There may be no such thing as too much money, but there is certainly such a thing as too little time.
How does one of my best friends make several $100,000 USD per year as an investment banker but have less than two hours per month for his dream car, which sits gathering dust in his garage?
Let’s look at the numbers…
…when you compare modern Americans to their 1965 counterparts—people with the same family size, age, and education—the [leisure time] gains are still on the order of 4 to 8 hours a week, or something like seven extra weeks of leisure per year.
But not for everyone. About 10 percent of us are stuck in 1965, leisurewise. At the opposite extreme, 10 percent of us have gained a staggering 14 hours a week or more. (Once again, your gains are measured in comparison to a person who, in 1965, had the same characteristics that you have today.) By and large, the biggest leisure gains have gone precisely to those with the most stagnant incomes—that is, the least skilled and the least educated. And conversely, the smallest leisure gains have been concentrated among the most educated, the same group that’s had the biggest gains in income.
Aguiar and Hurst can’t explain fully that rising inequality, just as nobody can explain fully the rising inequality in income. But there are, I think, two important morals here.
First, man does not live by bread alone. Our happiness depends partly on our incomes, but also on the time we spend with our friends, our hobbies, and our favorite TV shows. So, it’s a good exercise in perspective to remember that by and large, the big winners in the income derby have been the small winners in the leisure derby, and vice versa.
Second, a certain class of pundits and politicians are quick to see any increase in income inequality as a problem that needs fixing—usually through some form of redistributive taxation. Applying the same philosophy to leisure, you could conclude that something must be done to reverse the trends of the past 40 years—say, by rounding up all those folks with extra time on their hands and putting them to (unpaid) work in the kitchens of their “less fortunate” neighbors. If you think it’s OK to redistribute income but repellent to redistribute leisure, you might want to ask yourself what—if anything—is the fundamental difference.
From economist Steven Landsburg
The Karmic Capitalist: Should I Wait Until I’m Rich to Give Back?
Wealthier Than Thou: Is it enough to be rich, or must others be poor?
Chapter 2 – Rules That Change the Rules: Everything Popular is Wrong
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Odds and Ends:
Posted on: January 8, 2008.
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