In the book "How an economy grows and why it crashes" by Peter D. Schiff, page 4, paragraph 2 has the sentence

Wake, fish, eat, sleep. Not much of a life, but hey, it beats the alternative.

For 'it beats the alternative', who beat who and who won?

  • This routine is not much of a life but is definitely better than death. – Andrew Tobilko Mar 6 '19 at 9:56
  • Someone said to Voltaire, "Life is hard." Voltaire replied, "Compared to what?" (Commonly attributed to the French philosopher) – Ben Mar 6 '19 at 11:23

X beats Y


X is better than Y

In your example, "Wake,fish,eat,sleep" is better. However, the "Y" (the alternative) is missing (at least in your quote). Maybe Y = being dead.

Edited to add: I found the original page of the book. The meaning is obvious: there is no technology available, no supermarkets, no anything, except the water with fish. No fishing = no eating = death.


The alternative to life is death.

Not much of a life, but life is better than death.

"It beats the alternative" is a phrase I've used for many years, but I didn't know the origin. This Article gives a possible source.

Finally, I read a quote of Billy Casper’s, a really good golfer in the 1960’s. Age seemed to have brought upon him something known as Furniture Disease. I think I have a little case of that. What may you ask is Furniture Disease?

That’s the place and time in life that you get to when your chest begins to slide into your drawers. Oh the woes of getting older; but remember, it beats the alternative!

  • I agree with virolino's first version, it's not clear what's the alternative in the context provided. Why do you discard a different way of living as an alternative: wake, go to work, work, buy food, eat, more work, return home, buy more food, dinner, sleep. – RubioRic Mar 6 '19 at 7:45
  • 2
    Because "it's not much of a life but it beats the alternative" is a reference to an old joke. – djna Mar 6 '19 at 8:40
  • 1
    Ah, you think that it references "Getting old sucks ... but it beats the alternative" – RubioRic Mar 6 '19 at 8:44
  • Yes, I think the exact match of the phrasing is strongly suggestive! – djna Mar 6 '19 at 8:45

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