The Idle Rich in Latin America

 The idea behind this article is described in something known as the Idle Theory:

Human life is only sustained by work. This is necessary or obligatory work to provide food and shelter and clothing. In the worst of conditions, this inescapable work may occupy a large proportion of available time, leaving little or no leisure. However, by employing time-saving tools, men can reduce the demands of work upon their time, and increase their idle time or leisure. Time-saving tools are tools whose time cost of production is exceeded by the savings of time - their use value - they make in one or other necessary activity.

The primary economy is the tool trading system which provides men with idle time or leisure. It is driven by need, not want. Within it, necessary work is minimized by employing useful (time-saving) tools.  Everything that serves, in whatever way, to increase human social idleness belongs to a class of Primary Goods. These goods serve to create idle time. Everything that serves, in whatever way, to use up idle time belongs to a class of Secondary Goods. All the delights and pleasures of life belong in this class of Secondary Goods. They are secondary because they entirely depend upon the prior creation of idle time by primary goods.

Useful tools, traded using money, within a law-abiding society act to produce idle time. This idle time is then available to be used to make luxuries, play games, or whatever people choose to do with their idle time.

All art, music, literature, theatre, poetry, philosophy, sex, games, conversation, study, require idle time. If the primary economy cannot deliver idle time, there can be none of these things. The nature of secondary goods is that they are actions performed, or things constructed, for their own sake.

In this article, we will investigate the relationship between participation in leisure activity and socio-economic level.  

We will now refer to some survey data from the 2003 TGI Latina study.  This is a survey of 56,566 persons in eight Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela) conducted during 2003.  Within this survey, the survey respondents are classified into four different socio-economic levels (Level A for the top 10%, Level B for the next 20%, Level C for the next 30% and Level D for the bottom 40%).  The respondents were asked about their participation in various leisure activities over the past 30 days.

What can we hypothesize about the relationship between socio-economic level and leisure pursuits?  We hypothesize that the affluent class owns the useful means to obtain idle time to pursuit leisure activities, whereas the marginal poor class have to work all the time just to satisfy basic needs.  This can happen because the affluent can afford to work fewer hours while still maintaining a high standard of living.  This can also happen because the affluent have the money to purchase labor-saving products and services (e.g. hiring domestic helpers, buying dishwashing machines, etc).  However that came about, the end result would be that the affluent are more likely to have leisure time on hand to pursuit their favorite activities.

In the next two charts, we show the participation rates in various leisure activities by socio-economic level.  In the first chart, we show those leisure activities that typically involves some cost considerations as well.  For example, there are costs involved in going to restaurants, movies, theaters, operas, bars, clubs, etc.  For these activities, the participate rate is therefore a function of both idle time and financial means.  In the second chart, we show those leisure activities in which costs figure much less (e.g. listening to music)

(source: 2003 TGI Latina)

(source: 2003 TGI Latina)

The data in two charts show that, without exception, participation in leisure activities is a monotonic increasing function of socio-economic level.  In Latin America, there is no doubt that the gap between rich and poor has increased over the last several decades.  This is a self-amplifying process because the rich and powerful will use their economic and political might to increase their wealth and power.  In some countries, resentment against the rich has led to guerrilla insurgencies to fight for social justice.  But it would be wrong to assume that the idle rich are always resented everywhere.  Deep down inside, many people believe that they may become rich themselves some day, whether through hard work or winning a lottery.

(posted by Roland Soong, 01/15/2004)

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