Selling our lives

Would you be happier if you worked longer? It seems, if we believe the new Treasury secretary, that we will have to work longer if we want to continue to amass the material stuff that goes to our standard of living. Martin Parkinson warned in a speech in Melbourne a few days ago that we could no longer rely on the mining boom to maintain our standard of living, that instead we will have to increase our production. That means, he says, working harder, and for most working Australians that means working longer.

Australians are already working longer, as has been established in a number of recent surveys, and I believe strongly that we are working too long already. We're working longer to buy plusher cars, bigger houses, wider televisions, and the contribution this stuff makes now to our quality of life is much less than its cost to our quality of life.

Quality of life is about enjoying the rewards of work, and job satisfaction is just part of that. We need to work a certain number of hours to afford those rewards and we need to not work a certain number of hours to enjoy them, and already for most working Australians the ratio is significantly out of whack. Dr Parkinson wants us to put it further out of whack. He is saying that if we want bigger houses and faster cars we will have to be less happy.

Australians need to have, I believe, a national discussion about the difference between standard of living and quality of life, about how at a certain point in affluence the former robs the latter.

Does your standard of living reduce your quality of life?