Saturday, March 10, 2012

It's about time

After watching the movie "In Time" which depicts a future world where the currency is time, it occurred to me that it's not really a futuristic concept. Time is already the essence of our currency, even if it's not immediately evident. In fact, the best yardstick with which to measure the value of anything, including actual paper currency, is the time standard.

What do you need money for? Housing? You could learn to build a house, gather and process the materials and make your own. What? That would take years, maybe decades. It's much more efficient and practical to pay someone else to do it. Same can be said for finding and processing your own food, clothes, toys. Money buys you time. You spent time doing something else in return for money, then exchanged the money for someone else's time.

This is not always top-of-the-mind math. For example, have you ever driven 5 miles out of your way to gas up at a station that's 10 cents/gallon cheaper than closer ones? If you spent 20 minutes round trip doing so and saved $2, you've valued your time at $6/hour. There may be other considerations of course. Maybe it's a nice ride on a Saturday afternoon, in which case your spending that same time on more than just gas, making it a better value.

The Internet uses time as currency much more directly. Google is a prime example. They offer services like their search engine, Blogger, YouTube and more, free of charge! Well, not really. It's free of any paper money charge. The currency is your time and attention, as well as information about yourself. Google resells those moments and bits of information to advertisers for cash. The information is actually used to try to gain a few more moments of your time later. It's something to consider when deciding whether or not to take someone up on their "free" offer. I ordered a pizza online a few days back and decided to look for free online coupons before I finished my order. I found some easily enough, but they all wanted me to "register" first. I decided I'd rather just pay the additional $3 or so than get put on a dozen or more new mailing lists.

The government taxes more than just your income. Every time you're required to fill out a form, register for something, take some mandatory action, you're paying out your time. Even the monetary taxes are really taxes on your time. If your tax rate is 15%, that's how much of your work day is going to the government rather than toward your personal agenda. Time is what gives money value. After all, the slaves of Egypt didn't have money to give to the Pharaohs, yet they built magnificent structures for them that still are revered today. It was all paid for with time.

In this period of financial uncertainty, with currencies and commodities fluctuating and the future of the very financial system that trades them up in the air, it can be difficult to determine the true value of a product, service or transaction. When in doubt, reduce it to lowest terms. Consider not "Is it worth the money." but, "Is it worth the time?".

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