Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
LABOR vs. LEISURE
I haven’t written as many posts the last two months as I have the previous months. The simple reason is I haven’t put as much time into writing as I had before. After rereading a section titled “Factors of Production: Labor Versus Leisure”, in Murray Rothbards tome “Man Economy and State”, I figured out that the law of Marginal Utility was why I wasn’t putting as much time into writing. After some deeper analysis I came to the conclusion that either the law of Marginal Utility explains it or my situation explains the law of Marginal Utility. Let’s try to explain Marginal Utility by analyzing why I haven’t been posting more articles.
THE MARGINAL UNIT
Prior to 2008 I had always spent an hour or two a day reading. I read books about economics, history, and Government, and I also keeping up on current events on the internet. Reading was a leisure activity that I valued higher than other leisure activities. This higher value was demonstrated by me using time to read instead of doing something else with that time. My labor was an expenditure of time for the purpose of exchanging what I produced for consumers goods that meet my needs. These needs are related to food, shelter, clothing, transportation, etc, and yes, even leisure. We exchange what we produce with our labor to pay for our leisure activities (golf or fishing), unless our leisure activities can fund themselves. As the hours we spend on labor increase, a certain point is reached where we decide the expenditure of the next hour on labor is not valued higher than the leisure activity we would undertake with that hour. That hour is the marginal hour. Put another way we have decided that what we could receive in exchange for that hour of labor isn’t valued higher than the leisure activity that we want to pursue with that time. The leisure activity is the marginal activity. It is the activity we value higher than the next consumers good we could purchase with the time spent on labor. If we worked every hour of the day, we would have the means to fund just about any leisure activity we desired, but we wouldn’t have the time to spend undertaking that activity.
WHAT WE VALUE CHANGES WITH THE PASSAGE OF TIME
When the economic crisis hit in 2008 the number of hours I was working decreased by two to three hours a day on average. The extra few hours I was afforded, could now be spent on any activity, or be divided between different activities, depending on how I valued them. I chose to spend the extra hours studying economics. I now had three or so hours to use reading if I continued to value reading above some other leisure activity. I spent a good part of my leisure time, from September of 08 to September of 12, reading about economics from the Austrian perspective, because I had found the website mises.org in 08. I had already read a lot of F. A. Hayek’s and Thomas Sowell’s books, so I had a fairly solid base of understanding before I took on books like Man Economy and State, Human Action, Prices and Production, The Theory of Money and Credit, and The Failure of the New Economics. Mises.org was also posting two to three articles a day related to the 2008 crisis which really helped me understand the abstract concepts written about in these books, concepts like The Austrian Business Cycle Theory. When I decided to start this website in September of 2012, the unintended consequence was, the time I was spending reading would now have to be used writing and managing the website. Writing for the site was now the activity I was choosing to spend my leisure hours on, and reading became the activity on the margin, which means reading become the activity I would choose to undertake if I had extra hours to spend on leisure.
As I started to get busier with work at the start of the summer, the couple of hours that I had previously spent on leisure activity, were now being spent working. With less leisure time I had to find extra time from somewhere if I was to continue posting articles at the previous rate. I started to write later into the night and began sleeping less hours. I temporarily decided that spending hours writing and managing the website was more valuable than a couple of hours of sleep. By the end of September I decided that I valued those couple of hours of sleep more than I valued the leisure time spent writing. The total number of posts and articles I have written since then, is lower because of my decision. If I want to post more articles I have to take the time from some other activity and use it for writing, and I also have to be more productive with the time I spend writing.
BECOMING INFORMED IS A MARGINAL ACTIVITY
We always wonder why people are not as informed about what is going on as we think they should be. Each individual goes through the same process of valuation about what they will undertake with their leisure time. Becoming informed about economics, Government, and politics takes time, and therefore will compete with other leisure activities for that time. Most people are so busy with work, family, and the daily grind of life, they don’t have a lot of leisure time to spend becoming informed, that’s where we come in. Those of us who are more informed, have to be the go to guys for the busy people who are less informed. I try to tell my friends that I’m putting the time in to learn about what’s going on. I’m condensing the information so they don’t have to spend vast amounts of leisure time searching for it. I tell them all it will take is 20 minutes a day. All they have to do is go to my website, pick three blogs from the blog roll, and read them every day. The accumulative effect will inoculate them from the spin of the media and politicians. They will eventually be able to look at the news, sift out the B.S., find the truth, and pass it on to the next person who doesn’t have time to spend on becoming informed, because it is a marginal activity.
Related Article – Ends And Values And The Law Of Marginal Utility, by Murray N. Rothbard, at mises.org.
Related Article – Marginal Utility Is Not Rocket Science, by Frand Shostak, at mises.org.