word job and want it to get around, maybe you should go to youtube and a thousand blogs and urban dictionary - for starters - to announce it and see what happens.

    •  I dunno, makes sense to me (5+ / 0-)

      A job is what you have to do, a hobby is what you want to do, regardless of the pay or hours worked for either. The underlying concept is this: jobs create stress because of the necessity involved. Hobbies remove stress because of the freedom. A millionaire working eighty hour weeks is not stressed, he is having fun fulfilling his desire for recreation.

      Perhaps you disagree with the underlying concept, and not the semantics?

  •  Good points (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    farmerchuck, LaraJones

    but you won't get far calling motherhood a hobby.

  •  Really? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nextstep, Samulayo

    You think that when Bill Gates was CEO of Microsoft, he didn't work?

    You think that Steve Jobs didn't work?

    You think Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos doesn't work?

    You think Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Kraft foods, doesn't work?

    You think that highly-paid actors or athletes don't work?

    You think that a heart surgeon making maybe $750,000 to $1 million a year doesn't work?  

    You think that a middle-aged  CPA married to a middle aged architect (above AGI $250,000) don't work?

    And you know they "don't work" exactly how?

    You can argue that they are overpaid for the work they do. That's one thing.  You might even find examples of rich people who simply live off investments and don't get up and go to work every day.  But it's a completely different thing to say that ALL rich people "don't work."  

    •  I don't think you read the post (4+ / 0-)

      I gave the Gates example myself, and never said that rich people don't work. I said they have hobbies they work very hard at.

      Read the Weekly Sift every Monday afternoon.

      by Pericles on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 01:07:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I disagree with calling it a "hobby" (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        especially if you define "rich" as anything other than zillionaires.  

        My dad's heart doctor is rich -- probably makes a bit north of $1 million a year -- but I seriously, seriously don't think it's a "hobby" for him.  

        You don't need to denigrate people who work very heard and make a lot of money in order to argue that they should pay more in taxes.

        •  not sure what's denigrating (4+ / 0-)

          about being lumped in with Gates and Buffet and Tiger Woods.

          And who said anything about taxes?

          You seem to be struggling very hard to talk about something other than what I wrote.

          Read the Weekly Sift every Monday afternoon.

          by Pericles on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 01:16:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  If all his needs were met, (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ncarolinagirl, gfv6800

          would he still be a surgeon? If he's anything like the surgeons I know, the answer is yes...I think that's all the author is explicitly saying, and where one of the memes behind the Buffet rule comes into play...But you are the one that brought taxes into the discussion.

          "I took a walk around the world, To ease my troubled mind. I left my body laying somewhere In the sands of time" Kryptonite 3 doors Down

          by farmerchuck on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 01:44:33 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  that's actually pretty disparaging to people (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Catte Nappe, nextstep

        who do work hard and just happen to like what they're doing.

        What if you're NOT rich and you like what you're doing?  Are you just a hobbyist?  A dabbler maybe?  Let's go with dilettante...

  •  Mitt hasn't had a job in over 5 years (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, ncarolinagirl, Ree Zen

    Why did the Republican party nominate an unemployed bum?

    "Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is." - George W Bush

    by jfern on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 01:23:09 PM PDT

  •  Here's My Related Supportive Personal Experience: (6+ / 0-)

    All my life I've had an artisan passion. I really "worked" at it year after year, I blew past the 10,000 hour axiom defining expertise. But I had a great technology career that paid decently for work that left me energetic and creative for my passion.

    When I lost my computer tech career I had to turn my artisan hobby into my job.

    I'm here to tell everyone who's objecting, you'll know a hobby or your passion is a JOB when your economics force you to do it 40 hours a week or more.

    Though there are some rough edges here in the presentation I think there's a seed of a really good messaging idea to develop here.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 01:26:34 PM PDT

  •  Whether or not they have a job (4+ / 0-) has nothing to do with the money they receive -- which is largely, if not entirely, passive:

    Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other.

    by Pluto on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 01:31:00 PM PDT

  •  Many rich don't consider thier profession a hobby, (0+ / 0-)

    but rather a duty and  responsibility.  You are off the mark here.

  •  this is ridiculous. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe

    My cousins own a restaurant in Boston.  They work their assess off.  It's exhausting.  They love it.  That's not a job?  Who says a 'job' is something you have to do in order to live, and that's it?

    I have a PhD in archaeology.  I'm looking for a postdoc that I'm going to love.  It's going to be gruelling--both looking for it, and the job itself.  How's that not a 'job'?

    Some of the wealthy sit on their asses letting money rain down on them from the heavens.  A lot don't.

    It's sentiments like this that feed directly into the GOP frame of class warfare.

  •  Maybe "hobby" is not the best word choice. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Scott Campbell, Ree Zen

    However, I don't know how to explain it any better in order to make it more understandable.  The reaction may be due to the word, "Hobby".  It may not be the best descriptor - but I can't come up with a better one.

    A job is something you HAVE to do, typically for money, although there may be other payoffs as well.  You would not do a job if you did not get paid in some way (maybe not always monetarily) to do it.  

    A hobby is something you choose to do, and would do out of enjoyment, challenge, whatever...  whether or not you ever got a penny for your efforts.  

    The number of hours spent engaged in this activity is not the determinant of whether it is a job or a hobby.  Many well paid professionals would CHOOSE to continue their jobs even if they did not need/want/like the financial rewards that accompany it.  People CHOOSE to be mothers, mostly, even if it is quite a lot of work - it's not a job, it's a choice.

    I understand what Pericles is trying to say here, and I agree with the premise.  Others may not.

    "I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization." - United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (Republican) -8.12, -5.18

    by ncarolinagirl on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 02:24:27 PM PDT

    •  Parenthood is for two people, biologically, (0+ / 0-)

      but actual primary parenting is culturally reserved largely for women.

      I hear what you're saying but you kind of lost me on the parenting thing. I'll alert everybody that this is a sore spot for me. Rant alert!

      Calling a mother's work a "hobby" or similar term only adds insult to her already-existing injury of getting no pay/respect/health coverage/retirement benefits while working pretty much 24/7 for years. Parenting is work, any way you cut it.

      I may know that Ann Romney doesn't represent me for several reasons, and I know that she's not in touch with average American women, but I respect her for the work of mothering that she did. Mitt chose to be a father, as much as Ann chose to be a mother, but he left the work to Ann. Ann stepped up and did it.

      What I've heard men say, almost universally, is that work = money = work:

      * If it pays money, it's work.
      * If it doesn't pay money, it isn't work.
      * If it isn't work, it doesn't pay money.
      * And so on.

      This went a long way toward helping me understand why I can bust my butt all day at home, cleaning and cooking and raising children, be wiped out by the end of the day, and be told by males that it "isn't work."

      Series of rhetorical questions: If primary parenting is a hobby, how do we explain the huge preponderance of women doing it and the shortage of men doing it? Is it coincidence? Is it because women naturally love housework and poopy diapers, so they're willing and happy to do it without any pay, benefits, or respect?

      Or could it be they do all this work because they love their children and know there's no one else to do the work? Could it be that they do the work of parenting because they recognize its true importance despite the total lack of compensation or respect from society? Women step up and parent children out of love, and out of the maturity of knowing the job MUST be done regardless of the derision of society and the economic punishment of being a primary parent.

      That's not a hobby.

      (/End rant) And that's my soapbox for today. Now back to our regularly scheduled program...

      I am not a crockpot.

      by LaraJones on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 04:10:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  These are such personal definitions. (0+ / 0-)

        Everyone's situation and experience is different, and everyone is interpreting these words that have been used through their own personal lens.  It's semantics, really.  I said that I didn't think hobby was the correct word to describe that whole category of things, but I don't know what word to suggest that Pericles use instead, either.

        But housework is not parenting.  For me, housework is WORK - unpaid work, but work all the same, unless you have a job as a housekeeper, in which case it is paid work.  Or unless you are one of those people who loves to clean house (I've known a few) and who take joy and pleasure from these mundane tasks.  It might be a hobby for some people.  It is not a hobby for me.  

        But being a mom/parenting is not work - for me.  Others, who are paid as nannies, could well call parenting of other people's children work.  And parenting does not really meet the definition of a hobby, as that implies that you can pick it up and put it down at will - and of course, you can't - that is not adequate parenting, unless you have nannies to back you up when you don't feel like doing the job.

        We could go round and round and never be able to find agreement on these definitions and what constitutes work and play, because the definition of each is unique to the individual.  Pericles gave it a good try, though, and gave me much to think about.

        "I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization." - United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (Republican) -8.12, -5.18

        by ncarolinagirl on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 07:36:46 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  So let me get this straight. They have a job until (0+ / 0-)

    they make a lot of money then it's a hobby?  Sounds like a little resentment there for having a job and not making a lot of money therefore those that do make a lot of money are suddenly transformed into evil and are just doing what they do to make people that still have a "job" feel bad?  huh??

    Rick Perry is George Bush without brains.

    by thestructureguy on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 04:46:19 PM PDT

  •  There are a lot of comments here based on (0+ / 0-)

    misstating your points.  I think your diary is a very useful aid to thinking.  T&Rd

  •  Your title reminds me (0+ / 0-)

    of the old saying about Boston ladies, that they don't buy their hats, they have them.

    When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser. -- Socrates

    by Mnemosyne on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 08:08:18 PM PDT

  •  My mom had 8 kids and worked full time for the (0+ / 0-)

    state gov. She has told me that work outside the home is what kept her sane??  So some mixed messages-
    we all do what we have to. But my mom had a stable good husband and helpers like me..

    My daughter was a latch key kid, Husband in Navy, seldom home, we divorced, I worked 2-3 jobs to pay rent etc.,

    I think people who have made it to the top with ambition and good work ethics are to be admired- the sons and daughters who are living off that wealth idlely bug the crap out of me..

    Romney got a big hand-up and though its Nice for him it says little about his capabilities- just another george Bush Jr--smirky puppet who does not care..  

    "Time is for careful people, not passionate ones."

    "Life without emotions is like an engine without fuel."

    by roseeriter on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 01:05:43 AM PDT

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