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Home  >  Narrative and Healing  >  Perspectives
Coping With Leisure in the Twenty-First Century
By Robert W. Fogel, Ph.D.

Special to LitSite Alaska

Robert W. Fogel won the Nobel Prize for Economic Science in 1993 for turning the theoretical and statistical tools of modern economics on the historical past: on subjects ranging from slavery and railroads to ocean shipping and property rights. Dr. Fogel is often described as the father of modern econometric history. He's especially noted for using careful empirical work to overturn conventional wisdom.

In this article that he wrote for LitSite Alaska, Dr. Fogel shares insight into how technology and physiological advances present opportunities to use narrative as a spiritual resource. By saying nursery rhymes and recounting family histories and their own autobiographies, parents can convey such spiritual resources as work ethic, an ethic of benevolence, a vision of opportunity, and more.

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Dr. Fogel

OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations face the prospect of intergenerational warfare. In 1890 virtually all workers died while still in the labor force. Today, half of those in the labor force, supported by generous pensions, retire in their fifties. With the baby-boom generation now approaching retirement, political leaders are confronted with the choice between defaulting on commitments to retirees, delaying the age of retirement, or increasing the taxes borne by younger workers.

The roots of this crisis lie in technophysio evolution, a synergism between technological and physiological improvements. Over the past 300 years, advances in the technology of food production have allowed not only a dramatic increase in population, but also the continuing conquest of chronic malnutrition. Improved nutritional status has produced healthier, longer-lived human beings who have more calories available for work. In turn, this increased dietary energy has contributed significantly to the progress of economic growth and technological progress.

Important aspects of technophysio evolution have been changes in how we use our money and in how we use our time. In the U.S. in 1875, 75 percent of consumption was devoted to food, clothing, and shelter; in 1995, only 15 percent of consumption was devoted to the same commodities. These changes have paralleled the changes in our use of time: the leisure time of the typical male worker has tripled over the past century, and the pattern for women is similar.

In centuries past, a relatively small number of people had both the leisure and wealth to pursue self-realization. Today, thanks to technophysio evolution, in rich countries many people have the opportunity to do so. But spiritual or immaterial assets are still maldistributed, and it is these assets that are critical in the struggle for self-realization.

Many spiritual assets are transferred from one individual to another, mainly very early in the life of the recipient. Self-esteem and a sense of family solidarity begin to be transferred in infancy. During the toddler and toilet training stages children acquire a sense of discipline, a capacity to resist or control impulses, and a sense of community. By saying nursery rhymes and recounting family histories and their own autobiographies, parents can convey such spiritual resources as a work ethic, a sense of the mainstream of work and life, an ethic of benevolence, a vision of opportunity, and a thirst for knowledge. Later transfers through education, work, and other experiences build on what happens at home before formal education begins. It is, therefore, necessary to remedy the maldistribution of spiritual resources early in life, because the most spiritually deprived infants will often be born to parents who are themselves spiritually deprived. Moreover, spiritual assets are a form of knowledge capital: those who possess them reap high rewards in the markets for labor and goods. Children who grow up spiritually deprived may also achieve a lower level of material well-being.

A lack of immaterial resources in childhood has effects that last into old age. Only a minority of the pre-World War II cohorts graduated from high school and few entered college. This is important because education early in life is linked to the capacity of the elderly to engage effectively in physical activity, and to cognitive ability and rate of illness. Recent studies indicate that those who lack immaterial resources early in life have difficulty in attaining self-realization after retirement.

What can be done to remedy this maldistribution of spiritual resources? Those poor in spiritual resources acquire more of them only through the process of self-realization, through a concerted effort to develop as fully as possible the virtuous aspects of their nature. Those rich in spiritual resources can help those who are spiritually deprived by counseling them, by providing spiritual companionship and moral support, by informing and teaching those who are deprived about existing procedures, and by helping to raise their self-esteem. This process of correcting the maldistribution of spiritual resources not only leaves those who are deprived better off, it also increases the spiritual resources of those who have virtue in abundance.

Spiritual assets are not only productive assets, but also items of consumption that satisfy deeply held human wants. Other immaterial goods, such as services and knowledge capital, have long been subjects of economic analysis. By failing to measure the output of spiritual or immaterial assets, economics is lagging behind the economy.

Photograph of Dr. Fogel is courtesy of Duane Heyman, Commonwealth North.

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About the Author: Robert W. Fogel, Ph.D. is the Charles R. Walgreen Professor, Department of Economics and Graduate School of Business; Director, Center for Population Economics, University of Chicago. Dr. Fogel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economic Science in 1993. His most recent book is The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism. A more detailed online autobiography is available at The Nobel e-Museum.

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