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Time vs. Fortune (Not the Magazines)

Nancy and Harry Chapin’s song, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” is one of my favorites, partly because of the beat, and partly because it illustrates one of the essential trade-offs in life.

For those who don’t remember the lyrics, it sings of the life of a busy man who isn’t there when his son grows up and who, in old age, is ignored by the son — who is very busy and “grew up just like me [the father].”

The singer regrets not having spent time with the son, yet at the same time he describes his own busy life. I wonder whether — had the father spent more time with the son — the son would have been better off. The father wouldn’t have earned as much, and the son wouldn’t have had the financial security that the father’s earnings enabled him to have, but they would have had more time together.

Except for those who inherit large fortunes, the choice comes down to additional earnings and resources for one’s family, or more time with the family.

One is always constrained by both time and the ability to consume goods. We have to make a choice in the face of these constraints — a choice that we should make in light of all the gains for us and our kids that result from that choice.