MacGregor: Keynes bogeys the leisure-time theory
Having trouble finding the time to work on your short game?
Blame John Maynard Keynes.
He may be the father of modern economics, but he's also the godfather of lost opportunities. Maybe he was right about growth, but he has turned out dead wrong about the good that was supposed to come from decades of economic stimulus and ever-increasing wealth.
In 1930, the famous British economist sat down and penned an essay he entitled Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, which, when you work it out, should include those among us who are recently retired or are about to retire and should, therefore, be working on our short game and lining up tee times for the summer.
Keynes argued that even with relatively modest economic growth, say 2 per cent a year, the cumulative rise in capital would in three or four generations create a world of such wealth that ordinary people would live lifestyles “usual with the rich today.” Leisure time, he promised, would become more significant in a person’s life than work itself.
Yeah, right …
Keynes’s cockeyed navel-gazing begat a world of wild predictions that today’s society would be doing little but golfing and flying about the countryside with jet-powered backpacks. And it wasn’t just magazines like Popular Mechanics, but elected politicians fell for it.
When British cabinet minister Peter Walker looked at the new information society that was unfolding in 1983, he claimed: “We have the opportunity of creating Athens without the slaves, where the slaves will be the computer and the microchip, and the human race can obtain a new sense of enjoyment, leisure and fulfilment.”
Uh huh …
All of which brings us to golf courses, which have spread about North America like Canada goose droppings in anticipation of boomers finding early retirement and younger people having both the money and the time to play the game.
Only it hasn’t happened. Golf is hugely popular – the United States alone has more than 25 million players – but it has a problem. USA Today reports that, according to the National Golf Foundation, some four million golfers have packed up (or tossed away) their clubs since 2005.
And it’s not just the United States. This is a worldwide concern, according to Billy Payne, head of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games (golf is scheduled to return to the Olympics in 2016 after a 112-year absence). Payne, now chair of Augusta National, home of the Masters, said this spring that something must be done about the game’s stagnant growth around the world.
Payne’s point was lost when he was perceived to have put his Footjoy spikes in his mouth, talking about reaching out to younger men and women to take up the sport while chairing a private club that refuses to let women join.
But let us revisit what Billy Payne had to say about what he deemed a “critical” issue.
“What ideas might attract kids and other groups of potential golfers to the game?” he asked. “How can these ideas be integrated into the expansive and impressive efforts of the other golf organizations? The problems are so easy to identify. Golf is too hard, it takes too long to play, it's not a team sport, it’s too expensive. The solution is more difficult. But we must try. Golf is too precious, too wonderful, to sit on the sidelines and watch decreasing participation.”
Let us examine his points one by one:
Golf is too hard: Well, it's hardly as if you need to be an athlete to play the game, even at the highest levels. Just look at Jason Dufner, hottest player this spring on the PGA Tour. And it’s not as if you can't play well without taking lessons; ask Masters champion Bubba Watson what he thinks of swing coaches.
It takes too long to play: Now you’re talking. Thanks to amateurs imitating the likes of Sergio Garcia (waggle) and Kevin Na (fidgeting) and using apps on their smartphones to determine precise yardage (as if they could hit a five-iron within 50 yards of where the phone claims the hole is), golf has become the gridlock of sports. Those who think the hockey net should be larger also think a round of golf should be reduced to nine holes.
It’s not a team sport: There may be something to this. The beauty of team sport, of course, is that it's never your fault. There is always someone else to blame. In golf, there is only you, and you alone are the one who just hit that third ball into the water, who can’t get out of the sand trap, who is about to be reminded by your “partner” that you actually took four putts, not three …
It’s too expensive: For the most part, this is true. When your clubs cost more than your first car, when a lost ball equals a stiff drink, when courses force you to take a cart, when a round of golf at a resort costs more than a night in a good hotel, it’s too expensive. But there are deals and there are reasonable, good courses if you search them out.
The real problem: Billy Payne didn’t include this, but the reality is that there's just not enough leisure time. We might live in Atlantis, but we have become the slaves.
And these days, the only ones with true leisure time are those who have lost their jobs.
And have more important things to do with their extra time than look for lost golf balls.