Quality Time vs. Quality Guilt

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I offer a free
service to my readers. They can ask an investment question, and
if it’s one I think a lot of my readers would be interested in,
I publish an answer. I limit
the question to 24 words or fewer.

I received this question recently. The format conforms to my required
outline for questions.

42; occupation: software test engineer; location:
San Luis Obispo, CA; annual income: $74,000, net worth:
home: $560K, owe $405K, savings: $10K, investment in profitable
and growing pre-IPO company: $300K, 401K: $50K #1 goal: Love
the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, and mind and fulfill he
purposes He has left me on earth for (namely to be a great husband
and father, and reveal Jesus to whomever I meet).

How can I find time to learn more skills while also trying to
spend quality and quantity time with my family?

The man is a Christian. So, I think the best way to answer his question
is to go to the Bible in search of passages related to quality time.

There is one. As far as I can see, there is only one.

these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine
heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children,
and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when
thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou
risest up (Deuteronomy 6:6—7).

You might think, “What about the feasts: Passover, Firstfruits,
and Tabernacles?” Quality time? A family was on the road, walking
for days. Three or four days of hearing, “Are we there yet?” No
disposable diapers. No fast food restaurants. Then the walk back.
The feasts were designed to keep the whole nation physically fit.
Israel was a holy army. This was “family camp” — boot camp. I don’t
think this is what modern promoters of quality time have in mind.

If quality time is crucial, why isn’t it mentioned in the Bible?
Why aren’t there descriptions of it? What other religious literature
that has stood the test of time has a reference to quality time?

Consider a man in ancient Israel who was a trader or sailor. What
quality time did he have with his family? Not much. Yet sailors
have married and had children for millennia. They sent their money
to their wives. Societies have never prohibited such family arrangements
or even recommended against them. The Mosaic law even had a unique
law associated with Passover designed for such workers. Instead
of celebrating it on day 14 of the first month, they could wait
a month.

unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your
posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in
a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the LORD.
The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep
it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Numbers

The central concern of the family down through history is this:
the husband’s financial support of his family. This is surely the
case with Christianity.

if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his
own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel
(I Timothy 5:8).

There is no comparable statement with respect to quality time. There
is not even a definition of quality time.

Quality time is related to the concept of adolescence. Both have
become a focus of concern with the rise of modern education. Modern
education is the product of the Industrial Revolution coupled with
tax-funded schools.


Prior to the twentieth century, over half the population in every
society was rural. Prior to the nineteenth century, the figure was
probably in the range of 90%.

Except in winter, men went into the fields daily with their sons.
Daughters remained at home with their mothers. Each parent taught
children the gender-specific skills of the farmer’s lifetime occupation.
The social division of labor has primarily been a function of gender
in most societies in history. Only with the development of labor-saving
machinery and especially electricity has this changed. It was not
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who made American woman
more equal to men. It was James Watt and Thomas Edison. The light
switch is the consummate symbol of this enormous social change.
Women can flip one as well as men can. After most men stopped chopping
wood, the suffragettes won their battle, but not until then. (If
you do not see the connection here, you should have majored in economics
instead of political science.)

Because the social division of labor for millennia was gender-specific,
productivity was low. Most people are round pegs. Most holes were
square. In towns, there was greater specialization. Townspeople
mostly served farmers. In cities, there was considerable specialization.
Cities grew up along trade routes. Workers served the needs of narrow
clienteles. There were lots of occupations. But cities were few
and far between. Comparatively few people lived in them.

All this began to change with the Industrial Revolution of the late
eighteenth century in England. There was great innovation in technology.
(An amazing percentage came from the Scots. No one knows why.) There
were institutional innovations for capital creation, which funded
these new technologies. England’s position as a sea-trading nation
helped deliver the goods produced by technological specialization.

Within half a century, this civilizational model had spread across
Europe and into North America above the Rio Grande. Within a century,
the social order had been completely transformed. It was a revolution.
Free markets had produced capitalization. Capital flowed into new
occupations. Occupations multiplied.

Men no longer went into the fields with their sons. They went to
work at a factory or a retail outlet. They worked 12 hours a day,
five days a week, and half a day on Saturday.

American children went to tax-funded schools after 1850, at least
north of the Mason-Dixon line. Schoolmarms became tutors for large
numbers of children, from ages 6 to 18, though usually age 14, when
most students dropped out. The division of labor ruled inside schoolrooms.
Teachers taught the older students to teach the younger ones. This
worked well, but it was abandoned in favor of the urban system of
classroom division by academic year, which became widespread in
the early twentieth century. After that, salaried teachers took
over all instruction.

Parents surrendered quality time to tax-funded bureaucrats. Fathers
voted this system into reality.

In the 1920s, radio arrived. Families’ time in the evening centered
around the radio. Then came television.

All of this was made possible by capital. Capital made possible
enormous specialization. Specialization was also funded by what
recent sociologists call “quality time.” People surrendered it to
purchase radio and TV time.

Quality time was always mostly work. It was devoted to teaching
children how to work. It meant delegating family tasks to children.
It ended when education was bureaucratized.


We no longer see signs on establishments with the words, “& Son.”
There is a reason for this. Capital has funded new products and
new occupations. More and more, individuals are round pegs in round
holes. People can find ways to serve consumers as never before.
They can match (1) their skills, interests, and a passion to be
creative with (2) consumer demand. The free market makes possible
the fine-tuning and close matching of production and consumption.

There is a thing called the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC).
The U.S. government created it in the 1930s. Each profession or
business category has an SIC number. There are 1,004 separate industries.
The new North American SIC system has 1,170 industries.

Jones has one set of skills. His son has another set. The son would
be a round peg in his father’s company, Square Holes, Inc.

So, sons do not subordinate themselves to their fathers as occupational
instructors, as most sons did until 1900. Yet “quality time” was
mostly occupational instruction time, from the dawn of human society
until 1900.

So, formal instruction is general rather than specific until the
day the employee goes on the actual job. Instruction in the liberal
arts is the norm for the majority of high school students. Instruction
in some industrial skill is reserved for the social losers in the
system of tax-funded education. The more specific the instruction
program, the lower its social ranking.

Nevertheless, a plumber makes more money than a college graduate
with a degree in the liberal arts. But he is lower on the social
scale. It costs a lot of money — forfeited lifetime earnings
— to maintain one’s position in white-collar society.

Jones works day and night to send his son to college, so that his
son can find a job at Round Holes, Inc. He sends his daughter to
college so that some future employee at Round Holes, Inc. will marry
her. But if no one will marry her, she can get a career for herself
in one of those 1,170 industries.


replaced it. This productivity was provided by capital investment
on a scale undreamed of prior to the late nineteenth century.

Quality time was always mostly low-productivity work time: in the
fields for sons and in the home for daughters.

Contemporary complaints about the loss of quality time rarely point
to what quality time always was in history. Quality time is a highly
specialized research field for late-twentieth century academics.
People then spend time away from their children to read books on
the need for more quality time spent with children.

Finding quality time is like finding time for every other activity.
It involves budgeting.

So, to help you gain quality time with your children, if they are
still at home, I recommend the following phrases.

1. “Turn that thing off!” (television set)
2. “Turn that thing down!” (stereo)
3. “Take those things off!” (iPod earphones)
4. “Finish your homework!”

Or, as those unheralded masters of modern social philosophy, Leiber
and Stoller, put it (and the Coasters sang it) in 1958:

Take out the papers and the trash
Or you don’t get no spendin’ cash.
If you don’t scrub that kitchen floor
You ain’t gonna rock and roll no more.
“Yakety yak!” (Don’t talk back.)

finish cleanin’ up your room
Let’s see that dust fly with that broom.
Get all that garbage out of sight
Or you don’t go out Friday night.
“Yakety yak!” (Don’t talk back.)

just put on your coat and hat
And walk yourself to the laundromat.
And when you finish doin’ that
Bring in the dog and put out the cat.
“Yakety yak!” (Don’t talk back.)

you give me no dirty looks.
Your father’s hip; he knows what cooks.
Just tell your hoodlum friend outside
You ain’t got time to take a ride.
“Yakety yak!” (Don’t talk back.)

Then, when this crucial step in your family’s quality time-recovery
program is completed, don’t you turn on the TV, the computer, the
stereo, or the iPod.


Back to my correspondent’s question of finding time for self-help
education. If you drive to work, get an MP3 player, such as an iPod,
and listen to self-help or educational lectures. Convert drive time
into education. (Note: don’t stick the unit’s earphones in your
ears. You may not hear a siren if you do. Plug it into your car’s
audio system.)

Do the same at lunch time. Brown bag it. Then use the time to read
on-line, or listen to iPod instructional lectures, or whatever.

If you are a typical commuter, this will get you an additional 90
minutes of productive time per day.

Get your wife to quit her job. Have her buy Arthur Robinson’s $200
home school curriculum — one purchase per family, once. Cheap!

the children out of school and have them study at home.

They can complete their lessons in four hours. That’s noon. In the
afternoon, your wife can teach them the basics of household management.
This is high quality time. (See Leiber and Stoller, op. cit.)

When you get home from work, spend an hour seeing how well your
children have done their work. Give them advice on how to do it
better. Kids just love free advice from fathers at the end of the
day. They always have. You did, didn’t you? Of course you did.

Eat dinner. Ask questions after dinner. “What did you learn today?”
“Nothing.” And so on. Quality time.

After the kids have finished applying all of your recommendations,
writing memos dutifully in their Day Timers, be sure to leave the
TV off. Talk to your wife. “How did your day go?” “The same as always.”
“Mine did, too.”

After 15 minutes, she will look at the clock and say, "Gray’s
Anatomy is about to start.”

Then you can go listen to another instructional MP3 lecture.

Or you can watch Gray’s Anatomy. There is this gung-ho Chinese
female doctor and a bunch of hunk physicians. You’ll love it . .
. as much as I do.

Have you ever considered model trains? Quality time. Alone.


This obsession over quality time is part of modern man’s delight
in self-criticism. We live in an era of what R. J. Rushdoony identified
as the politics of guilt and pity. When people feel guilty, they
are more likely to let the state tax them and spend the money to
make things better . . . for the state.

The hand-wringing over the loss of quality time is the product of
way too much leisure time on the part of middle-class writers.
They invent a world gone by that never existed, or that was very
different from what they want their readers to believe. They don’t
talk about dawn-to-dusk time in the fields, fathers and sons.

Even if was all that today’s writers imply that it was, it is gone
forever. It has been gone in the United States for a century or
more. Why all the fuss now? Because people spend more time reading
books about the loss of quality time than they spend with each other.
It is like reading a diet book while munching on Fritos and bean

Quality time is productive time. Look for family projects that are
clearly beneficial to every member and which impose responsibility
on every member.

If you can identify these, implement these, and get continued cooperation
with these, you will have quality time.

My recommendation: start a home business in which each child is
given more shares according to his or her contribution of time.
Arthur Robinson did this. The family jointly created the Robinson
Curriculum. I think it has sold 60,000 copies. Half the money goes
to the family. Do the math.


5, 2007

North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 19-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible

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