In economic theory, the relationship between working/earning decisions and consumption/lifestyle decisions has been conceptualised in an almost entirely unidirectional manner: income from work taken as a given governs consumption and so lifestyle. This involves a narrowly inaccurate view of the consumption–work interaction. The purpose of this paper is to argue that this economist’s way of thinking about consumption and work needs to be replaced by a conception in which not only does realised income determine one’s consumption possibilities but also the desired level of consumption is itself a choice and a key determinant of how and how much one decides to work.
The paper is designed as a conceptual contribution in which the above insight is linked to the extensive literature on sustainability.
When consumption is no longer thought of as determined by a given income constraint, it becomes possible to consider how people by modifying their consumption aspirations may be led not only to work less or differently but also to live and consume in a more sustainable manner. As a result of lesser pressure to work ever more, they may also be led to an ethical reappraisal of the way they work.
The conceptualisation suggested is rich in implications for future research, for example, on links between consumerism and corruption; and on the impact of more ethical work choices on well-being. There is an implicit critique of much of HRM theory and practice which tends to instrumentalise work. The implications of artificial intelligence for future work are noted and, in this context, are surprisingly positive. The macro level implication of the need to move away from gross domestic product to more appropriate measures of socio-economic performance and well-being such as Social Progress Index (SPI) are noted.
The link between this widened conceptualisation of the consumption–work decision and the notion of voluntary simplicity is explored in detail and the latter is shown to apply also to the types of work/job chosen. This in turn is shown to have implications for management (especially HR) practice and for government policies both at micro and macro levels.
This carries clear implications for work-life balance in people’s daily lives; and by choosing more ethical ways of working or types of job, there may be a significant pro-social impact.
This paper points to a widening of the notion of voluntary simplicity beyond merely consumption choices to apply also to work choices. In the discussion of moral philosophical underpinning of voluntary simplicity, the link is made with Buddhist wisdom of the Middle Way and sufficiency economy and with the Golden Mean of Stoicism.
O'Sullivan, P. and Kraisornsuthasinee, S. (2019), "YOU EARN as YOU LIVE as YOU VALUE: Consumption–work dialectic and its implications for sustainability", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 429-450. https://doi.org/10.1108/SAMPJ-12-2018-0362Download as .RIS
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