Work, Buy, Consume, Die Pill Shirt

The Pyramid Scheme of Life

The Unexpected Call of Opportunity

Every ringtone from my daughter sets my heart racing, conditioned by past emergencies --a visit to ER, her bike stolen, a lost purse at 2 am--if you are the parent of a teenager you know what I'm talking about.

So when the phone rang and her voice bubbled with excitement and not disaster, I felt giddy. She'd been exploring job opportunities and had two offers. One was at an exclusive health club paying the Brooklyn equivalent of pocket change and another, seemingly conjured from thin air, from a sales and marketing firm. They'd reached out to her directly, drawn by her event planning skills listed on her resume. They pitched a "dream job" with a solid salary base of $60K post-training. It sounded too good to be true. Yet, considering my daughter's knack for turning her Depop store into a self-sustaining venture through college, I knew she was more than capable.

Post-interview, her uncertainty resonated through the phone. "I don't know why they'd hire me," she confessed. I dispelled her doubt by emphasizing that attitude often trumps experience in the eyes of employers. Their website looked legit to me. 

The logical choice seemed to lean towards the salaried position, despite it demanding the sacrifice of her Italian classes. Yet, intuition gnawed at her and the next day she called me to say "I think it's a scam, Mom. It's a pyramid scheme."

Her due diligence led her to a Reddit thread unveiling the dark underbelly of this so-called marketing firm (Multi-Level Marketing or MLM)—a chameleon entity with frequent name changes, perpetrated the same predatory practices of hiring people to work likes slaves selling products, memberships, soliciting donations with raises dependent upon them bringing in new blood.

She is now working at the health club for $17 an hour. But, she could just as easily have chosen the 'salaried position' with on the job 'training'. This got me to thinking about American work culture. 

The Realization: Corporate America vs. Pyramid Schemes

At first glance, the promise of a salaried position straight out of training, with a starting wage of $60K, seemed like a golden ticket. Yet, as the veil lifted to reveal the contours of a multi-level marketing scheme, I couldn't help but see the eerie parallels between this deception and the accepted norms of corporate America.

Indeed, what struck me most was not just the dodged bullet of a scam but the realization that the structure of many legitimate jobs isn't too far removed from the model she so narrowly avoided. In today's work environment, the lines between professional and personal life blur into nonexistence. Salaried positions, with their lure of stability and upward mobility, often come at the cost of unending hours, encroaching upon nights and weekends—time that once belonged to family, hobbies, and rest.

Work, Buy, Consume, Die.

I work for a behemoth corporation, hired at the ripe age of 56; a fact that has me counting my blessings. Most days I go into a windowless warehouse filled to the gills with overpriced, imported merchandise and I work on their website selling the same product in different forms.  I handle the workload that, just a few years ago, would have required three people to manage. I am tethered to Slack and my phone after hours and on the weekends.

Within these walls, I feel my essence being sapped and struggling with self-reproach for not feeling more appreciative of a company that prides itself on diversity to the extent of hiring someone like me, seemingly on the career twilight. The pay is generous, and for the most part, they let me be. I am saving for my retirement. I can help pay for my kids insane college costs. I can buy groceries and utilities. I have a roof over my head. I feel safe. 

I am one of the fortunate ones.

The advent of automation promised a future where labor would be lightened, where the efficiencies of technology would afford us more time for ourselves. Yet, this utopia remains a mirage for most. Instead, we find ourselves tethered more tightly to our work from home jobs, the fruits of automation seemingly just out of reach, reserved for the upper echelons of corporate hierarchies.

The MLM scheme dangled the carrot of quick promotion and financial gain, contingent upon the recruitment of others—a metaphorical treadmill where the speed only increases. Isn't this, in essence, the same bargain many of us strike in the corporate world? We're offered a salary with the promise of raises, bonuses, and advancement, each requiring a greater sacrifice of our time, our energy, and sometimes, our principles.

This relentless pursuit of more—more hours, more dedication, more of ourselves given over to the company—is the currency of advancement. Yet, what do we truly gain? A higher rung on the ladder within a system designed to extract as much as it can, as long as we're willing to pay the price. Like the pyramid scheme's allure of easy wealth, the corporate promise of success and fulfillment preys on our aspirations, often leaving us drained and disillusioned.

My daughter's narrow escape from a MLM scam job served as a wake-up call, a moment to question not just the overt traps laid by unscrupulous companies but the subtler, more pervasive demands of a work culture that often asks too much and gives too little. 

In the end, the real scam might not be the pyramid schemes that lurk in the shadows, preying on the hopeful and the naive. Perhaps the greater deceit lies in the accepted norms of a work culture that glorifies overextension and undervalues genuine well-being. As we navigate these waters, the challenge remains: to find work that nourishes rather than depletes, that honors our contribution without claiming our soul. 

A Call for Cultural Shift in Work Practices

European work laws starkly contrast with those in the United States, reflecting a different approach to work-life balance, worker rights, and overall well-being. Bernie Sanders, among others, has championed adopting aspects of the European model, advocating for changes like a 32-hour workweek (hey, I'd settle for a 4-day workweek with 10 hours a day, would you?), restrictions on after-hours work communication, generous family leave policies, and extended vacation times. 

  1. Work Hours and Overtime: Many European countries endorse the idea of working smarter, not longer, with laws enforcing a maximum workweek length (often around 35 to 40 hours) and requiring overtime pay for any hours worked beyond this limit. Contrastingly, the U.S. has a 40-hour standard workweek, but the expectation to work beyond that without additional compensation is not uncommon in many sectors.
  2. After-Hours Communication: In Europe, the right to disconnect is increasingly recognized, with countries like France legislating that employees are not obliged to take calls or read emails related to work during their off-hours. This contrasts sharply with the U.S., where the expectation to remain accessible after hours is pervasive in many industries.
  3. Family Leave: European countries are known for their generous family leave policies, often offering months of paid leave to both parents after the birth or adoption of a child. This support extends beyond parental leave to include caring for sick family members. In contrast, the U.S. federal policy provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, with no guarantee of paid leave, leaving it to individual employers to decide.
  4. Vacations: Europeans enjoy lengthy vacation times, with a minimum of four weeks paid vacation being a standard across the EU. This is in stark contrast to the U.S., where there is no federal mandate for paid vacation days, leading to a significant discrepancy in time off between workers in the two regions. The oft-touted "unlimited vacation" in some U.S. companies ironically pressures employees into taking less time off, as they navigate the murky waters of workplace optics and fear appearing less dedicated than peers who forego breaks, potentially impacting their prospects for advancement.
  5. Worker Protection and Unions: European laws tend to offer greater protection to workers, with robust regulations against unjust dismissal and strong support for unionization and collective bargaining. While the U.S. does have laws in place to protect workers' rights, the strength and enforcement of these laws can vary widely, and union participation rates are generally lower than in many European countries.

The push towards adopting a European-style work structure in the U.S. speaks to a growing recognition of the importance of work-life balance, mental health, and overall quality of life.

Advocates like Bernie Sanders argue that such changes not only benefit individual workers but can lead to increased productivity, lower healthcare costs, and a happier, more engaged workforce. We glance enviously at European work laws – sensible work hours, real vacations, genuine family leave – and wonder why we settle for less.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.