I want to call into question the basic objective that underpins our material transactions, which by all accounts appears to be the maximization of leisure: conspicuous consumption, recreation, etiquette, status signalling and the experience of supernormal stimuli.

What we haven't seemed to notice is that leisure has become a commodity. The trinkets are shipped in daily from China. The sweets are available in generous quantities from the likes of Hostess and Nestlé. You can find a discount pedicure on Groupon any day of the week and non-stop entertainment is piped into your television by FOX and its companions. Leisure is so cheap, you could finance it on a welfare cheque. It wouldn't be glamourous, but you'd never lift a finger.

The modus operandi of a life of leisure is to consume as conspicuously and order around as many people as your purse can afford. Trends that start with the elite invariably become democratized. And even if leisure somehow remained exclusive, don't you think they'd be bored of it by now? Has it occurred to anybody that that's all there was for them to do for most of history?

Leisure has been out of fashion for at least a generation, at least as a first-order activity. Today's independently wealthy often work for at least a part of their incomes, despite not actually needing any more money. And when they go on vacation, they pay to dig ditches in Rwanda.

Consider for a moment that the pursuit of leisure merely apes an archaic and superficial artifact of a much deeper condition: the freedom to do what you want, whenever you want to. Life governed by interests, not by obligations. Many of us have possessed a great deal of this freedom for a long time, but have been too busy chasing leisure to notice.

There isn't much a rich person can consume that isn't just a bigger, shinier, more expensive version of what nearly everybody else in the same environment has access to. There's one effect, however, that such a degree of consumption does implicitly cause, and that's keeping less-than-loaded people out of the rooms where the interesting deals are done. But virtually anybody can gather virtually anywhere to do relatively lucrative deals. Just serve cheaper drinks.

When we cast(e) ourselves into certain societal roles, we become blind to what we really care about. When we lose our sense of purpose, we start associating goals too closely with the incumbent tasks that achieve them. Eventually the tasks become goals in themselves and mutate to the point that they no longer achieve the goals they were originally designed to achieve.

Take shopping for instance. Shopping isn't shopping anymore: it's just buying. Shopping is starting with a specific problem in mind and finding the one vendor among many who sells the best solution at the best price. Buying is heading down to a single vendor with nothing in mind, and just picking up whatever is put in front of you. Implicitly they're counting on you to be so out to lunch, your attention so fragmented, that you buy now and consider never. The only way this can happen is if the individual transactions themselves are cheap, but added up of course amount to a significant diversion of resources that could be put toward more interesting ends.

This kind of trunking also occurs around the sources of our income. It's efficient for reducing transaction costs but local efficiencies can compete with global effectiveness. Once again the purpose is lost and the goals become blurry. It isn't about creating and exchanging wealth; it isn't even about income. It's about a job. We sign employment contracts containing NDAs, non-competes and IP assignment clauses. These are the modern analogues to a bond of indenture. They ensure that there is only one purchaser of our efforts: a monopsony. The lack of competition for our productive attention enables the lone buyer to extract maximum value from us for minimal compensation. We trade the lion's share of the value we create for a little convenience. We submit ourselves to exploitation so that we can use our meager proceeds to ultimately exploit others.

Smith wrote of money as a means to command the labour of others. It's technically accurate but he framed it in an age when access to the elements of subsistence—let alone leisure—was far from being as embarrassingly easy as it is today. We have become exceedingly sophisticated at commanding labour. The skill that has atrophied, though now appearing to regenerate, is getting people to cooperate with us because they want to.

People gaining interest in what we're up to is a natural byproduct of our being passionate about them. Passion equates to what we find interesting and compelling. What we're interested in is moderated by what we pay attention to. Our attention is scarce, we only have so much of it. Paying attention to one thing means not paying it to another. If we sculpt where we invest our attention, away from Gucci bags and reality TV and toward the things we genuinely care about, it may be less important to need to command the labour of others, because we'll be piloting our lives by interest, not by obligation.