A study of how exactly Bitcoin’s principles are represented in the 2004 book by Tom Hodgkinson.
Many Bitcoiners have highlighted parallels between some of Bitcoin’s ideals and the book first published in 1997, “The Sovereign Individual.” To take you in an altogether different direction, I’ll draw attention to a relatively unknown and gentler text, which I’ve noticed also contains a number of parallels to the Bitcoin world. This is “How To Be Idle,” written by Tom Hodgkinson, who also edits the Idler magazine.
Written in 2004, it predates Bitcoin. But it extols libertarian virtues in the same ways many Bitcoiners do today, such as extolling the virtues of freedom from debt, freedom from consumer culture and excessive consumption, and freedom from the wage slavery which can result from such.
Firstly, let’s establish some neutral ground on the definitions front, and define the word idle as simply “inactive.” Many would use the word idle as a straight swap for lazy, which has negative connotations, but as we’ll see throughout this article, it’s not quite that simple. Hodgkinson is aware of the many ways modern day society preys on idleness, and looks to fight back, often offering historical precedent.
Whilst “How To Be Idle” isn’t directly concerned with economic policy or money, there are persistent themes that are symptomatic of the age we live in which Bitcoiners especially will recognise. Let’s dive into some of the main ones.
The World Of Work
Why do we work? The book is forthright at asking the reader to evaluate the status quo. To quote the text:
“The idea of the ‘job’ as the answer to all woes, individual and social, is one of the most pernicious myths of modern society. It is promoted by politicians, parents, newspaper moralists and leaders of industry, on the left and on the right: paradise they say, is ‘full employment’.”
It is a myth convenient to the rich that it is your patriotic duty to work hard. The book quotes the late British journalist and writer Jeffrey Bernard “... as if there was something romantic and glorious about hard work ... If there was something romantic about it, the Duke of Westminster would be digging his own f*cking garden, wouldn’t he?”
Ahem — no punches pulled there then! But there is a subtext here that most Bitcoiners will recognise, with implicit references to Keynesian economics and resulting policies which dominate our lives. In the 21st century the lot for the average working person doesn’t necessarily appear to be getting easier, as aptly shown by WTFhappenedin1971.com. It generally requires two household incomes to support a family, rather than one a generation or two ago. Home prices are sky high. Though mortgage rates are low, the path for the young to own a property is to take out huge debt in the form of a mortgage.
Society is led, naturally, into a lifetime of work. And due to the pressures of inflation, if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards.
Technology should increase the quality of our lives and make them easier, but it often doesn’t feel like this is happening. To quote the book “... technology has been a complete disaster when it comes to lightening the load. Labour saving devices have not saved any labour.”
Over to Bitcoin. As Jeff Booth covers in the book “The Price Of Tomorrow,” technology is gradually replacing labour in many areas — and the greatest changes are still ahead of us. All else being equal, this brings enhanced productivity, but our economic system requires endless debt, Gross Domestic Product growth and inflation to function, and ends up fighting against the tide and negating the benefits for the majority.
Generating inflation via quantitative easing and other measures deepens socioeconomic divides and centralises power. The question we should be asking is how to share the spoils of technological advancement more equally. One answer is Bitcoin.
Many of the book’s 24 chapters (each for a notional hour of the day) are devoted to extolling the virtues of what are, at heart, simple pleasures. Most of these concern the use of our time — the most precious commodity we have, and the need to claim it back for ourselves.
Some examples include, having a lie in! More examples from the book would be: celebrating the art of enjoying a leisurely lunch; fishing; drinking tea; Ttaking naps; smoking; the ramble and the lost art of the “flaneur” (meaning — a pedestrian walking the streets for nothing more but for pleasure and to pass the time) As well as recognizing and acquiescing to our innate love of a party, of music, and dancing.
Admittedly, the smoking chapter might feel dated to some, 17 years on, but it’s consistent with the libertarian ethos throughout. Personally I’ve always liked the observation that smoking is the only pursuit one can indulge in where you can simultaneously be doing something and yet be doing nothing.
The Art Of Conversation
“The idler enjoys earthly pleasures ... Talking, sharing ideas with friends old and new, this is the lifeblood of the loafer.” And so the book identifies another simple, life-enhancing pleasure.
Moreover, Hodgkinson notes, this is a facet in which humans thrive:
“ideas emerge in conversation and are embellished, improved, contradicted or torn about by the assembled company...”
“... One’s ideas are developed, modified. They are taken down from the museum shelf, dusted and put on view. And their true worth is revealed: the diamond turns out to be a piece of glass, the dusty stone a rare fossil.”
The world of Bitcoin is nothing if not an endless conversation, an open discussion being played out in meet-ups, Twitter, Reddit and so on. The passage above reminded me of a tweet sent by Preston Pysh to Steve Hanke:
Dreaming Of A Better Tomorrow
Your idler believes in both the power of dreams, and in contemplating the moon and the stars. To quote the book “Stars ... have inspired our philosophers and poets to dream of better worlds on Earth… Freedom is out there, somewhere, glittering, almost visible, but just out of our reach.”
However, the text points to our use of language in society to demonstrate the negative use of terms that befit your average idler, and nowhere is this more on display than in the chapters entitled “The Moon And The Stars” and “A Waking Dream.”
We generally disapprove of dreamers or star gazers in today’s society. Don’t believe me? Consider the negative connotation with which we use the following terms:head in the clouds,” “starry eyed,” “lunatic,” “on another planet,” “away with the fairies;” yet it is praiseworthy to be considered “anchored,” “down to earth,” or “grounded.”
The notorious idler Oscar Wilde neatly inverted these sentiments with the following famous quote:
Bitcoin? It embodies a vision of a better world, but the vision takes work, and it’s up there in the stars for sure. A friend of mine was contemplating bitcoin and said to me last year “I don’t get it. It’s either worth a million dollars a coin, or nothing.” Ultimately, he has rejected it as he can’t compute the world where the bitcoin price has come from nothing barely a decade ago, to one, as Michael Saylor views it, where “... it’s going up forever, Laura.”
It’s much more than just potential price appreciation though. As outlined by the likes of Alex Gladstein and Tomer Strolight, it’s a vision of a better future. A global sound money aiding the unbanked, decreasing our collective time preference, and helping the billions of people currently living under authoritarian regimes.
Getting back to Hodgkinson in “How To Be Idle,” he states that “Real dreams are about seeing things that others miss. If you have your head in the clouds, you can see the world more clearly.”
There is an entire chapter devoted to riot. Am I stretching this connection to Bitcoin too far? Let’s consider a dictionary definition of the word: “a wild or turbulent disturbance created by a large number of people.”
Hodgkinson notes “Paradoxically, idlers are given to riot. Our rulers tend to use relentless drudgery to create oppressing, grinding bureaucracies which stifle us with boredom. Every now and again brute force is wheeled out. The idler’s modus operandi, on the other hand, is to sit around talking and thinking for months, and then to act with impetuosity, with rapid and violent diligence, with a visible outburst of passion, a rising.”
Ultimately, sadly, Hodgkinson questions the ultimate impact of most of these actions throughout history on society, and concludes at the end of this chapter that perhaps the only sane thing to do is to create one’s own paradise: “One might conclude sadly that a better place to effect change is in oneself and in one’s own immediate surroundings.”
This for me contained shades of the famous quote by Friedrich Hayek in 1983 which many bitcoiners cite: “We can’t take it [money] violently out of the hands of government. All we can do is by some sly, roundabout way introduce something they can’t stop.”
Bitcoin As An Idle Investment
Separate to the above themes, there is a good narrative for bitcoin as the perfect savings vehicle for your archetypal idler. I have heard gold in the past described as a non-investment. It sits out of the financial system. It yields nothing. It just “is.” And yet it has more than matched many stock markets in terms of overall returns over a 50-year period (evidenced by link below).
Nowadays, bitcoin is surely the ultimate non-investment, surpassing gold easily in its monetary properties. And it’s a match made in heaven for idlers. Physically, it comprises nothing. It yields nothing. It costs nothing to hold. It costs near nothing to acquire (and it will only get cheaper — Jack Mallers is wholly right about the race to zero fees in this respect). And yet what has been the best investment over the last decade? Simply buying and holding bitcoin.
“To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.” - Oscar Wilde, The Critic As Artist, on HODLING Bitcoin
As a frustrated value investor, it maddens me that we currently drive every individual now to be their own fund manager, being pushed out on the risk curve to try and juggle investments and keep pace with monetary debasement. Under a bitcoin standard, this becomes much simpler. A bitcoin holding naturally retains purchasing power as a fixed percentage of the overall supply, by doing ... nothing.
How about altcoins, I hear you say? What would your self-respecting idler make of air drops, yield farming, atomic swaps, gas, rehypothecation, staking..?
I think you know the answer. I can only revert to the wisdom of Albert Einstein at this moment:
The Idler Today
Fast-forward from 2004 to the present day, and it’s unclear whether the ongoing Idler magazine, as still edited by Tom Hodgkinson, has yet recognised the alliance of bitcoin and idlers. I could only find a single disappointing Idler article published in 2018 by Andrew Smart:”The Liberating Promise Of Bitcoin Is A Fantasy.”
However, Dominic Frisby is a friend of the Idler magazine and also a Bitcoiner, so perhaps there is hope. In any case, let me put out an open message to Tom Hodgkinson. He’s probably got his feet up somewhere on a chaise longue, having a nap. He certainly doesn’t waste his time on Twitter. But if anyone knows him, given the chance I’d happily write an article for the Idlerto reach out to all those aspiring idlers worldwide and highlight the benefits of Bitcoin.
For Bitcoiners and idlers are natural bedfellows. And for anyone to have the best chance of pursuing some of the laudable ideals outlined in “How To Be Idle” (at least without having a huge inheritance), they need access to the soundest money to preserve the value of their precious time.
Bitcoin and idlers were made for each other, given that bitcoin is the ultimate “idle” investment. Moreover, idlers are in control of their time, the most precious commodity we all have. Do not mistake this as just laziness — it’s that in exercising this control over time, they do not automatically prize work over leisure, consumption over non-consumption, activity over inactivity.
For inactivity can be hugely valuable. They think, they dream. They talk, they scheme, they plot.
And what is Bitcoin if not an idea? Speech? A dream? And ultimately, the most peaceful and potentially largest riot the world has ever seen?
Please read the book, and let me know your thoughts!
This is a guest post by BitcoinActuary. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.