Maggie Smith’s classic line in Downton Abbey, the aristocratically innocent “What is a weekend?”, conveys the idea of the rich who are so idle that they have no concept of the need for a day off from work. They have no concept of work.


This level of leisure has always been familiar to the very rich. Status and power are shown by the ability to have everything done for you by others – and that idleness is best shown by men’s perfectly ironed and immaculately white clothing, fingernails that are too long to allow manual work, women’s dresses with ridiculously long trains, and so on.

The most destructive manifestation of this is to have an entire culture where the people in power refuse to do anything productive in order to demonstrate their power, and everyone below them strives to improve their own status by making it clear that they aren’t doing any work either. And this is exactly what happens in culturally backward countries that equate power with idleness, even with practical incompetence.

Two hundred years ago the average English laborer worked 64 hours a week, and the rich did nothing except what pleased them. But today, interestingly, the rich work longer hours than the poor.

There are a variety of reasons for this. Not so much that there isn’t as much work as poor people want, or that those who work longer make more money.

But more importantly that a comparatively small amount of money (in the developed world) provides not only the basics of subsistence, but also a standard of living higher than the Roman Emperors enjoyed: all kinds of food year round, medical care, an automobile, a phone and movies on demand. You simply don’t have to work much to have an enjoyable (if “poor”) life. But such idleness now has low status.

On the other hand, it is easier than ever to follow your personal interests and – if they include genetics or IT or robotics or pharmaceuticals or weapons systems or banking or business – you can make a fortune. In that case your hobby is both pleasurable and an overtime-generating occupation.

Business acumen can lead you to a suitable leisure activity that will cause you to put in endless hours, and to become rich in the process.

But note: if you decide to “Follow your heart, and the money will follow”, you better have the business acumen to know what you are doing! Much though I love poetry, I’m not advocating writing poetry as your sole source of income…