Time is money

Coined quite a while before the beginning of modernity, this saying nevertheless captures the spirit of modern economics quite well. Life became a lot faster at the beginning of the 20th century, when new modes of transport were invented or established. The more money you had, the faster you could go, for in the early days, cars were for the rich only, and so was airtravel. Similarly, if you had time, you could travel more slowly and save money.

Examples involving transportation of anything (people, mail, goods) are particularly easy examples to come by. But there can be other cases, too. Take the idea, recently practiced in New York and Berlin, of selling two kinds of tickets for an exhibition: regular ones with a long wait in line, or VIP ones: more expensive, but no wait. So it seems the model can be extended. Should it be?

There are differences, of course. There is no in principle limit on how much money you can make, but there is some rough limit on how much time you will have. Also, time, as Marx would be quick to point out, does not accumulate. You cannot open a time-account, where you store saved time, preferably with some interest on it, to retrieve it later. This is the theme of one of the great children’s books of all time: Momo.


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One Response to “Time is money”

  1. horus kemwer Says:

    “Time is money,” because money is a metric, it measures wealth, and wealth is acquired by mixing ones labor with natural resources. Mixing ones labor with natural resources takes time, and time not spent doing such is “wasted” (at least so far as producing wealth is concerned). Under this conception, however, “time is money” is not a modernist sentiment at all, it is simply a truism, equally applicable in pre-monetary societies (though perhaps not translatable into their languages – though even this I doubt; it would be interesting to find semantically equivalent expressions in cultures without an equivalent metric: “time is grain”? – what about “make hay while the sun shines”?). In fact, the only situation in which the “time is money” sentiment is irrelevant is one in which natural resources are so abundant that no effort (mixing of labor) is needed to produce food, shelter, clean water, etc., i.e. an “island paradise.”

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