Is Jeb Bush right about working more hours?

Story highlights

  • Jeb Bush said, "People need to work longer hours" to achieve 4% growth in U.S. economy
  • David Wheeler: On your deathbed, you can brag about how much time you spent at work

David R. Wheeler is a freelance writer and a journalism professor at the University of Tampa. Follow him on Twitter: @David_R_Wheeler. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Flat wages, shrinking bank accounts, declining living standards -- we've been thinking these were mystifyingly complex problems that resisted clear solutions. Turns out there's a simple way to make more money all along: We just needed GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush to point it out to us.

The answer? Just work more hours. In other words: "Jebify" your life.
That's right. In an interview with the New Hampshire newspaper The Union Leader, Bush said, "People need to work longer hours" to achieve 4% growth in our nation's economy.
    David R. Wheeler
    Hillary Clinton responded by pointing out the difference between productivity gains for the country and actual hourly compensation for Americans. "Anyone who believes Americans aren't working hard enough hasn't met enough American workers," she tweeted.
    Bush then backpedaled and said he was referring to the 6.5 million people who wanted full-time work but couldn't find it. The only problem with that number -- 6.5 million -- is that it constitutes less than 5% of America's total workforce of 148.7 million.
    But never mind that -- it's too much math, and Americans are not into math.
    The simple answer was right there, hiding in plain sight, the whole time. If you don't have enough money, don't fret. Go right up to your employer and ask for more hours. It's as simple as that. Never mind that Americans already work more hours than their counterparts in most other advanced countries. And whatever you do, don't look at those annoying statistics that say most Americans who work full time actually work 47 hours a week instead of 40 hours.
    And, come to think of it, why stop with your job? There are so many other problems in life that can be solved by Jebifying. Did you buy your home before the housing market tanked, and now you're underwater on your mortgage? No problem. Jebify your house. Just as you spend more time at work to earn a bigger paycheck, you can spend more time on home improvement to increase the value of your home.
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    Can't afford the contractors necessary to renovate your home? Again, just Jebify, which means squeeze more hours out of your day to learn new skills. On YouTube, there are endless hours of how-to videos on carpentry, masonry, plumbing and electrical work. As soon as you get home from your Jebified job, you can spend several more hours renovating your home. You'll thank Jeb Bush for it.
    Oh, and those pesky materials you need for home renovation? If you're lucky enough to have trees in your backyard, YouTube has videos on removing trees and turning them into building materials. And if that doesn't work, you can always use the extra money from your Jebified job to buy materials for your Jebified home.
    The opportunities are endless. College graduates make about twice as much over a lifetime as those with only a high school diploma. You can take some of the money from your Jebified job and Jebified home and earn a college degree in the evenings if you haven't got one.
    You can work at your job from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. -- 12 full Jebified hours (to ward off laziness). Then take night classes from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and spend the rest of your evenings and weekends Jebifying the value of your home. When neighbors complain of hammering at 11 p.m., just tell them you're Jebifying. They'll understand.
    Sure, there are some tradeoffs if you want to Jebify your life. According to a 2012 study, spending more than eight hours a day at work can lead to stress, high-blood pressure and dietary problems, which in turn lead to a domino effect of additional health problems. Working 11-hour days also doubles your rate of depression. But it's a small price to pay for the benefits of squeezing more work into your day, right?
    The naysayers may claim that corporations could use some of their unprecedented fortunes to give middle-class workers a boost. As one Reuters correspondent put it, companies "still managed to boost profits beyond anything ever seen before because they've got away with employing as few workers as possible at as low a rate as possible."
    But acknowledging that companies have a responsibility to pay workers better would require a total rethink of Jebifying your life. It would require an admission that obscene CEO compensation coupled with flat wages for workers kills morale. It would require a belief that America is stronger when living standards are going up for everyone -- not just billionaires.
    This approach would promote dignity and self-respect, create healthier and happier communities, and instill hope for future generations. As Clinton said last month, "Democracy can't be just for billionaires and corporations." Accordingly, she "will give new incentives to companies that give their employees a fair share of the profits their hard work earns." That sounds like a much better deal but perhaps politically impossible in our polarized climate.
    Hillarifying the whole system would require working together. Jebifying your life simply requires working your fingers to the bone. It seems that Americans are particularly good at the latter. And best of all: On your deathbed, you can brag about how much time you spent at work.