The 10th Man

The Taxi Driver

May 3, 2018

I read a study once that showed that cab drivers usually go home at the end of their shift. Given the opportunity to keep driving and make more money, they almost never do. Once they put their 8 hours in, they are done and they go home.1

There are huge implications to people being lazy. And yes, I just called cab drivers lazy. I call everyone lazy. Basically, most people are wired just like the taxi drivers—they are not motivated by massive amounts of money. They simply want a nine-to-five and three squares and a roof over their head.

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Of course, the “number” that everyone think they should make varies from person to person. A taxi driver might be satisfied with $40,000 a year for a 40-hour week. $80,000 a year for an 80-hour week isn’t worth it. A business broker might make $300,000 a year on fees—if he makes it in the first six months, he will probably coast the rest of the year.

This is all behavioral finance stuff, which we talk about all the time.

An economist might have a different word for it, but let’s just call it a preference for leisure time over money.

10 Percent

At the 2017 SIC, Matt Ridley said that the average person spends only 10% of their time actually working. What? How is that true, when you work 40 out of 168 hours in a week?

Well, you don’t work until age 18 or 21, for starters—and you don’t work after age 65. If you don’t work weekends, and take 4 weeks of vacation… you can see how the free time all adds up.

What I find absolutely incredible is that we have built the society we have built by spending only 10 percent of our lives working. Imagine if we spent 11 percent!

On a micro level, most people I know are just like the taxi drivers. Three squares and a roof over their head. Doesn’t matter the profession—even traders.

What I find super interesting are the people who don’t have a “number.” For example, I talked to a businessperson over the weekend who had received an offer of $50 million to buy his business. He turned it down. Hey look—I believe in myself, but if you offer me $50 million, I am probably going to take it, partially because I don’t have a big enough imagination of how I could spend more than $50 million.

Then you have people like Bezos and Zuckerberg, who could have sold stock at any point along the way, and didn’t. Zuckerberg only recently sold stock, and Jeff Bezos is still max long Amazon. He is now the richest person in the world, and he is still max long Amazon. Why not sell 10 percent here? You can do a lot with $10 billion. Nope. He has no interest.

The Instagram guys sold for a billion, which looked pretty smart back in 2012. Now: oops.

You have to sell sometime.

Or do you?

The Relationship Between Work and Money

I think we’ve lost track of the relationship between work and money. It’s a simple relationship: if you work, you get money. But somehow, we’ve come to believe that you can work less and earn the same amount of money.

This belief is widespread outside of Wall Street. I hear more and more stories of people who work shortened days on Friday, or maybe not at all.

As workers, we have become more and more productive, but instead of using that productivity to produce more wealth, we have used it to produce more leisure. And so we are not really any wealthier, which we profess to be unhappy about. But it is a choice.

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Of course, investing is kind of a way to become wealthier without working more. I say “kind of,” because it is still work. And lots of people say they don’t have time to spend on investing. That is also a choice.

Well, you can always sub it out to me—I spend way more than 10 percent of my time on it. ETF 20/20 is as work-free (for subscribers) as it’s possible to get. You should join us! (And take Friday off.)

I am not quite like Bezos or Zuckerberg, but I have never been a nine-to-five guy. I work all the time, and I don’t generally say no to things. Years ago, I set an imaginary financial goal for myself, and sometime within the next few years I will probably blow past it—and I have no plans to scale back.

I worry about the United States sometimes. We are developing attitudes about work and wealth that are similar to folks in Europe.

And it is those selfsame attitudes that have resulted in historically low growth rates across the European continent, rates of growth that we used to snicker at over here in the States. It’s been a while since we’ve consistently printed 3-4% GDP here, and we’re not likely to attain it anytime soon.

I think what I miss most about the old America is the crass materialism—houses, cars, boats, planes, jewelry, and clothes—that people aspired to.

Now, people want “time with family.” I could not be less interested in time with family. It’s one of the reasons I like Las Vegas—not so much for the gambling, but just this big pile of things that we can spend money on.

The irony in all of this is that we have a materialistic, hard-working President who doesn’t really spend any time promoting materialism or hard work. Reagan did, and Calvin Coolidge really did. Trump wants prosperity, but like most people, doesn’t make the connection between work and money.

Hey—my party for subscribers in NYC is a week from today. It’s some people’s worst nightmare to walk into a room full of people and not know anyone. Especially a sexy club. We’re nice people! Everyone is welcome—it will be a club full of misfit toys.

Please go here to buy tickets, the proceeds of which go to charity. See you there.
1 I don’t remember where I saw this study, and the Google Machine was no help. It might have been from a Malcolm Gladwell book. Also, this was before Uber—there is some evidence that Uber drivers are working pretty hard just to stay afloat.

Jared Dillian
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Ken Kapner

May 29, 9:05 a.m.

Progressive tax rates disincentivize one’s investing their time at earning more at the margins.  It’s no diff than looking at the increasingly diminishing returns of another dollar of debt on GDP, except for the individual, it’s return on time to personal GDP.  Plus, raising families is a hell of a lot of work—the other 12-13 hours most of the time during a 5 day workweek (must invest about 3-4 in waking up, getting work ready, commute back and forth).  So much so, that the true lazy worker would bypass that chore (and apparently with the falling birthrates, it may be coming true).

Pan Skeptic

May 4, 12:44 a.m.

What a poverty-stricken attitude towards life!

If work were the only thing worthwhile, then doing something else would be bad. But if you have loved ones waiting for you at home, when dealing with a succession of irritable strangers all day drains you and you can no longer drive well, when you’re actually working on a novel or screenplay and driving a cab is just to subsidize your real work, going home at the end of eight hours is a positive good.

Remember that the usual American workday used to be 16 hours, and people fought and died so we’d have even the concept of an 8-hour day to use as a yardstick.

The nostalgia expressed in the article is for an America that never existed. Better sit down with William Zinn’s “Peoples’ History of the United States” and clear those cobwebs.

Don Goldman

May 3, 12:13 p.m.

But, Uber drivers don’t make much.  Plus, most of them are doing it as a pinch hit job until they can get back to their old job, or because they are retired and bored.  The incentives to them may be in their own category.


May 3, 12:12 p.m.

Jared your youth is showing.In the 30’ and 40’s with Unions much more in control than now the
wage differential in most Corporations was Much Less than it is now. At GM the difference was
a factor of 50. The way The Wealthy manipulated our tax laws enabled this to be discarded.
A few years ago when Home Depot wished to get rid of their CEO it cost them 200 Million Dollars.
There are reasons for this Great Discrepancy which I won’t bore you with now. Suffice to say,
this is going to End Badly!

Ryan Conlon

May 3, 10:55 a.m.

I think about 95% of people are like the cab drivers.  On the other hand, there are some of us who just love doing things and will keep doing them even if we don’t get paid.  Life is great when you can “follow your passions”.  I’d say Bezos, Jobs, and Zuckerberg fill in this category.  Keeping the drive is where all the fun in life is. 

Sadly, our society doesn’t encourage following our passions.  Through peer observation, most people settle for “3 squares and a good night’s sleep”.  There is so much more to life, however, if you dive in and enjoy every minute. 

I wonder if this is genetic?  If so, maybe we can CRISPR/CAS 9 in this trait.  ;-)

BTW, I suspect John M., Patrick C. and you are in this 5% too.

May 3, 10:17 a.m.


When I was growing up (in the 60’s), my mom had a favourite expression for someone who was fabulously wealthy: “They live in a million-dollar house!”  We were three kids who lived in a pretty nice new home (that cost $20,000) in an even nicer neighborhood; dad was an engineer who owned a small petroleum-industry company, and mom was a contented stay-at-home.

Fast-forward to today.  Everyone I know lives in a house that would sell for one or multiple millions of dollars - even a run-down chicken coop will bring that in Vancouver.  Every family I know requires two full-time incomes just to keep the basics.

In our city, the cheapest house is 50 times what my dad paid for my childhood home.  Are we all 50 times richer - even allowing for “growth”?  More importantly, are we 50 times happier?  If you think so, you’ve mastered the art of premium self-delusion.

You sneer at the Europeans, but it’s no surprise to me that the happiest countries on earth (by several measures) happen to be in Europe.  People live longer and are healthier than Americans overall as well.  I can’t think of a more boring thing to do than to go to Reno or Vegas and look at trash and trinkets that I could spend money on.  That s**t just sits on the wall or in the basement or in the driveway and does nothing to improve my life.

I enjoy reading your posts, and am happily following some of your financial advice, but based on this column alone I wouldn’t trade my life for yours for any reason!

May 3, 9:56 a.m.

Gotta disagree with much of this.

1.  Putting our nose to the grindstone and working like automatons (the American ant v. the European grasshopper) isn’t gonna get the individual or the nation there.  Those jobs—eg taxi drivers—are going away.

2.  9 to 5 is an okay way to live if you don’t love your job.  Then you can spend your leisure time thinking about and acting on a way to make real money.  Learn, train, practice at something you enjoy.

This from a lawyer who spent 30 years billing hourly 70 and 80 hours weeks, decided he had enough, and retired early.  Retirement is vastly under-rated.

Thomas deLackner

May 3, 9:44 a.m.

Is that really true? Most taxi drivers go home at the end of their shift? If they do that, they probably are ignorant and do not have a family. Consider the driver who has barely covered his “gate” at the end of the shift, but in the next four hours he will work to make money. You bet any person in that situation will at least put in an extra 2 or 3 hours. Of course, I am in California and there may well be locations where it could make sense to stop after 8 hours (if you’ve earned enough). And yes that does sound like a Malcolm story.

Tom de L

Douglas Reif

May 3, 9:25 a.m.

I believe there is a fallacy in your argument about the relationship between work and leisure time.  It breaks down at the micro level.  I was a salaried employee for many years.  There was no financial benefit to myself for working longer hours at my job.  It would go to the company executives and stock holders.  I could get a side job, but then there would be expenses associated with it, and it wouldn’t pay nearly as well as my main job.  From a person’s perspective, it’s not just the time spend doing the work.  From an individual point of view, you need to add preparation at home, commute time and expense, etc.  The 10% is a work-centric number, not person-centric.

May 3, 9:20 a.m.

Hi Jared
whilst I agree with your reckoning on 10% work time there may be valid reasons not to exceed an acceptable level in the UK and Europe and that is TAXATION.
When you achieve a certain level of income (UK £150K) after that the tax burden is such that you are working for just 50% of the extra and sometimes less.
Otherwise I am in agreement

Regards Terry farrow

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