Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Leisure and Productivity

Ross Gittins in the Sydney Morning Herald asks the right question in relation to Australia.

She asks "Is the route to riches justified if people are being lost along the way".

In a country like Australia, which has grown its GDP Per capita consistently over the last 3 decades and ranks 11th in the world where does the goal of higher productivity end.

Ross points to the fact that increased productivity is important as it results in the increase in overall incomes. However, "Trouble is, doing so puts means ahead of ends. It focuses on the income, forgetting why we want it. It makes us the servants of factories and offices, rather than their masters.".

She points out that this,

"…robs us of our humanity, taking away our leisure and making us more like robots. Humans don't just need leisure time, they need time off work at the same time as their spouse and while their children aren't at school. That's why weekends were invented, particularly Sundays.

Humans are obsessed by their families - by their mum and their dad, by their spouse and their kids, not to mention their siblings."

Ross points out to the fact that "income" by itself is the wrong measure. What is the goal of being rich? Is it happiness?

The Economist asked a similar question sometime back: "Why don't rising incomes make everybody happier?"

The Economist points to the work of Richard Layard, an economics professor at the London School of Economics. He comes out with some non-intuitive findings. [Happiness: Has Social Science a Clue: Lecture 1, Lecture 2, Lecture 3]

One of the paradoxes is: an individual who becomes richer becomes happier; but when society as a whole grows richer, nobody seems any more content. Professor Layard explains by what he calls "habituation": "people adjust quickly to changes in living standards. So although improvements make them happier for a while, the effect fades rapidly. For instance, 30 years ago central heating was considered a luxury; today it is viewed as essential."

The Economist article goes on to provide results from two surveys of harvard students where

asked whether they would prefer (a) $50,000 a year while others got half that or (b) $100,000 a year while others got twice as much. A majority chose (a). They were happy with less, as long as they were better off than others.

The same Harvard students were also asked to choose between (c) two weeks' holiday, while others have only one week and (d) four weeks' holiday while others get eight. This time a clear majority preferred (d). In other words, people's rivalry over income does not extend to leisure. The result of this, suggests Lord Layard, is that developed societies may tend to work too hard in order to consume more material goods, and so consume too little leisure.

Leisure then is an indicator of progress. For example: The sustainability indicator, The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) which puts into monetary terms the value of household and volunteer work, resource depletion, pollution and leisure time is a better indicator of progress. It "for example, subtracts destructive costs and adds in social and economic benefits ignored by the Gross Domestic Product"

According to the GPI:

VII. Changes in Leisure Time
As a nation increases in wealth, people should have increasing latitude to choose between more work and more free time for family or other activities. In recent years, however, the opposite has occurred. The GDP ignores this loss of free time, but the GPI treats leisure as most Americans do — as something of value. When leisure time increases, the GPI goes up; when Americans have less of it, the GPI goes down.

This is so right. If the case was that if a poor country like India or what even the Australians many, many years back (50 yrs to 100 yrs) back used to work for more number hours with lesser pay and lesser leisure time.

One of the advatantages of a developed country is the "quality time" that can be available to a person. The last 6 months that I have spent in Australia has clearly provided me an opportunity to appreciate that.

I get paid by-the-hour which is anathema in India. It provides me the opportunity to work in the prescribed hours, earn enough income to manage my expenses and at the same time spend the rest of time on studies, family, friends and my personal interests.

This would not have been possible with the work-culture, wages and time available in India. And this is one of the differences of living in a developed country.

The Australian's and other developed country citizens should and most of them do value their leisure time. Now only if I could convince them and make a similar case for Environmental management.


Blogger Atanu said...

Suhit, I highly recommend Tibor Skitovsky's The joyless economy: An inquiry into human satisfaction and consumer dissatisfaction. (Oxford Univiversity Press, 1976) for a wonderful treatment of the topic.

20 October, 2005 19:53  
Blogger David Best said...

Suhit, theologians of whatever stripe completely agree with you. Money is not the point, and can easily becomes an idole in front of God, by whatever name he goes.

21 October, 2005 12:36  
Blogger Linda said...

What do you think about these things to do at home? Is it good way to spend your leisure time?

24 February, 2008 02:12  
Blogger star said...

Some people have wisely questioned the researcher's math. In an exact quote from the study's author, I point out that workers who "surf the Internet for fun at work--within a reasonable limit of less than 20 percent of their total time in the office--are more productive by about 9 percent." What isn't clear is whether or not there is 9% productivity gain after accounting for up to 20% fewer hours of work. I emailed the study's author with that question and will file an update when I receive an answer.

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