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Nothing To Do: Why Does All Our Leisure Come At A Cost?

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It’s a Saturday afternoon and you’re tight on cash. You’ve got the day off from work and nothing else occupying your schedule. What can you do with your limited free time?

Truthfully, not much. The fact of the matter is that leisure activities of all sorts cost far too much. If your intention is to find a pleasant diversion to help unwind after a long work week without spending money, your options are sparse. Restaurants and cafes generally require you to buy something if you want to stay, movie theater ticket and snack prices have become prohibitively expensive (a consequence of the industry’s decline), and even museums often charge you for a donation at minimum. 

Access to “third places,” defined as places other than your home and your work or school where you can socialize or otherwise pass time without the pressure of needing to buy something, has dwindled in the United States, particularly in more suburban and rural areas across the country. One of the few free activities some Americans have access to is natural resources like parks and gardens, although even then, gas prices and the cost of other forms of transportation can make these activities difficult. Any and all formalized recreational activities have been so thoroughly consumed by corporations that spending time with friends and family has been totally compromised by the language of transaction. Online publications and influencers will list ways people can save money by finding fun things to do on a budget, but these articles and videos rarely identify leisure activities people can actually partake in for free.

This is enough of a problem during the school year, but when summer rolls around these issues are greatly magnified. Educators who have spent the fall, winter, and spring months tirelessly working to provide children with a stable learning environment now find themselves with some time to recuperate, assuming they aren’t forced by high rents and low wages to find another job for themselves between semesters. Working parents who are unable to afford expensive summer camps and vacations must now spend their whole day being both caretakers and employees. Summers are only getting hotter, and kids need a place to blow off steam outside the house. Workers should be able to make the most of their free time, but with inflation on the rise along with the price of recreational activities, that time can often only be spent at home. Besides, most workers barely even have much time to spare. Paid time off is pathetically restrictive in the United States compared to other countries, not to mention the increasingly common phenomenon of second and third jobs, and side hustles nurtured by a predatory gig economy.

Public institutions and amenities which create spaces for people to meet casually and let go of work concerns are few and far between, but it doesn’t have to be like this. There is plenty of money circulating throughout the economy, whether in the form of tax cuts for the supremely wealthy and military or police spending, that could be diverted towards the construction of public spaces. The state could be building community centers which provide programs for children and serve as a space for neighbors to support one another. It could be constructing public pools as the years get hotter, public libraries for the people’s intellectual enrichment, publicly available venues for free concerts and plays. It could be preserving national parks and making public transportation freely available to all, granting access to people from across the country.

Not only could a socialist society take resources out of the hands of the capitalist class and allocate them towards such programs, but the life of a worker in a socialist economy would allow for the free time required to enjoy them. Under this current economic mode of production, workers are sacrificing more and more free time to the bosses, who squeeze every last drop out of their employees and leave them with barely enough time to sleep and eat. While programs for the enrichment of public spaces can begin development at any time, a better, more fulfilling life for the working people of the United States and of the world demands a full socialist transformation of society.

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