Monday, March 12, 2007

Leisure Redistribution?

An article by Steven E Landsburg on Slate Magazine looks at the gap in number of leisure hours between the rich and the poor. Poorly paid workers have far more leisure hours than highly paid workers. While this is an interesting concept, the final paragraph really caught my attention:
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.
Forcing people to pay more in taxes is one thing, but forcing people to work for free (slave labor?) is quite another. Or is it? By taking away a percentage of the money the marketplace is willing to pay someone for their work--higher taxes for higher salaries--aren't we essentially forcing them to work some number of hours for free? Is it really that different?


Frank Staheli said...

I had actually never thought about this before, but you just made a light bulb go on in my head!

If we really took into account how much extra time rich people work (as well as what tools/skills they have to make them more productive) the idea of the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor would be largely turned on its head (some possible exceptions--athletes, hollywood stars, and lottery winners).

Keryn said...

Exactly, Frank! I wish I could take credit for the thought, but it was Landsburg's article that pointed it out to me. And you make a good point about lottery winners! (A group which, sadly, will never include me. Oh well.)

(Just FYI: I actually DO think that rich people should give liberally to the poor, just as I think those with ample leisure time should dedicate some of it to helping others. I just don't think the government should be forcing either.)

Scott Hinrichs said...

You're going to make some folks angry by equating labor with wages. The two are, of course, interchangeable. However, the argument will be put forward that it is still unfair because some people are disadvantaged in one way or another, and are therefore unable to labor like their wealthier counterparts. There will be arguments against the capitalist meritocracy that exists in our nation and wailing about the worth of souls.

While all humans seem to have an innate comprehension of fairness, we all soon discover that life isn't fair. Much effort is expended in trying to make it so, but these efforts often simply create more unfairness. It is unfair to make some subsidize the liesure of others, but we sanction and enforce this practice.