Recently I have been reading a lot of material about allocative decision processes coming from a branch of evolutionary anthropology known as Life History Theory (this is a reasonable summary paper). Now essentially life history theory is about the allocation of somatic energy resources to various competing demands (namely maintenance, growth and reproduction) in a way which has suprising parallels with the ways in which economic science tries to study how we take behavioural decisons between competing demands under similar resource constraints. Well, as I say I have been think about all this a lot, and then Lo and Behold:
Japan’s notoriously hard-working salarymen are being given a chance by the government to cut their hours in a bid to improve their health – and their fecundity.
Workers who put in more than 40 hours of overtime a month will earn the right to an extra day off the next month, according to a policy paper prepared by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.....
Is it possible to use this LHT classificatory schema in terms of strategic economic decision taking? Well we could just have a try.
Maintenance: this is esentially what we do every day. It is the expenditure of time and energy which enables us to get through to tomorrow. This operates on a number of levels. Existentially it could mean watching a film, to 'disconnect'. Physiologically it could mean exercise, time at the gym or something, or it could mean work being done by our immune system, or lying in bed to recover from a cold. The trade-off between growth and maintenance could be considered in terms of decisions about whether or not to go to work when we are 'under the weather'. We may put increased demands on our body in terms of long term maintenance costs in order to achieve some other objective like growth (which could even be understood here in much more general terms like growth in our own self respect).
Growth: well in childhood and adolesence this has a fairly simple and literal interpretation. But there is a much more general idea of growth, like personal growth and development. Going on courses, reading books, anything which enhances our self-image of ourselves as persons, and of course anything which enhances our economic value. This latter could also be thought of in terms of wealth, and the accumulation thereof, whether in terms of assets or of consumer products, whatever.
Reproduction. Well lets call this mating, since not everyone reproduces. But nearly all humans do try to engage with mates at some stage or other in their lives. So it is not normally something which we sit back and think about, whether we want to find a mate or not, we just meet someone, something happens, etc etc. And this process is then terribly energy consuming, and detracts resources from both maintenance and growth as we all probably know. Of course there may also be 'search costs' as we may decide at some point to invest time and energy in actively looking for a mate. And there is also a lot of time and energy consumption here. But I'm not sure that people actually rationally plan this in a precise trade-off evaluation with say growth or maintenance. People just do it, because it fulfils a need. Of course some people are more concerned with this than others.
And then there is the actual partnership formation part. This is another enormous investment of time and resources in something which doesn't always (in fact more frequently doesn't than does) work-out as initially planned. Then there is the decision about whether or not to have children. As David Coleman points out somewhere, from strictly economic point of view it is hard sometimes to understand why people have children at all, since in many ways they are all cost. But OTOH we do normally want to have children at some level or other, and when people don't it is interesting to investigate why they don't. The decision has normally been, at least until very recently about how many to have, and when to have them, not about whether.
Of course this is just what I said it was, a classificatory schema (or taxonomy of decision types if you will). It doesn't mean to say that we actually function in this way, just that it might help us think about the classes of decision that we take, and in that sense make us better able to analyse our decision making processes. And of course, there *are* spillover externalities, like from falling in love. When we are in a process of requited love we may not only have resolved (at least temporarily) the mating issue, we may also be happier, be more efficient in covering maintenance needs, and grow more quickly. This takes us back to the Japanese government, and what they had in mind when they suggested eveyone took a day off: maybe it was this.