“Quiet quitting” is on the rise in a post-COVID world. But what is it, exactly? And why is it happening?
To answer these questions, Dylan turns to the concept of the social contract as presented by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
- [01:42] On the link between “quiet quitting” and social contracts
- [02:34] Thomas Hobbes and Leviathan
- [03:38] Hobbes on government
- [05:28] The social contract theory of Hobbes
- [08:42] John Locke on human nature and social order
- [10:46] The difference between Hobbes’ and Locke’s social contract theories
- [12:52] Jean-Jacques Rousseau main argument in The Social Contract
- [14:41] On whether Rousseau’s ideas influenced the French Revolution
- [18:33] The social contracts in our day-to-day lives
- [20:43] Bottom line
- [21:29] Closing statements
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[00:00:00] Intro: Forget the civilized path. It’s time to break the chains of debt and dependency, take control of our financial lives, and live free. This is the Fiscally Savage Podcast.
[00:00:15] Dylan Bain: Hello and welcome to Fiscally Savage. I’m your host, Dylan Bain. And on these Friday shows, ladies and gentlemen, we always take something that’s in the news and go a couple steps below the surface. And today’s suggestion comes from a listener who reached out and said, “Hey, man. I really appreciate you starting the podcast and all the information. But I would really love it if you could talk about quiet quitting.” And when I got into this topic and started putting together the show notes, I realized that this can’t be talked about in one single episode because we’re not gonna go a couple steps beneath the surface. We’re going all the way to the bottom of this. So Carmen, thank you so much for reaching out to me and giving me this suggestion. I had a lot of fun putting it together, and I hope that you are having as much fun listening to it as I did putting it together.
[00:00:56] “Quiet quitting,” like work from home, inflation, and supply chain issues, have become headline news in a post-COVID economy. We live in a world of change, and I’ve said this before on these other Friday shows, that post-COVID, we are in a world where all of our economic indicators point in different directions and we’re not really sure which way our bubbles are going. And the phenomenon of quiet quitting really took hold when people started to observe that after the mass layoffs of 2020, after everyone started going back to work with work from home, and how the economy has shifted, that there is a growing number of people, particularly young people under the age of 40, who have both decided to do nothing more than their job description and have come to believe that hard work won’t actually get you anywhere.
[00:01:42] Now, all of that together may or may not be true, and I’m not gonna talk about that on today’s episode. I’m instead going to talk about the deeper thing that connects to quiet quitting. Why is it that so many young people have decided that, you know what? I’m just gonna do my job description and nothing more. Well, it has to do with a concept called a social contract, and that is where we’re going to focus our attention today. It is so easy for us to just be very dismissive of somebody who is just doing barely their job description as lazy or entitled or whatever dismissive thing you want to throw at them, and there may be some truth behind that. We’ll talk about that next week. But this week, we’re gonna talk about why that might not actually be as irrational or unethical as at first blush we really want it to be. And this, again, goes back to this concept of the social contract.
[00:02:34] So let’s just start right there. What’s a social contract and why is it important? Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is where the history teacher in me is going to get really excited because we get to talk about these things that if you’ve taken US history in high school, you touched on all of this stuff, but I’m gonna give you a reminder of it today. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, I was a math teacher for eight years, but I was dual-certified in math and history. And I’m not gonna teach you math on this show, but we are gonna go into history. So buckle up because we’re going back to 1651 with my boy Thomas Hobbes and his book called Leviathan. Now, you might be thinking, wait, Hobbes? Is that like Calvin and Hobbes? And the answer is “kinda.” I can’t tell you that Hobbes the tiger from that comic strip wasn’t named after Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher. But if you are taking a US history course, in the underpinnings of the American Revolution, there is this idea of enlightenment thinking. And Thomas Hobbes is one of these people that is pointed to as an enlightenment thinker, specifically as a political philosopher.
[00:03:38] Now, Thomas Hobbes took a very negative view of humanity. He really believed that mankind could only be kept in check by a strong centralized government, that is, of course, the leviathan that the book is named after. A leviathan, of course, being a gigantic, crazy beast that’s super powerful, that causes men to tremble in fear before it. In Hobbes’ view, mankind in a state of nature lived a life that was, and I’m quoting here, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. And you probably recognize that terminology because it’s very common in American society to talk about it. In Hobbes’ mind, mankind not ruled by the leviathan would fall into a state of nature.
[00:04:23] Now, it doesn’t matter that Thomas Hobbes was utterly wrong when he said that in a state of nature, mankind exists in a life that is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. That’s utter bullshit, ladies and gentlemen. It’s been proven false time and time again on every study ever done on hunter-gatherer societies. Thomas Hobbes was completely off base. If nothing else, human beings are tribal creatures that will form bands of brothers very, very quickly under extreme circumstances. In modern society, we don’t do that. We live in a very segmented society. But if you go to, say, Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe, he points this out; that when the normal bounds of societal conventions break down, mankind tends to mob into tribes, and those tribes tend to take care of their own. They tend to be very fair and equitable. They tend to be extremely kind and good for human psychology. And we know that hunter-gatherers’ lives were not nearly as short as we think that they were. However, our culture tells us something different and Thomas Hobbes went all the way down this.
[00:05:28] Now, what was Hobbes trying to do when he was talking about the social contract? Well, the social contract in Hobbes’ mind was that we gave up our state of nature in exchange for a government that would create leviathan-like rules that were going to help us create the balance in which we could flourish. That is to say that the leviathan of the state, which instilled a fear into mankind such that we could cooperate more effectively. And he pointed to the absolute monarchies of Europe as his justification for this. That is to say, he’s looking around and going, well, we don’t live nasty, brutish, and short lives, so the leviathan of the state must be working. And this was his political philosophy to point out and say, we need strong centralized governments. And now, if you’re starting to think, well, hey, that kind of sounds authoritarian. Well, it’s not exactly wrong. He was looking at everything that was occurring around him at the time and creating a treatise or an entire idea of how this government even came to be in the first place. And ladies and gentlemen, if the date 1651 triggered something in your mind that like, I feel like that date should mean something to me, it was the end of the English Civil War that ended up with the establishment of the parliamentarian system and the constitutional monarchy that exists more and less until today. Now, I’m glossing over a huge amount of nuance here, but you get the idea. Thomas Hobbes was looking at a state in which people were asking the question of what gave the king the right to rule. And in Thomas Hobbes’ mind, the social contract between the royalty and the average person was that the royalty was gonna create a society for them to flourish in. When that didn’t happen, of course, then that meant that they went to war and they had their civil war over it. And so, his book is a commentary on that very event.
[00:07:15] Which brings us to our second person we want to talk about, and you’ll probably recognize this name, too. That, of course, is John Locke, who continued to work on this idea of a social contract in his Second Treatise on Civil Government, which coincidentally is actually on the shelf sitting right behind me as I’m making this recording. Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re having trouble sleeping at night, pick up a copy and give it a read. It’ll put you to sleep pretty quickly because he’s not exactly known for his prose, but it’s incredibly important to the formation of the United States government. John Locke was also an English philosopher, although much, much later than Thomas Hobbes, and he was as much of an economic philosopher as a political one. If you just take a quick look through his published works, you’re gonna find concepts like supply and demand, which he wrote in an entire letter to parliament on how supply and demand worked, monetary policies, which we’ve talked about on the show already, the concept of private property, and the list goes on. So a lot of the elements that form our economic theory of capitalism were actually popularized by John Locke in his treatise on civil government. And if you’re starting to think, wait, hold on, a lot of this is starting to sound familiar, John Locke was extremely influential on our founding fathers. I don’t think I’m off base in saying that. I think one of the things that was common among all the founding fathers despite all of their differences was that they were familiar, at least, with the work of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes.
[00:08:42] Now, where Thomas Hobbes took a negative view of humanity, John Locke had a much more positive view of humanity. He viewed humanity as cooperative; that in a state of nature, everybody worked in their own self-interests and then, to facilitate those self-interests, would enter into agreements with each other. And that they would have these individual sets of property. So in Locke’s mind, the state’s role was to facilitate cooperation by ensuring the existence of, and these are his exact words, life, liberty, and estate. And when he says “estate,” you can really look at it as property. So he’s thinking that the state’s role is to ensure everyone’s right to life, liberty, and property. Does that sound familiar, ladies and gentlemen? ‘Cause it should because it’s one phrase off of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Thomas Jefferson more or less lifted that right out of John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government, which was in Jefferson’s library.
[00:09:44] Critically, John Locke argues that the individual ownership of goods and property is only justified by the labor exerted to produce those goods with that property. This is gonna be critical when we get to actually talking about quiet quitting next week. Because in Locke’s mind, you were allowed to have ownership over, say, an apple tree only to the extent that you yourself personally were willing to tend to and pick apples from that tree and then bring them to market. Failure to do so would actually transfer ownership of that apple tree to whoever was actually doing the thing required to produce the goods and services. That little bit here, even though it’s not common to bring up in, say, a high school history class or even a college-level history class, for that matter, is actually something that has stuck into the psyche of the American population. And if you’re putting the pieces together, you probably know where this is gonna connect to quiet quitting, but I’ll save the punchline for next week.
[00:10:46] John Locke’s philosophy also had a critical component to it that was unique against, say, Thomas Hobbes. Thomas Hobbes said that once that the leviathan of the state was starting to work for the purposes of the leviathan, then you would have to inherently overthrow that state, thus the whole thing with the English Civil War. John Locke, on the other hand, said that all persons were entitled to life, liberty, and property under natural law; that this was just the state of nature that our creator gave us the rights under natural law to life, liberty, and property; and that under the social contract, the right to overthrow the government existed when the government no longer served to protect life, liberty, and property. When the government failed in this regard, then it was the duty, and at some levels, the obligation, of the people who had entered onto the other side of that social contract to rip it up, overthrow the government, and start all over.
[00:11:45] Now, if you’ve ever read the Declaration of Independence, that exact concept is in it. And to quote the Declaration of Independence, and I’m actually gonna read it just verbatim here, but you’ll see exactly what I mean. From the Declaration of Independence: When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them to one another and to assume the powers of the earth and separate an equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them a decent respect to the opinions of mankind, requires that they should declare the causes to which impel them to the separation. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s John Locke’s entire philosophy in the opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. So the entire idea of a social contract is embedded in the American psyche from day one. We are founded on social contract theory. And so, this is a part of our society. We do think about that in these terms. It’s one of the reasons that we as a country like the idea of capitalism.
[00:12:52] Now, Locke was not the last person. The actual term “social contract” is best known because of a book that came out in 1762 by a French philosopher this time Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Now, Rousseau is one of my favorite philosophers for a variety of reasons. And John Locke was a huge influence on Rousseau. But Rousseau critically argued that the will of the people was required for the government to govern them. That is to say that in Locke’s mind, you didn’t require a democratic or republican system. You just needed to make sure that whatever system was in place, even if it was a pure state of nature, that the system itself guaranteed life, liberty, and property. Rousseau, on the other hand, really believed that the general will of the people was required for the people to be governed. It is critical that then the government provide a safety net for these people in the form of mutual insurance. That is to say, you shouldn’t have abjectly poor people in a civil society because that’s a violation inherently of the social contract. That’s how Rousseau looked at the role of government. The entire idea of government, the whole reason you gave up individual liberties to the state in the first place, was for the state to craft a society such that we all could be successful. A legit social contract then in Rousseau’s mind is one that’s entered into free of coercion. Might does not make right in Rousseau’s mind. That is to say, if you are only participating in the system because you fear a negative outcome, you are being coerced into participation into that system and, therefore, a legitimate social contract cannot exist. And that is a critical point.
[00:14:41] There are people who have argued that while Locke and Hobbes probably kicked off the American Revolution, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the book The Social Contract are probably responsible for the French Revolution. Now, I’m not gonna take a side on that one because I could make a compelling argument either way. It is highly unlikely that while the French people were storming the Bastille, they had their pocket copy of The Social Contract in their back pocket where they’re saying, hey, Jacques, let’s go. Have you read your social contract theory lately? That probably had nothing to do with it. But we do know that the people who rose to power during and act for the French Revolution absolutely read this book. Somebody like the Marquis de Lafayette, who arguably is the man who is critical to the success of the American Revolution in the first place, he absolutely read this book. And once these ideas enter into society, they tend to propagate throughout that entire society. And so, when Rousseau says that when power of the government exceeds the bounds of the agreement, revolt is both justified and required, the average French person, at least on some level, would have that in their mind. And considering that this book hit the book stands in 1762 before 1776, when you had the American Revolution, and 1789, when you had the French Revolution, it is reasonable to assume that a lot of the leaders of both the American Revolution and of the French Revolution had read their John Lock and had read their Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
[00:16:12] These ideas, ladies and gentlemen, work their way into our society and then we start to believe and think in those ways, in the same way that we might think today that the republican form of government, when I say republican form of government, I’m talking about the rule of law, not the US political party. We live in a republic, not necessarily a democracy, but I digress. The republican form of government, which is really the rule of law, is something that we take for granted today. But it was anathema and considered just outrageously radical at the time of the founding of the American Republic. That’s why it’s called the Great Experiment. So these ideas become foundational to us as people. And of course, anything that’s foundational to us finds its way to express itself in society in one manner or another.
[00:17:00] Now, all of these men discussed governments. And it could be understood, though, that when they’re talking about governments, the term that we think about as “government” today is radically different than what they thought about government at the time. What we could actually apply their terminology to today would be any monolithic power structure, albeit the actual government, whether it’s state, federal, local, or, say, a corporation which operates very similar to states in their own regard. If you stop and think about corporate structure, how everything from the board of directors down to the frontline managers, there is a hierarchical power structure within that. And we also know — it would be foolish to say anything else — that those corporations wield exceedingly large and outsized power in society today. That is to say, stop and think about your own situation, ladies and gentlemen. How many paychecks can you afford to miss and how much coercion power does that corporation have with that very fact?
[00:18:01] So when we start thinking about social contracts, it’s not just between you and the government. It’s between you and every single power structure you interface with, whether it’s your university, whether it’s your job, whether it’s your neighborhood watch. It actually doesn’t matter. There is an understood, even if it is a tacit and unspoken agreement, that you have entered into a social contract with each and every single one of those people. You are giving up something in exchange for something else.
[00:18:33] And so, when we start to think about how social contracts exist in our world, this gets back to the entire concept of rejecting domestication. The coercive power of a lot of these different institutions, whether it’s your HOA who could foreclose your home for painting it pink, whether it’s your state and local government who controls zoning laws that tell you what you can and cannot have on your property. Like for real, why am I not allowed to have four llamas on my property? I like llamas. Not only would they make great guard animals, but I could also shear them and make a nice sweater. But my local community tells me I can’t have them, and I abide by that because they have, of course, the power of the state over the top of me, and we agree to it. I’m not sitting here revolting against my city government, right? I’ve accepted it. We’ve entered into a contract that I understand that they have some reason why I can’t have four llamas on my property, and I’ve agreed to abide by it, which, of course, everyone in my community has to agree by it.
[00:19:29] This, ladies and gentlemen, is gonna be critical to understanding this entire idea of quiet quitting because it has everything to do with the social contract. You have an agreement with your job. Even if you don’t have a written employment agreement, you have an agreement. You give them up pieces of your single most precious, nonrenewable resource, your time, in exchange for money. If they stop paying you, would you keep working? Probably not. And we have an entire state apparatus from which you could, at least in theory, take them to court and sue them for wages lost. The same thing is true. We have a social contract that I’m gonna mow my lawn. I have a social contract that I’m going to behave at the grocery store. There are these different things of expectations. I don’t walk into the grocery store with a sword and shield to defend myself and just start ransacking the place because that’s not considered good behavior in our society. There’s a social contract there. You go to church. There’s a social contract between you and your church. In every single bit of our lives in which we are interfacing with any type of hierarchical power structure, a social contract exists. And when we come back next week, ladies and gentlemen, we’re gonna talk about how this is interfacing with the current economy with these individual people.
[00:20:43] The bottom line to take away from today’s discussion, ladies and gentlemen, is that an agreement exists between a power structure and those subject to that power structure. Once that agreement is violated, resistance is morally correct and expected. Let’s just go back and just take a quick way to review. We understand that the leviathan of the state is going to enforce rules. We have this entire concept of life, liberty, and property. We have this entire idea that a legitimate contract can only exist when it’s free of coercion. Ladies and gentlemen, just let it sink in for a second and just think about that in your day-to-day life. How many different social contracts do you interface with on a day-to-day basis?
[00:21:29] Thanks for listening, ladies and gentlemen. And Carmen, thank you so much for the suggestion. I absolutely hope that you are just enjoying the living hell out of this discussion. We’ll be coming back next week to finish this up and actually target on quiet quitting. But now, we have at least a philosophical base. I’m trying to get my Instagram following up to 200 people, and when I do that, I’m gonna be opening it up for an AMA. So if like Carmen, you’ve got a question, head over to Instagram, find me @fiscallysavage, give me a follow, and if you wanna send me a message, I’m open to having a chat. Until next week, ladies and gentlemen, go out there, take control of your financial life, and live free.
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