Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Inequality of Leisure

Discussions about inequality generally turn on income and capital. This conceals the real injustice of inequality ("inequity" proper). The rich have disproportionate leisure to pursue their own aims, to satisfy their own hearts. And they do in fact steal that leisure from the rest of us, who work long hours at meaningless jobs to keep the money machine running. And then glut ourselves on meaningless pleasures.

It will not do to say that the unemployed don't work, that welfare recipients are lazy and have it easy. Their unemployment is subtended by worry; their leisure, in so far as it exists, is a merely a species of the "nervous boredom", Norman Mailer complained about.

Note that the word "school" derives from the Greek word for "leisure". "Whatever satisfies the heart is truth," said Whitman. The injustice, then, is also a species of ignorance. The rich have the freedom they need to learn how life works, to understand their situation, to feel at home in this world. They attend university mainly in pursuit of their identities. They learn who they are, at their leisure. For the poor, going to school is work, intended to qualify them for a life of work.

There is a simple solution to this, of course. Begin by distributing leisure time (i.e., money, i.e., a basic minimum income) and then see how we spend it. Let those who would be rich compete for the opportunities to satisfy the hearts of a people whose basic needs are met. So long as everyone has en equal amount of time freed from worry (I think that's Pound's phrase) we can accept the inequality of wealth and income.

Getting and being "rich", then, would just be one way of spending your time. One lifestyle among others. It would no longer be, as it is today, a nuisance for everyone else.

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