A social sickness is rapidly taking hold in America and the Western World misspent TIME. Americans especially have more free time. And too many are spending it at "play".
In the past, most people worked long hours in sweatshops or on the farm. Little time was available for education or recreation. But today, we are rapidly going to another dangerous extreme to an all-play-and-no-work society. In this desire for more leisure-time and play activities, philosopher Elbert Hubbard's "Get your pleasure out of your work!" seems woefully out-of-date, as does the Biblical injunction: "Six days-shalt thou labor and do all thy work." Rather, many in the "now generation" are crying for a shorter work week to make more time available for leisure.
Work versus Play
For example, over the last century, the workweek has steadily dropped from 72 hours to 48, to 44, to 40, to the current national average of 38 hours. This means the average working man has gained from 20 to 30 hours of spare time from his work over the past 5or 6 decades. And now a four-day workweek is being seriously contemplated by many large industries. What is replacing time formerly spent in productive labor? The television set, for one! The man-hours spent each week in front of the television in America already surpass the weekly output of all productive labor by at least 27% (2,600,000,000 man-hours more before the television than the total spent in productive labor). And even less time on the job is a continuing goal. A 30-hour workweek is predicted for the near future. And even the 30-hour workweek is, according to some estimates, too high. One chairman of a leisure group predicts, "within the century Americans probably will have the choice of one of the following: A Working 22 hours a week. B Taking 25 weeks of vacation a year. C Retiring at 38 years of age." Meanwhile in Britain, the future tycoon will work 20 hours a week or five days at four hours per day! This prediction is not for some distant date way off in the future, but for sometime within the next 20 years! This will mean more time for "holiday."
What the Experts Say
But even today, some experts tell us, "Americans have more time to kill than they spend working." One executive director of a recreation association said that the spare time per person now figures out to about 2,229 hours a year. That's more than 40 hours a week. "In a lifetime," this executive said, "we have 22 more years of leisure time than our great-grandparents had." Meanwhile, economist Marion Clawson estimated Americans will have a total of 660 billion more hours of leisure in the year 2000 than in 1950. Dr. Clawson did not say 660 million, but 660 billion, a truly astronomical figure. He was immediately challenged by another economist who termed the estimate "absurdly low," and who claimed that, in fact, "the U.S. faces such an explosive increase in leisure that within a mere 10 years we may have to keep the unemployed portion of our population under more or less constant sedation unless we quickly figure out something better for them to do..." One mathematician went so far as to say, "the day is coming when 2% of our population, working in the factory and on the farm, will be able to produce all the goods and food that the other 98% can possibly consume, that this day will arrive no later than 25 years from now, and more likely it will arrive in about 10 years." However fanciful some of these predictions may be, one central fact is dear. The majority of people are working less on the job and playing more. "Many a man thinks he is buying pleasure, when he is really selling himself to it." Benjamin Franklin Of course, recreation is necessary to a balanced life. And work on the job is
"Manya man thinks he is buying pleasure, when he is really seiling himself to it." - Benjamin Franklin
not necessarily the only work a person needs to do. Repairing one's home is not necessarily play. Following this reasoning, some experts like Sebastian de Grazia, a Rutgers University professor, and author of the monumental volume, Of Time, Work And Leisure, claims that much "free time" is not necessarily "leisure time." He purports we have little more leisure today than we have ever had.
The Leisure Industry
Semantic controversy as to whether we have more "free time" or less "free time" doesn't seem to be bothering the leisure industry. It is growing by leaps and bounds. Although it is impossible to accurately measure the dimensions of the "leisure-time industry" it is in any terms gargantuan. Depending on what is included, the estimated leisure industry income ranges from $50 billion to $150 billion annually. The best estimates put it at $90 billion for 1970 and a projected income of over $99 billion for 1971. If laid end to end, these dollars would stretch over 9300 miles enough for three paper ribbons from New York to Los Angeles or 25 from London to Glasgow. Projections for 1975 are $250 billion for the leisure industries. Sometime in the 70's the leisure market is expected to outpace the growth of our economy. This may well be. For last year the leisure industry was the fastest growing business in America. More money is poured into recreation than into any U.S. social service. Sixty-five billion is spent on medical health. For education, both state and federal, $40 billion is spent. Old age assistance and Social Security account for another $35 billion. Each of these amounts pales before the 100 billion dollars spent on recreation. In fact, Americans spend about the same number of dollars for recreation that they spend for food. And leisure, free time and recreation are becoming increasingly more important to Americans. For a price one can even go to a new organization in Los Angeles called "Constructive Leisure" and find out how he can get more "pleasure" out of his "leisure." This organization is grounded on two premises: that the average man or woman has 25 hours of leisure time weekly... soon predicted to rise to 35 hours weekly; and that at least 30% of this West Coast city's population are "unhappy" with how their free time is spent. But why are they unhappy? Isn't having more leisure time the goal? There is a reason why more leisure is not bringing expected happiness. Max Gunther in his book, The Weekenders (the title reveals the subject he studied) put it this way: "the magic aura of good living eludes people today, the evidence doesn't show that their problems can be solved automatically by lengthening the span of their workless time. The problems have their roots elsewhere." It has to do with a feverish desire for escape from the responsibilities and problems of life. But Americans and Britons are not the only ones who have been entangled in escapism. Every great nation sooner or later has fallen victim to the disease of too much leisure wrongly spent.
Leisure in the Past
Even the ancient Spartans symbols of tight-lipped endurance fell before the curse of too much leisure. Aristotle, in his Politics, says of them: "The Spartans remained secure as long as they were at war; they collapsed as soon as they acquired an empire. They did not know how to use the leisure that peace brought" (Politics, Vol. II, 127 1b). This same sad chronicle has been written of nation after nation down through history. The same was true of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire grew to heights never before known. But as the world fell into submission the Romans began to increase their leisure time. Rome under Nero had 176 holidays yearly, almost 1 day in 2. Materialism, as has often been recorded in history, was the trap that extinguished the flame of many great civilizations. There are too many startling parallels between today's Western society and the extinct civilizations before us who first grew rich, then soft, indifferent, apathetic... and finally died! And, of course, they didn't think it would happen to them either. Few realize how completely leisure has gripped America and Britain. "Lets live it up" have become the passwords of our time. But when any nation becomes overly engrossed in pleasure-seeking, it is ripe for terminal problems. We need to ask ourselves a question never more pertinent than now: Is more leisure time really good? There is, of course, a time for pleasure and leisure. But as Americans and Britons are finding, the nations whose citizens work hard the Germanys and Japan and elsewhere are surging ahead economically. New nations, with aggressive citizens, are coming to the fore phasing out former powers which have grown fat and lazy. In that important light, it is time we re-evaluate our concept of leisure.
What "The Good Life" Involves
"Many a man," Benjamin Franklin once put it, "thinks he is buying pleasure, when he is really selling himself slave to it." When a nation becomes tuned to the purely material, that nation, just like every other fallen nation, is writing its own epitaph. What is so wrong with the "Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work" concept? Is the exhortation found in Proverbs to "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise" now obsolete? And is the immortal command of the religious teacher, Paul, to Timothy, "If any would not work, neither should he eat" no longer applicable to the Western world? What about concepts that we should enjoy our work? Are they out of step in a technological age of non-fulfilling jobs? They shouldn't be. But why are they? Because people are seeking to escape to escape work, and the responsibilities of life. They end up, however, working just as hard at some leisure-time activity. Possibly you've heard the expression: "I'm glad my vacation is over. Now I can rest up by going back to work." Americans end up WORKING at their leisure. There is only one problem: Leisure labor is almost entirely unproductive. It is precious time and energy wasted on generally selfish pursuits not spent on producing something useful for oneself or society. A crisis comes when a large proportion of a population's energy is spent on wasted leisure. This is the trap Americans have fallen into. Instead of using recreation to regenerate their mental batteries so they can become more productive, Americans have used recreation as an end in itself as a device for escapism. With this approach to life, no nation can long continue its leadership in the world. We need to reconsider, carefully, how we spend our time. Will we collectively produce and lead, or merely consume and fall?