Friday, March 5, 2010

Free Time, Not Leisure

E.D. Kain excerpted this from Jonah Goldberg:
Indeed, the market is the only thing that transforms luxuries into affordable indulgences. A low-end car today has features that the best Mercedes didn’t have a generation ago. Teenagers have phones that are more powerful than the computers that NASA used to put men on the moon. Indeed, even leisure has become democratized.

I don't draw issue with the main thrust of the argument, but technology creates free time, not leisure. To the extent that the democratization of free time through technology and free markets undermines and destroys the Aristotelian concept of leisure, I argue that wealth does erode moral character. Well, if you really pressed me, I'd probably say technology, and perhaps indirectly wealth, changes moral character in the sense that different virtues are emphasized.

E.D. Kain then asks:
How morality figures into all of this is a much more difficult question to answer. Does wealth erode our moral character? It certainly can. Does state-provided welfare similarly effect moral character? I imagine it could.

But where should morality figure into policy – especially economic policy? Again, I think these are the debates worth having. As is the question of how to centralize or decentralize power. Simply firing back and forth about markets themselves seems as futile as arguing for or against state-provided safety nets. It’s the how, not the what, that is at question. Markets and social welfare are both here to stay, at least for a good long time.

I don't have time right now, and probably won't get around to it later either, to give this a full treatment, but understanding leisure is a key issue.

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