Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Values Deep in the Woods



By Holmes Rolston, III


In a forest, as on a desert or the tundra, the realities of nature cannot be ignored. Like the sea or the sky, the forest is a kind of archetype of the foundations of the world. Aboriginally, about sixty percent of Earth's land surface was forested; historically, forests go back three to four hundred million years. Humans evolved in forests and savannas in which they once had adaptive fitness, and classical cultures often remained in evident contact with forests. In modern cultures, the growth of technology has made the forest increasingly a commodity, decreasingly an archetype. That transformation results in profound value puzzlements. What values lie deep in the forest?


The Forest Primeval
The central goods of the biosphere--hydrologic cycles, photosynthesis, soil fertility, food chains, genetic codes, speciation, reproduction, succession--were in place long before humans arrived. The dynamics and structures organizing the forest do not come out of the human mind; a wild forest is wholly other than civilization. Confronting it I must penetrate spontaneous life on its own terms. The genius of forestry as a pure science helps us to appreciate the biology, ecology, integrity of the forest primeval. Immersed in a nonhuman frame of reference, foresters know the elements, raw and pure.


Applied forestry, making a commodity out of an archetype, is humane and benevolent at risk of prostituting the primeval. The principles reorganizing the managed forest do come out of the human mind. Seeking goods of their kind, humans modify the natural kinds. A domesticated forest, like a caged wolf, is something of a contradiction in terms. There remains what used to be a forest or wolf now reduced to something less. A tract of pine planted for paper pulp is not deep woods. The radical values are gone.

In the forest itself there are no board-feet of timber, BTU's, miles, or acre feet of water. There are trees rising toward the sky, birds on the wing and beasts on the run, age after age, impelled by a genetic language almost two billion years old. There is struggle and adaptive fitness, energy and evolution inventing fertility and prowess. There is cellulose and photosynthesis, succession and speciation, muscle and fat, smell and appetite, law and form, structure and process. There is light and dark, life and death, the mystery of existence.

Life Support Value
A forest is objectively a community. Only subjectively, with human preferences projected onto it, does it become a commodity. "Forest products" are secondarily lumber, turpentine, cellophane; the forest "produces" primarily aspen, ferns, squirrels, mushrooms; this life is never self-contained but incessantly ingests and eliminates its environment. Trees must photosynthesize and coyotes must eat. The flora, like the fauna, make resources of soil, air, water, nutrients.

Many species have found a home in the forest ecosystem, life-supporting niches into which they are well-fitted. This objective satisfaction (=support) of life occurs with or without our human experiences. That the forest is able on occasion to satisfy human preferences seems a spinoff from its being valuable--able to satisfy organic needs--on its own.

Endangered Species/Endangered Ecosystem Values
There can no longer be found about 500 faunal species and subspecies that have become extinct in the United States since 1600, and only rarely found another 500 that are (officially or unofficially) threatened and endangered. Hardly a stretch of forest in the nation is unimpoverished of its native species especially those at the top of trophic pyramids: otters and peregrine falcons. We have only scraps of undisturbed once- common ecosystems, such as hemlock forests, and no chestnut forests at all. Acid rain is impoverishing the Adirondacks and the Great Smokies. An area of tropical rainforests the size of West Virginia is being destroyed annually.

All this ought not to be. Rather, forests ought to be optimally rich in native fauna and flora, in community types, and some forest ecosystems intact enough to support grizzly bears, wolverines, red cockaded woodpeckers, Chapman's rhododendron. What the forest produces is individuals, but, at a deeper level, what the forest has produced is species and ecosystems. Extinction shuts down forever life lines that flowed over the continental landscape long before humans arrived and that might, apart from us--or together with us, were we more sensitive--continue for millennia henceforth.

Natural History Value
A pristine forest is a historical museum that, unlike cultural museums, continues to be what it was, a living landscape. A visit there contributes to the human sense of duration, antiquity, continuity, and our own late-coming novelty. The forest--we first may think--is prehistoric and timeless; world history begins with armies and kings. The perceptive forest visitor knows better and realizes the centuries-long forest successions, the age of sequoias or great oaks; he or she sees erosional, erogenic, and geomorphic processes in rock strata, canyon walls, glacial moraines. The Carboniferous Forests were giant club mosses and horsetails; the Jurassic Forests were gymnosperms--conifers, cycads, ginkgoes, seed ferns. A forest today is yesterday being transformed into tomorrow.

Each forest is unique. Forest types exist only in forestry textbooks; what exists in the world is Mount Monadnock, Tallulah Gorge with its unique colonies of Trillium persistens, Mobley Hollow on Sinking Creek. Forests with their proper named features and locales--Grandfather Mountain, or Chattahoochee National Forest--always exist specifically, never abstractly. When visited by persons with their proper names, the encounter is valued because it yields distinctive, never-repeated stories--the biography of John Muir in the Sierras, or one's vacation hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Scientific Study Value
At least half of what there is to be known about forests remains undiscovered. Successive levels of biological organization have properties that cannot be predicted from simpler levels, and the least known level of organization is that of landscape ecology. Do forests inevitably appear, given a suitable moisture and climatic regime? We are not sure why tree line lies at the elevations it does, or why the balds in the Southern Appalachians are there. We are beginning to suspect that insect outbreaks sometimes convey benefits to a forest, something like those of fires, and of which we were long unaware. How do the non-fruiting mosses get propagated over long distances?

Does diversity increase over time? Stability? Do the species at the top of trophic pyramids rise in complexity? In neural power? All this seems to have happened, but why we do not know. Biologists are divided over whether intraspecific or interspecific competition is a minimal or a major force in evolution. Sizeable natural systems are the likeliest places to settle such debates. To destroy the relict primeval forests is like tearing the last pages out of a book about our past that we hardly yet know how to read.

Aesthetic Values
Like clouds, seashores, and mountains, forests are never ugly; they are only more or less beautiful; the scale runs from zero upward with no negative domain. Destroyed forests can be ugly--a burned, wind-thrown, diseased, or clear-cut forest. But even the ruined forest, regenerating itself, has yet positive aesthetic properties; trees rise to fill the empty place against the sky. A forest is filled with organisms that are marred and ragged--oaks with broken limbs, a crushed violet, the carcass of an elk. But the word "forest" (a grander word than "trees" in the plural) forces retrospect and prospect; it invites holistic categories of interpretation as yesterday's flora and fauna pass into tomorrow. This softens the ugliness and sets it in somber beauty.
One has to appreciate what is not evident. Marvelous things are going on in dead wood, or underground, or in the dark, or microscopically, or slowly, over time; they are not scenic, but an appreciation of them is aesthetic. The usefulness of a tree is only half over at its death; an old snag provides nesting cavities, perches, insect larvae, food for birds. The gnarled spruce at the edge of the tundra is not really ugly, not unless endurance and strength are ugly. It is presence and symbol of life perpetually renewed before the winds that blast it.

In the primeval forest humans know the most authentic of wilderness emotions, the sense of the sublime. By contrast, few persons get goose pimples indoors, in art museums or at the city park. We will not be surprised if the quality of such experiences is hard to quantify. Almost by definition, the sublime runs off scale.

Recreation/Creation Values
The word recreation contains the word creation. Humans go outdoors for the repair of what happens indoors, but they also go outdoors because they seek something greater than can be found indoors--contact with the natural certainties. Forests and sky, rivers and earth, the everlasting hills, the cycling seasons, wildflowers and wildlife--these are superficially just pleasant scenes in which to recreate. They are the timeless natural givens that support everything else.

Those who recreate here value leisure (watching a sunset, listening to loons, or to rain) in contrast to work for pay; they value being in a wild world that runs itself and need not be labored over. They value work (climbing, setting up camp) that isn't for pay; an environment with zest, in contrast to a boring or familiar job. They value an escape, if you like, but they value also being drawn to roots. They want to know the weather, protected by minimal but enough cover and shelter so as to leave rain or sun close at hand. They want to submit to the closing day at dusk, to be roused by the rising sun without benefit of clock. They want to know the passing seasons when migrants return, or leaves fall, without benefit of calendar.

People like to recreate in the woods because they touch base with something missing on baseball diamonds and at bowling alleys--the signature of time and eternity.

Character-Building Value
It is no accident that many organizations that seek to form character use wildlands --Boy and Girl Scouts, Outward Bound, the National Outdoor Leadership School, church camps. Similar growth occurs in individuals independently of formal organizations. The forest provides a place to sweat, to push oneself more than usual, to be more on the alert, to take calculated risks, to learn the luck of the weather, to lose and find one's way. The forest teaches one to care about his or her physical condition. In the forest, one has no status or reputations; nobody is much or long deceived; nobody much has to be pleased; accomplishment and failure are evident. One is free to be himself or herself, forced to a penetrating sincerity.

It is no accident that forestry as a profession has a powerfully positive image; we do not expect a forester to be a sissy, lazy, complaining, naive, arrogant--certainly not one regularly in the field. Professional life and personal life overlap, and the probabilities are that a seasoned forester is genuine, competent, patient, wary. If, past any applied concerns, a forester has an admiring respect for the woods, we have yet the more evidence of the forester's character.

Nonhuman Intrinsic Values
Surrounded by politicians and economists, even by foresters at business, one gets lured into thinking that value only enters and exits with human preference satisfactions. Surrounded by the forest, a deeper conclusion seems irresistible. The forest is value-laden. Trees use water and sunshine; insects resourcefully tap the energy fixed by photosynthesis; warblers search out insect protein; falcons search for warblers. Organisms use other organisms and abiotic resources instrumentally.

Continuing this deeper logic, organisms value the resource they use instrumentally because they value something intrinsically and without further contributory reference: their own lives. No warbler eats insects in order to become food for a falcon; the warbler defends her own life as an end in itself and makes more warblers as she can. A warbler is not "for" anything else; a warbler is for herself. From the perspective of a warbler, being a warbler is a good thing.

Biological conservation is not something that originates in the human mind, modeled by Forplan programs, or written into Acts of Congress. Biological conservation is innate as every organism conserves, values its life. Nonconservation is death. From this more objective viewpoint, there is something subjective and naive (however sophisticated one's technology) about living in a reference frame where one species takes itself as absolute and values everything else relative to its utility.

True, warblers take a warblo-centric point of view; spruce push only to make more spruce. But no nonhuman organism has the cognitive power, much less the conscience, to lift itself outside its own sector and evaluate the whole. Humans are the only species who can see the forest for what it is in itself, objectively, a tapestry of interwoven values. Forestry ought to be one profession that gets rescued from this beguiling anthropocentrism through its daily contact with the primeval givers.

Religious Value
"The groves were God's first temples" (Bryant, A Forest Hymn). Trees pierce the sky, like cathedral spires. Light filters down, as through stained glass. In common with churches, forests (as do sea and sky) invite transcending the human world and experiencing a comprehensive, embracing realm. Forests can serve as a more provocative, perennial sign of this than many of the traditional, often outworn, symbols devised by the churches. Mountaintop experiences, a howling storm, a quiet snowfall, solitude in a sequoia grove, an overflight of honking geese--these generate experiences of "a motion and spirit that impels . . . and rolls through all things." (Wordsworth, "Lines Above Tintern Abbey").

Being among the archetypes, the forest is about as near to ultimacy as we can come in phenomenal experience. I become astonished that the forest should be there, spontaneously generated. There are no forests on Mars or Saturn; none elsewhere in our solar system, perhaps none in our galaxy. But Earth's forests are indisputably here. There is more operational organization, more genetic history in a handful of forest humus than in the rest of the universe, so far as we know. How so? Why? A forest wilderness elicits cosmic questions.

Deep Values
Such values are, it is commonly said, "soft" beside the "hard" values of commerce. They are vague, subjective, impossible to quantify or demonstrate. Perhaps. But what is really meant is that such values lie deep. The forest is where the "roots" are, where life rises from the ground. A wild forest is, after all, something objectively there. Beside it, culture with its artifacts is a tissue of subjective preference satisfactions. Money, often thought the hardest of values, is nothing in the wilderness. A dollar bill has value only intersubjectively; any who doubt this ought to try to spend one in the woods. Dollar values have in the forest (and therefore in pure forestry) no significance at all.

What is there that is objectively significant? The phenomenon of forests is so widespread, persistent, and diverse, appearing almost wherever moisture and climatic conditions permit it, that forests cannot be accidents or anomalies, but rather must be a characteristic, systemic expression of the creative process. Forests are primarily an objective sign of the ultimate sources, and only secondarily do they become managed resources. The measure with which forestry can be profound is the depth of this conviction.

This essay was originally delivered at the Society of American Foresters Convention in Minneapolis, Minn., Oct. 1987, then published in American Forests, May/June 1988.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

In Praise of Idleness


By Bertrand Russell
This article was written in 1932.



Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: 'Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.' Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. Everyone knows the story of the traveler in Naples who saw twelve beggars lying in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the twelfth. This traveler was on the right lines. But in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it. I hope that, after reading the following pages, the leaders of the YMCA will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Before advancing my own arguments for laziness, I must dispose of one which I cannot accept. Whenever a person who already has enough to live on proposes to engage in some everyday kind of job, such as school-teaching or typing, he or she is told that such conduct takes the bread out of other people's mouths, and is therefore wicked. If this argument were valid, it would only be necessary for us all to be idle in order that we should all have our mouths full of bread. What people who say such things forget is that what a man earns he usually spends, and in spending he gives employment. As long as a man spends his income, he puts just as much bread into people's mouths in spending as he takes out of other people's mouths in earning. The real villain, from this point of view, is the man who saves. If he merely puts his savings in a stocking, like the proverbial French peasant, it is obvious that they do not give employment. If he invests his savings, the matter is less obvious, and different cases arise.

One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some Government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man's economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it in drink or gambling.

But, I shall be told, the case is quite different when savings are invested in industrial enterprises. When such enterprises succeed, and produce something useful, this may be conceded. In these days, however, no one will deny that most enterprises fail. That means that a large amount of human labor, which might have been devoted to producing something that could be enjoyed, was expended on producing machines which, when produced, lay idle and did no good to anyone. The man who invests his savings in a concern that goes bankrupt is therefore injuring others as well as himself. If he spent his money, say, in giving parties for his friends, they (we may hope) would get pleasure, and so would all those upon whom he spent money, such as the butcher, the baker, and the bootlegger. But if he spends it (let us say) upon laying down rails for surface card in some place where surface cars turn out not to be wanted, he has diverted a mass of labor into channels where it gives pleasure to no one. Nevertheless, when he becomes poor through failure of his investment he will be regarded as a victim of undeserved misfortune, whereas the gay spendthrift, who has spent his money philanthropically, will be despised as a fool and a frivolous person.

All this is only preliminary. I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.

First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising.

Throughout Europe, though not in America, there is a third class of men, more respected than either of the classes of workers. There are men who, through ownership of land, are able to make others pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and to work. These landowners are idle, and I might therefore be expected to praise them. Unfortunately, their idleness is only rendered possible by the industry of others; indeed their desire for comfortable idleness is historically the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing they have ever wished is that others should follow their example.



From the beginning of civilization until the Industrial Revolution, a man could, as a rule, produce by hard work little more than was required for the subsistence of himself and his family, although his wife worked at least as hard as he did, and his children added their labor as soon as they were old enough to do so. The small surplus above bare necessaries was not left to those who produced it, but was appropriated by warriors and priests. In times of famine there was no surplus; the warriors and priests, however, still secured as much as at other times, with the result that many of the workers died of hunger. This system persisted in Russia until 1917 (1), and still persists in the East; in England, in spite of the Industrial Revolution, it remained in full force throughout the Napoleonic wars, and until a hundred years ago, when the new class of manufacturers acquired power. In America, the system came to an end with the Revolution, except in the South, where it persisted until the Civil War. A system which lasted so long and ended so recently has naturally left a profound impress upon men's thoughts and opinions. Much that we take for granted about the desirability of work is derived from this system, and, being pre-industrial, is not adapted to the modern world. Modern technique has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the community. The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.

It is obvious that, in primitive communities, peasants, left to themselves, would not have parted with the slender surplus upon which the warriors and priests subsisted, but would have either produced less or consumed more. At first, sheer force compelled them to produce and part with the surplus. Gradually, however, it was found possible to induce many of them to accept an ethic according to which it was their duty to work hard, although part of their work went to support others in idleness. By this means the amount of compulsion required was lessened, and the expenses of government were diminished. To this day, 99 per cent of British wage-earners would be genuinely shocked if it were proposed that the King should not have a larger income than a working man. The conception of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own. Of course the holders of power conceal this fact from themselves by managing to believe that their interests are identical with the larger interests of humanity. Sometimes this is true; Athenian slave-owners, for instance, employed part of their leisure in making a permanent contribution to civilization which would have been impossible under a just economic system. Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization.

Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organization, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed. Why? Because work is a duty, and a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry.

This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?

The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich. In England, in the early nineteenth century, fifteen hours was the ordinary day's work for a man; children sometimes did as much, and very commonly did twelve hours a day. When meddlesome busybodies suggested that perhaps these hours were rather long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief. When I was a child, shortly after urban working men had acquired the vote, certain public holidays were established by law, to the great indignation of the upper classes. I remember hearing an old Duchess say: 'What do the poor want with holidays? They ought to work.' People nowadays are less frank, but the sentiment persists, and is the source of much of our economic confusion.


Let us, for a moment, consider the ethics of work frankly, without superstition. Every human being, of necessity, consumes, in the course of his life, a certain amount of the produce of human labor. Assuming, as we may, that labor is on the whole disagreeable, it is unjust that a man should consume more than he produces. Of course he may provide services rather than commodities, like a medical man, for example; but he should provide something in return for his board and lodging. To this extent, the duty of work must be admitted, but to this extent only.

I shall not dwell upon the fact that, in all modern societies outside the USSR, many people escape even this minimum amount of work, namely all those who inherit money and all those who marry money. I do not think the fact that these people are allowed to be idle is nearly so harmful as the fact that wage-earners are expected to overwork or starve.

If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment -- assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization. This idea shocks the well-to-do, because they are convinced that the poor would not know how to use so much leisure. In America men often work long hours even when they are well off; such men, naturally, are indignant at the idea of leisure for wage-earners, except as the grim punishment of unemployment; in fact, they dislike leisure even for their sons. Oddly enough, while they wish their sons to work so hard as to have no time to be civilized, they do not mind their wives and daughters having no work at all. The snobbish admiration of uselessness, which, in an aristocratic society, extends to both sexes, is, under a plutocracy, confined to women; this, however, does not make it any more in agreement with common sense.

The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.

In the new creed which controls the government of Russia, while there is much that is very different from the traditional teaching of the West, there are some things that are quite unchanged. The attitude of the governing classes, and especially of those who conduct educational propaganda, on the subject of the dignity of labor, is almost exactly that which the governing classes of the world have always preached to what were called the 'honest poor'. Industry, sobriety, willingness to work long hours for distant advantages, even submissiveness to authority, all these reappear; moreover authority still represents the will of the Ruler of the Universe, Who, however, is now called by a new name, Dialectical Materialism.

The victory of the proletariat in Russia has some points in common with the victory of the feminists in some other countries. For ages, men had conceded the superior saintliness of women, and had consoled women for their inferiority by maintaining that saintliness is more desirable than power. At last the feminists decided that they would have both, since the pioneers among them believed all that the men had told them about the desirability of virtue, but not what they had told them about the worthlessness of political power. A similar thing has happened in Russia as regards manual work. For ages, the rich and their sycophants have written in praise of 'honest toil', have praised the simple life, have professed a religion which teaches that the poor are much more likely to go to heaven than the rich, and in general have tried to make manual workers believe that there is some special nobility about altering the position of matter in space, just as men tried to make women believe that they derived some special nobility from their sexual enslavement. In Russia, all this teaching about the excellence of manual work has been taken seriously, with the result that the manual worker is more honored than anyone else. What are, in essence, revivalist appeals are made, but not for the old purposes: they are made to secure shock workers for special tasks. Manual work is the ideal which is held before the young, and is the basis of all ethical teaching.

For the present, possibly, this is all to the good. A large country, full of natural resources, awaits development, and has to be developed with very little use of credit. In these circumstances, hard work is necessary, and is likely to bring a great reward. But what will happen when the point has been reached where everybody could be comfortable without working long hours?

In the West, we have various ways of dealing with this problem. We have no attempt at economic justice, so that a large proportion of the total produce goes to a small minority of the population, many of whom do no work at all. Owing to the absence of any central control over production, we produce hosts of things that are not wanted. We keep a large percentage of the working population idle, because we can dispense with their labor by making the others overwork. When all these methods prove inadequate, we have a war: we cause a number of people to manufacture high explosives, and a number of others to explode them, as if we were children who had just discovered fireworks. By a combination of all these devices we manage, though with difficulty, to keep alive the notion that a great deal of severe manual work must be the lot of the average man.
 
In Russia, owing to more economic justice and central control over production, the problem will have to be differently solved. The rational solution would be, as soon as the necessaries and elementary comforts can be provided for all, to reduce the hours of labor gradually, allowing a popular vote to decide, at each stage, whether more leisure or more goods were to be preferred. But, having taught the supreme virtue of hard work, it is difficult to see how the authorities can aim at a paradise in which there will be much leisure and little work. It seems more likely that they will find continually fresh schemes, by which present leisure is to be sacrificed to future productivity. I read recently of an ingenious plan put forward by Russian engineers, for making the White Sea and the northern coasts of Siberia warm, by putting a dam across the Kara Sea. An admirable project, but liable to postpone proletarian comfort for a generation, while the nobility of toil is being displayed amid the ice-fields and snowstorms of the Arctic Ocean. This sort of thing, if it happens, will be the result of regarding the virtue of hard work as an end in itself, rather than as a means to a state of affairs in which it is no longer needed.

The fact is that moving matter about, while a certain amount of it is necessary to our existence, is emphatically not one of the ends of human life. If it were, we should have to consider every navy superior to Shakespeare. We have been misled in this matter by two causes. One is the necessity of keeping the poor contented, which has led the rich, for thousands of years, to preach the dignity of labor, while taking care themselves to remain undignified in this respect. The other is the new pleasure in mechanism, which makes us delight in the astonishingly clever changes that we can produce on the earth's surface. Neither of these motives makes any great appeal to the actual worker. If you ask him what he thinks the best part of his life, he is not likely to say: 'I enjoy manual work because it makes me feel that I am fulfilling man's noblest task, and because I like to think how much man can transform his planet. It is true that my body demands periods of rest, which I have to fill in as best I may, but I am never so happy as when the morning comes and I can return to the toil from which my contentment springs.' I have never heard working men say this sort of thing. They consider work, as it should be considered, a necessary means to a livelihood, and it is from their leisure that they derive whatever happiness they may enjoy.

It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake. Serious-minded persons, for example, are continually condemning the habit of going to the cinema, and telling us that it leads the young into crime. But all the work that goes to producing a cinema is respectable, because it is work, and because it brings a money profit. The notion that the desirable activities are those that bring a profit has made everything topsy-turvy. The butcher who provides you with meat and the baker who provides you with bread are praiseworthy, because they are making money; but when you enjoy the food they have provided, you are merely frivolous, unless you eat only to get strength for your work. Broadly speaking, it is held that getting money is good and spending money is bad. Seeing that they are two sides of one transaction, this is absurd; one might as well maintain that keys are good, but keyholes are bad. Whatever merit there may be in the production of goods must be entirely derivative from the advantage to be obtained by consuming them. The individual, in our society, works for profit; but the social purpose of his work lies in the consumption of what he produces. It is this divorce between the individual and the social purpose of production that makes it so difficult for men to think clearly in a world in which profit-making is the incentive to industry. We think too much of production, and too little of consumption. One result is that we attach too little importance to enjoyment and simple happiness, and that we do not judge production by the pleasure that it gives to the consumer.



When I suggest that working hours should be reduced to four, I am not meaning to imply that all the remaining time should necessarily be spent in pure frivolity. I mean that four hours' work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit. It is an essential part of any such social system that education should be carried further than it usually is at present, and should aim, in part, at providing tastes which would enable a man to use leisure intelligently. I am not thinking mainly of the sort of things that would be considered 'highbrow'. Peasant dances have died out except in remote rural areas, but the impulses which caused them to be cultivated must still exist in human nature. The pleasures of urban populations have become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on. This results from the fact that their active energies are fully taken up with work; if they had more leisure, they would again enjoy pleasures in which they took an active part.

In the past, there was a small leisure class and a larger working class. The leisure class enjoyed advantages for which there was no basis in social justice; this necessarily made it oppressive, limited its sympathies, and caused it to invent theories by which to justify its privileges. These facts greatly diminished its excellence, but in spite of this drawback it contributed nearly the whole of what we call civilization. It cultivated the arts and discovered the sciences; it wrote the books, invented the philosophies, and refined social relations. Even the liberation of the oppressed has usually been inaugurated from above. Without the leisure class, mankind would never have emerged from barbarism.

The method of a leisure class without duties was, however, extraordinarily wasteful. None of the members of the class had to be taught to be industrious, and the class as a whole was not exceptionally intelligent. The class might produce one Darwin, but against him had to be set tens of thousands of country gentlemen who never thought of anything more intelligent than fox-hunting and punishing poachers. At present, the universities are supposed to provide, in a more systematic way, what the leisure class provided accidentally and as a by-product. This is a great improvement, but it has certain drawbacks. University life is so different from life in the world at large that men who live in academic milieu tend to be unaware of the preoccupations and problems of ordinary men and women; moreover their ways of expressing themselves are usually such as to rob their opinions of the influence that they ought to have upon the general public. Another disadvantage is that in universities studies are organized, and the man who thinks of some original line of research is likely to be discouraged. Academic institutions, therefore, useful as they are, are not adequate guardians of the interests of civilization in a world where everyone outside their walls is too busy for unutilitarian pursuits.

In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint without starving, however excellent his pictures may be. Young writers will not be obliged to draw attention to themselves by sensational pot-boilers, with a view to acquiring the economic independence needed for monumental works, for which, when the time at last comes, they will have lost the taste and capacity. Men who, in their professional work, have become interested in some phase of economics or government, will be able to develop their ideas without the academic detachment that makes the work of university economists often seem lacking in reality. Medical men will have the time to learn about the progress of medicine, teachers will not be exasperatedly struggling to teach by routine methods things which they learnt in their youth, which may, in the interval, have been proved to be untrue.



Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion. Since men will not be tired in their spare time, they will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid. At least one per cent will probably devote the time not spent in professional work to pursuits of some public importance, and, since they will not depend upon these pursuits for their livelihood, their originality will be unhampered, and there will be no need to conform to the standards set by elderly pundits. But it is not only in these exceptional cases that the advantages of leisure will appear. Ordinary men and women, having the opportunity of a happy life, will become more kindly and less persecuting and less inclined to view others with suspicion. The taste for war will die out, partly for this reason, and partly because it will involve long and severe work for all. Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle. Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.

(1) Since then, members of the Communist Party have succeeded to this privilege of the warriors and priests.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Harried Leisure Class





By: Staffan Burenstam Linder

The following two chapters are from Linder’s The Harried Leisure Class, NY. Columbia University press, 1970.

Chapter I
Till now man has been up against Nature; from now on he will be up against his own nature.
Dennis Gabor, Inventing the Future
Good-by, Sir, excuse me, I haven’t time.
I’ll come back, I can’t wait, I haven’t time.
I must end this letter – I haven’t time.
I’d love to help you, but I haven’t time
I can’t accept, having no time.
I can’t think, I can’t read, I am swamped, I haven’t time
I’d like to pray, but I haven’t time.
Michel Quoist

The Paradoxes of Affluence

We have always expected one of the beneficent results of economic affluence to be a tranquil and harmonious manner of life, a life in Arcadia. What has happened is the exact opposite. The pace is quickening, and our lives in fact are becoming steadily more hectic. It used to be assumed that, as the general welfare increased, people would become successively less interested in further rises in income. And yet in practice a still higher economic growth rates has become the overriding goal of economic policy in the rich countries, and the goal also of our private efforts and attitudes. At the same time, much of our expenditure is no longer subject to any very careful consideration, as is clear from the successes noted by Madison Avenue. A growing proportion of the labor force is employed in the service sector, but in spite of this, our resources are in fact less well “serviced” or maintained than ever. It is becoming increasingly difficult, for instance, for elderly people to obtain the special kind of service – care and attention – that they very much need. Our so-called service economy practices in reality a throw-away system at all levels, including the human level. We have long expressed hopes that the elimination of material cares would clear the way for a broad cultural advancement. In practice, not even those endowed with the necessary intellectual and emotional capacity have shown any propensity for immersing themselves in the cultivation of their minds and spirit. The tendency is rather the reverse.

These are but a few examples of the surprising phenomena occurring in the rich countries. They seem paradoxical, as they fail to fit into the picture of affluence which we have painted. The cause of these and similar modern anomalies lies in a circumstance that has been entirely ignored, namely the increasing scarcity of time. The limited availability of time and the increasing claims made on it mean that our affluence is only partial and not total as we seem to believe. Our affluence takes only the form of access to goods. The idea of “total affluence” is a logical fallacy.

Time as a Scarce Commodity

In the natural sciences, the concept of time offers its particular mysteries. The ultimate implications of time, however, are a problem upon which we need not linger. It will be sufficient for our purposes to accept that there exists what we experience as a time dimension – a moving belt of time units which makes resources of time available to the individual as it passes. Time, unlike other economic resources, cannot be accumulated. We cannot build up a stock of time as we build up a stock of capital. As it passes, however, time puts into people’s hands something that they can use. In economic terms, there exists a certain “supply of time”.

But there is also a certain “demand for time”. Time can be used by individuals in work, with a view to acquiring various goods. Time can also be used in consumption, i. e., the process in which goods are combined with time, in attempts to achieve the ultimate utility in the economic process – material and spiritual well-being. It is important to realize that consumption requires time just as does production. Such pleasures as a cup of coffee or a good stage play are not in fact pleasurable, unless we can devote time to enjoying them.

The scarcity of commodity is determined by the supply in relation to the demand. Such a scarcity is normally reflected in the price. The demand for gold is high in relation to the supply, and gold, therefore, attracts a considerable price. The supply of sea water, on the other hand, is extremely great in relation to the demand, and sea water accordingly attracts no price at all. As regards the commodity in which we are interested, namely time, we have already noted that there is a certain supply and a certain demand. We can now add that the demand by individuals is usually sufficiently high in relation to the supply to make time a “scarce commodity” in the economic sense. But if time is an economic utility in short supply, then it must be subject to the economic laws that prevail in the economist’s universe. It must be distributed over its different sectors of use – different activities – in accordance with the general principles of economics.

When spending money, one presumably tries to balance one’s expenditures in such a way as to obtain the best possible yield. This means that one will probably refrain from spending all one’s assets on a single commodity. One will instead distribute one’s expenditure over a variety of different goods and services. The optimum situation will have been reached when it is impossible to increase satisfaction by reducing expenditure in one field and making a corresponding increase in another. A more technical description of this condition of equilibrium would be to say that the marginal utility of one dollar must be the same in all different sectors of expenditure.

In the same way, one tries to economize with one’s time resources. They must be so distributed as to give an equal yield in all sectors of use. Otherwise, it would pay to transfer time from an activity with a low yield to one with a high yield and to continue to do this until equilibrium had been reached.

Some of my readers may object, perhaps, that this is a somewhat gross description of how people function. A moment’s reflection, however, will reveal that if the reader should for this reason put down the book, such a reaction is in itself evidence that people actually try to allocate their time in order to achieve a maximum yield. Such a reader has the impression that it would be a waste of time to spend a couple of hours reading this essay and, therefore, decides to devote his time to some other, and he hopes better, pursuit.

The Increasing Scarcity of Time

The yield on time spent working increases as the result of economic growth. Productivity per hour rises. This means that the time allocation which has represented equilibrium at our previous level of income is disrupted. The yield on time devoted to other activities must also be raised. We are aware that time in production becomes increasingly scarce with economic growth. What we will now claim in addition to this is that changes in the use of time will occur, so that the yield on time in all other activities is brought into parity with the yield on working time. In other words, economic growth entails a general increase in the scarcity of time.

The necessary increase in the yield of time in the nonwork activities can take place in many different ways. To some extent we try to achieve a change in attitudes of a kind that Walter Kerr points out in his book The Decline of Pleasure: “We are all of us compelled to read for profit, party for contacts, lunch for contracts, bowl for unity, drive for mileage, gamble for charity, go out for the evening for the greater glory of the municipality, and stay home for the weekend to rebuild the house.”

A more basic and radical method of raising the yield on time used in consumption is to increase the amount of consumer goods to be enjoyed per time unit. Just as working time becomes more productive when combined with more capital, so consumption time can give a higher yield when combined with more consumer goods. When this happens, the proportion between consumption goods and the time for consumption changes, so that the price of such time rises to the level of the price of time in production. Admittedly, no prices are openly quoted for time in consumption, but the individual will consciously or unconsciously apply in his actions and words what we can call a “shadow price” to consumption time. This price will go up in step with the productivity of work time.

A critical reader may object that the increasing volume of consumer goods will not necessarily raise the demand for consumption time, but rather the reverse. Many consumer goods, it is claimed, save time. If a household increases its consumption by buying a washing machine, for instance, then the machine will not claim any additional time. It is true that there are many goods of this type. This must be borne in mind when deciding what to classify as “consumer goods”. We normally mean all the goods bought by households. In the present study, however, we are considering a more limited category of goods. By “consumption goods”, which is the term we shall be using from now on, we mean the definite end products that are combined with time in an attempt to create material or spiritual well-being. Washing machines belong to that category of goods which increases productivity in working life – in this case the work performed within households. We should not make any sharp distinction between activities within households and in production. Many of the former are by nature identical with work in production. Whether productivity rises at places of work within production proper, or in the household, it will have the same effects. The scarcity of time in working life as a whole has increased, and the yield from time in consumption must be increased to create an equilibrium between the yield on time in different sectors. This takes place by an increase in the volume of consumption goods per time unit in consumption.

As already observed, scarce commodities are distributed over different sectors of use in accordance with the principles of economics. Changes in the scarcity of different resources lead to changes in the distribution of resources. These changes, too, follow economic laws. The consequences of an increasing scarcity of time can, therefore, be studied with simple tools borrowed from the practice of economic analysis.

A Basic Problem in Social Science

The analysis in the distribution of time, of changes in this distribution arising from economic growth, and of the implications of economic development under an increasing scarcity of time is not something of purely economic interest. It is rather a problem of more general interest, a joint problem for all the social sciences. The distribution of time and changes in this distribution are bound to affect our entire attitude to social problems, our entire philosophical outlook. An increasing scarcity of time is bound to color our basic attitude to time and pace. David M. Potter in People of Plenty has made the incipient superfluity of goods the starting point of speculations as to changes in the national character; the same can be done with the emerging scarcity of time.

A brief study of literature shows that workers in the different social sciences have in fact shown some interest in the problems of time. It is equally clear, however, that no concerted attack on the problem is being made. In social anthropology, a number of attempts have been made to describe attitudes to time in different cultures. However, many standard works on the subject fail to consider attitudes to time. At all events, hardly any generalizations have been made concerning the factors which determine disparities in time attitudes among different cultures.

The sociologists, for their part, have made great efforts to perform large-scale time-budget studies. They have tried to plot how different individuals or groups divide up their time between various activities. Particularly detailed studies have been made of the use of time spent outside the place of work, time which is devoted to a variety of different activities. However, the theories formed parallel to these studies have been of an ad hoc nature. Attempts at any systematic explanation of time allocation and changes in it are lacking. Because they have ignored the importance of a time scarcity in the economic sense for the time phenomena studies, the anthropologists and sociologists have never really been able to use their own results. It is possible that an analysis of time allocation could yield a dynamic theory for use in sociological predictions. It could be a useful tool in the study of the future, a field of research which affects an increasing amount of attention.

A theory on changes in the scarcity of time could perhaps also be of use in medical research on stress. Similar openings may exist in psychology, perhaps even more in psychiatry. The present writer has found an interest in questions of the type discussed in at least one psychiatric paper. The following quotation from Professor of Psychology John Cohen speaks for itself: “The reaction of animals under conditions of temporal constraint may help to understand human disorders in the tightly time-bound cultures of our day.”

It is hardly surprising that sociologists, for instance, have not come to regard the use of time as a problem of economizing with an increasingly scarce commodity. Such an approach, however, should be natural for that science which is devoted to the principles of allocating scarce resources, namely economics. Even so, a reasonable analysis of time is lacking in the economic literature. Economists typically regard consumption as an instantaneous act without temporal consequences. They regard time in working life as a scarce resource, parallel to which there exists some sort of undefined “free time”. As incomes rise, one would have increasing consumption, without any consequences to the time situation of the individual, other than a reduction in work time. This would give an increasing amount of “free time”. The supply would be increasing on all fronts.

By such a view, the distribution of time can never be made the subject of analysis with the tools of economic theory. It is indeed interesting to see how poorly incorporated free time is in economic theory. To give an example, one ambitious statistical study (by Gordon C. Winston) on the relationship between working time and level of income in different countries makes a distinction between the time used “either on the earning of income (work), or on a host of alternative noneconomic activities (leisure).” To speak of nonworking time as a noneconomic use of time is symptomatic. The very term free time suggests a failure to realize that consumption time is a scarce commodity.

That consumption is regarded as some sort of instantaneous act emerges most clearly from the fact that, when economists try to state the connection between the “utility” of certain commodity and the amount of that commodity available, they never take into account the time an individual has at his disposal to consume the commodity in question. In economic theory, the pleasure an individual can be expected to derive from a couple of theatre tickets is not taken to be dependent in any way on the time he can devote to playgoing. At most, economic writers take into account the time needed for consumption by pointing out that the utility of a product depends on the on the length of the time period within which it is to be enjoyed. :Different levels of satisfaction are derived from consuming ten portions of ice cream within one hour and within one month”. This point made by J. M. Henderson and R. E. Quandt in their textbook is, however, by no means sufficient. It is not enough to know whether portions of ice cream are to be consumed within a month or within a year. It is far more important to know how much time within a given period can be specifically devoted to enjoying the commodity whose contribution to our material well-being we are studying. If one has no time during a whole week to drink coffee, then obviously even whole sacks full of coffee will give no yield that week. Similarly, a tennis player has no use for a new racket each year, if he never has the time to play. The utility of theatre tickets cannot be established without knowing whether or not the ticket holder has time to use them. What makes the difference is not so much the period of time during which a given quantity of the commodity is available, but rather the time that is available during this period to consume the commodity in question.

Now that we have made these critical observations, we can note with satisfaction that a handful of economists has in recent years adopted a new position. Attention is beginning to be paid to the possibility that economic growth causes an increasing scarcity of time. The first, apparently, in this exclusive group was Roy Harrod, who published a short paper on this theme at the end of the fifties. However, no attention was paid to it by the profession and not even by its author either, since he has never followed up the ideas which he had presented. Harrod’s thesis was that we may in time be faced with a consumption maximum, owing to an increase scarcity of time, which is the result primarily of all the servicing and maintenance work require by consumption goods. It is Harrod’s idea, puzzling at first sight, which originally triggered the thinking of the present study.

One economist who has allowed for the fact that consumption takes time and as a result reached interesting results is Jacob Mincer. Only one economist, however, has attempted to formulate a general theory of time allocation. This is Gary Becker, whose work is presented in a paper published in 1965. The basic approach in this book and in Becker’s paper are the same. Even though work on this book had reached a relatively late stage before Becker’s paper became available, it has naturally been extremely valuable to be to utilize Becker’s line of thinking.

Why This Neglect of Time Analysis?

The absence of any theory of time allocation in the behavioral sciences must be blamed on economists who, being professionally concerned with the time allocation of scarce resources, should certainly have come regard time in this way. Instead, by ignoring the fact that consumption requires time, they have conveyed the opposite impression – that the use of time off the job is noneconomic phenomenon and that economic growth results in a decreasing scarcity of time. How can we explain this neglect on the part of the economists? In the absence of any entirely convincing or sufficient explanation, we can only suggest various possibilities. To begin with, there could be a historical reason. When the first economists defined their sphere of interest, the scarcity of time was hardly noticeable. The overriding problem was the scarcity of goods as a result of low productivity. It was, therefore, reasonable to speak of free time in the true economic sense, i. e., time without a price. Consumption goods were lacking, and marginal time was perhaps spent in enforced passivity. Fettered by an analytic tradition, economists have failed to see time as a scarce resource, even though the situation has radically changed.

It is also possible that the actual term economic growth is misleading. When we speak of economic growth, it is easy to think of growing economic opportunities in general. We imagine total, rather than partial, affluence. Obviously, such an erroneous picture will emerge more easily if we are unaware that consumption takes time, and we stare blindly at various statistical theories reporting that we not only have more and more goods but also more and more free time. Some people may also entertain a vague idea that there has been some sort of technological advance in consumption, so that the demand for time has remained constant. But insofar as any technological advances have been made on the consumer side, they must relate to the individual’s work in household. The effect of such technological advancements, however, are the same as in production proper. It is difficult to conceive of any technological advance being noted in the actual process of consumption. Productivity can be purchased only by an increase in the quantity of goods consumed per time unit, which means an increased scarcity of time.

Another possibility is that people have disregarded the claims made on consumption time because of certain basic conceptions of how our growing material affluence might be used. The optimistic view has prevailed that people would gradually be freed from toil and starvation, in order to devote themselves to cultivation of the mind and spirit in accordance with the ideals of classical antiquity. On these terms, what we now mean by consumption would take very little time. The economic target would be met as soon as we had reached a material level permitting uninterrupted philosophical exercises. Neither time nor material goods would be scarce commodities, the economic problem would vanish with the attainment of complete satisfaction in the embrace of the fine arts and beautiful thoughts. This picture has been belied by events. As economic development has continued, attractive alternative ways of using time have emerged. Meditation and speculation have been driven off the market. Whatever the cause, time has thus become de facto an increasingly scarce resource, without the economists having noticed this development.

The So-called “Leisure Problem”

Many will surely find it peculiar that economic development should result in an increasing scarcity of time. One imagines that the situation should be the reverse. Intellectuals of the rich countries fail to analyze the increasing scarcity of time, but instead devote a great deal of attention to the so-called leisure problem.

What in fact is this much publicized but undefined leisure problem? Does it mean that people, because of the shorter working week, have got so much time on their hands that they do not know what to do with it? This would mean that time had become less and less scarce, and that there is something ludicrously amiss with the whole basic idea of this book. Instead of an increasing scarcity of time we should have a surplus.

But even if the leisure problem can not be taken to mean that people do nothing, it may nonetheless exist. However, it then consists of some people busying themselves with nothingness – a problem which is not in conflict with the argument made in this essay.

The leisure problem of the economic type, however, probably exists only in imagination of those who are unaware that consumption takes time. If we take the position, like most economists, that consumption is instantaneous and that free time is some entirely isolated utility, then it is possible to draw peculiar conclusions. We can imagine, in this case, that we now have so much free time that we do not know what to do with it, and that certain parts of this time are reduced to what we have called economic free time. It may be that some people are in such a situation. They have a job, and they make a certain amount of money. This is used to purchase consumption goods, the enjoyment of which takes a certain time. When they have consumed these goods, people then spend the rest of their time in complete passivity. Such a model of life, however, would seem uncommon. If people have more time left over for consumption than they think they need, most of them surely take some form of extra work. This gives them more money which they can use in consumption and thus absorb consumption time. Insofar as they do not do this, it must mean that they have reached a maximum for their consumption. The existence of any such ceiling, however, is energetically denied, at least by economists and by psychologists interested in economics.

There is no guarantee, after all, that people will devote their time off the job to entirely laudable ends. On the contrary, it is probable that many people choose to expend their increasing resources in a manner injurious to themselves and their environment. Such individuals, however, are not idle. They can be extremely busy in all sorts of mischief. This is a very real problem, but it is obviously no leisure problem, in the sense that people do not know what to do with all their time. It is a social problem. The fact that people use their money in a dangerous way does not eliminate the need for economic theory. In the same way, the fact that people sometimes use their time in dangerous ways does not mean that we do not need a theory of time allocation.

It is obviously possible also to worry over the fact that so many people occupy themselves, if not with mischief, at least with such vacuous practices as reading comics and drinking Coca-Cola. This too is something that can lead people to talk of a leisure problem. For moral, ethical, cultural, or other reasons, they cannot accept the way in which others choose to use their time. Here again; we have a problem relating not to economic free time, but to the quality of our civilization. Superficial people in the rich countries are often in a greater hurry than anyone else. They are enormously busy, even if it is sometimes difficult to see with what.

There is another interpretation of what leisure problem might mean. Many have expressed the fear that, as there is less demand on the individual to contribute work, we shall loose something essential to personal human value. This is an important risk, and one that we must take into consideration when assessing what higher productivity is really given us. Here again, it is not a question of our nonworking time becoming economic free time. The underlying idea is simply that the compulsion to work confers a greater value on the individual than the freedom to consume. The problem is a psychological one.

It seems reasonable to draw the conclusion that leisure problems of a social, cultural, and psychological nature exist. But the average earner in the rich country lives nonetheless under the pressure of time. He is a member of the harried class.

A Framework of Discussion

In the economic land of dreams that many see as the end result of a long process of growth, the inherent thrift of nature would be overcome. It is only by a sort of optical illusion that one can imagine this meanness on nature’s part being eliminated in a material Utopia. In an economic heaven, the problem of time will be particularly pressing. We will find there an infinite volume of consumption goods, which pleasure-hungry angels will feverishly try to exploit during the limited time at their disposal per day. That one may in this heaven enjoy eternal life as a consumer fails to alter the situation. This can increase the total satisfaction derived over the course of centuries. What we are interested in, however, is the yield per time unit. To maximize this, time must be carefully stewarded by the servants of epicureanism.

To map the changes that economic growth will cause in the way we employ our time, it is convenient to classify time into different categories. Such a division of time into different areas of use could obviously be very detailed. Any minute classification, however, would be impractical. We will distinguish below between five different categories of time, each of which has been considered unequal from a philosophical point of view. Each of them is affected in different ways by economic growth.

The first category of time is working time or, more specifically, time spent working in specialized production. Such working time is of basic importance to the allocation of time. Like other activities, it claims time that could otherwise be spent in other ways. However, by its effect on the income level of the individual, it also influences the amount of time in demand for other activities. Work time is thus of twofold importance. It affects both the supply and the demand for time on other activities. As the level of productivity in working life changes, work time and the level of income send out impulses for the changes that can be made in allocation of time.

The second category we can call time for personal work. Personal work consists essentially of production of what we customarily term services. The boundaries between the production of services and goods are elusive, but it is usually drawn. In the industrialized countries, the production of goods is almost entirely specialized. A large production of services is also the result of specialized production. We are left, even so, with a considerable number of services to produce on our own. Even the members of Thorstein Velben’s golden leisure class, who by no means lacked economic resources to busy services, were surely reduced to providing many services for themselves. The scope of personal work of the average earner in a highly industrialized country is surely considerably greater. Personal work can be subdivided into the maintenance of goods and of one’s body (sleep, personal hygiene, etc.). We shall be interesting ourselves not only in the total time each individual devotes to personal work, but also to the average maintenance time devoted to consumption goods, i. e., the maintenance time per consumption good.

A third category is consumption time, i. e., the time, the existence of which we must be aware of, in order to see the use of time as an economic problem involving the allocation of limited resources. Just as with time for personal work, there is a correlation between increases in productivity and the demand for consumption time. Again in this case, we shall investigate the changes in consumption time per product.

The forth component comprises time devoted to the cultivation of mind and spirit, i. e., the various exercises to which the optimistic believers in progress had thought we would devote our affluence. The difference between consumption time and what, for the sake of brevity, we may call culture time is that consumption goods play a central role for consumption time, but only an incidental role for culture time. For this reason, these two time components are affected in different ways by any productivity increase in working life. The distinction between these two components is of even greater importance in that they have been so differently judged in discussions relating to the aims of the economic process.

Finally, we have a time component that is less specific in its nature. It is conceivable that people in the poor countries are subjected to free time in the strict sense of the word, i. e., time that is not utilized. Incomes are so low that people fail to obtain an economic level permitting anything except what we can call passivity during certain periods of the day. Such time can also occur in the rich countries during economic depressions. But even when economic circumstances are such that individuals are in a position to choose freely how they will distribute their time between work and other activities, there can still be what we can call “slacks” in the use of time. This finds expression in the pace at which time is used. If the scarcity of time is not particularly marked, people may find it reasonable to enjoy a relaxed life. We will call this fifth and last category of time idleness.

In Chapter II we shall discuss changes in idleness and in the pace of existence. Chapter III contains a discussion of changes in work time. Chapter IV to VI discuss time for personal work. The last of these three chapters is devoted to changes in time for decision making. Consumption time is treated in Chapter VII and in Chapter VIII we will investigate changes in culture time. A more special problem is considered in Chapter IX, where we shall discuss the relationship between saving and time allocation. In Chapters II to XI we assume that per capita incomes are steadily increasing. In the three closing chapters (X to XII) we shall investigate how far the results of our time allocation analysis have affected the credibility of this assumption of continued economic growth. A list of notes and references is given at the end of the book. Certain arguments basic to the discussion are presented mathematically in an appendix.

Chapter II

The disappearance of Idleness
We may note at this point the differences in
the value and calibration of time among peoples
at different levels of culture.
John Cohen

An Increasing Degree of Utilization

The scope of idleness depends on the level of income. If incomes are low, there can be long periods of enforced idleness or passivity. Individuals will then have at their disposal economic free time in the true sense. They are waiting for Godot. At a higher level of income we find voluntarily chosen idleness, which is reflected in people taking life easy and finding this enjoyable. The pace of life is rapid. But as incomes continue to rise, the demand for yield on the use of time increases. As a result, fewer and fewer “slacks” will be tolerated. The degree to which time is actively utilized will increase. The pace of life will quicken.

The economic reasons for these changes are easy to discern. Time spent in idleness, unlike actively utilized time, cannot give a higher yield by being combined with more consumption goods. By definition, idleness is time spent without other consumption goods. In some way, however, the yield must also be raised on this type of time. As shown in an “equation of hecticness” in the mathematical appendix, one will, in order to achieve this, reduce such time and transfer bits of it to active use. In this way, the faster the pace becomes, the greater will be the yield on time still spent in idleness. Now positions of equilibrium in the allocation of time can be reached in this way as incomes rise.

It is not difficult, in practice, to find radical discrepancies in the conception of time among different cultures. There also seems to be a clear connection between level of income and the role played by time and its exploitations. If this is the case, then one should draw entirely different conclusions from those customarily drawn in the anthropological literature, which describes such discrepancies as due to difference in cosmological concepts and technological development. To develop this idea further, we can distinguish among three different types of cultures, namely cultures with time surplus, cultures with a time affluence, and cultures suffering from a time famine.

Cultures with a Time Surplus

Cultures with a superfluity of time are to be found in the poorest countries. Productivity is so low that a certain proportion of time yields nothing whatsoever. Such cultures have no great need of precision in reckoning and measuring time. We find there a ma├▒ana (tomorrow in Spanish) attitude, with no detailed planning for either today or tomorrow. In fact, what we in the rich countries mean by times is a concept difficult to translate into the languages of these cultures. In the rich countries, a time surplus can also exist if the demand for labor is low, as during a depression. Handicapped individuals who are excluded from the labor market and the growth process, and who consequently have low incomes, also may experience a time surplus.

Obviously, it is difficult in practice to determine whether or not a given amount of time per day is economic free time. The boundary is difficult to draw. Even so, for analytic purposes we may consider as a difference in kind what may be a difference in degree. Time which gives no yield need not be spent, literally, in complete passivity. Various kinds of hidden unproductive time can occur. The literature on the underdeveloped countries, for instance, speaks fairly frequently of “disguised underemployment.” Such underemployment exists if a reduction in working time does not reduce production. It has been claimed that this is one characteristic of agriculture in the underdeveloped countries. This view has not gone uncriticized, but most of the criticism directed against the notion of hidden unemployment in the agriculture of these countries is related to the cavalier conclusions drawn from it with respect to economic policy.

Unemployment or underemployment in the often fast growing cities in these countries is more overt. The shantytowns are jam-packed with people who spend at least part of their day in enforced idleness. This may take the form of fruitless attempts on the part of some people to find gainful employment while others resign themselves to begging. A stuporous passivity is one way of passing such enforced economic free time. One way of promoting economic free time to a higher status is to devote it to improving one’s chances of a better life in the next world. One can designate a large number of days as holy days, or “holidays,” in the original sense of the word. It has been pointed out that the number of such holidays is greater in the poor countries than in the rich, and that on the road to riches a country gradually eliminates more and more holidays, reducing the amount of economic free time. “It should be remembered too that throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages the normal number of holidays during the year was about 115,” writes Ida Craven. As the need for consumption time in the rich countries became marked, the holy days became holidays or vacations – an entirely different category of time from our point of view.

An interesting picture of how the attitude to time in poor cultures differs from what we are used to is given by the anthropological literature. We can only regret that the mapping of different cultures’ conceptions of time is not, to judge from the literature, taken as a very important task of anthropological research.

One rewarding source is a report compiled by a team under the leadership of Margaret Mead. This team performed a number of comparative anthropological studies, also including attitudes to time. We can see what enormous differences exist in these respects between, on the one hand, Burma and the Spanish-American subcultures in the United States, and on the other hand, the rich countries. Differences between the two poor cultures with respect to time concepts appear to be small. The degree of utilization of time is in both cases low. We are told, for instance, how Burmese have various simple methods of measuring time, how Spanish-American abstain from regulating their existence by clocks, and how they plan their future time only vaguely, or not at all.

Edward T. Hall has made the same sort of observation in his book The Silent Language: “[With] the people of the Middle East … it is pointless to make an appointment too far in advance, because the informal structure of their time system places everything beyond a week into a single category of ‘future’, in which plans tend to ‘slip off their minds’.”

As regards the lack of any time concept corresponding to that in the rich countries, no one could be more explicit than Evans-Pritchard in his study of the Nuer (a pastoral people living in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan):

Though I have spoken of time and units of time Nuer have no expression equivalent to time in our language, and they cannot, therefore, as we can, speak of time as though it were something actual, which passes, can be wasted, can be saved, and so forth. I do not think that they ever experienced the same feeling of fighting against time or of having to co-ordinate activities with an abstract passage of time, because their points of reference are mainly the activities themselves, which are generally of a leisurely character. Events follow a logical order, but they are not controlled by an abstract system, there being no autonomous points of reference to which activities have to conform with precision. Nuer are fortunate.

The concept of time among the Tiv in Nigeria has been studied by Paul Bohannan. He emphasizes also that time is a word very difficult to translate, that time is indicated on the basis of natural phenomena, or social events, instead of within a chronological system, and that “thus although Tiv indicate time by direct association of two events, and though they count recurrent natural units such days, markets, moons, and dry seasons, they do not measure time.”

These and similar observations from many different cultures can be given a uniform explanation within the framework of a time allocation theory. The level of income is extremely low, and time is, therefore, not scarce.

The Affluence Cultures

Cultures with an adequate supply of time occupy a middle position. A process of economic growth has started, and the level of incomes has been doubled or tripled. The pace of life has, therefore, increased, but it has not yet become hectic. The long stretches of economic free time have all disappeared. Certain slacks in the use of time remain, however. Methods of measuring time have been improved., but the clock is not yet a tyrant. There us also a certain, but not yet detailed, planning of the use of time. Poor Richard’s statement in his almanack that “Those who use their time the worst, will be the first to complain about its shortness” begins to apply.

Let us consider what author Vilhelm Moberg has to say of his childhood in the early part of this century, i. e., in a Sweden where the general level of income had not yet attained any great heights:

No one in my childhood was in a hurry. They did quite a lot of work, usually very hard work, but they never gave evidence of haste. When I left this environment in due course and returned to the home of my parents on a visit, my father observed my nervous unrest and asked: Why in such a hurry, boy? You’ll get to your grave in time, like everyone else.

Japan, as yet, is in this intermediate category from the point of view of income. There seems to exist in Japan an attitude to time and its use that is what we might expect from the theory here proposed. Robert J. Smith describes the Japanese attitude to time as follows:

One feature of Japanese life which makes adjustment in the later years rather easier than it is in some societies is the concept of time and its scheduling in Japanese society. The Japanese are not tyrannized by the clock, nor is there an emphasis on scheduling of activities. Both work and leisure-time activities tend to follow an unpredictable pattern. Japanese white-collar workers, for example, think little of working extra hours or even through the night without extra compensation if requested to do so. Meals are not necessarily eaten on a schedule, and missing a meal is no great tragedy. The approach to appointments is notoriously casual, and it is worth pointing out that a guest may arrive before or after a casually agreed-upon hour. Pre-arrangement of appointments is not considered essential, for it is expected that everyone’s schedule is sufficiently flexible to permit him to adjust his activities to any emergency which may rise. Not even the changes wrought by the last hundred years of industrialization have completely altered this picture.

We can also quote the Mead report again. This offers some interesting information on attitudes to time in Greece, another country which is neither rich or poor.

Greeks ‘pass’ the time; they do not save or accumulate or use it. And they are intent on passing the time, not on budgeting it. Although city people say that this picture is changing, that they are now made aware of the need to use time, the attitude is still widely prevalent, even in the area of private life among the urban groups.



The clock is not master of the Greek: it does not tell him to get up, go to the field. In most villages, in spite of recent changes, the peasants still get up at sunrise or dawn to go to the field, and return at sundown. The day is made for work. At night women visit and gossip; men join them or go to the coffee house; there is storytelling and ardent political discussion; and as for any work done after dark, ‘the day takes a look at it and laughs.’ Wherever, in the cities he now functions under clocked time, because he comes under government and union. … It is distasteful to Greeks to organize their activities according to external limits; they are therefore either early or late, if a time is set at all. At church the people are not impatient while waiting for Mass to begin; and the church fills only gradually. They know when to go to church; yet when a foreign visitor inquires as to the time of certain Mass, the subject creates a discussion; and eventually the answer will be something like: ‘Between 2 and 3.’ And when Greeks who follow their traditional ways invite, they say, not ‘Come at 7 o’clock,’ but ‘Come and see us.’ To arrive to dinner on time is an insult, as if you came just for the food. You come to visit, and the dinner eventually appears. Among urbanized Greeks, this custom now seems burdensome, and there are many cartoons on the subject.

The dinner is not planned to appear at a predetermined time; and the housewife does not cook by the clock. She tells by the smell or the consistency, or the colour, or the resistance against the stirring spoon; or the passing of time is gauged by the intervening activities …

Greek men and women work expeditiously, as a rule, but do this best at their own rhythm; any need to hurry is external and interfering; it introduces fuss and disturbance. Efficiency can usually be found when it is not a conscious end.

To introduce an awareness of time into a meal is particularly abhorrent to Greeks, though this has to be done where factories set time limits. Dinner is served when it is ready, and nuts are not shelled, the fruit is not sliced. The eater will spend a long time removing infinitesimal bits of flesh from the head of a small fish. All this is part of the process of eating, which is more than the naked act of consumption … Greeks in the city, in some circles, find the need of hurry entering their lives. They are not at homes with it. For the Greek traditionally, to work against time, to hurry, is to forfeit freedom. His term for hurry means, originally, to correct oneself …

In spite of the prevalence of timepiece, the church bell and the school bell, and even a cannon blast, continue to have active functions in calling adults or children to pre-arranged gathering or communal village work. Even in the cities, people are called ‘Englishmen’ when they turn up on the dot at meetings or appointments. People often arrive an hour late to an appointment to find that the other person is also just arriving, or, if they find him gone, they usually accept the fact with neither apology nor frustration.

In our attempt to understand the influence of income increase on the scarcity of time, and thus on the mode of life, it is particularly interesting to see the changes in attitude to time occurring in the cities, changes to which the report gives special emphasis. The level of income is probably higher in the cities, co that the growing scarcity of time is first felt there.

Time Famine Cultures

Walter Kerr has expressed his surprise at the increasing tempo of life as follows: “Isn’t it odd that a century which should, by all rights, be the most leisurely in all history is also known to be, and condemned for being, the fastest?”

What has happened is that in the rich countries all slacks in the use of time have been eliminated, so far as is humanly possible. The attitude to time is dedicated entirely by the commodity’s extreme scarcity. The day of the sluggard is over. “Personal administration” has become important. We may not be terribly good at it, but we are aware that it is a desirable skill. The pocket calendar becomes our most important book. Its loss causes the owner himself to feel lost. Punctuality has become a virtue that we demand of those around us. Waiting is a squandering of time that angers people in rich countries. Only personal mismanagement, or the inconsiderate behavior of others, will create belief – and highly irritating – periods of involuntary idleness. People are dominated by their awareness of the clock. They are haunted by their knowledge that shining moments are passing without things having been done. The clock in Times Square shows what second it is to those hurrying by. As George Woodcock has pointed out, we live under the tyranny of the clock. This tyranny has developed, step by step, with our successful revolution against the dictatorship of material poverty.

This description of a culture suffering from a time famine may seem exaggerated, and so it may be, if it is only seen as a description of present conditions. It will become increasingly accurate as the level of income continues to rise. Even now, it fits many environments. An insight into time attitudes and the mode of life to which they give rise in the rich countries can be obtained from a book like Crestwood Heights, the result of five years’ intensive study of life in a wealthy Canadian suburb. The three authors J. R. Seeley, R. A. Sim, and E. W. Loosley are sociologists and psychologists. They devote one chapter to describing attitudes to time. The picture that emerges give us a vivid idea of life in a time famine culture.

In Crestwood Heights time seems almost the paramount dimension of existence … An urban population with its ramifying interdependencies is almost compelled to adopt synchronized schedules … His wife has her own activities outside the home which are carefully scheduled … The children have their school – which demands punctuality – scheduled appointments with dentists and dancing teachers, and numerous social activities. Home life is indeed often hectic … But the very nature of secondary group life beyond the primary, family circle can hardly permit too much of this simplicity, and the resultant schedules are so demanding that the parents feel themselves constantly impelled to inculcate the virtues of punctuality and regularity in themselves and the child, at meal hour, departures for picnics, and such occasions. … The activity promoted by the institution [church, book club, and the like] is regulated by the clock, and the schedule of one institution, unless it is definitely raiding the time and clientele of the others, must be fitted to the schedule of others within an inevitably tight competition for time … The phenomenon which the Crestwooder calls ‘pressure’ is caused by this concentration of demands into limited units of time. A mother will say ‘I get so I can’t cope with everything.’ No one is more admired than the person who is ‘never ruffled,’ who keeps the flow steady … The ubiquitous desk calendar and appointment book facilitate this flow.



A lot of similar material could be quoted. The reader may be interested – and surprised – to learn that Stockholmers are so interested in keeping an eye on the time that they made in 1966 no fewer than eighteen million telephone calls to “Miss Time,” or about fifteen calls per capita. The number of calls per apparatus 1955-65 increased from eighteen to twenty-two, although the number of apparatus during this period increased more than did the number of individuals. This circumstances and corresponding figures from other countries and towns suggest that the majority of readers has personal experience of life by a strict timetable.

In Praise of Idleness

The anthropological and sociological material that we have quoted at least does not gainsay the thesis that a dwindling scarcity of goods entails an increasing scarcity of time, and that these relative changes leave deep marks in a society’s mode of life. What are we to think of this increasing tempo? Our ultimate judgement, if such a thing is possible, must be deferred until we have had occasion to study in more detail the effects of economic development or the uses of time in other respects than this increasing tempo of life. Even at this stage, however, there is reason to make certain limited comments on what the increase in tempo may mean.

We can note, to begin with, that it entails certain risks of an actual decline in the efficiency with which time is used. One can obtain blocking phenomena of the same type as when traffic routes are overloaded. Too many vehicles crowd together and prevent each other’s movements. Time is a route into which we can try to press so much that traffic is jammed even to chaos.

An alternative way of seeing these difficulties is as disruptions resulting from overemployment. Full employment of our time capacity is perhaps a good thing, but there may also occur a form of overfull employment which is ineffective – just as on the labor market overfull employment can lead to a less productive use of resources. At the personal level, this means a risk of stress. A fully packed schedule can lead to our jumping from one task to another and actually performing less than would otherwise be possible. In the worst case – and this is no uncommon thing in a time famine – people die an early death from overstrain and insufficient time instead of, as previously, from a shortage of goods. deaths are now caused by high productivity, not low productivity.

The ability to administrate one’s resources of time effectively varies enormously between individuals. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that people in a society suffering from a time famine greatly admire those who are capable of maintaining a high tempo without breaking down. Recall that the idea in Crestwood Heights was to be “unruffled”. There is a parallel here in labour market. The meaning of overfull employment will depend largely on how the labor market is organized. With a smoothly functioning labor market, it may be possible to reach very high employment levels without disruptions. On a badly functioning labor market, even 95 per cent employment can cause trouble.



But a high tempo entails a sort of risk other than the risk of inefficiency. There is a real danger that our ability to enjoy all our material utilities will decline in step with our efforts to increase the yield of available time by a more hectic tempo. As they become subjected to the pressure of the time famine, many people feel a Rousseauesque longing for the more tranquil past. The pace and manner of life in Greece as Margaret Mead describes it seems attractive to many people, although through living in a harried culture, they are aware how difficult it would be to try to apply such a style of life in their own environment. Some people experience the pressure of time so strongly that they believe those with a superfluity of time – and thus a poverty of goods – to have been, or to be, happier. Evans Pritchard’s statement, already quoted, that “Nuer are fortunate,” since they do not suffer any pressure of time, is symptomatic.

This is something on which everyone must form his own opinion. We must be careful, however, not to adopt inconsistent points of view. The tempo of life in poor countries is admittedly humane, but other conditions are not. Freedom from a poverty of time, is not freedom from all poverty. On the contrary, economic free time in the old days was often spent in mental convulsions of misery. The elimination of such economic free time must be taken as an actual target for a growth process and not simply as an adjustment to increased productivity. We must be careful no to conceive a mythical society in which the material riches of “The Hectic Society” are somehow combined with the superfluity of time existing in material poor cultures. The two are apparently incompatible.

Is there any possibility of steering between Scylla and Charybdis? Probably there is. But this presupposes that people desire to spend their time in a way that does not involve consumption centered upon goods. If the entire economic process were something subsidiary, something that it might be possible to disengage from material activities, then it would be conceivable to achieve our economic targets rapidly, in order to devote ourselves thereafter to matters outside economic analysis. We would then have achieved complete satisfaction of our material wants. We would find ourselves in an intermediate position with fewer goods, but as many as we needed; and plenty of time, but with sufficient economic resources to devote it to non-economic matters. This, however, is not the road we have taken. Bertrand Russell, in his essay, “In praise of Idleness,” regrets that we have chosen what he believes to be a ridiculous course. He urges us to see economic progress as a means that can release us from the economic process and permit “idleness”, i. e., idleness of the sort devoted to cultivation of the mind. Instead, he says, we are allowing higher productivity to lead to a growing number of material objects, all of which make their demands on us. Russell regrets that we are learning to make twice as many pins in a given time and not to make a given quantity of pins in half the time. This, however, is bound to happen if we have a consumption centered upon goods and see before us a possibility of raising the yield on our time resources by intensifying consumption when increased incomes so permit. This is Russell’s complaint: “There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake.”